January 19, 2005:
There is nothing like coming to where the action is, in rock climbing as well as film and video. So when Mike Strassman relocated his video business from Mammoth to a house in the Alabama Hills, it made perfect sense.
Strassman is one of those technical experts with specific film resumes that make filming in Inyo County attractive for film companies coming on location. It is not only the varied locations, predominantly sunny days, and inexpensive permitting. Inyo County also has a small cadre of experienced people to make filming here successful.
For Mike, several of his interests come together near Lone Pine. Not only is he trained in film making, but he is a climber and author who published A Rockclimber's Guide to the Alabama Hills in 2002. Film Festival personnel gave movie names to specific geologic formation like the Hoppy Rocks, Cattle Pocket and Gunga Din Bridge to identify movies that shot scenes there. Strassman has give evocative climbing names to many areas of the Alabamas. In his book he gives specific instruction how to ascend The Poodle Wall, The Eye of Horus and Schamaltz/ Friday the 13th.
Born in 1959, Mike is the son of a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, but spent his youth in Illinois where his father took a teaching position. He attended high school in Winnetka where he became involved with a fully equipped studio on the campus. Eventually his path through life led to the UCLA Film School, but when employment beckoned to work in Mammoth, he jumped at the chance. There he was shooting footage for Bennett Kessler and working at the local television station, but he wanted to go in new directions.
Doug Robinson, the owner of Patagonia, put up $30,000 and Mike's first video Moving Across Stone was created. It was an instant success. Mike formed Range of Light Productions in 1986. At present Strassman offers ten videos for sale on his website. Some of the titles include Bullet, Groms, Know Limits, Victims of Gravity and Kamikaze-10 Year Anniversary. As Mike admits, life was pretty good. He was an independent producer, living in the mountains having achieved his goal at the age of 26.
Having accumulated a library of marvelous footage of skiing, snowboarding and extreme sports, his business expanded to stock footage for programs like Real TV. "By the 1990's Mammoth was the extreme sports capital of the world" Strassman offers. But it went from sports to "eye candy" as Mike calls it, and they wanted more and more violent footage, to the point where the audience (and thus the producers) were calling for real blood.
Then the demand other stock footage collapsed and so did business for Mike.
Mike was drawn to the Alabamas. He would spend more and more time pioneering routes up the various climbing rocks and formations. This led Mike to help sponsor the first climbing festival a year ago. Recently he founded Friends of the Alabama Hills, a group that includes all the stakeholders and parties of interest for the area. The Organization works to keep the Alabamas in its primitive state, while not excluding anyone who wants appropriate access to this unique spot. As Mike stated in a recent press release, "The Friends re-iterated their commitment to preservation of existing uses in the Hills; be it grazing, OHV use on trails or target shooting. It is not the intent of the friends of the Alabama Hills to advocate the elimination of any current activities, but educate users to what is appropriate in keeping the hills a semi-primitive area that everyone can enjoy."
Range of Light Productions here in Lone Pine offers many production services where production companies need them. Services include graphic design, tape dubs, voice-over sessions, editing, sound recording, screening room, on-line editing; the list goes on and on. Mike also is an experienced mountain rigger and has already worked with National Geographic up at Walt's Point in his new location.
Behind Mike's house there are typically large Alabama Hills boulders and somehow he talked me into free climbing them. I thought it was a bad idea, but Mike is the kind of instructor who supports and coaches you to do something you think you might be able to do, but are not sure. So there I was up above and behind his studio with the beautiful Owens Valley before me. I felt very accomplished, if stiff and sore, the next day.
I had experienced first hand another one of Mike's skills. Filmmakers on location are lucky to have Mike Strassman to depend upon here in Inyo County.
(This is the first of a series of occasional articles on the professionals who work with the film industry on location here in Inyo County.)