By Karen Lorentz
“Freedom Found, My Life Story” is the candid, moving, and adventure-packed autobiography of Warren Miller, America’s most famous and prolific maker of ski and sports films. The 444-page title was written with collaborator Andy Bigford, whose 35 years in the publishing business includes as editor at Ski Magazine and general manager at Warren Miller Entertainment (WME).
As Miller details his journey from childhood deprivation to filmmaker success, he poignantly delves into the effects of being an “invisible” child during the Depression. In sharing his dysfunctional family life, including an alcoholic father who refused to work and got his wife incarcerated due to his schemes, Miller shows how parental neglect led to his own drive to work hard at an early age.
He also acknowledges the saving grace of grandparents—an inventor-grandfather who gave lessons and employment in shopwork and a kindly grandmother whose gifts (red wagon, roller skates, bicycle, Boy Scout uniform) provided morale boosters at just the right times.
Living with his grandparents for two years while his mother was “away,” Miller found the missing support that “changed my life.”
He also joined the Boy Scouts in 1936 at age 12. Loving the outdoors, he enjoyed hiking and learning to ski. By taking trip photos with his 39-cent Univex camera and selling a print, he discovered the profit motive, writing: “This was the kernel of the idea that taking pictures of great places would be a good way to make a living.”
Living in Hollywood near the ocean also enabled him to take up surfing and he made his first surfboard with the help of a shop teacher. Surfing and skiing provided escapes to a world of delight and freedom. They also led to a “magnificent obsession” with filmmaking, and his career started with “Surfing Daze” in 1949 and “Deep and Light” in 1950.
Always driven by financial need, Miller became a determined, if seat-of-the-pants, frugal entrepreneur at an early age and was largely self-supporting by age 13.
This backstory, sad as it is at times, helps us to see how he became the original ski bum, living out of a trailer at ski areas and cooking over a camp stove to afford his ski habit—and to make films. By marketing his ski features to ski shops, ski clubs and other organizations as a fundraiser, he built his business.
But as he notes, it was his ability to understand the value of humor—gleaned from the first John Jay ski film he saw—that made his films uniquely successful.
By personally narrating his film at the showings, he not only built a rapport with his audiences, he entertained them with his wry and warm Warren jokes. He capitalized on their laugh-out-loud responses to scenes of frustrating rope tow struggles, awkward ski situations (splitting stretch pants, etc.), and crazy crashes, adding comedy to the gorgeous scenery and thrilling ski action. That formula propelled his success.
His success also helped build skier participation and was a major contributor to the 1960s-70s ski boom. His films shared the appeal, fun, and excitement of skiing with thousands.
As Miller’s audiences grew, his one-man company expanded to include other cameramen and editors, and he not only produced his iconic annual ski films from 1950 through 2004, he also made 450 marketing films and wrote several books. He sold his film company in 2004, but the Warren Miller Entertainment film tour lives on.
This year’s WME feature “Here, There, and Everywhere” integrates Warren into several segments, including one on Montana, where athletes Tyler Ceccanti and Collin Collins rent a teardrop trailer and go on the road, reading “Freedom Found” as their inspiration and guide.
The Killington Ski Club will show “Here, There, and Everywhere” at Killington on Saturday, Nov. 26 as part of World Cup weekend festivities—and as a fun fundraiser.
“Freedom Found” is storytelling at its finest and an intriguing must-read for anyone with a mindset to dig into a behind-the-scenes look at the ups and downs of skiing and real life. The ski legends, nostalgia, and world travel adventures are all there, punctuated by adversity and humor, and told only as Miller can, “Warren’s way.”
Autobiography is must-read backstory to iconic filmmaker’s success
By Karen Lorentz