Dream Jobs: Cinematographer at Teton Gravity Research
Home Base: Jackson, WY
Day Job: Cinematographer and editor at Teton Gravity Research
Hobbies: Distance swimming in the Tetons
For Jackson, WY, based Jill Garreffi, a day at work is anything but mainstream. She’s created a life and career of adventure from her curiosity, drive, and positive attitude.
Jill, what is your job?
I am a cinematographer and editor at Teton Gravity Research.
During the winter and spring I’m on the road, shooting action and content in the field. In the summer I’m editing.
You travel a lot to places like Europe and Alaska filming for snow sports movies. What’s life like on the road?
We’re up early, moving around the mountains with heavy camera packs. It’s long days, but it’s fun and there is never a dull moment.
Each day it’s constant curveballs. Mother nature rules our world, you make a plan and that plan goes out the window several times a day! The days that everything aligns and we accomplish our objectives are really special, since they are few and far between.
So you deal with a lot of surprises, with travel and working outdoors?
All the time!
We’ve been lost on a snowy road in Austria in a van loaded with gear and no snow tires. In Alaska we’ve been stuck on a fishing boat that broke down in the middle of icebergs. Cameras sometimes stop working because it’s too cold.
In Kosovo and Albania, it was like traveling back in time. Our “castle” didn’t quite have heat. We were working with helicopter pilots that had never worked on snow, so that was interesting and high anxiety at times.
We also travel with so many gear bags and ski bags, bag wrangling is an adventure in itself.
There are always surprises, but the shenanigans that happen are are some of my favorite times.
You recently worked on the HBO documentary, “Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season.” There were surprises with the direction that took, weren’t there?
It was a constant state of evolution. What we thought would happen during the season and what actually happened were quite different. But that’s the nature of the documentary experience, to capture a story as it’s happening and evolving forces you to figure it out as you go and think on your feet, I love that challenge.
TGR was nominated for two sports Emmy Awards for that project - congratulations!
It was an honor to be nominated, and so exciting!
What did you enjoy most about working on this documentary?
What I love about film, is giving the viewer an opportunity to feel like they are there. I was the embedded position, shooting anything in close contact with Lindsey and her team.
It was amazing to see how she operated, she is so dedicated and her team is extremely talented. What she pulled off in the end was incredible. Lindsey has had such a storied career and has been an inspiration to so many people. To be able to help share her story was truly a special experience.
The documentary was phenomenal. What was it like venturing into the World Cup, instead of extreme sports?
The world cup is intense. It’s still skiing, but a totally different world.
It’s a huge deal in Europe. In Cortina, the press and fans were swarming Lindsey. She’s a rockstar there, she had bodyguards, it was wild… I was trying to capture the mayhem and it was like following someone in a mosh pit! The crowd was so fired up at the race.
Besides this documentary, have there been other trips that really stand out in your memories?
Kosovo and Albania were some of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Goats and horses roam free on the roads; “rental shops” are piles of rear entry ski boots from the 70’s! The locals of the Balkans are amazing.
Also the area near Petersburg, a small island in southeast Alaska. That area is unexplored. I arrived a week early to capture setting up the camp. We were bringing it on a fishing boat to a remote bay at the foot of the mountains, up a tidal stream only accessible during high tide. We had two short windows a day to bring gear in. One of the tides was at night, so we used fireworks to light the area and see where we were going. It was an adventure.
How did you get into doing this for work?
I knew I wanted to do production early on. My middle school had a little TV studio, we learned to edit on 2-VCR tape decks.
I did a college internship with TGR, but after school they didn’t have any job openings. I moved to Jackson anyways, hoping at some point they would. It was a big roll of the dice, but if it didn’t work out, at least I would know I gave it my best shot. Eventually I got hired and began climbing the ranks.
So you started shooting locally, and then moved into traveling. What stands out from days shooting in Jackson, taking an early tram and filming from Teton Village?
Jackson’s a hard place to shoot, because the locals here get after it. Places can be highly trafficked and there is competition for big gnarly lines. You need to see if it’s stable, and if it’s already been hit! It creates a challenge but it’s also awesome to see the locals throw down, there’s so much talent in this valley.
Haha sounds about right for Jackson! Speaking of casual Jackson activities, tell me about your swim in Grand Teton National Park.
Two years ago I did a huge swim from Jackson lake to Phelps, we called it the “Grand Lake Traverse.”
We swam seven lakes and hiked in between, so 18 miles of swimming and 17 miles of hiking over four days. It was awesome. It was a pie in the sky idea with my friend Jovanna, it was crazy to pull that off! The body and mind are capable of a lot more than we think.
Thoughts on your future with work?
I love traveling and seeing new places, and I also really love getting to know people. Everyone has a story to tell. It would be great to work in Antarctica, Africa, the Himalayas, or other really remote locations.
I’m drawn to people and projects that are outdoors related, but most of all I love using film to share people’s stories.
Thank you for sharing, Jill! Your job and life are so interesting, and your attitude towards life is inspiring!
Photo of Jill by Nic Alegre
More on Teton Gravity Research:
Check out the Lindsey Vonn documentary: