Snowboard Makers' Action Documentary May Not Find Broad Audience

Burton, Hoping to Grow Its Sport, May Miss the Mark With 'For Right or Wrong'

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The deal: Burton Snowboards and Mandalay Sports Action Entertainment have produced "For Right or Wrong," a full-length snowboarding documentary that the brand hopes will find a broad audience, helping drive interest in snowboarding and expand its business.

The result: The movie is nonetheless heavily targeted at the core snowboarding community and will have a tough time appealing with anyone else.

As a branded-entertainment vehicle, 'For Right or Wrong' unfortunately hits the screen with mixed results.

If there's one rule about movies, they need to have a story. It doesn't matter if the film is based on a script or if it's a documentary. And it doesn't matter who makes it.

Marketers are no exception, as an increasing number are eyeing the big screen as a way to rise above the clutter of traditional advertising and target consumers with their messages.

Burton Snowboards is the latest to make the move into filmmaking with a feature-length documentary, "For Right or Wrong," a project that Mandalay Sports Action Entertainment produced. Both hope the documentary, which was made for less than $5 million, will find a broad audience the same way the skateboarding movie "Dogtown and Z-Boys" or surfing films "Riding Giants" or "Step Into Liquid" did.

Last week, Madison & Vine reported on Burton's marketing efforts for the film.

60-minute version screened

Burton, the dominant player in the snowboarding category, screened a 60-minute version of the film last week for the first time for U.S. audiences (a 90-minute version is planned for release in theaters early next year). But as a branded-entertainment vehicle, the movie unfortunately hits the screen with mixed results.

For one, there's that pesky rule: the story.

The film follows three separate groups of snowboarders -- individuals who either travel the world to find the highest peaks to tackle, compete professionally or seek out ordinary objects such as railings, walls or picnic tables to perform tricks on. Its producers aim to give audiences a behind-the-scenes look at what happens on and off the mountain.

The concept is to give snowboarding a face -- or many faces -- and reveal why these individuals love the sport so much. It's an interesting idea that stumbles in its execution. "For Right or Wrong" is hardly a bad film. It's just an exercise in meandering filmmaking from a company that has built a business around snowboarding.

It takes a laid-back approach to telling the stories of the snowboarders featured in the film -- if it tells any stories at all. And that is its biggest problem. It's almost as if the filmmakers needed to drink more Adrenaline from Sobe, one of the project's many marketing partners.

Making Shaun White seem dull

For example, in its account of Shaun White's efforts to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics, the film manages to make the energetic, floppy-red-haired pro-snowboarding phenom almost boring. And those familiar with Mr. White know he's far from dull. The film nearly falls flat on its face whenever it cuts to the Olympic storyline. If you'd watched "The Shaun White Series," a web series that retailer Target produced, you would have gained even more insight into who Mr. White is off the mountain.

Burton founder Jake Burton appears in one of the subplots; he's on his way to tackle a mountain in Russia as part of his annual goal to snowboard 100 days each year. But he is mostly shown sitting around, waiting.

Only world record holder Mads Jonsson and 2005 snowboarder of the year Nicolas Muller come across as charismatic stars with their aerial exploits on the mountain. They're also the Yodas of the film, spouting existentialisms like, "For right or wrong, there is no wrong." You want to see more of them.

Lacks a visual punch

And technically, the film also doesn't pack the visual punch needed to fill seats. While the snowboarding in the film is impressive, you've seen it before and you've seen it better. (That's one thing Mountain Dew's "First Descent" had going for it. Its photography was glossy, breathtaking and, more importantly, memorable.) Which is surprising, considering that Burton has made countless movies before -- mostly direct-to-video movies it affectionately calls "action porn" for the back-to-back action sequences featured in them. And Mandalay is no stranger to filmmaking either, having produced "Sleepy Hollow," "Into the Blue" and "Enemy at the Gates." The company's founder, Peter Guber, produced "Batman."

Burton is fully enveloped in the world of snowboarding, so who better than Burton to make a snowboarding movie? But it is as if Burton is too close to the sport to be able to make a film that broad audiences might be able to enjoy. And Mandalay was too eager to give Burton what it wanted.

Despite all this, Burton should still be given props for making "For Right or Wrong." The company is still one of only a few marketers to risk fully financing a full-length feature. And it has made one that doesn't overwhelm the audience with product placements.

The audience at the screening

The audience at the screening -- made up mostly of snowboarders -- seemed to enjoy the film, guaranteeing at least brisk business on DVD. One said he "loved" it. The reason: "I loved it 'cause I know those guys ... [I'm] fans of them, the sport and Burton. I liked the snowboarding; the Olympic part, not so much." And there's a lot of Olympic parts in it, something the filmmakers should take into account. Online buzz has also been mostly positive.

There's also good news in that Burton and Mandalay still have time to improve the film. The two are still tweaking the 90-minute version before its theatrical run next year.

And as they do, they should take a comment Mr. Burton makes in the film -- "It's not about how many days you ride; it's about how much fun you have" -- into mind. The same could be said about movies: It's not about how many movies you see; it's about how much fun you have seeing one.
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