Good news, everybody - we've made it!
Thanks to 662 of you putting faith in our project, Tom and I have successfully crowdfunded the editing budget for our films from Iran and Patagonia. Not just that, we managed to hit 112% of the target!
The deadline was midnight on Monday, and we began work on Tuesday morning. There's no messing around with this - we have until just the end of May to create two feature-length films. The team of professionals that we're going to surround ourselves with are readying themselves (think of it like the Avengers, but with more sitting down in dark editing room and less crime fighting.) In short - it's all happening!
I'll keep you updated every step of the way via this blog and on social media. In the meantime, let me say again how immensely happy Tom and I are to be making these films, and how grateful we are to all of you for being a part of them. These really couldn't happen without you! So - thank you, and I can't wait to share more of the material with you.
This is an exciting time to be alive. That’s true for a lot of reasons, but especially so if you are interested in making adventure films. Technology is improving so quickly, with the result that quality is getting better and gear-size smaller. When I cycled from New York to Hong Kong (my first big adventure) I was amazed at how small cameras had gotten in the time since I’d left university. I filmed that journey on a Sony A1 – an impressively small camera for the time (and even by today's standards it was dinky.) Unfortunately I had to cart around pannier bags full of mini DV tapes (remember those?) plus a 5kg tripod (that may have been my mistake.) Overall, my camera gear made up nearly half of my total gear for the trip.
Now, the options for the aspiring adventure filmmaker are almost unlimited. It is possible for any of us to go and film something in HD with very little money or effort. Telling a story is much harder, but that’s a topic for another post (try this one for starters, or come along to the filmmaking weekends that Tom and I are running in May!) The point of this post is to try and bring a little clarity to the complicated world of Filmmaking Equipment, so that you feel more confident heading out to shoot your own movie.
I use four types of camera (not all at the same time.) The first is a dedicated video camera – the Canon XF100. The second is a digital SLR (initially a Canon 600D, now a Canon 5D Mkii). Third is a sports camera – usually a GoPro. Finally I film on my smartphone – an iPhone 5s that I bought specifically because it has such a great camera (nothing to do with the Angry Birds, honestly.)
I am, and probably always will be, a fan of camcorders. They are designed for video. They are intuitive (mostly). They are quick and easy to learn, and they record high spec audio. They’re perfect for ‘run ‘n gun’ style shooting, and although I’m not a fan of regularly using automatic features on a camera, it’s useful to have them for when things get crazy. The Canon XF100 has been my camera of choice for 4 years now, and I really enjoy using it.
So why do so many people use DSLRs? Well, partly it’s because they got popular, and everybody wants to be popular, right? Also it’s because the size of the sensor inside the cameras produces a really beautiful image. It allows for that lovely shallow-depth-of-field look, and, when done well (and not overused) it undoubtedly produces a ‘nicer’ image than a camcorder in the same price range. On top of all that, you can use it to take stills without having to worry about using a second camera. The downside to all of this is that these cameras aren’t specifically designed for video use and can be a little clunky. The autofocus is poor and the sound recording ability is lacking. DSLRs are much more useful in a controlled situation, unless you are extremely experienced and know your camera inside out.
GoPro cameras are almost ubiquitous among the outdoor fraternity (and with good reason, too.) They produce a great HD image, and with each new model they’re getting more and more flexible. For anything involving action, they’re unparalleled. The limitations, however, are obvious. They have just one field of view (mostly) and it’s extremely wide. These days you do have a little LCD screen on back of the newer versions, but it’s still not great for composition. The sound is atrocious, and in reality these camera should only ever be used for what they’re designed to do – action and sports shots.
Smartphones are the new dark horse in adventure filmmaking. Obviously they’re not as good as a proper video camera or a DSLR. However, the image is pretty darn nice and if you can figure out a way of steadying the shaky, flimsy camera body (using a smartphone-specific tripod head, for example) you’ll get some lovely stuff. In my last expedition to Patagonia I carried my iPhone 5s in a easily accessible pocket, and on occasion it was the handiest camera to use when something dramatic happened. You probably could shoot an entire adventure film on one of these – it’s something I plan to do soon (anyone going to beat me to it?) –but it works much better as a secondary camera. Sound, again, is the major issue, but there are a variety of solutions for that (independent sound recorders, smartphone clip mics etc.) This is possibly the most exciting and accessible of all the options for making adventure films.
When I first started going on adventures, I filmed them because I thought it might be fun. It wasn’t, really, because I wasn’t doing it properly. It was stressful and exhausting and I had nothing to show for it except a bunch of shaky, out-of-focus footage that wouldn't even impress my mum. So I stopped for a while, and had more fun on the journeys. Then I came back to it and took it more seriously. Now, a few years down the line, I make a living from it. Below, then, is the kit list of what Tom and I took to Patagonia. I want you to bear in mind that:
a) this was a ‘professional’ endeavour (in that we wanted to make a broadcast quality film);
b) we were travelling on horses so had a little more room to carry extra bits and pieces;
c) the gear was all ours, the trips self-funded and our skills self taught. We’re definitely on the home-made, amateur end of the professional spectrum!
KIT LIST FOR PATAGONIA
* Cameras in bold
It's worth mentioning at this point that I think camera equipment is very boring. I don't get excited by it. I get excited by the idea of sharing my journeys, and although I often wish I was more of a tech geek...I'm not. Ultimately, it's not that big a deal. There are camera that will be better or worse suited to the job you need them for, but mostly these days all cameras will do a great job if you use them right. So my overall message is 'Don't worry about it!' Research, yes. Practice, definitely. But don't let a lack of expensive kit put you off. One of my favourite adventure films is The Road From Karakol, which was all shot on a point and shoot camera. It breaks all the rules, and is awesome.
I know though that you're here for more than just generalisations and platitudes, so here are my other key thoughts on adventure filmmaking gear. Alongside a decent camera, there are certain things you MUST have. 'Must' is in capitals for a reason. If you don't have these things, your film will not be as good as it could have been. Simple!
There are two rules regarding tripods. Firstly, bring one. Secondly, use it!
The more expensive, the better (as with most gear.) For the purposes of adventure filmmaking however, you want something compact and light. If you can afford it, go for carbon-fibre tripod legs, and a fluid head for smooth tilts and pans. Manfrotto and Velbon are favourite brands of mine. If you are on a budget, even a £15 tripod from Jessops will do the job of getting you a steady shot. Unless you have a hell of a good reason, don't just try and get a steady shot by holding the camera really still. It will never be as good as you think it is. Trust me - I've done it enough times!
Some of the best advice I ever received was to stop thinking of my films as video with sound attached, but instead to see them as an audio story with some images over the top. Sound is at least 50% of your finished film. As a viewer we can abide all sort of crappy, shaky footage is the audio is clear (think of investigative documentaries, Blair Witch Project etc.) If the sound is poor - voices too low, too much wind, hiss etc) - we quickly get very frustrated, even if the visuals are stunning.
Don't scrimp on sound. Invest in a decent microphone (or even two.) There are three main options:
1) Shotgun microphone that attached to the top of your camera (look up 'Rode' options on Amazon.)
2) A wired or wireless tie-clip mic (also called lavalier or 'lav' mic) to capture one main character's audio
3) A separate audio recorder that you can then sync up with video.
All have pros and cons, and ideally you want to capture sound via at least two methods at all times. Do some research (ask me if you want more ideas.) Get what fits your budget and style of shooting, but please do get something. Finally, get a wind gag for your microphone too - adventures have a habit of being outside, and wind can really mess up an otherwise awesome scene.
If you have a camera, a tripod and a microphone you can make an award-winning film. You don't need anything else. The following items are useful though if you have the space/budget for them. Think of them as things to slowly add in to your filming kit:
•Headphones to monitor sound
•Case for the kit – waterproof, shockproof, Pelicase, Aquapac etc
•Extra memory cards – CF, SD, other
•Batteries and chargers (in-car chargers, models compatible with solar panels)
•Lens cloth/dust cap
I don't want this to be intimidating, so I'll stop there. Adventure filmmaking should be, and can be, fun! Go out, shoot, enjoy. Come back and see what you've got. Repeat until you win awards!
If you'd like to ask any questions, then please do so in the comments section below. I'm happy to answer anything and everything.
The story of the #RioSantaCruz - Part Two
(Catch up with Part One here)
From time to time we rode up high onto a plateau to avoid cliffs on the river...
...and these moments afforded us some of the greatest views of all.
We arrived at the sites for the two dams that will be built, but found it impossible to imagine this valley under another 80 feet of water.
Just behind the site of the Barrancossa dam lies Basalt Glen, a favourite spot of FitzRoy and Darwins, and another that has remained unchanged. In a couple of years time, it could be at the bottom of a lake.
The second dam site, at Condor Cliff, was also named by Darwin, and it's hard to argue with his reasoning; condors glided over our heads for days, their 8 foot wingspan dominating the skyline.
Wildlife abounded on our journey, with guanacos our constant companions - watching on the ridge and howling across the steppe to warn others of strange beasts with cameras approaching.
Yet it is an unforgiving environment for a living beast and the earth is littered with bones of the unlucky, picked clean by the vultures and scattered by the wind.
Our days were long and tiring, yet the apparent monotony of the scenery never got dull...
...and occasionally we even had company from the wild (and semi-wild horses) that roam the wilderness.
We met few people, but when we did the gauchos saw to it that we had what we needed and told us about the challenges- and rewards- of life by the Santa Cruz.
As our journey headed towards its conclusion, we savoured the last few campsites, and found ourselves seeking rest in exactly the same bend of the river as FitzRoy and Darwin in 1834.
With just 30 or 40 miles to go, we crested a hill and saw the Cordillera in the distance; snow-capped mountains stretching across the canvas of horizon beyond the steppe.
We reached the lake after a long day, just before darkness came, and were met with a body of water so large it felt like the shore of an ocean.
Some worry that if the dams are built, they will affect the level of the lake...
...and subsequently damage the Perito Moreno glacier that feels the Santa Cruz from the western end of Lago Argentino. It would be a huge risk to take, and the project is riddled by inaccuracies and oversights.
Patagonia is a land of contrasts, and the Rio Santa Cruz a ribbon of life through a harsh landscape. Yet it is beautiful, in that way that hostile places can be, and the dams are as yet a threat of unknown quantity to the region.
The story continues...
The story of the #RioSantaCruz - Part One
Our journey began at Punta Quilla, where FitzRoy and his team beached their boat, the Beagle, and began an expedition up the Santa Cruz river.
We followed in their footsteps (almost exactly) to begin with...
......amazed at how little the landscape seemed to have changed in the 180 years since FitzRoy and Darwin were there.
Beneath our feet was the shingle that gave Darwin a hint as to how Patagonia was formed. These pebbles could also be responsible for that first inkling of evolution in his mind too...
For Tom and I this was a first foray into horseback travel...
...but for Jose, riding has been a way of life since childhood (which reassured us no end!)
We left the ocean and estuary behind, and followed the Santa Cruz as it pierced into the Patagonia steppe.
Our nights were often spent in abandoned estancias - ranches that have been left empty since bottom fell out of the wool trade.
Other times we pitched a tent in the steppe and savoured the long evenings over lavish single-pot meals...
...and yet other nights, we decided to while away the hours of slumber under the stars while our horses grazed calmly by our feet.
Rarely is a Patagonian sunset a disappointment...
...and we relished the time for fishing, writing, talking and soaking in the vast wilderness all around.
Want to see more? See Part Two here
As part of our ongoing Kickstarter campaign, we are offering a couple of #microadventure filmmaking weekends. Tom and I will take group out for an overnight camp, and run everyone through the basics of adventure filmmaking - how to find your story, shoot in scenes, develop characters, advice and technical know-how, and so on. The idea is to equip you to set off and shoot your own adventure film, using whatever equipment you have available. Tom and I will also edit together a film of the weekend for you to take away afterwards.
Each group will consist of a maximum of 10 people, and there are three available sessions. We currently have 5 definite microadventurers for the first group. The cost is £49 per person. You'll need your own sleeping bag/bivvy bag (although if you're stuck we can probably find one for you to borrow!) You'll also need to pay for a return train ticket from London to the countryide (£10-15), and a small contribution towards the food that we'll cook over a fire that night (£5-ish, unless you want extra grog...)
For a weekend of intensive filmmaking practice, I hope you'll agree that it's quite a reasonable price! (If you want to go as a private group, whether there are 10 of you or less, you can choose the readymade reward here on Kickstarter for £490.)
The events will happen on weekends between now and the end of May. We'll try our best to find something that works for everyone (we will spend one night out in the wild, and it can be either the Friday or Saturday, for example.) The three options are:
As long as you are free on at least one of those dates then congratulations, you're eligible!
Close to London (unless we have a group that requests otherwise.) We'll head off on the train for some easily-accessible countryside. Train tickets will be an additional cost (but will also be pretty cheap.)
The deadline for signing up is Monday 6th April, so there's not much time! If you are keen, please register interest in the comments section below, or go ahead and select the £49 reward on Kickstarter here.
Remember - as long as you are free on at least one of the weekends listed above, we guarantee you'll be able to come along (we'll probably end up running a workshop on each of those three weekends anyway.) Once you've pledged via Kickstarter, just send us a message there (or here) to give us your preferred date.
CLICK HERE TO SELECT THE MICROADVENTURE FILMMAKING REWARD ON KICKSTARTER