In the early 90’s, Rob “Whitey” McConnaughy started making snowboard films with his friends in Colorado using a VHS video camera. In the ear- ly era of larger than life snowboard films like Snowboarders In Exile and Critical Condition, Whitey brought the style and attitude of skateboarding into the world of snowboarding. Big kickers, big ollies, big rails, and big personalities combined with humor and fun.
Flash forward to 2013. Whitey is directing commercials with Kobe Bryant and music videos starring Jack Black. What happened in those 15+ years? Whitey has been a true pioneer in the world of snowboarding for more than two decades. Let’s see what Whitey McConnaughy has been up to.
How did you start making snowboard films? Was it in Colorado?
– I moved to Colorado after graduating college, and before I moved to Colorado I lived in San Diego with some friends that were skateboarders. I was skating a lot of pools and my plan was to move to Colorado in November or December and snowboard, maybe be a pro snowboarder. And I was skating a lot of pools with all the ripper dudes, super getting into it because I never got to skate backyard pools before and I was skating tons of them, and I broke my ankle really bad. I had to get nine screws and a metal plate in there. It healed but I still moved to Colorado, and I started trying to snowboard and realized that the plate would press on the outside of my ankle super bad. It was healed but I never thought that issue might come up. So I couldn’t really snowboard because it hurt really bad. I could ride but I couldn’t turn quick, definitely couldn’t jump. It really bummed me out. I was living with Stevie Alters and some other friends, and Stevie was this up and coming kid. He wasn’t even sponsored by a company, and I saw some trailer for a snowboard movie and thought it looked stupid. So I was like “I am going to make a snowboard movie.” My Uncle who owns a video store in Washington D.C. sold me a video camera for wholesale, and I just started making a movie, shooting all the people I knew like Stevie Alters, J2, Cody Dresser, guys who were not sponsored at the time. During the summer, I went back to Cal- ifornia and shot all my pool skating friends, so my first video was half snowboarding and half pool skating. Stevie Alters and I edited the whole video in one 19-hour session.
What was it called?
– It was called C+C Underground. I was only 20 or 21 years old. We had no money. That was the first one, but I ended up doing another video called Wrecked. I remember halfway through the year Eric Koch, who was one of the Burton Snowboard guys, said “we like what you are doing” and gave me a couple thousand dollars cash, which at the time was like handing me a 100,000 now, and I was like “what?” Completely indoor the table, like I was a lobbyist. So I just kept on making movies, making two movies a year. I was the only guy doing that. I just kept making movies, and I also started shooting photos.
As far as riders, who really stood out to you back then?
– The first guy was definitely Stevie Alters. When I first moved to Colorado, I moved from the East Coast and only a handful of peo- ple were doing the wide stance thing. Maybe under 20 people in the world. Dale Rehberg, Roan Rogers, Nate Cole, and Alters. But I remember the first time I went riding with Stevie, I had never real- ly ridden with anybody like that. He was doing all these crazy high ollies and shit, and then I realized one of these ollies was switch. I had never even thought of olling switch. On the East Coast we were not even on that level. He clearly had way better style than any of the pros that were popular at that time. Stevie was way ahead of them, but of course he was on the new tip. He was the first guy that I thought had talent. He was a skater too, he could rip on vert. He was one of the best from the 90’s, even into the late 90’s.
How and when did you get involved in The Whiskey stuff ?
– I didn’t know the Whiskey guys at first. Sean Kearns and Sean Johnson were known as snowboarders, Johnson was a ripper. I was doing my movies, my snowboard stuff, and doing Blunt Magazine at the time. I think Whiskey, which was around 1996 or 1997 maybe, blew everybody away. Even all the guys at Big Brother Magazine thought it was fucking crazy, like it was the gnarliest shit. I got to know them because my movies started doing better and I was also shooting photos for Blunt, and Blunt was sort of on their tip. Maybe a little less aggressive, I’d say. Not dangerous. We would do dumb stuff but they were dangerous. Scary but in a cool way. So I remember I went up there and did an interview with them and I started filming some stuff for The Whiskey 2. That’s when I really got to know them. I definitely wasn’t in the Whiskey crew by any means, but I did get to shoot some stuff for The Whis- key 2 and The Whiskey 3. Those guys really became friends then, they were so fun back then. They were hilarious, they still are.
I remember Brainstorm being a real standout film for me. Did you have a standout snowboard film that inspired you?
– I gotta say, when I started making movies, there weren’t many snowboard movies that I thought were great. I didn’t really like the style. I definitely wanted to make a snowboard movie that felt more like a skateboard movie. When I was in college it was all Fall Line stuff. Fall Line was cool, but it was only cool because it was so unreachable and so unattainable. Like going to Europe and riding this crazy powder. If you were from the East Coast it seemed like going to the moon. There is no way you were going to get to ride conditions like that. So we thought these guys were rock stars, and we thought this was like bullshit. We wanted hits, we wanted good ripping. I remember TB2 or TB4. It wasn’t that I liked that movie so much, but it was just the jumps were so good. That was the first time Kurt Heine was building these crazy big jumps and they were always really flat. We were used to going off kickers that were like two feet wide, and Heine had jumps that were six feet wide, even bigger and they were super smooth. That’s when they were taking that to a new level. That was the beginning for all the jumps, and Heine deserves a lot of credit for that.
How did you get into doing music videos? What was the first music video you directed?
– I was doing Kingpin Productions, and Jackass had started and the TV show was going, and I didn’t shoot any of the TV show. Honestly I couldn’t do it because they didn’t pay anything. MTV was so cheap. The first Jackass movie came around, and Jeff Tremaine asked if I wanted to film and maybe help write skits stuff, because they could pay. So I took a year off making snowboard movies, and Brad Kramer, my main filmier, took over directing duties for Happy Hour and I just produced. From that movie, I met Lance Bangs, and then I was Director of Photography on a music video for him. From there, Sub Pop liked me and they said, “we got this young band, we think you would be good to direct this.” It was the Catheters, a song called Nothing. That was the first music video I did. But that music video got picked up for this thing on MTV and got a lot of play when they still played music videos. From there I started to do videos here and there.
Do you usually come up with the concept for a music video your- self or do you collaborate with the band?
– Music video wise, I have never done anyone else’s ideas. To me it just doesn’t work. That’s the funnest thing about a music video is coming up with the idea and then executing it and having it happen. It can come to you in the shower or on a plane, wherever. I pretty much just listen to a song and this vision will come into my head, and that might just be a seed for a bigger image. Or there might be a certain riff in a song. Like the Red Fang video for Pre- historic Dog, there is this one part where I picture people riding on horses, like knights. That wasn’t in the video, but from knights comes larpers and the beer drinking and everything. It’s always great when something starts it and it spawns. Sometimes you just think of something and it just builds up from there.
Do you enjoy doing music videos, long-form work like movies, or advertising?
– Nowadays, I don’t really care what the medium is in the end, I really enjoy trying to come up with a really creative idea or story and executing it well. It could be a commercial, but commercials usually don’t allow you to be as creative because there are so many different cooks in the kitchen. Music videos are one of the purest forms because it’s a little three or four minute movie. Most of my videos are almost always a narrative, you have to be really efficient about telling a story because you can’t have anyone talking. I think the best movies you can watch without any sound and still get the story. To me that is always fun, how I can tell a story and have a little twist in it. I edit all my own videos and really enjoy that process. I get a lot of satisfaction doing a cheap music video and it doing really well, sometimes a lot more that doing a $100,000 commercial.
What have you been working on recently?
– I have been working on a feature film, me and my friend Mike Burnett, who is the photo editor of Thrasher Magazine, wrote it. It was an idea of mine I have had for a while that I had written, and
I brought Mike in to help out. We’ve been shopping it around and have had a lot of really great people interested in it. So who knows? I certainly hope it happens.
If you had to choose one person to work with again, who would it be? Kobe Bryant, Jack Black, or Stevie Alters?
– I would say Jack Black for sure because he is the fucking nicest dude ever. We did the OFF! Wrong video for $5000 and I shot it
on film. Ya know, Jack Black’s catering for a film is easily more than $5000, he is a multi millionaire guy. But he came down to
set, this tiny little thing on the street and he shot all day and just hung out with everybody and was so funny. We even had a scene where we had a close up of the stomach ripping open and we didn’t need him, we were going to use someone’s hand. He came rushing out of his trailer and said, “I heard you were doing something!” I told him he didn’t have to do it, and he goes “no man, I am in it! I am in it till the end.” A couple days later, I wanted him to do some voice-overs and he came over to my apartment! He was screaming in my living room doing voice-overs for me. Once again, he is this multi millionaire giant movie star rock star, he’s just so cool and down to earth and really funny. I can’t say enough about someone you love and think they could be really cool, and they exceed your expectations. That’s always a really nice experience.
So you enjoy still using film?
– If I can! I grew up only shooting on film. All the photos I shot in the 13 or 14 years of shooting snowboard photography, I never shot a digital photo in a magazine ever. And all my snowboard movies were over 90 % on film. I would ship gigantic boxes off with 75 rolls off to Kodak, praying that nothing happened in shipping. I still shoot film photo wise. It’s so nice shooting film.
What was your final snowboard film?
– Back In Black was our last. Brad Kramer shot most of all the snowboarding, along with Shane Charlebois. I directed all the openers in that movie. I was just getting too busy. I started doing commercials and music videos and Jackass, and at that point we had done 16 snowboard movies. We had been around for 12 yeas and we did real well, it ran its course. I told Brad I was thinking of closing Kingpin down, and told him to try and look for a job someplace else and if that doesn’t work out I will make another movie. We had sponsors that wanted to do it. But Mack Dawg hired him as his main filmier, he kinda took over. Shane went to Absinthe Films. So all my main guys went, and I gave them their 16mm cameras as a going away present since I didn’t need them anymore. Those were for snowboarding. So that was my last year of snowboarding films, 2004.
Whitey needed to take his Boston Terrier out to the yard and we continued to talk candidly about new things going on in his life, like the concept for the new Red Fang video he is about to shoot and the big budget commercial he was filming in New York. As the night grew darker and our conversation went on, it was very clear to me he still has an incredible passion and love for snow- boarding, he even gets a pass to Mt Hood Meadows every season. Whitey is an extremely talented guy, and he is brilliant at telling a good story.
Go check out his work at www.whiteyfilms.com
Text: Alan Grosvenor