Film School with Serac Adventure Films

| August 6, 2008
Last year, Mountain Hardwear purchased a mini HD DVD camera, wide-angle lens, solar charger and all of the accessories needed to shoot videos on expeditions.  I had a chance to take the kit with me on a trip into the Wrangell-St.Elias Mountains where I shot a bunch of crappy footage and edited together an even crappier little film which did not do justice to the trip.  More than anything, the experience made me realize that a) making a film is hard and b) I knew nothing about the process.

Fortunately, the crew at Serac Adventure Films (SAF) in Boulder, Colorado know a LOT about making mountain movies, and not only that, they offer classes on how to do it.  The classes are customized to whatever you want to do.  Some people bring their own footage and edit it into a movie, or, as in our case, we spent a day shooting a mountain mockumentary, then two days editing it together just in time for a smashing/smashed début in the Jonny Cop Film Fest at the Amante bar.  The buzz on Pearl Street is that “Heart of Stone” is going to go big.  Really big.  Like, it might even make it on to…

Ryan Ross of Serac Adventure Films explains which end of the camera is forward to Freddie Wilkinson.
Ryan Ross of Serac Adventure Films explains which end of the camera is forward to Freddie Wilkinson.

The course itself was worthy of a documentary, mainly as there was so much to absorb over three days that it is impossible to remember it all.  However, halfway through the class, my most burning question, “Is it just me, or does this process really take a long time?” was answered. Even though the final product may seem effortless and obvious, getting to that point takes a ton of time, effort, inspiration, editing, persistence and experience.  Making a good film is fun, but a lot work.

Film the scene, not the shot.

Our first day out in the mountains started at 5:00am with three cameras, tripods, batteries and plenty of tapes.  Ryan Ross of SAF had put together a rough outline of our mission for the day; work together to climb trees, cross streams, scale rocks, slide down slopes, resolve confrontations and develop love-affairs all in the name of finding “the perfect rock.”  We took turns acting, directing and filming ten different sequences which amounted to a paltry two- and-a- half hours of tape by the end of the day, which was ultimately condensed down to a 15 minute film which could benefit from a mercy cut down to about seven minutes without missing too much.

Michael Brown showing the Rookies how to set up the main camera shot for the first controntation scene.
Michael Brown showing the Rookies how to set up the main camera shot for the first confrontation scene.

Right away, we learned the importance of filming the scene, not just the shot.  An exploding stove might be a good shot, but when it takes place in the remote mountains (the scene), it takes on a much greater importance. Along these lines, we also learned to shoot long, medium and detail shots which make scenes visually much more interesting.  Michael Brown, the main owner of SAF and a friend from way back, equated long, medium and detail shots to the skiers checklist of skisbootspoleshatsglovesgoogles – you want to make sure to get them every time you go out.

David D'Angelo and Ryan Ross humor Chris Strasser as he sets up the master shot for the first confrontation scene.
Ryan Ross and David D’Angelo humor Chris Strasser as he sets up the main camera on the dramatic confrontation scene.

The plot unfolded throughout the day as we made it up.  After starting with a classic interview, we then had to figure out how to integrate new characters into the scene in a logical (if barely) way and how they were going to interact.  We came up with an overall plan of searching for the perfect rock with sub plots of two interns (Freddie & Janet) falling in love while at the same time there was increasing tension between the Professor (me) and the high-speed “rock enthusiast”, Kevin.  Tempers flare and love blooms in the midst of a desperate high-altitude alpine search for the elusive “Heart of Stone.”  (Don’t get your hopes up – it sounds more exciting than it really is.)

Tomorrow: Turning Rocks into Diamonds – The Editing Process…

Help support and get 15% off on a battery charging Brunton Solar Roll from! Click the photo below…

Tags: , ,

Category: Trip Reports

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (4)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Hi Andrew, Don’t underestimate the Heart of Stone it is really exciting after all – and truly funny! We certainly can post to YouTube if Chris lets us. Good stuff my friend. Michael

  2. Ryan says:

    Love the post Andrew! Will certainly tune in tomorrow for the next installment.

  3. Hacksaw says:

    How much did all that gear weigh?

  4. Andrew says:

    It didn’t weigh all that much, especially as Dave, Michael and Ryan were carrying most of it. :)

    One of the cameras used 8 gig memory cards instead of film and it was incredibly light. Tripods were one of the bigger items, but even those weren’t too bad.

%d bloggers like this: