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Behind the Lens: From Illinois to Traveling the World with Jeremy Jones

Nick Kalisz in Alaska filming for Jeremy Jones' Higher. Nick Kalisz photo. 

Nick Kalisz's journey to become is one of Jeremy Jones' must trusted cinematographers is atypical, to say the least.

Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Nick snowboarded tiny hills instead of the Tetons. Now Nick travels the world and has been essential in some of TGR's largest and most ambitious film projects. Nick was a cinematographer on TGR's film Further, the DP for Jeremy Jones' Higher, as well as countless other projects. 

Through his years of dedicated work, Kalisz has earned the nickname "Silent Nick" for his ability to silently blend into the background of any trip and cinematically capture the moment. 

"He is his name," Robin Van Gyn, who filmed with Kalisz and TGR in the Crazy Mountains of Montana, told TGR. "He is that guy who in the background filming everything. He is super strong and on it. Nick is out at all hours of the day, always creeping around getting shots. I've never been in the field with someone with that type of work ethic, ever"

We caught up with Kalisz to talk about how he got his start as an action sports cinematographer, traveling in the mountains with Jeremy Jones, and his most recent trip to Montana shooting for TGR's new film Far Out–presented by REI.

TGR: What inspired you to get into filmmaking?

NK: When I was 10, my uncle took me and my cousins to Glacier National Park. That was my first introduction to larger mountains, having lived in Illinois. On that trip, he had this film camera and I remember him capturing all these moments of us in the mountains as a family. Seeing the landscapes and how he was capturing it, that really stuck with me as a young kid. The beauty and the power of Glacier National Park and how pristine it was, all I could think was I need to get back to the mountains and to this part of the world.

Fast-forward to post-college and this TGR internship provided me an opportunity to be in Yellowstone and the Tetons. I was pumped to be able to get back to this place and capture the moment just like my uncle did on that trip when I was a kid. My first three weeks in Jackson it rained the whole time, so I didn’t see the Tetons until a month after I moved there. I didn’t really understand the place at first. All I could think was “why are people here?" Then it cleared and I was blown away by the place and ended up staying six-and-a-half years.

What was that first year in Jackson like?

NK: My first year at TGR was just editing. 

Coming from flatland I knew I wanted to film, it’s what I went to school for and all I wanted was to be a cinematographer. I hadn’t experienced that much in the mountains–I'd completed no avalanche courses up to that point and done no touring. My only experience snowboarding was at these small Midwest hills that were converted garbage dumps.

That first winter in Jackson I tried to snowboard as much as possible. This was when the office was in the village, so I was riding each day and slowly learning. 

The next winter, Jon Klaczkiewicz–the director of the Jeremy Jones’ Further–approached me. They needed someone to act as a digital imaging technician on a trip to Innsbruck while they were in the mountains. My job was to film art around the city, shoot different cutaways and time-lapses. When they got out of the mountains I would make sure that the cameras were charged and the footage organized. I was stoked. I was like, “Hell yeah. I get to go on a trip with Jeremy and his crew?" Those were the people who I had been watching in films since I was 10.

How did that trip go?

NK: I got to Austria and was planning to stay in the city. I didn’t feel like I was over my head, or at least, so I thought. 

We got there and I met the whole crew. They were getting ready to go on a tour and Jeremy said he had a board for me. It was a splitboard. I had never touched one before. They had to show me how to set it all up. We were leaving at 3:30 AM in the morning for this objective. At this point, I’m not really sure how to put skins on. I don’t know what the real temperature was, but it was the coldest winter in 40 years in Austria. It was probably -15ºF.

RELATED: Check out the Black Diamond gear that keeps TGR's production crew warm

We started with a pretty mellow tour. Then we got to this field of frozen avy debris and I started slipping. When you tour for the first time you end up having one of those days. I was cursing at myself and had no idea what I got myself into. I was so far behind everyone and had this heavy pack on. I think they did a lap before I got there.

I heard Jeremy on the radio saying he was about to drop and I needed to be ready. Everyone else was already set up so I built my camera super fast. I just remember holding my breath shooting with a Canon 7D thinking, “hopefully I got something.” That ended up being one of the harder days of my life because of how new everything was. We watched what I shot and they said, "Okay, you are going camping with us."

I had a zero-degree camping bag and it ended up being -20ºF. At that point, I didn’t really care. That was the beginning of my career and it got easier from that point. 

Describe this last trip to the Crazies.

Mark Carter scopes a line in the Crazy Mountains of Montana. Nick Kalisz photo. 

NK: The Crazies are a little box of a mountain range northeast of Bozeman, Montana.

When you are driving past them, they look super small from the highway, but it’s a real wild place out there. The range gets very stacked in the middle so it will hold a lot of clouds, which means more snow. Legend has it the range's full name is the "Crazy Woman Mountains" because of this woman who went back there and went insane. People hold vision quests in that range. Just a wild place.

We had an awesome crew, Mark Carter–a snowboard legend–Robin Van Gyn, and Jeremy Jones. It was a cool area because not a lot of film trips make it to this area, so it really hasn't been captured before. We had this end-of-the-year-final-hurrah to get the snow before it warmed up too much.

Whatever it takes to keep gear warm and dry during a winter camp mission. Nick Kalisz photo. 

There were a lot of big ramps and some couloirs, but we had a lot of variable snow.

We had a three-day storm that coated this one face that everyone had picked lines on. We hiked up six hours after this storm cleared. We just wanted to check it out even though everyone thought it wouldn't be stable. Sure enough, they get to the bottom of this wall it was all stable and the best snow of the trip by far. There were these beautiful ramps. That was definitely the best day of riding for everyone.

RELATED: Check out the Black Diamond gear that kept TGR Warm

It was technical and we always wore crampons. Robin is from BC and is used to riding the best snow in the world and Mark seeks out the powder. They were joking the whole time that they were not bringing crampons but we wore them the whole trip.

At this point, you have traveled with Jeremy Jones in the mountains for years. What is unique about how he interacts with his surroundings?

A sampling of the Montana terrain. Nick Kalisz photo. 

NK: Jeremy’s knowledge and what he shares with people is incredible. He has the most knowledge about the mountains out of everyone I've rode with. His planning for each trip is what makes him so successful. He researches for years before he goes to these remote ranges. On this last trip, watching him move through the mountains and read terrain was incredible. He travels through the mountains like a mountain goat or a bird. It’s not very easy to do but he makes it look effortless. I learn something every time we go out.

Jeremy's riding speaks for itself. He can transition from riding pow to ice and make it looks seamless. I feel like you have to be there and hear how bad the snow is to realize how good his riding is. I think that really shines on the Crazies trip. You’re watching him make these beautiful turns in less than ideal conditions. You almost need someone to go after him to show the skill that it is taking to ride down a sheet of ice.

What was your most memorable day in the Crazies?

A small storm partially buries a Black Diamond tent. Nick Kalisz photo. 

NK: The most memorable moment of the Crazies trip was the second to last day we were there. Of course, Jeremy was going for it. It was the end of the season so this is like his Super Bowl. Everyone else was pretty tired and Jeremy had this line that was a pretty good day mission to get to. The snow was going to shit but Jer was still going to ride down this thing.

RELATED: Learn more about the Black Diamond camping gear that was used during this trip

It was a good four-to-five hours up and we decided to bring an Epic W with a Canon 30-300, which broke down to two backpacks filled with 60 pounds of gear each. Dan Gibeau helped with the gear. It was a full team effort; just very memorable–a beautiful hike. It was cool to get this Hollywood-type equipment up to this remote ridge. We saw these massive bear tracks; and while we didn’t see the bear, it was cool to be out in their territory.

This line that Jer rode was this beautiful horizon line shot. He found the best snow he could and crushed it. Having that team effort for just one or two shots is a pretty special thing.

What is your philosophy about shooting in these locations?

Nighttime in the Crazies. Nick Kalisz photo. 

NK: When I'm out in these locations I get way overexcited about shooting.

A lot of athletes will say you will never know when you will be back in these places. It might never happen again. I have that mentality with shooting and all I want to do is capture the moment and make it as beautiful as possible. The first couple nights it's hard to sleep, especially if I don’t know what the weather is going to do. I’ve had trips where I'm out for a day and it's the best snow of the trip. It’s definitely frantic and you're over-amping. I just want to tell the story the best way possible and I definitely have a tendency to overshoot. The editors don’t like that. 

What advice do you have for those who want to do what you do?

NK: It sounds cliche but I think hard work pays off. I feel very lucky that I got the opportunity to be in Jackson. I got the internship and tried to take advantage of every opportunity even if it was super hard work. The first couple trips I was on I was so nervous, but once I started to relax and have fun. That’s the best part of what we do: At the end of the day, it's a ton of fun.

Teton Gravity Research's 2018 snow film "Far Out" is presented by REI.

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