A Hump Day Retrospective with Think Thank

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After years of producing local Alaskan videos with Jason Borgstede as JB Duece,  Jesse Burtner had the desire to take the snowboard video to another level. A more cerebral celebration of snowboarding, one for which we might utter, thanks brain! after watching. And so, Think Thank was born. With his wife Pika, and friends like Sean Genovese in tow, Jesse claimed 10 movies and ten years later, delivered “Think Thank is Brain Dead and Having a Heart Attack,” right on schedule. So what better time to catch up with the people who make Think Thank tick, and answer the omnipresent question: what’s next?

How did Think Thank start?

Jesse: It started with a “Thunk”!  It started out with a desire to attach ideas or philosophical concepts to snowboarding and the snowboard video.  There is a lot to be said through snowboarding, you can run “big picture” ideas through any medium, so why not the snowboard video?

Where did the name come from?

Jesse:  I wanted it to be a group of people all bringing their artistic or technical expertise together for one project.  Kind of like a video resume for the talented snowboarders, designers, filmers and artists I knew.  Pika, Andy Simutis and I were in the Sloop in Ballard drinking some Slooper-sized beers brain storming names.  I said I wanted it to be a think tank, a group of people using their brains.  We were saying it over and over and someone drew a tank on a napkin and I think Pika or Andy said “thank” instead of “tank” and that was it.  It was perfect.  The best, most easily messed up, tongue twister name ever!  When we reverse engineered the philosophy behind the name that night we came up with the slogan “Thanks Brain!”  because you think and then you thank yourself for thinking, thanks brain! And the name “Thunk” was also conceived right then, the sound a thought makes “Thunk”.  Geno loved it, he immediately started drawing cartoons with Thunks and brains and we we’re rolling.

Who is involved in the day to day these days?  

Jesse: Day to day it’s Pika, myself, Sean Lucey and Ross Phillips.  With Geno always in our hearts and minds.  He’s busy killing dinosaurs, it’s tough work, but someone has to do it.

What’s your role in Think Thank?

Pika: If you think of Think Thank like being a big brainstorm cloud, I think I would be at the switchboard. Jesse is the brainstorm, and I’m helping make the ideas come to life. I’m in on a lot of the big picture art direction and then apply it to the video, ads, box art, design logos and titles. The last few years I’ve filmed quite a bit, though pale in comparison to Lucey and Ross. And I do the not-so-fun-stuff like writing proposals, contracts, invoices, getting music rights, organizing trips, website updating, setting up the premieres and general day-to-day necessities that pop up. It’s all a group effort though, but we do a lot with little.

How did you get involved in Think Thank? What was your role?

Geno: I met Jesse at Mt.Baker while he was still making JB Deuce videos.  I think that was in 1998?  Whatever year they made “100%.”  After helping him and Borg on their last two videos, “In For Life” and “Steezin For No Reason”, Jesse decided to start Think Thank, and he asked if I’d give him and Pika a hand with it.  From then on I was heavily involved, up to and including, the year that Ransack Rebellion was made.

I’ve always seen my role as the one that filled in the blanks.  Jesse would work the main portion of the edit, and I would work on a bunch of the little things that can be really distracting if you’re editing the main body of a full length flick… titles, credits, intros, stop motion, helping get music rights, color correcting, etc.  Then help by being a second opinion for Jesse to bounce edit ideas off of, and I would edit my sections in each of the vids.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in keeping Think Thank going and strong?

Pika: That’s a tough one, since challenges are both hardships but also what make Think Thank keep adapting and being what it is I think. The first thing that comes to mind though is doing a good job keeping up with all of the new media. It used to be so straight forward. We’d make a teaser that came out in time for SIA and then be the first to release the video on DVD in August. Now, with Facebook, Instagram, Youtube there’s just this limitless amount of time we can spend feeding it, and it’s just about figuring out what best to feed it to still be of quality, relevance, attention grabbing, and not taking too much time away from the bigger picture which is the full-length video. Then of course when the video is released, there’s the challenge of distribution, from the physical experience of seeing it in a theater to the hardcopy and then digital. The way this is windowed has been in flux, so it’s hard to perfect. I look at Hollywood, and see a DVD of a movie come out like 1 month after it was in theaters and think well at least Bruckheimer is having the same problem!

Another challenge for me and my lady feelings is that I get pretty connected to everyone who films for Think Thank. It’s like a big family, so when someone’s sponsor wants them to film for another project that can be hard. I’m like, we’re the most bang-for-the-buck video you can sponsor! Change is good though and it just makes us keep evolving and bringing in new people which has become one of our strengths.

What’s the best and worst parts about making snowboard movies for a living?

Pika: The people we’ve met and become close friends with over the years has been the best! For me, seeing all these young people trailblazing doing something they’re passionate about, and often sacrificing college, relationships, and the safer path for giving a stab at a snowboard career is really inspiring. There’s no “Book for Dummies” on it. It’s all about the love for it, and that’s a big part of what keeps me going and always trying my best every year.

The worst part is getting older! I’m like this 34 year old woman holding a camera in the cold now. Last winter, we were filming on New Year’s Eve with the 5-2″ Crew and the cops drove up. I was standing closest to them, and they pulled up to me. The cop rolled down his window and after seeing me said “We got a call that some kids were messing around out here, but you’re all good!” I guess there are some benefits of having a harmless looking older lady a part of the crew.

What is it like working with Jesse?

Geno: Two words… Snowboard Hell.  .. ….. . . . . . .  Actually it’s mellow.  I don’t know if it’s just because we’ve all known each other for so long that we’re aware of one another’s quirks, or whether we just work well together (maybe that’s one in the same), but working with Jesse and Pika has always been really easy.  Everyone sort of understands what needs to be done and we each have different strengths that we gravitate to naturally.

You’re obviously in it for the love, but can you (still) make money making snowboard movies?

Jesse: You can still pull off a movie.  No one is making dough unless they are getting paid by a brand to make a movie as a marketing tool, I.E. They aren’t worried about recouping their investment, it’s a marketing expense.  Think Thank pays for Lucey, Ross, Pika and myself to adventure around, snowboard, work really hard, but also have THE time of our lives and then do it over again. It’s amazing.  Are there 401ks?  No, not yet.  But there is always opportunity and money to be made, it’s just what are you willing to do to make that money, what is your goal?  Ours is to make the movies we want to watch.  So we have to play it pretty close to the chest and make it work however we can.  Huge thanks to all those sponsors, fo’ real doh.  Patrons of the arts, even if they don’t know it.

Furthermore we all know the demand for content isn’t going anywhere, it’s just how it is received that is in a state of flux. So turning that in to money is the challenge.  It’s a challenge for all of entertainment, especially so for us “snowboarder dudes” trying to do it all.  So when you figure it out let us know.

Which is your favorite movie from the library?

Jesse: Gotta go with “Patchwork Patterns” or “Cool Story”   Patchwork had so much new energy behind it, Gus was living with Pika and I and we were all just wiling out on snowboarding and getting weird and Scott joined the crew and Johnny Miller, it was heady times man.  Like the 60s, except without the drugs or the booze and we showered, except Gus.  But it was exciting, truly genuinely exciting, I’m super thankful for that time.  Then “Cool Story” maybe is a sleeper flick people wouldn’t think of being one of the best, but for me it was a big challenge and a challenge that we met.  I just watched it yesterday, I love it, it’s like having the most bad ass year book you could ask for.  The stories are real and they ring true and the snowboarding is top notch.  It was just too long, but that’s ok, it was worth it to do want we wanted to.

Pika: My favorite has to be Right Brain Left Brain. Everything just really came together that year for us. And I feel like a lot of riders just had “their year”. Scott, Jess, J-Rob, Nick Visconti, Geno all put together what I think are really some of their best parts, that really got them noticed. I can watch that movie over and over again still.

Geno: This is a shit answer, but I’d have to say all of them.  I don’t think there’s one that stands out.  The videos are all memories for me…  Every clip has a memory attached.

When you started it did you think you’d still be making videos 10 years later?

Jesse: Yes!  I claimed 10 movies.  “I’m making ten of these!” I said.  Ten movies all with ideas that communicate to one another, one long ten year movie, that was the goal. And that’s how many we made.  Now we’re mixing it up.  I’ll explain below.

Ok, a lot of people we’re speculating this may be the last Think Thank movie, care to prove them wrong?

Jesse: It’s not the last!  As I mentioned above I said I’d make 10 of those movies.  And we did that.  I don’t want to make the same movie again.  That’s what “Think Thank is Brain Dead and Having a Heart Attack” was about, we were moving out of the brain and in to the heart.  Freeing Think Thank up to stop thinking so much and start feeling more. Ideas are heavy, almost too heavy to add to an already bogged down project that just wants to showcase amazing snowboarding. So, what is to come is more.  More movies.  This year we’re introducing “The Think Thank Almanac”  as the progressive tricks, bangers, chaos, does what it wants, sets the trends, goes where the rider’s take it, freestyle spaz fest of the century.  Sean Lucey will head this up along with his trusty van, Delores.  It’s a tight crew but it’s also going to feature “The Big Mess” a cross section of as much snowboarding humanity that we come across. That’s one thing.  Then there will be Think Thank Special Projects Division which is concentrating on more in depth ideas.  Some of the things we’ve wanted to say about snowboarding but couldn’t fit in to a movie with 15 dudes in it. Give some of those heavy ideas their own movie, to really explain some of the stoke and in depth culture that keeps us interested in snowboarding.  These videos will be short and feature only a handful of riders that will be ripping hard but also speaking towards a large concept inside of snowboarding.  The Think Thank Almanac will come out every year like clock work and the Special Projects’ release dates will be based on the project itself, we’ll have one this year, coming out Aug 2014, but then we might start working on a two year or whatever catches our fancy. Maybe three years.  “The Brooke Geery Story” … Something like that……who knows.

21 replies
  1. YEAH
    YEAH says:

    I have so much respect for these guys. A genuinely nice group of people who happen to put out amazing videos every year. Think Thank Lives On!

  2. Think Thank Forever
    Think Thank Forever says:

    One of my first snowboard movies was “Thanks Brain!”. Thanks for always doing your own thing and keeping me stoked! Super Excited for these new projects.

  3. Hhhmmm
    Hhhmmm says:

    I feel like these guys should give a bigger shout-out to Scott Stevens. He brought the riding style that really almost everyone else in the crew has bit and has now become Think Thanks signature flavor. Without him I don’t think they ever would have gotten this kind of momentum.

  4. Patrick McCarthy
    Patrick McCarthy says:

    Jesse Burtner and Think Thank is everything that snowboarding is all about. You and your friends going out snowboarding, laughing, sleeping in peoples closets, digging for hours, partying all night and finding your way out into the Alaskan backcountry to get some hammers. Filming for Think Thank over the years has allowed me to meet such an insane array of snowboarders from all walks of life. Much love to the Think Thank legacy and everything that it represents every person who has been down knows that your in the family for life! Madd props to the whole crew lord knows I will free some time up year after year to get out with the boys and get loose!

  5. His Holiness the Dalai Lama
    His Holiness the Dalai Lama says:

    Keeping the ego out of snowboarding. They do everything that magazines should have done over the past ten years. They pay homage to our great leaders. Instead of trying to sell product, you try to do good deeds for homies and friends. This is the way towards enlightenment. Psycho guys! Crazy board tricks and fun! Do this, and you too shall feel eternal brightness.

  6. Sup
    Sup says:

    Left Brain Right Brain is the first thing that really got me stoked on snowboarding.
    Thank you Think Thank crew for doin what you do!

  7. The Hand of Ullr
    The Hand of Ullr says:

    Literally watch Stack Footy every day in the winter while I make breakfast and get my gear on.

  8. Jorge
    Jorge says:

    I remember being a kid and seeing patchwork patterns and it blew my mind. It was the video that defined snowboarding for me. Big ups to think thank, SQUAWK!

  9. Corwin Quality
    Corwin Quality says:

    I think thank you have that the other way around on the genesis of “signature style” broheim. The genesis for it all was childhood anyway.

  10. The Last Frontier State and Beyond
    The Last Frontier State and Beyond says:

    Watching the premiere for Thunk in the University of Alaska Anchorage Auditorium at 22 was some sort of self realization coming full circle. At the time Alaska had a vibrant snow scene with Boarderline snowboard shop putting on demos and having indoor skating year round. Alas it wasn’t meant to be and after cue the birds the shop went underground for a few years. All the while like clockwork the state was pumping out banger shots out at places like East High and Turnagain pass. 10 years and some of the key players have come and gone but the backbone…Has always been the same Burtner and Geno doing cool innovative things to bring snowboarding in AK…a once TB only platform to the masses that can grasp hiking a ledge over and over. Looking up to guys like Jesse, Lando, PMAC and Geno made me realize that its not what you snowboard on but how you do it with style. Which is why all 10 films are timeless.

  11. max
    max says:

    big up for Jesse and Think Thank. after the first time i’ve seen patchwork patterns,maybe 6 years ago,my way to see snowboarding changed. it’s more fun now.
    best crew ever.

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