The average modern snowmobile never expects to end up in Hollywood, driven by John Travolta on the big screen, but some lucky Phazers finished life that way. And that was after they were on "Rocky Mountain Rangers" with Robert Conrad. Every once in a while, Snowblind can make a snowmobile's dream come true.
Chris Fiore, owner of Snowblind Snowmobile Consulting, takes the mass media's portrayal of the snowmobile very seriously. "When snowmobiles get `cooler' and more culturally accepted, they end up in more scripts and more of those scripts get produced," Fiore said. And that is where Snowblind comes in.
Snowblind is Hollywood's secret source for over-the-snow vehicles. It provides pre-production consulting and design, as well as budget planning. Snowblind then works with transportation, art and special effects to create a vehicle that works for everyone.
Fiore grew up in Utah, Massachusetts and Rhode Island-where winters are cold and snowy. "We used snowmobiles to drag bales of hay to the cows and to check fences," Fiore explained. While at the University of Rhode Island, completing his degree in finance and economics, he grew bored and tried out for a new MTV show, Remote Control. Getting in front of the camera changed his life and after graduation, Fiore packed up, said goodbye to Adam Sandler, Collin Quinn and MTV, and moved to Hollywood to try for a part on Baywatch. At 5-foot-10 and 220 lbs., a muscular Fiore with long black hair knew that casting had to reject him. But Fiore returned the next season at 190 lbs. with short brown hair and the producers asked him to take the swim test.
Fiore filmed the next seven seasons and let everyone on the cast and crew know about the sport of snowmobile. "I had shots of the cast sitting on my old sled for one of the Christmas shows when they blew foam fake snow," he said. "It gave me an idea."
At around the same time (1992), Fiore was told to find a snowmobile guru that had settled in Southern California, Terry Diederichs. Diederichs had come up with some innovative high altitude setups that would eventually help Fiore win some races. The Diederichs took Fiore in as one of their own and helped him understand that efficiency was the path to success, not always horsepower. Diederichs left nothing stock, blueprinting every part while questioning its necessity. Fiore said, "We were there before plastic skis. We were the ones bending aluminum skis for lighter weight."
Fiore started getting calls to use the sleds on movies, TV and music videos. He kept acting in movies and started to better understand the needs of the camera department, special effects, transportation and property. "There was one show that wanted to have the camera guy run in the snow with the actress and mimic the point of view of a snow beast that is chasing her," Fiore explained. "I convinced them to let me ride around her with a camera mount onboard and only the focus puller riding with me. They loved the shots."
The Camera Sled was created.
As calls came in and shots were done, Fiore realized that filming in the winter environment was hard on talent and equipment. He figured what was needed was the ability to shoot on fake snow with snowmobiles. "Terry (Diederichs) and I discussed the needs of an indoor running sled and redesigned some to fill the niche." The first use came a week after sending a quote to General Hospital for two sleds. "It was about 10 a.m. and a frantic call came in from the prop guy," Fiore said. "He saved money renting some guy's sleds, but the fire marshal had shut down production and opened the barn doors to the stage to get the smoke out. They had decided on using flaked plastic snow and Ritter fans. The plastic was burning on the pipes and one motor seized, ingesting the product. Three hours later the snow patrol was riding on stage again."
In 1997, word in Hollywood was that John Travolta was looking at a script about a desperate failing snowmobile dealer. Without much info to work with, Snowblind blanketed Hollywood with details on its history of trademark work, product placement, consulting and design and riding ability. Three months later, Fiore found himself standing on a runway at the Agua Dulce Airport (California) meeting with Director Nora Efram (You've Got Mail) trying to create her vision of Lucky Numbers.
Fiore explained how he "created" a snow scene. "We snowed in the entire airport to match an area in Pennsylvania. We brought in 20 truckloads of 50-foot trees and added telephone poles, street lights and buildings. We also snowed in 12 blocks of a town in the middle of California to end the snowmobile chase scene." In all, 58 snowmobiles were used, including 13 look-alike hero Phazers for Travolta and his doubles to ride and jump and crash.
"For some reason, Arctic Cat marketing people didn't think that photos of John Travolta on their snowmobile would be good for sales," Fiore said. "Naomi Teske, formerly of Polaris, knew the power of the big screen. She sent down 20 Polaris sleds and a truckload of PG&A to outfit the dealership. The pictures of Travolta in front of the Polaris dealership sign quickly made the publicity circuit. When it cost automakers more than $1 million to shoot a commercial, it seems amazing that some snowmobile marketing departments won't give away three or four sleds to have a superstar connected with their brand. I don't know how they got their jobs."
Fiore pointed out that the only company currently trying to keep snowmobiles in the limelight is Ski-Doo. The James Bond job was originally offered to Arctic Cat when Snowblind was trying to hide Z120s under the ice sails the villains were to use. When Bombardier heard of the movie, their marketing department took the snowmobile scene to the forefront of the movie promotions. They marketed a special James Bond model of the new Rev that could be won at McDonalds and had huge point-of-purchase displays. "If any other company had that project, no one would have known there was a snowmobile in the movie," he said.
Fiore said that companies like Coca-Cola pay upwards of $500,000 for product placement in a movie. Snowblind can get that for snowmobile companies for the price of a few snowmobiles and some legal paperwork. How the company publicizes its role in the film is up to them. "I had the Olson twins riding snowmobiles with their friends in a movie and I couldn't get free units for them," Fiore said. "It is easy for me to see why snowmobile sales are dropping year after year with the current crop of marketing and promotion personnel. Sales for the Pontiac Trans-Am more than doubled after Smokey and the Bandit. What if Chevy had gotten its Corvette on instead? I had an Arctic Cat on the Jay Leno Show and had to cover the name and disguise the graphics because Arctic didn't think it was important to have its snowmobiles on television. Polaris said they didn't want the project because they weren't `going that direction with their marketing.' I feel bad for their investors."
Snowblind and Chris Fiore have done Scrap Wars, Worst Case Scenario, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Sony, Pizza Hut, Nissan Armada, Chevrolet and others. After so many jobs, they have earned the trust of Hollywood and the people in the legal departments of the manufacturers.
For example, Yamaha has a list of conditions for and scenes involving their snowmobiles. Snowblind is on set to enforce it. "We need actors with helmets. There can be no open water in view and no liquor in the scene," explained Fiore. Snowblind administers onset safety meetings and instructs actors and stuntmen on how to operate the snowmobiles.
Calling on the knowledge that Terry Diederichs instilled upon him, Fiore started building mountain sleds under the MTNX moniker and called them the Atomicsled. "The Sierra Nevadas have a special type of snow. It is high elevation, high density snow with a lot of moisture in the air that can be 70 degrees during the day and 20 degrees at night," Fiore said. "If you ride deep light powder, you can cut corners with durability to save weight. Our snow is `snowball-snow' even if three feet of it falls in 8 hours. The snow is heavy and the drifts set up like plowed snow banks by morning. We started with lightweight aluminum tie rods and arms and they failed."
After years of consulting and watching the outsourcing and departmentalization of the movie world, Fiore knew that MTNX didn't need to make all the parts. It just needed to know who to have make them. The Atomic line is heavier than CMX, but lighter than Tison. The Atomicsled sticks to basics and uses many replacement parts that can be found in small town dealerships and hardware stores. "I love titanium," Fiore said. "But being so hard to work with, we usually resort to 7076 T6 for our own fabricated parts. Lately, the manufacturers are beating us at our mod game. The sleds offered this year are ridiculous. We can't keep up and they have multiple year warranties."
Now that the manufacturers are competing with the custom builders, where is Snowblind heading? Look at the dust clouds on the horizon for your answer. "We have expanded to the sand car world," Fiore said. "Not dune buggies with VW motors, but sand cars with LS6 and LS2 corvette based power made to run at 60-80 mph for hours in the desert."
Calling it Atomic Offroad, Fiore has teamed up with some of the best fabricators to produce a super-safe heavy-duty vehicle. "We work exclusively with Brad Vanasek of Sandcar Specialties fame for the complete cars. So Cal Fab helps with all the parts design and some machining. We often get asked if we do long travel cars and I don't know of any other type. The question is do you want 22 inches of travel or 30? Brad's frame design is bulletproof, something you need when pre-running a race 40 miles from camp. We hope that the auto manufacturers don't react as quickly as the snowmobile companies did. We enjoy building something that no automaker sells."
Fiore's heart is still with snowmobiles. As long as they shoot movies with fake snow, Snowblind will be there. As long as there is snow to ride on, Fiore and the SoCal Highmarkers will be loading up in the 90 degrees F sun, then driving the six hours to Mammoth Lakes, CA, to see what challenges nature has prepared for them.
For more information, log on to www.mtnx.com.