Cutting mountains down to molehills: Kim Schneider reflects on his career

Kim Schneider has been the head editor of Warren Miller Entertainment for more than 40 years.

Kim Schneider’s mother once told him he has the patience of Job. At the time, he didn’t know what that meant. Later in life, he learned the Old Testament story of God taking away Job’s wealth and family to test his devotion. She was referring to her son’s undying determination.

“I don’t even think about it,” Schneider said. “I just do it.”

Schneider was barely a preteen when he saw his first Warren Miller film. Even then, he knew he wanted to work with the skiing legend. Since the 70s, Schneider has been the Warren Miller Entertainment’s main editor.

“How could you do anything for 40 years and not really enjoy the process?” Schneider said.

Growing up in the Bay Area, Schneider would skip class to go skiing in Tahoe. He and his friends woke up at four in the morning to drive the four hours so they could be there when the lifts opened. Tickets cost $10. They stayed until the last lift ran up the mountain. The next day, they would be back in class with goggle burns.

“It was a different world,” Schneider said.

Schneider has been with Warren Miller Entertainment since the early days, when skiing was a niche activity and production consisted of “a bunch of ski bums running around with a camera.”

To this day, they shoot without a script. That means Schneider has to find stories in the editing bay.

“Maybe I was made to put pieces of a puzzle together,” Schneider said.

Early on, only a handful of filmmakers made ski movies. Schneider toured the country in the fall doing screenings with Miller. People’s anticipation was palpable.

“October and November, people have been waiting all summer, spring, fall, to go skiing,” Schneider said. “[It’s] a sport that for many is like a religion or an addiction.”

He watched as Miller ad-libbed live narration at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in front of 3,000 fans for five nights straight, two shows a night, showcasing his signature humor.

Schneider moved to Los Angeles to work with Miller. He plugged his motor home into the back of the office on Hermosa Beach.

“I was in heaven,” Schneider said.

Soon, though, he began to feel like a fish out of water.

“I just never settled into that massive amount of life going on down there,” Schneider said.

He hated commuting. One night, he received a parking ticket for being on the wrong side of the road on trash day.

“When was the last time you got a parking ticket in Ketchum in front of your house?” Schneider asked.

Knowing he had to get out of L.A., he returned to the place he skied as a child with his siblings and father: the Wood River Valley.

“What’s not to like up here?” Schneider asked.

Although the company has sold “four or five times” in the last 15-20 years, they still send the footage to Schneider for editing. He assumes the new people ask “Who the hell is this guy up in Idaho we send all our stuff to?”

Schneider has seen the business change a lot over the years. Back when he got involved, the crew was less than 10 people. Now, it’s owned by a massive company.

“Outside Inc. is what the emails say,” Schneider said.

Outside Inc.—itself a trademark of Outside Interactive--runs more than 30 brands with 500-plus employees.

“It’s too much for me to imagine,” Schneider said, “so I don’t even think about it.”

When he works on a project, Schneider never asks for more money—he just asks for more time. Schneider know editors from L.A. who will just take the first shot they see. For him, that’s like opening a treasure chest and only taking a dollar bill off the top. Schneider is searching for the gold at the bottom.

“It’s a rush when a drive shows up from FedEx with new stuff on it,” Schneider said. “It doesn’t matter what I have to do.”

For him, it’s like going to an art gallery and enjoying the works.

“Which ones can I take home?” Schneider said. “How many can I take home?”

One time, he edited for 128 hours straight.

“I never closed my eyes,” Schneider said. “But I was also 27 years old and I thought I was invincible.”

Once, while spending a week editing in the second story office in Boulder, Colorado, he was oblivious to massive flooding going on outside. They brought his meals to him.

“I forget about the world going on out there,” Schneider said.

When they drove him to the airport to go do the final audio mix in L.A., he saw cars flipped over.

“It was like a war zone.”

Schneider lived through the transition from analog to digital. Everyone shoots more now. You no longer hear the film buzzing through your camera. Now, it’s as simple as pushing a button.

Back in the day, he would get about an hour of footage for a two-to-three minute segment. Now, he gets nothing less than 15 hours. On occasion, 30 hours.

“I take it to heart,” Schneider said. “I still look at every single frame. I will pour over it. I will obsess over it ... I haven’t found a shortcut to that yet.”

Music is an indelible part of Schneider’s editing process. He was around when they only used cheap, licensable library of canned music—stuff you would hear in the supermarket. They would drop the needle and record it live. Then, he was around when they fed tape into the 16 mm. Now, the proliferation of the internet has opened up his process while simultaneously making it more difficult. He starts searching and saving up music every year around March before they even start shooting the movie.

“I don’t listen to music for pleasure anymore,” Schneider said.

Spotify tells him he listens to roughly 700 hours a year. That’s nearly a month’s worth of time. Every song he hears, he swears the artist is secretly singing about the mountains.

“I have the same feeling about music as when I’m looking at all the footage,” Schneider said. “I don’t want to miss anything.”

Schneider gets lost in the algorithms of streaming to find for music in the next Warren film.

“Considering who we are ... we have a good budget for music,” Schneider said. “But, it’s still not enough.”

Schneider’s son Travis has now been the music supervisor for Warren Miller Entertainment for over a decade. Dealing with the legal side of things, he often combats publishing. He fights because he knows how intricately his father edits around music.

“Music is math, really,” Schneider said. “You’re kind of doing a mathematical equation while you’re editing. If you find the right song and the math is right, it kind of just falls into place.”

Growing up, Travis was always looking for work. He found it at home. Around the house, there were thousands of burned CD’s from record labels sending demos. Kim had Travis go through all of them. He offered $5 if Travis found a song he liked, $10 if he used it in an edit and $25 if it made it into the final film.

“That’s pretty good money for listening to music,” Schneider said. “I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I started him down the road of being a music supervisor.”

Kim’s other son, Kyle, is also part of the family business. A filmmaker himself, Kyle has helped edit portions of Warren Miller films. Kim says Kyle’s work has the electricity of a Marvel movie trailer.

“He put more time into it than I did—ten times more,” Schneider said. “But, it looked ten times better. A hundred times better.”

When they would show the films at the Sun Valley Opera House, audience members could pick out the segments Kyle edited.

Despite all the changes over the years, Schneider’s process remains the same. Believing every shot is as unique as a snowflake, he is searching for “the moment.” And if you look hard enough, Schneider said, “the moment” is always there to find. 

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