Why make an adventure film?
As an adventure filmmaker, my response to the question above is often: “I’m not necessarily sure that you should make an adventure film.”
If you decide to document your adventure through video you are signing up for:
- A lot more work
- A lot more distance to cover (think moving back and forth endlessly with the camera)
- A lot more stress
Additionally, you can expect:
- A lot less free time
- A lot less of an immersive experience
- Regular moments where you think “B*llocks – this is sh*t”
So – why do it? It is beyond doubt that properly filming an adventure is a huge creative undertaking, and one that requires a lot of commitment, time and energy. It is exhausting, and it can have a serious impact on the journey you want to make if you don’t approach it properly. Filmmaking is, quite simply, hard work.
That’s the negative stuff. It’s worth dealing with that straight away. I really believe that everyone thinking of filming an adventure should process all of the above first before they commit to doing it.
If you’re still reading: excellent! There are plenty of reasons why it’s worth it, and – luckily – ways to make it less stressful too.
If you are heading off on an adventure – big or small – the chances are that it’s something that really excites you. It’s also likely that if what you’re doing is exciting for you, it’ll also be exciting for other people. Filmmaking is the ultimate way of sharing our experiences. It provides us with an unparalleled document and memory of what happened – a visual representation of that time when we went and did that crazy thing. It’s there forever for us to enjoy personally, but it’s also there to offer up to others.
If it’s pure, simple adventure that you’re into – heading off to the hills for the weekend, cliff-diving for the first time, or pulling a glorified shopping trolley across the Middle East – then it’s likely to provide much entertainment and inspiration to all those not lucky enough to be out there in the world at that particular time. (When I’m at home stuck at my desk, I rely heavily on living through other peoples’ travels vicariously online.) If there’s more to the journeys you are making than just the visceral adventure – perhaps you want to explore the human condition, or show a different side to a mis-represented part of the world – then making a film about it becomes an incredibly powerful tool to spread a message.
The world we live in is a visual one. The moving image is the most powerful of all (just look at our culture of television.) It can seem intimidating to try and produce our own little piece of content within that vast and scary world of high-budget, high-production visuals that dominate our screens. Here’s a secret though – it’s not. Not really. Technology has improved so rapidly over the last few years that most of us now have ridiculously high-quality phones in our pockets all the time. Smartphone cameras have revolutionised what can be done, and who can do it. Regular video cameras too have jumped up in quality and down in price exponentially. There’s never been a more democratic time for filmmakers – these days, just about everyone can afford to shoot at an exceeding high level of technical quality.
The next question is about skill. Most of the anxieties I wrote about about above happened to me in my early days of filming when I didn’t really know what I was doing. (Trying without any experience is a great crash-course in learning, by the way, but a bloody stressful one…) There is, however, a grammar to filmmaking which is actually quite simple – once you know it. If you don’t, you end up filming everything all the time (and watching your adventure happen through a lens rather than actually being there) or, conversely, you don’t get the camera out enough and don’t get the shots required to make something watchable. Sticking a GoPro to your head for half an hour is not going to make a good film (unless you happen to be Felix Baumgartner.) The good news is that with just a small investment in time and brainpower, it’s easy to learn what’s required – which shots cut together, how to put a basic story together, when to use a crash zoom (never…) etc. One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about making films is learning this stuff and feeling it slowly become second nature.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about these aspects of filmmaking over the last few years. I first began trying to make adventures films in earnest in 2010, and after a notable failure early on (I tried ambitiously to shoot my first every bicycle adventure with no skill or common sense) I have now made three feature films and a TV series for National Geographic. I have another feature and a series of shorts in the pipeline.
This month, I’m teaming up with Al to run a couple of evening seminars in central London where we’re going to try and offload as much of what we’ve learned as possible in a few hours. We’ll focus on trying to talk about the things that we wish we’d been told early on – the things that would have saved months (or years) of stress and trouble.
If you’re keen on making adventure films – if you value the ability to share and document what you’re doing over the occasional headache that it provides – then perhaps consider joining us on either Tuesday 24th or Thursday 26th May at the Snow and Rock store in Covent Garden.
Happy filmmaking all – be sure to let us know how you get on!