Expedition Film and Photography

The upsides and pitfalls of filming an expedition

Guy Buckingham

 

BIG WARNING!!!!!

I am not a professional filmmaker or photographer, although I do work with some of the best in the business. I am only going to talk about my personal experiences and regurgitate (hopefully accurately) some of the great advice I was given from Matt Pycroft and gained from watching Hamish Frost in action.

 

 

It’s not about the climb

Men and/or Women go to mountain, climb mountain and come home – that tends to be a fairly standard story line and although  interesting, especially for those on the exped, it will only hold limited interest for a wider audience. My advice would be to think beforehand what it is you want the film to be about and make achieving the summit/route/river etc as secondary. This is especially true if you want to get someone or some brand interested in supporting you. Which leads us on to support.

 

Think about it from the brand’s perspective

Even if you have an amazing idea and know that it has the potential to become the next big thing in adventure filmmaking, if you are trying to sell that idea to a brand, think about it from their point of view. They all have limited budgets and lots of options of how to spend their money, so what is it about your idea that will really help them out.

 

 

 

It’s not about the money it’s about the film

If you are not after commercial support, but want to make a film for the festival circuit, again it’s back to the first point, what is going to make this stand out from the crowd. There are lots of films out there, it usually costs to enter into a film festival so making sure that it has impact and can connect with an audience is essential.

 

Cameras and equipment

Ideally having the best equipment possible would help capture the best content, unfortunately that tends to be very expensive and usually pretty weighty. Even if you have an amazing SLR and lens, you might still want to consider if it is appropriate for your exped. Some questions it might be worth asking yourself are:

  • How weight limited will you be?
  • If it’s a big camera how likely are you to get it out regularly to capture?
  • How robust is it?
  • What quality will it take, which do you prefer stills or film?
  • How many batteries have you got?
  • How will you keep it warm?

As Matt would say “the best camera is the one you have with you”

 

 

Regular and Often

When on a exped, especially when it is technical, it is very easy to put off the film and photography until you stop for the day. Filming takes time and will impact on your day. However, little and often usually works much better, it is much more relatable when filming in the moment for that significant decision than it is trying to talk about it later that evening once the emotional tension has passed.

 

To film or not to film….

This can be really tricky, I would recommend a set of ground rules between the exped members that allows for filming and allows members to say when they don’t want to be filmed even if it is a lynchpin moment.  As Matt said, “if it feels emotionally uncomfortable to get the camera out ….. get the camera out..”  There is a line however, and this has the potential to get in the way of relationships. It is something I have made a call on a couple of times when I knew I should have got the camera out, but felt it was unfair on my friend so didn’t. (I just forgot to mention it to Matt when I got home!)

 

 

What to film

This really depends on the film you want to make. I would recommend looking at some good quality adventure films that you really like. Look at the types of shots and then keep that in your mind for your exped

What Next….

At Coldhouse, we have often talked about offering a short workshop, we have a already run numerous bespoke packages for various people and this has been well received. If this is something that interests you please get in touch.

 


The Last English Poacher?

My interest in conservation and hunting came about through my discovery of ‘rewilding’ some years ago, and my eyes being opened to the degraded state of nature in our National Parks and rural areas. It took me a while to realise that my empathy and interest lay as much with the people trying to make a living from the land as it did with biodiversity and wildlife. I was intrigued by the human stories of how we have impacted our countryside, and how we see ourselves as separate from nature, rather than living as nature. 

Three years ago I read a book called ‘The Last English Poachers,’ by John F MacDonald, about a father and son who live off the land in the UK by illegally hunting game and fish from private estates. I became fascinated by their controversial story, and how it correlates with societies diminishing connection to nature, at a time when we are seemingly so enraptured by the ecological crisis. 

I wanted to make a documentary film about this complex and emotive subject, and decided to try and find the poachers. I began by trawling through the internet but rather unsurprisingly they had no online presence or contact details. Through one newspaper article I discovered the father had passed away a few years ago - I persevered on the assumption that the son, Brian, would still be active and therefore worth pursuing. I tried the publisher and the author of the book - I left a voicemail, sent emails asking for an introduction. Nothing. 

I got fed up with waiting and decided to take matters into my own hands. By referencing landmarks featured in their story on Google maps I figured out which village they most likely lived in (the writer didn’t specifically name it in the book). I took a punt that my research was accurate enough, packed up the van and set out to try and find him. Suddenly the hunter became the hunted! 

 

 

Poaching in the UK is steeped in a long, counter-cultural history. It’s roots begin with the reign of William the Conqueror, who introduced ‘Forest Law’ to Britain in the 11th Century which reserved hunting rights on huge areas of land for the aristocracy. Hunting then became illegal for the commoner, and poaching was born through the poorer rural inhabitants sneaking onto the land to take game to feed themselves and their families. 

As a way of life, poaching has now almost died out in the western world. It seems archaic and controversial in the modern age, where you can do an online shop and buy a whole chicken for £3. Yet somehow the slow inexorable decline of our rural communities made this story quite poignant for me. Over the centuries, the ‘Forest Law’ has been somewhat compounded and maintained through private land ownership. The enforced displacement of people from rural land through the Enclosures Acts, the Highland Clearances and the Industrial Revolution, have all contributed to the slow decline of community, and our appreciation and understanding of what it means to truly live off the land. Today our countryside is about economy and industry, where little else matters but profit and gain.

After a three hour drive south from my home in the Peak District I arrived in the centre of the village. The old high street had seemingly turned into a busy rat-run through to the motorway, a new housing estate under construction at one end, at the other a glaring set of traffic lights choking the road with exhaust fumes and impatient commuters. House names dotted about were reminiscent of a bygone era, ‘The Old Post Office’ ‘Coppers Cottage’ ‘The Old Police House’ ‘The Old School.’ It gave me a funny sensation that I was chasing a ghost. 

 

 

I spotted the Social Club - it looked as though it had seen a fair few characters cross it’s threshold over the years so it seemed like a sensible place to start asking around. Within minutes of stepping inside I was propped up at the bar talking to a lady who told me her older brother had been in the same year at school as the poacher. “I know who you mean.” She reflected for a moment. “But I haven’t seen him around these parts for years.” 

The locals frequenting the club were curious about my intentions and slowly gathered around, asking me lots of questions. Had I thought about what would happen if I did find him and he wasn’t particularly friendly? 

It suddenly felt a bit foolish, a quest to find a man who I had never met or spoken to, for a film idea that he may consider entirely compromising to his life and outlook. 

I decided to stay for a beer, considering other options for the hunt but already resigning myself to the long drive home in the morning empty-handed.

After about an hour of chatting, I heard a shout from the other side of the bar. The landlady beckoned to me. “Pat over there - she knows Brian! He’s her next door neighbour!”

Pat appeared, all smiles and curiosity, and enthusiastically whisked me out through the back door of the social club, down a dark narrow lane and through an old wooden gate into a yard behind a small brick terrace house. Her confidence reassured me, despite feeling a bit bewildered by this sudden change in fortune.

A short sharp knock on the kitchen window from Pat brought the silhouette of the poacher to the back door. “Brian, there is a lady here who would like to speak to you about a film.”

 

 

I stepped awkwardly inside and sat in a tiny living room adorned with taxidermy. An elderly lady sat knitting in a cosy armchair by the fire. I tried not to stare at the albino hare in a glass case above her head. It felt intrusive to have approached this man's home in this way, but his acceptance and welcoming attitude calmed my nerves. I carefully explained who I was and what I wanted. He seemed to take it all in his stride, thoughtful yet eager. 

Once we had the measure of each other, the conversation turned to my plans for the evening. I considered heading back to the social club for some food and to finish the pint that Pat had made me abandon at the bar. I didn’t want to outstay my welcome. But Brian had other ideas. He offered to take me out poaching and I didn’t hesitate in accepting - the thought of experiencing first hand what I had read and thought so much about was too good an opportunity to turn down. 

 

 

We walked through the countryside, over fields and through woods and dells. It was a cold, clear, starlit night, mid February. There was something quite primal about moving quietly over the land, looking for roosting birds and listening to him talk in hushed tones about his life as a poacher, his relationship with his father (who had passed away four years ago) and his utter disregard of the system and the establishment. He seemed relaxed and at one with his surroundings, noting the signs of wildlife and correcting me when I mistook the bark of a roe deer to be a fox. 

We stood on the edge of a copse, looking back at the lights of the village, and I felt as though we had stepped into the past and were staring back at a dystopian future. Street lights, fences, keep out signs, central heating and take away food, the orange glow of the village arced up into the sky like a protective dome. Many of us have chosen to remove ourselves from the natural world, yet here was a man who seemed to haunt the paths of his ancestors.

Watching Brian tiptoe around the woods and dismiss any notion of what he was doing as ‘illegal’ made me think of indigenous people being displaced and traditions forgotten. 

 

 

It was obvious from the start that he is not a part of the modern community in his village. Indeed he sees the village merely a commuter’s hub, full of outsiders and “plastic people who have given up their lives for work and money.” He explained that he doesn’t see anyone out in the countryside - only on the footpaths and fringes of the vast acres of land he covers every week. He clings to a fragile existence, reluctant to relinquish his hold on the rural traditions he was brought up with. Indeed, it is all he really knows.

I carried his old canvas post bag he’s used for 40 years and he carried his gun. He shot one pheasant and I found myself bagging it up - poaching comes from the old Middle English word ‘pocchen’ meaning ‘bagged’ - and then hurrying along the lane behind him, back to the village like a couple of outlaws. 

Brian agreed to be interviewed for the documentary. We parted ways in the early hours of the morning and I struggled to get to sleep in the van, acutely conscious of the strange yet somehow poignant journey I had set in motion.

 

 

One year later and we have just wrapped on the filming with a small but dedicated crew who I cannot thank enough for their support, humour, patience and creativity. This is a subject that understandably divides opinion, yet the threads of the poachers story pull on so many elements of our social history and our current climate crisis, and ties them together in a way that is delicately prophetic. 

We are protected from the harsh reality of nature, our ideas around food production in particular are sanitised and controlled by colourful advertisements, packaging and the ever-increasing desire for convenience. We fight to control our own biased perception of wilderness and nature. We draw on our own experiences that have played out within no more than perhaps 50 years of modern history - a controlled and managed and utterly diminished wild - rather than the millions of years of untamed life cycles that we evolved from - that we could not have evolved from without. 

As a crew we all felt conflicted about what we witnessed during our time on location. We spent six days over two winters following the processes of tracking, ‘marking up’, snaring, shooting, plucking and gutting, accessing private areas of land under cover of darkness. It was not romantic or endearing. It was raw and hard to process at times. Hunting for sport is something I fundamentally disagree with. But hunting for food - the skill required to track and trap animals and then use every part for sustenance is intrinsically linked to an understanding of wild nature. 

For me this begs the question “what kind of world do we want to live in in the future?” We all seem happy with the mechanical, digital, industrial world we are faced with, because we have had our sensibilities of wildness amputated. We no longer live as nature.

When this poacher is gone so too will another connection to the land be consigned to the history books. 

 


We Have Moved

Up until very recently Coldhouse has been based in Sheffield, but our playground and spiritual home has always been the Peak District National Park just a few miles outside of the city.  In fact, we love the Peak District so much that we recently decided to move our studio out to the village of Hathersage in the heart of the national park. Being a company made up of outdoor enthusiasts we are all keen to be outside as much as possible. We spend our time climbing, mountain biking, running, taking photos and seeking inspiration, so when a studio became available we jumped at the chance to make the move out of the city.

Dan Twort - Production Coordinator

I have lived a stone's throw from the Peak District my whole life.  I have spent many happy days climbing, mountain biking and just exploring the National Park, developing a love for nature and practicing my wildlife photography.  It has been an invaluable resource for my own well being and quality of life over the years. I am interested to find out what this move will mean to the crew of outdoor enthusiasts that work at Coldhouse, and how they plan to make use of the opportunities for adventure on our doorstep.

Matt Hardy - Senior Filmmaker

“My main passions are mountain biking, climbing, and running.  It constantly feels like a struggle for me to find enough time to get out and do these activities.  Having moved to the heart of the Peak District, I think that struggle might finally be over! From the door of the office I can run along the banks of the river Derwent on my lunch break, I can be at Stanage in 5mins for a quick after work solo, and my commute takes in some of the brilliant trails of the Dark Peak on my mountain bike.  I'll probably never be satisfied with the amount I get out and do these things, but moving here has definitely made things a hell of a lot easier!”

Tom Carr-Griffin - Producer and Lead Scout

It is raining. It is dark, cloudy and overcast. The wind is strong and cold. It is wet and muddy. It is the Peak District.  And yet it is full of opportunity and open spaces. There are trails to run, some of the most iconic climbing the country has to offer, and a myriad of streams and rivers tucked away in leafy woods, full of wild trout.  Now that our studio is in the heart of the Peak, lunch-hour has certainly just become a lot more interesting.

Emma Crome - Senior Producer 

“Since moving to the Peak District I’ve enjoyed getting to know the contrasting and atmospheric areas of the Dark Peak and White Peak through climbing, running and hillwalking. It’s a thriving, bustling, beautiful National Park, full of a heart and character that is made up of it’s rural communities and eager tourists as much as the windswept Moors and gritstone edges. 

To have the new Coldhouse studio based in Hathersage seems to now perfectly reflect our approach to business, constantly considering the delicate balance of continuing to do the work we love, whilst at the same time striving to give something back to the fragile environments we use for recreation. The Peak District is one of the busiest and most accessible National Parks in the UK, and it’s wildlife and landscape has been impacted for centuries by our human footprints. Being based in the heart of the National Park and donating to our ‘1% For the Planet’ partner ‘Moors For The Future’ will serve as a constant reminder of how we need to build a sustainable future for everyone. For me personally, I’m looking forward to learning more about the landscape that we are surrounded by and how we can better protect it for wildlife, as well as humans.”

Check out the work that we do with ‘Moors for the Future’ here - http://coldhousecollective.com/csr/

The partnership has given us all a chance to learn more about the challenges facing the fragile environment of the area and to work with a community to give something back.  If you live in or near the Peak District or South Pennines it is worth checking out their work and seeing if you can become involved in any way (link below). We look forward to the possibilities of the collaboration as well as the chance to spend more time in the area that we all love, taking as much advantage of our new location as possible.

https://www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/get-involved


“Searching for an old cormorant fisherman”

In this blog our intrepid location scout Tom Carr-Griffin reminisces about his time preparing for the production of ‘Pertex Elemental Journeys, Episode 5: Made in Yangshuo’ in China.

Finding characters and locations across all corners of the globe can be a challenge but Tom’s scouting skills and detailed preparation are always up to the job, despite a few unexpected adventures along the way.

It hadn’t been quick to find him. You need to be on the ground, talking to locals, following leads. But I knew the area in which to begin.  I was in Southern China, XingPing village, in the region of Yangshuo. I was searching for an old cormorant fisherman and the right setting to put him in.

The Li river is an iconic place (it features on the Chinese twenty Yuan note) but it is long, with many tucked away areas, and much of it is overcrowded and heaving with tourist boats.

Dan, Waldo and myself had set off for the day on rented mopeds to cover some ground, in search of our cormorant fisherman and his setting, as well as options for our main climbing route. Our first port of call was Liu Tao at the Nirvana farm small holding and meditation retreat. Standing by the crowded ferry crossing on the banks of the Li we looked, unconvinced, at the thin beam of wood, no more than six inches wide, being held in place for us to get the mopeds onto the boat.  Waldo characteristically decided that speed would make up for any lack of accuracy and revved the bike hard, launching it towards the plank, missing, and sending the bike wheel-deep into the water, the plank leaping one way and a swift-thinking Chinese man diving the other. 

On the other side of the river, we entered the walls of the Nirvana retreat. Inside, it was calm and cool, rivulets of water ran through the garden and a vast rock face loomed above, enclosing and protecting. We sipped tea with Liu Tao and explained what we were searching for. Two leads came from this - a local photographer, Greg, who had a cafe in town, should be able to help contact a fisherman. For our climbing sequence, he said, pointing towards two peaks in the distant haze, we should travel to Nine Horses Mountain on the far side of the pass. 

We were climbing steeply now, the road little more than a track, muddy and slippery. Our wheels skidded precariously as we tried to keep momentum and broad leaves slapped at us wetly. Sweat beaded from us in the oppressive humidity, and our grins were broad as we doggedly rallied these old, unsuitable bikes through stunning scenery deep in old-world China. Hours later, aching, bruised and elated we emerged, some distance on the far side of the pass, onto a clear plateau high above the river. On the opposite side Nine Horses Mountain rose inspiringly, high, clear, white and daunting. We began scouting the face through binoculars, excitedly pointing out lines and possibilities. It looked magnificent.

A loud blast from an air horn announced the arrival of an oversized passenger liner, barging its way along the river, shattering any peace. We looked down on the Chinese tourists crowding the decks, chattering and snapping photographs. A few minutes later another horn blared as a boat came into view from the other direction. We sat and watched for perhaps twenty minutes as boat after boat ripped up the river and shouted its presence. There was no way we could film what we wanted here. We would have to scratch it from the list and continue the search.

It was evening in the village of XingPing, and the right time to find Greg at his cafe, tucked away down a maze of old cobble streets. We talked over a dinner of local foods and Greg agreed to act as our fixer. There were two or three of the old cormorant fishermen still left, but it was next to impossible for them to make a living from the trade they had grown up in. Over the last fifteen or so years, the area had become so popular with Chinese tourists that locals were no longer allowed to have their boats on the water between eight in the morning and six in the evening. The river was the sole domain of the money-making passenger liners. The noise and pollution from these vast boats had driven away almost all of the fish. Now, these old men kept themselves in coin by working for photographers and film-makers, with the same clothes, rafts and techniques they had used their whole lives. 

Three days later we were getting into position in the early evening. We wanted as much daylight as possible to work with, but had to wait until the curfew on the boats was lifted before the fisherman could join us. He also had to stop at the market on the way to buy fish for the cormorants to fetch. Whilst Greg had lived here for some time now, his Chinese was not so strong as mine, so it fell to me to direct the cormorant fisherman. And so I found myself, on a summers evening, stood thigh-deep in the Li River, shouting directions across the water, and occasionally wading across to negotiate and haggle for some piece of action or other. “Tom, pull your socks up!” I dropped into the water as Matt got some perfect shot or other. Bloody creatives.


Ellie Hague: On Life as a Coldhouse Intern.

When I was caught in the glare of the harsh reality of searching for a graduate position in the media industry, I stumbled upon an adventure-film production company named Coldhouse. I became captivated with naive curiosity and applied for the position. I was interviewed, and hired and then - like a family of wolves - they adopted me, and taught me what it means to be wild.

My intern adventures began on a shoot in Wales, where I trudged between slippery rocks and winding rivers formed over the aeons by the omnipresent rain. Scrunched under a survival bag, I wrung out my water-logged gloves and continued my attempt to operate the camera with frozen hands. I had never experienced the mountains in this way before, and filming in such challenging conditions felt a little out of my comfort zone. But that is the beauty of an internship with Coldhouse, there are so many opportunities to learn new things, not just about filmmaking, but about your own strengths and weaknesses, your own limits and abilities.

Almost a full calendar year later, the tangerine sunset illuminates the steep granite rock face in front of me. I look back down at the sea 20 metres beneath and try my best to ignore the first-time nerves of rock climbing. I was welcomed to the sanctuary of the top of the cliff with cheers and a selfie with half of the Coldhouse team. This was a memorable end to a well deserved day off, after a packed fortnight of non-stop filming on a little island called Owey, just off the West Coast of Ireland. 

Having a passion for filmmaking is one thing, but being able to combine that with an expedition-style outdoor shoot is a niche combination. Admittedly I’ve been raised in the millennials generation of makeup, wifi, technology, and lazy comforts. On Owey, we stayed for a week to make a climbing film, creature comforts like [hot] showers were non-existent, as was mains electricity, and we camped in what can only be described as a shed - which was also home to several spiders and layered with dust so thick we had to clean off the kitchen surfaces with a stiff brush! 

If I read that description before applying for the internship, I’m not sure I would have gone for it, but I’d have been making the biggest mistake of my life. There’s something so inspiring about waking up with the rising sun, and not being plagued with the material habits that used to overtake my mind in the city. Packing up to hike out to somewhere beautiful, I’m not sure I realised before that part of my job would be to strap myself into harnesses dubiously secured on the edge of a huge cliff face, to film climbers. Given that I have always been very uneasy with heights, to mine and everyone’s surprise, I loved hanging about here, wielding a camera as the climbers worked their routes.

One of the things I appreciate most about these experiences is how I feel when I’m back. Despite the sorrow of leaving such a magical place, and the immediate ache of wanderlust, I feel like an improved person. It’s as if nature has influenced me, and shown me how life is meant to be lived. I forget my insecurities and realise what really matters in life, and it’s not make up and WiFi.

Socially, if people hear that I'm in the media industry, they’ll immediately strike up conversation about Channel 4, or the BBC, and then proceed to ask me if I’ve applied for a job with these companies. My answer is always No, because it's not adventure film. It's not a chance to work with incredible outdoor brands, and see beautiful parts of the world like it is with Coldhouse. The outdoor film world introduces you to the hidden gems of this planet and teaches you how important it is for us to protect them, and the cultures of people that live there. Senior team members have told me many stories, such as being treated to a pretend marriage ceremony in Morocco; locals lending them traditional beaded outfits to celebrate and dance until the early hours (then of course, being hard at work filming the next morning!).

I never expected how much Coldhouse would teach me. Some highlights of my internship are things you probably wouldn't expect. I’ve had the chance to be a part of some incredible projects editing in the studio. It's particularly rewarding to see something I have edited being used by a client on social media, like a little taste of fame. I had never been particularly proud of my work during University but as I’ve gradually shunned my imposter syndrome, this internship hasn't just proved to me that I can make something 'worthy', it’s also shown me that I had much more potential to become a better filmmaker than I ever realised.

The editing team took me under their wing, and taught me everything there is to know. Learning about professional editing has been the most insightful experience. I went from stringing together a few clips at university, to being able to design a complex narrative, and conduct a detailed symphony of rushes in large, complicated projects.

So my journey over the last year has been indescribable. I've made friends for life with the kindest, coolest people. I’ve scrambled along cliff edges, hiked, travelled, camped, climbed, fished, filmed, swam, ran, and grown so much as a person. My internship with Coldhouse has been unforgettable, and I can't even begin to thank them for granting me this experience.

Lunging through the door to my city flat, I scraped my hastily packed duffle bag through the frame with me. I looked around at my show-room style apartment, and sat down in my living room for the first time in fourteen days, fighting back the lump in my throat. I sighed with relief. Relief that ten hours of travel was over, relief that I was back to homely comforts, and my own bed. I realised I was actually alone for the first time in 336 hours. But in spite of feeling happy to be home, I immediately missed everyone’s company, and the eye-opening life I’d just experienced for the first time on a little island called Owey. 


Vacancy: Production Intern

Coldhouse are recruiting a Production Intern for a studio based role for a one year contract.

The successful candidate will have an opportunity to gain valuable experience working in a growing, outdoors focused creative Production Company. Coldhouse prides itself on recruiting lifelong outdoors-people, each with their own specific skills, quirks and specialities. Like our team, at your core should be a love of storytelling, adventure, chips and a pint.

Job Title: Production Intern
Location: The role will be studio based from the Coldhouse Studio in Sheffield.
Salary: The salary will be £16,286.40 pro rata based on working 3 days a week (usually Tue- Thu) £7.83 per hour of a 32 hour week.

Summary of Job Role
The role will be to:

● Work as an assistant editor on specific projects
● Provide assistance to the Senior Producer to aid the running of the Company
● Assist on individual film and creative projects

How to Apply
Applications should be made by email to guy@coldhousecollective.com and should include a CV and covering letter outlining why you want the role and what you can provide for the company. For the successful candidate, we would require the option to talk to 2 referees prior to offering the role.

Cut-Off Date
Applications must be received by Close of Play Mon 7 Oct 19. There will be a paper sift and then an Interview round in Sheffield Thu 17 Oct 19. The successful candidate will be asked to start as soon as possible.

We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your interest in working with us.