A typical day at the office for Tyler Wilkinson-Ray ’13 might involve standing in knee-deep snow on a 40 degree slope while keeping a video camera steady in subzero temperatures. It's part of the quest to capture a few seconds of action—perhaps a skier suddenly flying over the lip of a jump—at just the right angle.
Not typical, perhaps, for a global studies major with a concentration in anthropology. But Wilkinson-Ray says his experience at UVM was integral to his work making short documentaries and commercial films.
“You can find a lot of people with nice equipment and an education in filmmaking who don’t necessarily know how to tell a story,” he says. “The reality is, you can learn how to use equipment by watching tutorials and just experimenting. What’s harder is to create convincing narratives. The social science background I had at UVM was essential to that.”
Wilkinson-Ray’s corporate clients include heavyweights in the outdoor apparel industry including Patagonia and Columbia. The filming gigs take him to wherever the skiing is good, on latitudes ranging from the Yukon Territory to the Andes.
On the side, he and his brother Elliot (also a UVM grad), run T-Bar Films, a company that, according to its website, makes films about “resilience, passion, and community that today's major ski film companies are overlooking.”
The name of the company has its roots in the Wilkinson-Rays’ upbringing. Natives of Richmond, Vt., the famous Cochran ski hill was just minutes away from their home. The brothers learned to ski there, and during his UVM years Tyler coached skiing and helped out with races.
One of Wilkinson-Ray’s professors and mentors, anthropologist Luis Vivanco, has an interest in the renewed enthusiasm for the bicycle. Vivanco‘s recent book Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing, explores how society sees the bicycle not just as a toy or exercise machine, but as a solution to a number of contemporary problems.
“When you walked into his office with a question, you’d come out with three or four books,” Wilkinson-Ray remembers.
He began to think about skiing through a similar anthropological lens, and decided to make a documentary focusing on Cochrans and other small, family-run ski hills in Vermont. He and Elliot began the project during Tyler’s last semester at UVM.
“At times we felt like we bit off more than we could chew,” he admits, “but it was a great learning experience and we ended up with something we were really proud of. It’s about how skiing is a way to build community. These small, locally-run ski hills all over the state play a big role in that.”
A subsequent T-Bar project featured the story of Vasu Sojitra, a skier with one leg who developed adaptations to ski some of the most difficult terrain in the world. The film “Out on a Limb” won wide acclaim in the outdoor film industry and put Wilkinson-Ray on the map as a technician and storyteller.
Wilkinson-Ray works as an independent producer for commercial clients, building teams of contractors who specialize in different areas of production. One of his largest projects was a 12-episode video series for Columbia sportswear, part of a multimillion dollar ad campaign filmed in over a dozen locations around the world. He just returned from Argentina after filming a “second season” for the company.
“Even in the commercial world people are looking for a more documentary style,” he said. “In that sense I think we had great timing, getting on that wave of storytelling in outdoor video. That’s what I think set me apart—with my educational training I feel I’m bringing a different lens to the equation.”