‘Ruin and Rose’ blends high tech and human spirit for a truly unique ski film

Ruin and Rose is the latest feature-length ski film from writer/director Ben “Sturge” Sturgulewski. It is no ordinary ski film, however, pushing both the technical and thematic elements of the genre to new levels. Digital Trends recently caught up with Sturgulewski in the small town of White Salmon, Washington, where he was finishing up an edit of the film at the Wazee Motion Pictures studio, to learn more about his approach.

The Alaskan-born 30-year-old Sturgulewski fell into filmmaking after graduating from college in 2008. An avid snowboarder, he began creating snowboard and ski videos without any official filmmaking education. His experience eventually grew into the creation of Sturgefilm, his production company, through which he has produced videos for numerous clients, ranging from DPS skis to Patagonia and NBC.

Bringing fiction to a ski film

Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the world’s snow has all melted, the fictional narrative offers an unmistakable message about climate change.

When Matchstick Productions brought on Sturgulewski to write and direct Ruin and Rose, it gave him the opportunity to fulfill a longtime dream of telling a fictional story within a documentary ski film.

“I love making documentary films, but I learned to love films through narratives,” Sturgulewski said. “I love a good story. That’s always what I’ve wanted to do.”

Back in 2013, Sturgulewski took a similar approach with the film Valhalla, produced by Sweetgrass Productions, but Ruin and Rose gave him the freedom to fully explore the idea and see how far it could go.

The film weaves together two incredibly different, yet equally stunning environments. The story is told across the expansive deserts of Namibia along Africa’s Skeleton Coast, and the deep powder of the mountains of Alaska, British Columbia, Switzerland, and others.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the world’s snow has all melted, the fictional narrative offers an unmistakable message about climate change, but Sturgulewski affirmed that the story is mostly about the perseverance of the human spirit.

“I believe there are other, very effective ways of communicating these concepts, outside of the traditional documentary,” he explained. He wanted to tackle the issue of climate change in a different format, with the hope that a fictional narrative will attract a larger and slightly different audience compared to going the documentary route.

Beyond presenting what’s hopefully an engaging motif for viewers, this approach also allows the film to examine skiing as something entirely new. The protagonist is a young boy living in the desert world of the future, who stumbles upon a snow globe in the sand, discovering a window into the world that once was.

“For a child with no concept of the world before, how would he view something as foreign as skiing?” Sturgulewski said.

A cinematic approach

In order to tell the fictional narrative correctly, Sturgulewski and the Matchstick team relied on Hollywood-grade gear to capture a truly cinematic look. Four different Red Epic Dragon 6K cameras with Cooke cinema lenses were used throughout the production, complemented by a DJI Inspire 1 RAW drone and a cable cam system that carried a Sony A7S II mirrorless camera.

“If you can get people’s mindset to be, ‘We’re watching a film now, we’re watching cinema,’ it will set them up for the experience,” Sturgulewski explained.

“Every couple of days, it would hit 105 degrees and the wind would just be whipping you with sand.”

The Inspire 1 RAW, despite being somewhat lower-end compared to the Red cameras, was integral to the shoot. The onboard camera uses a Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount, which was fitted with a telephoto lens to achieve a look that is quite rare from a drone. “For the price, you’re not going to get that look anywhere else,” Sturgulewski commented.

The cable cam was equally useful, and filled in on the shots that were just too difficult to achieve otherwise. A cable cam can ride right alongside a fast-moving subject, getting much closer than would be feasible with a drone.

While snow and cold weather always make for a difficult shooting environment, Sturgulewski was familiar with these challenges. Shooting in the desert sands of the Skeleton Coast presented an entirely different set of problems.

“Every couple of days, it would hit 105 degrees and the wind would just be whipping you with sand,” he remembered.

Such an environment is obviously not ideal for sensitive electronic equipment. The Red Epics held up pretty well, but it would take hours to clean all of the sand out of their fans each night. Only once did a camera fail during a shoot, however, when particularly large grains of sand found their way into the cooling system. As Sturgulewski described it, “the fans got choked up on pebbles.”

The human element

Working with a child lead presented another challenge. “Everything revolved around this one kid. Sometimes, there were these magic moments. Other times, it was really frustrating. Great lighting would be wasted if he wasn’t in the mood,” Sturgulewski said.

Ultimately, however, the struggles proved worth it, and reflect the film’s central theme of human perseverance.

When asked what he would change if he could do it again, the young director simply said, “Have more money.”

”We had all the technical things we needed, but to really get those Hollywood cinematic values, you’re still going to need the manpower.”

But it wasn’t for needs of more or better gear that called for a bigger budget.

“You can make a film that looks cinematic with way less money than you used to be able to,” Sturgulewski explained. “But to really get those Hollywood cinematic values, you’re still going to need the manpower. We had all the technical things we needed, but you’re always going to need more budget for the human element.”

Between the U.S. and Namibia teams, the crew had at most seven people working at a time. While a small crew certainly has its merits, having more people would have allowed each individual to focus more closely on a specific task.

Now that the film is nearing the end of postproduction, Sturgulewski has had some time to reflect on the filmmaking process. The entire production had been a huge learning experience for him, and he remained very close to the project throughout.

“A huge part of the process is learning how to let go,” he said. “It’s hard to trust other people, but it’s so essential to the process.”

Ben Sturgulewski
Ben Sturgulewski Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Just a few hours after this interview, Sturgulewski boarded a plane to Toronto, Canada, where he met with the colorists and sound designers who put the finishing touches on the film. After that, he collected the graded footage, laid it down on his existing timeline in Adobe Premiere Pro, added back in all of his effects, and pressed the export button one last time.

The film premiered on September 16 in Aspen as part of the Matchstick Productions tour, and will be available for purchase on iTunes in October.

With Ruin and Rose completed, Sturgulewski is ready to look to the future. He has the experience, the gear, and an awesome portfolio of work, but now his focus remains locked on finding that human element.

“I’m mostly an introvert, but I know how to be extraverted when I need to,” he said. “My biggest goal from here on out is finding those people that bring out the best in one another.”


MIT science photographer isn’t an artist, but her work could fill galleries

Felice Frankel is an award-winning photographer, but she doesn't consider herself an artist. As a science photographer, she has been helping researchers better communicate their ideas for nearly three decades with eye-catching imagery.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Photography News: Startup redesigns tripod heads ‘inside out’ for more flexibility

Well, this doesn't look like the ball heads that we've seen before. Instead of designing a tripod ball head with a small cutout, the Colorado Tripod Company created one with most of the ball exposed, allowing for more possible angles.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Leica targets street photographers with a pricey camera bundle

Described by the camera company as "your perfect companion in the city," Leica's Street Kit comprises a Leica CL camera body, a 23mm (35mm full-frame equivalent) F2 lens, batteries, a handgrip, and a black leather carrying strap.
Product Review

Meet Z6, the breakout star in Nikon's new mirrorless lineup

The Nikon Z6 is the sibling to the new mirrorless Z7 -- but for some photographers, the cheaper Z6 may be the better option. Read where the $2,000 camera beats the $3,400 one (and where it doesn’t) in our Nikon Z6 review.
Social Media

Snapchat facial recognition could soon power a new portrait mode, code suggests

Digging into Snapchat's code suggests a handful of upcoming camera features, including a portrait mode. The feature appears to use facial recognition A.I. to blur the background. The code also suggests an updated camera interface.
Social Media

#ThrowbackThursday is only the start: Instagram hashtags for every day of the week

Not getting your hashtag fill with #ThrowbackThursday or #ManCrushMonday? Here's a list of some of the more popular Instagram hashtags, so you can outfit your next post with the proper tag, regardless of what day it is.

From DSLRs to mirrorless, these are the best cameras you can buy right now

From entry-level models to full-frame flagships, many cameras take great photos and video. The best digital cameras, however, push the industry forward with innovative sensors and improved usability, among other things. Here are our…

Photographers can now customize the layout of Lightroom Classic controls

Tired of scrolling past Lightroom tools that you don't use? Adobe Lightroom Classic now allows users to reorganize the Develop panel. The update comes along with new sharing options in Lightroom CC, and updates to the mobile Lightroom app.
Social Media

Instagram could be making a special type of account for influencers

Instagram influencers fall somewhere between a business profile and a typical Instagram, so the company is working on developing a type of account just for creators. The new account type would give creators more access to analytical data.