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Bonfire’s Brad Steward Goes Hollywood

Brad Steward, the founder and president of Bonfire Snowboard Apparel, Inc., has decided to “dramatically reduce” the time he spends working at Bonfire to focus on a budding career in the film and video business.

Steward declined to be specific about just how many days a year he’ll work on the brand, but indicated that his day-to-day management role is effectively over.

“I’ll be working as a consultant for parent company Salomon and Bonfire,” says Steward. “I don’t know if I’ll maintain my position as president of Bonfire or become its chairman. Salomon would prefer if I remained president, but there may be some legal issues associated with that title.”

Obviously, Steward is eager to downplay the impact of his departure: “While I’ll be working as a consultant, the bottom line is that I’ll remain pretty engaged in long-term planning of Bonfire.

“I think we all have the tendency to identify one person and say, ‘That’s the company,’” he continues. “We have a dedicated and extremely talented group here and they will continue to grow and flourish and snowboard and be authentic.”

However, as one of the pioneers of the snowboarding industry, Steward is widely regarded as the guiding force behind the brand and an overall bright bulb in the business.

Steward, now 34 years old, was a pro rider when he was fourteen and has remained in the snowboard industry ever since. In the late 80s he helped build the Sims and Morrow brands before striking out on his own and founding Bonfire in 1991.

In the intervening years, Bonfire grew to become the number-three snowboard-apparel brand–behind Columbia and perennial front-runner and nemesis Burton. In December 1995, Steward sold his company for an estimated six-million dollars to Salomon in what some have said was a masterstroke in timing. But it’s been rough sailing at times.

“Selling the company to Salomon was dramatic shift in the way the company worked, both positively and negatively,” says Steward. “We’ve both learned about each other. Salomon has learned about how a fast-moving, entrepreneurial company works–even if they didn’t always understand it. Conversely, we’ve learned how a large, multi-national, foreign-based company works–but not always understood it.”

But when asked if his relationship with Salomon was one of the chief reasons for the career shift, Steward answers, “If I were super bummed out about Salomon, I don’t think you would see me continue with them in any way whatsoever.”

Following A Dream

So why would Steward leave a lucrative leadership position in a top-tier brand that he founded for the murky, hyper-competitive world of filmmaking? “I’ve wanted to make movies since I was eight years old,” he says, “so it’s not an all-of-the-sudden thing for me.”

It’s also clear that Steward is looking forward to a new challenge. “It’s really interesting,” he says. “For better or for worse, I have a certain reputation in the snowboarding industry. It’s literally all I’ve done my entire life. But out there in the film world, I’m just another schmo with a retainer.”

Steward attended film school at the Brooks Institute, but chose instead to pursue a career in the snowboarding industry.

But in January of this year, Steward landed an opportunity to dust off his directing skills when Bonfire sponsored a television show called On The Edge that granted advertising time to major sponsors.

Steward enlisted the help of film-school friend Art Haynie and, armed with a 4,000-dollar budget and twenty Bonfire jackets for cast and crew, rolled north to Vancouver, Canada to shoot a commercial.

Once again good fortune shined on Steward with the casting of James Caldwell, who played the unhinged “sniffer”–a character inspired by a fetish film.

It was a brilliant, over-the-top performance and the series of commercials caught the eye of the staff of Shoot Magazine, a trade publication for ad agencies and commercial filmakers, which included it in its weekly “Best Work You May Never See” column.

“Obviously, the humor in the Bonfire commercial was a little off beat, but it was good comedy,” says Shoot Editor Bob Goldridge.

Buoyed by the success, Steward and Haynie’s next project was a music video for Nojahoda, a young British group just signed by Sony records.

“We filmed it at Shari’s whorehouse in Pahrump, Nevada,” laughs Steward. “I think Art and I both went a couple-thousand dollars in debt, but the key was to keep it simple and inventive. One of the largest expenses was the 1,500 dollars we had to pay the hookers to sit around and do nothing.”

Music videos generally offer more experience than pay, but the entry-level day rate for the director of a television commerical is anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 dollars a day with shoots generally lasting two to three days.

“A lot of my decision to make this move came down to realizing that I could offer a unique viewpoint,” says Steward. “It’s remarkable, these people at all these big agencies claim to be in touch with the alternative culture and they’re still using words like ‘shredding’ in the snowboarding context. We don’t have to go out and try to show people what it is, we’re from it.

The career switch will also allow Steward to slow down his frantic lifestyle. “I’ve logged a few-hundred-thousand miles each year in air travel,” he says. “I don’t remember how many times I’ve been around the world. What’s most important right now is to keep that artistic spark alive in me. Plus, my role as husband and father is more important than my job in many ways.”

So, what measure will Steward use to gauge his success in the film world? “To be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that successful–even in snowboarding,” says Steward after some thought. “Some days I’ll say to myself, ‘Wow, you’ve pulled off a lot of things.’ But most times I’m remarkably underconfident.

“When I was a kid, I made a commitment to myself,” he continues. “I didn’t commit to being clever, or smart, or successful, or rich. My only commitment to myself was to be bold, to make big moves. Now I’m living up to that promise to myself in a way a lot of snowboarding people may not relate to–but it’s all incredibly fresh and exciting to me.”