THEY SHOT EACH OTHER.
Armed with snowboards and a camera, friends Carlo Wein and Colin Jones took turns trying to capture the exhilaration of carving down a mountainside.
Their sport was fairly new but their technology was reminiscent of film's silent era.
"We came from that school, the school of hard knocks, because if you screwed anything up, you paid for it out of your own pocket," Wein recalls of his days manning a 16-mm handcrank camera.
After shooting on 16mm, Wein would transfer the footage to Beta cam tapes before adjusting it on a computer and finally transferring it to a VHS videocassette.
Those tapes marked the beginning of Alterna Films, a West Vancouver company that has branched out from snowboarding movies to become a diverse film production company, putting together Jumbotron videos for the Canucks, long-form energy drink commercials, and a Panama-based marlin fishing web series.
Wein, a founder of the company, recounts his company's progress from VHS to DVD to digital download as he prepares to shoot a commercial recently at Hollyburn Country Club with former tennis great Martina Hingis.
"For us, this is a pretty big thing because we're working with an international figure," he says, roving the clay courts at the club with a cellphone at his ear in anticipation of Hingis' arrival.
The shoot is a commercial for Tonic, a Burnaby-based yoga-gear company that suddenly needed a tennis line after unknowingly providing workout clothes for the five-time Grand Slam singles champion.
Hingis was preparing for Strictly Come Dancing, the UK equivalent of Dancing With The Stars, when she discovered the company's yoga line.
"I loved the material, I loved the clothes," says Hingis.
Despite being bounced out of the competition early, Hingis reached out to the Canadian company with the idea to produce tennis clothes.
"It's always been the other way," says Hingis, recalling the numerous companies that tried to clothe her when she was winning tournaments and routinely dispatching rivals like Mary Pierce and the powerful but then inexperienced Venus Williams.
Her appearance in West Vancouver marks a shift for Tonic, which had focused almost exclusively on yoga clothes.
"We're still a boutique brand. We're not making clothing for the mass population," says Aleska Havelaar, a marketing and sales representative for the six-person company. Having the Canadian-manufactured clothes in every department store would lower the quality, according to Havelaar.
Tonic began as an embroidery business specializing in corporate clothing and T-shirts.
"When it was still feasible to manufacture T-shirts in Vancouver," says Havelaar. "When things started to go offshore because you could get T-shirts for $2 from China, that business started to dissolve."
But as T-shirt sales flattened, the popularity of hot yoga rose, and Tonic found a prosperous market for yogis.
"Even in tennis, our bras and shorts sold the best. We know how to make bras really well," adds Daniela Wein Mortenson of Tonic, who is also Wein's sister.
As Wein negotiates with his camera, Hingis takes the court.
On clay, Hingis does not seem to have aged. Despite the ankle surgeries that sidelined the star during her prime she still bounces with grace and vigour, sending the ball back across the court with short, sharp impacts that sound like popcorn in the microwave.
"I'm still OK. I can hold my own," Hingis says, a wide smile on her face.
Wein records her movements on a Red Epic camera, a digital device he says, "basically destroyed film."
From an outsider's perspective, pursuing the kind of glory Hingis captured during her four years atop the tennis world seems like a gamble, the sporting equivalent of crawling out of the Nevada desert dreaming of the slot machine that will turn a fistful of quarters into a fortune.
"Nothing was a gamble," Hingis disagrees. "My mom had her vision and she started playing tennis with me when I was 2Â½ years old. I don't really remember because you don't remember things until you're probably three or four years old," Hingis says, recalling the pictures of a toddler hefting a tennis racket.
Her quickness and will to win earned her more than $20 million in prize money, accomplishments she credits to her mother.
"She tried to do everything possible so I could have a career and a promising life and we achieved that. I'm very fortunate to have a mom like that."
Asked about her deal with Tonic, Hingis quickly draws a boundary.
"That's between us," she says smiling.
Hingis retired from the grind of the professional tour in 2007 at the age of 27, but she has remained on the court, both as a coach and a competitor in frequent exhibition matches.
"I think tennis will always be part of my life. I want it to be because that's what I know best, that's what I do best."
To face Hingis on the court, Tonic recruited North Shore players Nicoleta Ratiu and Sarah Kadi.
"You can't ever say no to something like that," Kadi says about the prospect of trading shots with Hingis.
"She's a just a bit older than I am but she peaked so early that I was a junior when she was winning Grand Slams," says Ratiu.
So far this year, the game has taken Hingis to Australia, Taiwan and Venezuela. The whirlwind has been occasionally disorienting, says Hingis, recalling a certain morning when it took a few moments to remember what country she had woken up in.
"I looked up at the ceiling: 'Okay, what time is it? Where am I?'" she says.
Asked about the concept for the long-form commercial she's about to star in, Hingis shrugs. "I don't know. I'm just here, 'Do this, do that,'" she says.
The commercial is intended to be subtle, part of the growing trend of what Wein terms "adver-tainment."
"We don't want to do it as in your face as most advertisements," says Havelaar.
"We've been capturing her pretty much everything behind the scenes," Wein adds. "Tonic has her for 20 days out of the year, contractually . . . so we followed her around and got a lot of stuff they'll use for promotional, but the main thing is going to be a video that we produce for them."
When complete, the commercial is intended to be a three-minute profile of Hingis, documenting her relationship with Tonic in a video to be screened online, at trade shows, and select boutiques.
"It's not a sales piece, it's stories," says Wein. "If you can create that awareness with social media, you can really hone in on your target demographic, and that's what they're doing here."
Idealy, Tonic will be in the background, something viewers notice, rather than a brand they're bludgeoned with.
"In the sports world now, it's not about getting LeBron James and paying him $80 million to rock Gatorade. It's more about creating content in and around your product," explains Wein. "The Internet is becoming a new platform. You see a lot of companies putting money into YouTube videos . . . and your audience is massive. It's not just TV, and TV ads seem to be kind of dwindling and they're not putting as much money in that kind of stuff."
Much like digital recording has replaced film, Wein has also seen his company diversify. After 14 years of producing snowboard videos, 2012 represents an odd milestone for Alterna Films.
"This is the first year we haven't actually produced a snowboard feature film," says Wein.
The Hingis video is expected to be released at alternafilms.ca around the end of September.
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