Two linemen from Barrow Utility Electric just finished climbing a pole in -27°F weather in Barrow, Alaska.

Storm Soldiers II

Aug. 27, 2015
A new documentary explores why linemen choose to work in the trade and how their families support them through thick and thin.

Linemen often work behind the scenes, restoring power to Americans nationwide. Two years ago, however, field crews were cast into the spotlight with the movie “Storm Soldiers.”

This fall, the producers and directors for Tytan Creates are unveiling a new documentary that explores the lives of linemen and the ups and downs of working in the field.

“While the first film was an overview of the industry, and was like “Top Gun” for utility linemen, this movie delves into the darker side; we focus on the toll that this trade takes on their bodies and their personal lives,” says Jim Stone, a director for the film for Tytan Creates. “We talk about the tougher part of being a lineman.”

After producing the first film, Stone says he and his team learned that there was more of a story to tell about linemen. The first documentary started off as a 15-minute safety film, which quickly expanded into a documentary. As such, many electric utilities are now using the film as a recruiting tool.

“One utility only had nine students in its class before ‘Storm Soldiers,’ and now it has 40 in its program,” Stone says. “We have heard of many line schools showing the movie.”

Stone says the first movie touched a lot of lives, and anytime it is shown, linemen’s families come up to him and thank him for making the documentary. While he works on a lot of commercial work, he says nothing has meant more to him in his career than working on the two “Storm Soldiers” movies.

Because it can be costly to produce a documentary, Hubbell and Chance have once again partnered with Tytan Creates to help produce and distribute the film. Altec has joined the team, and other vendors such as Kermel, NorthWestern Energy, Burndy and IFD Corp. have stepped up to sponsor the movie.

“They loved ‘Storm Soldiers’ and they believed in it,” he says. “They wanted the story told about these guys.”

Nick Lawson, a lineman for Primary Source, changes out a transformer in Pueblo, Colorado.

Changing Direction

Originally, the production team was planning on calling the second movie “Ice Warriors,” but then changed it to “Storm Soldiers II: This Time It’s Personal” because of the minimal amount of severe winter weather.

For example, when the Tytan Creates team was filming an IBEW lineman and his family in Missouri, he got a call for a superstorm that hit Boston. As a result, the team drove nonstop to the site of the storm, alongside mutual assistance crews. When they arrived on the site, however, they learned that only 1,000 people were without power, and rather than the expected widespread devastation, only the homes along the coast were damaged.

Nationwide, however, linemen had to deal with challenging weather conditions, such as in Alaska. When the production crew arrived in the state in March, it was -27°F, the snow was blowing, and the linemen were still climbing poles.

“We don’t know how the cameras even kept going,” Stone says. “They were tough guys, however, and they live it day in and day out. Before we filmed there, I had never seen a frozen ocean, but it was frozen for 7 miles out, and we were able to walk on the frozen waves.”

While filming in Barrow, Alaska, the mayor of the North Slope Borough, Charlotte E. Brower, lent Tytan Creates one of the borough’s rescue helicopters. With former Navy pilots in command, the team shot aerial footage over Barrow and the frozen Arctic Ocean.

The production crew filmed linemen from NorthWestern  Energy, Ameren Illinois, One Source, Barrow Utility Electric, Chugach Electric Association Inc. and Primary Source Electric. In addition to showing linemen scaling huge mountains in Snow Cats, the film will also show linemen from Maui Electric working in a tropical and hot environment.

“We are showing some beautiful scenery from the mountains of Montana to the frozen tundra of Alaska to the desert of the Southwest to the heat of Hawaii,” he says.

Dustin Maier and Mike Glueckert of NorthWestern Energy hot stick a crossarm changeout in a remote area on top of a mountain in Montana.

Focusing on Families

In the second “Storm Soldiers” movie, the production team not only focused on the linemen, but also their families back home.

Julio Saldarriaga, head of Tytan Pictures and a supervising editor for “Storm Soldiers II,” says he is amazed by the strength and support that families give to their linemen.

“I am absolutely blown away by the women behind these guys,” he says. “The strength and unconditional love that they have for their husbands is incredible. Linemen work at one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, they are away from home a lot, and they live on the edge. This makes for a lot of sleepless nights for their families, but they are so proud of them, and they understand the importance of what they do.”

When he watched the first film, he says he got truly inspired. He wanted to take on the second film so he could bring even more attention to the fact that linemen are first responders and heroes alongside firefighters, police officers and military veterans.

“They are protectors from the weather and from not having us go back in time,” he says. “If linemen didn’t keep the power on, it would be like were going back 200 years. This movie tells the story of the linemen and their families, and the struggle, and things they go through in order to be who they are. It’s very exciting to bring a story like this to film.”

Within the movie, Stone says his team is focusing on the question of why male and female linemen do what they do and why they work in such a dangerous occupation. On the flip side, the team is also looking at why the families put up with the long, worrisome nights and what drives them to serve as such a strong support system for linemen.

By folding in feature film movie producers and directors, Stone says “Storm Soldiers II” will take more of a narrative approach and answer these questions in a deeper way. While the first film spanned around 61 minutes, the new movie lasts about 90 to 100 minutes.

“It is a close, personal portrait of who these guys are and what makes them tick,” Stone says. “They really love and appreciate their jobs and enjoy being out in nature and in the elements. There’s not another job out there that they would rather do.”

NorthWestern Energy crews change out an H-frame structure on an 80-year-old 100-kV transmission line in Winston, Montana.

Celebrating the Premiere

For the movie, Stone and his team plan on literally rolling out the red carpet for the linemen and their families who are featured within the movie.

Originally, the team was planning on only focusing on one family, but later, they opted to expand the scope of the film to include four new families with the help of their sponsors. At last year’s International Lineman’s Rodeo, the team interviewed several families in its booth on the trade show floor.

As a result, three linemen — Jason Novak, Josh Hunt and Tim Greenwood — and their families are starring in the documentary, along with Dustin Maier who was in the first film and Nick Lawson and family from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In addition, Mike Glueckert, a Lineman Hall of Famer and lineman for NorthWestern Energy, will share more deeply his experiences in the utility industry.

“He’s like a godfather to all linemen,” Stone says. “We filmed him in a church in Montana since he is such a deeply spiritual person, and it brings a lot to the film.”

During the 2015 International Lineman’s Rodeo and Expo, the Tytan team is inviting Glueckert and his co-stars to the movie premiere, which will likely take place at a theater close to the convention center.

“We are working with Hubbell and all our sponsors to fly down all of the families of the featured linemen, put them in a hotel and have a proper showing of the movie,” Stone says.  

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