It's now nearly three years since I set off into the Empty Quarter desert; it's just under two since the film premiered at the Royal Geographical Society. It's been one of the most rewarding pieces of creative work that I've been part of, and I'm still amazed the the great response we get to the movie. Ultimately, it was an incredibly fun journey which we were fortunate to have had.
One of the main aims of the film was to show a different side to the Middle East - a side that doesn't get much airtime. Hopefully we've done that - we've taken the feature film round festivals, sold it on DVD and as downloads, and now even got it out to broadcast too.
There's also a short version of the film - 20 minutes long, which was created for festivals and events that were limited on time. It too has been well received, and we figured the time has come to put that out to all of you to watch, anytime, anyplace, for free.
So here it is - if you haven't seen it, I'm proud to present to you Into The Empty Quarter!
If you'd like to see the feature version (2 1/2 times as long!), then you can do so here. If you enjoy the film, then do check out our little follow up movie below...
When I first started making films about my adventures I used to idly think, "I wonder if someday I'll make a film that gets accepted into Banff." I've always seen the Banff Mountain Film Festival as the high point of adventure storytelling; the benchmark by which all expedition filmmaking should be marked against.
Unsurprisingly then, it was an unreal experience to have Into The Empty Quarter screened there last year - I still can't quite believe that my silly desert trek with Alastair made the cut, but I'm extremely proud that it did!
The festival is now underway with its World Tour, taking a select pick of films to a ridiculously comprehensive range of locations around the globe. Having been to the Banff Centre last November and seen some of this year's programme, I can happily vouch for the fact that it's a suitably impressive, inspiring and (if I'm really honest) balls-out awesome line-up of films.
Wherever you are in the world, check it out. You won't regret it. If you're in the UK and Ireland, then you're in luck. Brighten up those dark winter nights with a visit to one of the screenings around the country. You can seen the full list here. While I recommend going to either programme, it would be remiss of me not to point out that my film is showing in the RED programme. Just in case that's a dealbreaker for you...
You can book tickets for all the UK venues here. Enjoy!
This blog first appeared as a guest post for The Next Challenge
1. Find your story
This might not be the same story as your trip, but it’s the key thing to always bear in mind when making a film. What is going to happen in your film? To whom? What is the beginning, middle and end of your story? This is where the majority of your creative energies should be spent.
2. Develop your characters
Even if your film is about you, you are still a character. Everyone who appears in your film is. Look at each character individually and how they interact with each other. What is their arc? Do they have their own story? Make sure all characters have a beginning, middle and end point (just as with your story) and that anyone unnecessary is cut out.
3. Learn your craft
Keep the camera steady, don’t zoom during the shot, know the different between a wide shot and a medium shot – learning some basic filming rules of thumb and understanding the grammar of filmmaking will take you a long way. You’ll learn on the go, but why do some reading about it at the same time?
4. Get coverage
Shoot cutaways of all the interesting little details in the scene. If you can, film an event/meeting/dramatic situation from a couple of different angles to give options in the editing room. If a 10-minute sequence is filmed in one shot from one camera, it’s going to be very hard to make it watchable for an audience unless the content is ground-breakingly awesome. Don’t be lazy – move around.
5. Film the tough times
If you’re thinking, ‘everything about this trip is so bloody awful and I’m truly, truly miserable with my life and this stupid situation’ then chances are it’s a good point to get out the video camera. When you’re low, or when things around you are happening at hyperspeed, the inclination is to deal first with those emotions or situations. Work on changing that impulse – as a filmmaker you need to capture the action at the same time.
6. Enjoy the journey
Don’t spend your whole time looking at a tiny LCD screen. Enjoy the journey – chances are you’re on a dream trip of some kind and very lucky to be where you are. Make the most of it – find the compromise between capturing what you need and keeping a little experience in reserve just for you.
7. Include people
You might be awesome, and you might be incredibly interesting. Regardless, an audience probably doesn’t want to watch you pontificating for an hour on their computer screen even if you are the next Slavoj Zizek. Balance your footage according to what you’ve shot, but where possible try to include other people. We’re a sociable race, humans, and we like to see and learn from other people. Give folk you meet a moment in the limelight.
8. Invest in decent equipment
You can make a good film on an iphone. You can make a bad film on a £50,000 camera. Equipment is not essential BUT it does help to have decent stuff if you can afford it. Get an HD camera, a sturdy tripod, a quality microphone, plus some decent headphones.
9. Think about sound
If your sound recording is rubbish, your film will (probably) end up being rubbish. Don’t overlook this- as mentioned about, get a good microphone (a Rode NTG-1 or equivalent) or an audio recorder and learn how it works. Use a wind gag in wind, and look for sheltered locations to record key dialogue.
10. Be interesting
This is quite a tricky one, but do remember that an audience mostly wants to be entertained, educated or inspired. Think about who your are making your film for (your mum? your colleagues? Adventurers worldwide?) and keep the content interesting for those prospective viewers. When you’re filming, try to bear this in mind. Don’t film a paper bag for 4 hours just because nothing else has happened that day – wait until the next day and hope for something better.
It seems that video trailers for books are all the rage right now...who knew? Never one to be out of fashion (ahem...) I've decided to jump on the bandwagon, and I've put together a short teaser trailer for The Road Headed West, my book about cycling across North America one summer. I hope you enjoy it.
Why not come along to one of the launch parties for the book? I'll be giving talks in the following locations:
7th July - Canterbury
7pm @ The Gulbenkian Cafe. Free entry and free glass of wine.
10th July - London
7pm @ The Spectator Bar, EC1A. £5 entry and cheap drinks.
23rd July - Belfast
7pm @ Common Grounds. £2 entry.
26th July - Coleraine
6.30pm @ Lost & Found. £2 entry.
7th August - Bristol
7pm @ Roll for the Soul. Free entry.
Happy 2014, all!
It promises to be an exciting year of adventure for me, and I hope for you too. One of my aims for this year is to share my film Into The Empty Quarter with as many people as possible (don't know what I'm talking about? Watch a trailer here.) A great way to do this is via film festivals, and Alastair and I will be entering as many as we can throughout the year.
I'm delighted to tell you that we already have our first acceptance! It's a good one too: Into The Empty Quarter will be playing at theSheffield Adventure Film Festival - one of the most respected events on this circuit - on the weekend of 4-6 April 2014.
Al and I have made (what seems to us) to be a pretty comprehensive list of our other favourite festivals. But we may have missed some. In the comments section here, or by sending me an email, please can you tell me what your favourite film festivals are - adventure, mountain, documentary or regular - I'm happy to hear them all!
For the record, along with the major players in the adventure film festival world (Banff and Kendal) I also love the sound of MountainFilm in Telluride, 5 Point Film and the inimitable Adventure Travel Film Festival.
AFI DOCS in Washington DC and Sheffield Doc Fest round out my choices for general documentary events.
This time three years ago, I was cycling the Desert Road in New Zealand, en route to Wellington with 7000 miles of pedalling on the clock (and, unbeknown to me, another 7000 to go before I would make it home.)
It is now over a year since I returned home from Hong Kong after a 3000 mile walk across China. It was quite a journey! During the expedition Rob Lilwall and I filmed our experiences extensively with a view to ultimately creating a 4 part TV series for National Geographic Channels. I am now delighted to say that the show has aired in Asia, and will be available to buy on DVD in the rest of the world imminently!
If you would like information on how to see the show for yourself and when the exact release date will be, please fill in your details below and I'll send you an email with how you can view it.
I hope it's been worth the wait!
At the end of last year, Alastair Humphreys and I set off to walk across 1000 miles of the Empty Quarter desert, following in the footsteps of the late, great Sir Wilfred Thesiger. Al has cut the first trailer of our project - a sneak preview of some of the footage we shot.
I'll post more info when we have it, but for now, I hope you enjoy this high speed tour through the desert from Salalah to Dubai.
Please let us know what you think!
If you would like to be kept informed about the development of the Meaningless Penance? documentary, please add your email address here:
Wilfred himself in 1947
It’s now just a few days until Alastair Humphreys and I set off to explore the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter desert, on foot. Al has written a great blog post explaining some of our motives and what we hope to achieve on this expedition. We will follow the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger – literally in that we hope to roughly retrace the route of his 1947 crossing of the Sands, and metaphorically in that we are seeking some of the same escape, fulfillment, joy and ascetic misery he was searching for in the largest sand desert on earth.
We won’t be blogging during the trek. Instead we’ll be filming the whole journey extensively, with our main aim being to make a great documentary at the end of it all. We’ll be tweeting using our SPOT tracking device to give some basic updates on our progress.
Our start point is Salalah, the second city of Oman. Having never been there I can’t comment on it too much, but it certainly seems a beautiful and relaxed place. With help and guidance from those much more experienced than us, Al and I have settled on a design for our desert cart. We’re using quite a simple but robust structure, and doubling up the wheels on each corner for increased surface area on the sand (to stop us sinking.) Onto the cart we will load jerry cans of water, bags of food and the rest of our personal equipment. Everything will have to be exceedingly minimalist, as it seems dragging a heavy cart through sand in 40 degree heat will be rather tiring.
We hope that the total weight will not be much more than 250kg, and we’ll tandem pull. Every two weeks or so we will resupply with water, but the food we carry from Salalah must last us until Dubai, our end point, 43 days later.
The challenges of this journey are probably rather clear. Heavy cart, deep sand, relentless heat. Potential for sandstorms. Infrequent, if not complete absence of, human contact. Spending 6 weeks walking just inches away from each other, with no escape. Long, hard days of trekking with monotonous scenery. A diet of dates and couscous. No (or heavily rationed) whisky supplies.