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.


Interview: with Guy Buckingham, MIC and Safety Officer

Interview with Guy Buckingham, MIC and Safety Officer

Meet Guy Buckingham, a former Royal Navy Submariner for over twenty years and current Chairman for the Association of Mountaineering Instructors, the representative professional body for those holding the UK's highest mountaineering awards.

Climber, mountaineer and coach, with first ascent expeditions in the Greater Ranges under his belt, when notguiding clients, Guy Buckingham has also been working alongside injured soldiers using the outdoors as part of their rehabilitation.

With a varied schedule which sees Guy working with Infinity Mountain Guides in Scotland over the winter, coupled with work in North Wales and England for the summer, it’s been a busy past year working closely with Guy as part of filming for Episode 2 PERTEX® ‘ Elemental Journeys’ and Rab® ‘The Place of the Gaels’.

 

How does a day differ working with a film crew in comparison to a 'normal' day with clients?

With the dynamic nature of the filming, the production group are often spread out and there will be constant tweaks and changes. It’s my responsibility as a safety officer to keep an eye on the safety  as the crew will be focused on getting the footage during filming, which usually involves monitoring changing factors such as weather, avalanche conditions, visibility and condition of the climbs. What I really appreciate about Coldhouse is that they really make you feel part of the team and are happy to listen to suggestions about locations and ideas for good positions for capture.

Utilising my local knowledge of an area and experience, there are lots of points that are jointly discussed between myself and the Director & Producer in order to get the shots they want to achieve. I always feel quite apprehensive when they go with one of my location choices, but so far it’s worked out - phew!  It is very easy for the Director and Producer to be focused on capturing a particular shot meanwhile time is ticking for achieving the rest of the shoot; the advantage of not being heavily involved on the creative side means that you can nudge or drop a subtle hint to help them keep the team on track.

What tips have you learnt from working alongside the Coldhouse crew?

Filming is by nature stressful as you are usually fighting the light, visibility, wind, shoot location etc. A memorable scene which springs from the last shoot I did was the work on Place of the Gaels on Ben Nevis which shines out for various reasons. The conditions were appalling, including a lack of good visibility; the dedication of the film crew to get the shots they needed really impressed me and comes through in the final film. With the ethic in Coldhouse of passion for their vocation combined with good humour and friendliness, it makes for a fun and an enjoyable experience, even when you have spent 2 days freezing cold on top of the same winter climb.

How do you balance juggling between what you love as a recreation and a profession? Are there aspects of the outdoors you try and keep separate from your own enjoyment?

When I think about the work I do, my main purpose is to ensure that my clients have an enjoyable and safe time whilst sharing my passion for the outdoors.  I really don’t mind if I am taking a group mountaineering in Snowdonia or leading a client on a big multi-pitch winter route in stellar condition as  the experience is about prioritising their safety as well as their enjoyment.

The work life balance is based on making a decision about being out in the mountains . I have tended to stop leading expeditions to the Greater Ranges and keep that for my own enjoyment, which is based on a personal reflection about the responsibilities and time commitments of the projects. It takes a huge amount of planning and preparation prior to the trip, meaning it’s normally only possible to do one every year or two, in a small self-supported group with focuses on technical climbing. It also means that I choose to climb alongside equals to reduce the overall risk of the expedition.

In the past year, I have been fortunate to be able to travel into the mountains and explore new unexplored areas , such as the Gangstang North West Ridge, India with my friend and climbing partner Malcolm Bass. Hopefully there will be plans for our next jaunt in  Spring 2018.

I'm interested in the outdoors and working with clients, how can I turn this into a career?

There are so many routes into working in the outdoors. The easiest way is to start building your logbook experience and work towards the National Governing Body Awards, for mountaineering it is worth checking the Mountain Training website which explains what is available. One pathway would be to search out work with a local outdoor centre which will help you build experience and qualifications as well as start to build a good set of friends who will be interested in the same things you are. The one thing I would say is that there is no substitute for experience.

What's the top tip for getting the best out of a mountain day? E.g. timings/ preparation/ seeking advice from instructors etc?

This is a personal view and makes me sound quite old (which I am!), but I believe there is significant pressure on people today to achieve so much from limited time on the hills. Everywhere you look there are instant images showing amazing locations, climbs and experiences, this is great for engaging the imagination and the drive to get out and do stuff.  However, what it usually doesn’t show are the close calls with danger, the time spent waiting out bad weather or the experience of the individuals involved, which may include them pushing themselves into dangerous positions that they might not even be aware of. As I said before there is no substitute for experience, I would highly recommend gaining that from professionals. There are many ways to do that, you could go through a website like AMI to "Find a Leader” or through the BMC or the Alpine Club to find access to subsidised courses and mentors, especially if you are young person wishing to get involved with the outdoors.

For more  information please contact Guy Buckingham via email.


Filming Albion

Producer Emma Crome describes the impact ‘rewilding’ has had on her perception of the UK’s wild spaces, and how it sparked the idea for our latest film project at Coldhouse.

We gazed up at the red sun as the wind whistled through the spruce that snapped and sprang above our heads. The plantation forest gave way to a clear cut area littered with white stumps and stacked with dead wood on a bed of mud and stagnant water. Beyond that lay the monoculture, the empty grassland that makes up the majority of the uplands in the Cambrian mountains. The man stood next to me spoke with enthusiastic authority about the significance of this area in relation to what he’s come to call ‘rewilding’. I winced when I heard him use the word. Even after two years of research, I was not entirely comfortable with the interpretations of this somewhat controversial concept. But the red sun beat down on the wet desert, and it felt somewhat appropriate that on this particular day, we were lingering on the last gasps of a distant storm.

As a keen climber and hillwalker I spend the majority of my free time in the British countryside -  in particular our National Parks. I grew up on the edge of Dartmoor, spent childhood holidays in Snowdonia and the Lake District, and have lived in the Peak District for the last three years. Passing through and interacting with these beautiful places and their communities has been and continues to be an important part of my life, and consequently I always felt a familiarity and love for the landscapes that make up our small island.

So when I stumbled across ‘rewilding’ and the ideas that underpin it a couple of years ago, I do not exaggerate when I say it had a profound effect on my outlook and understanding of our natural spaces. Scrolling through the usual newsfeeds online I happened across the Sustainable Earth Institute’s edit of George Monbiot’s Ted Talk, ‘How Wolves Change Rivers.’ His description of trophic cascades and their impact on ecosystems fascinated me. I began to delve a little deeper, and from there the once familiar landscapes of Britain unravelled.  My eyes were opened to the many political, environmental and economic issues surrounding our land - vested interest, system justification and societies creeping withdrawal from natural space, conscious or otherwise. The National Parks I had perceived as ‘wilderness’ playgrounds for many years were in reality shadowlands and theme parks, complex in structure and influence, and denied their full potential.

The seed was sown and my appetite for this subject insatiable. I felt inspired to find a way to get people - in particular the UK outdoor community - engaged with the subject of the future of our British countryside, and perhaps induce a perspective change as profound as the one I am still experiencing. Making a film seems like a sensible step forward, although as a friend quite rightly pointed out recently, the subject is far more important than the film itself. But as emerging documentary filmmakers, it’s our responsibility to unpack ideas and to present the whole truth. Asking for George Monbiot’s input - author of ‘Feral’ and one of the most passionate and enlightened thinkers of our time -  seemed like a natural first port of call.

Storm Ophelia’s exhalations whipped up some strange weather in the UK in October. As we set the cameras rolling the atmosphere was post-apocalyptic and unnerving.  We felt exposed and vulnerable under the Saharan dust as George shared his insights into what he describes as an ‘ecological disaster zone.’  It was a profound beginning. Later we crept into the nearby ancient woodland where the idea for ‘Feral’ first came to George’s mind. It was calm even though the river was loud and running fast under the green canopy, and we watched as the salmon took temporary flight up and over the waterfalls. The contrasts of the day were not lost on us.

As a company with the outdoors at the very core of what we do, it seemed quite natural to explore the subject of rewilding with George. Having a voice within the UK outdoor sector is not something we take for granted at Coldhouse, and I feel compelled to consider the implications that recreation, agriculture, industry and politics have on our green spaces. How can we maintain our cultural heritage, whilst at the same time restore and protect that which may be lost?

 

George Monbiot was our first contributor to answer this question - he won’t be the last. As he quite rightly points out ‘..rewilding should take place for the benefit of people, to enhance the world in which we live, and not for the sake of an abstraction we call nature.’

It feels as though we are chasing the storm by reaching out and dipping our hand into this sensitive subject; yet to engage with and challenge our own perceptions of our ‘wild’ land here on our doorstep is as fulfilling a past time as any I can think of. Through this project, I hope we can contribute to making a positive difference to environmentalism in the UK.

#albionfilm


Cúchulainn: The Ridge, 55 years on

Read an exclusive piece by Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes, author of ‘In the Shadow of Ben Nevis’, about what it was like revisiting the Coruisk hut with Coldhouse Collective for the first episode in the PERTEX® Elemental Journeys series.

‘It was raining as the boat left Elgol and sailed up Loch Scavaig to the beautiful hidden harbour of Loch na Cuilce at its head, right in the heart of the Cuillin Mountains of Skye. Nothing strange about this, it had been raining in the Highlands all summer.

It had been a few years since I was last here but nothing had changed much. Mountains rising steeply into the mist and a vast amount of steep black rock with Coruisk JMCS hut standing white and tiny with its back against a giant gabbro cliff.

I hobbled and splashed the 50 yards to the hut. The Coldhouse crew were already filming. “This can’t be much good,” I thought, looking at the leaden streaming sky, but nobody seemed to mind.“This is exactly what we want,” Matt Pycroft said, peering into his camera. “Atmosphere!” Well there was plenty of that!

This time it was different, the hut was spic and span and by the time I arrived Emma had a brew on the boil and Matt H and Ryan were already sorting out the cameras and filmmaking stuff.
I had been involved in a number of film shoots over the years but this was a bit different.

Ryan Goff shooting footage of Spike walking away from the Loch Coruisk hut, with Matt Hardy making sure the filming followed a steady path.

I felt a bit like an old bodger at first. I was still on crutches after a knee operation but the crew put me at ease and I gained a few ‘brownie’ points when I pulled a litre bottle of Bell’s out of my rucksack. An evening of merriment ensued and it felt as though we had known each other for years as we made our bed for the night in the hut.

Day two had its moments as well, the rain was pouring down in buckets when out of the mirk appeared a bride in a full , if somewhat bedraggled wedding dress with a rather sheepish groom. They’d wanted somewhere different to get married and this was certainly it! Filming ceased for a while and we broke out the Bell’s to celebrate.
That evening I discovered that the entire team were tone deaf as they listened eagerly to my crap banjo playing and actually asked for more, and then, blimey, they filmed it! By now I was getting right into this and basking in the game of being a film star.

The weather bucked up and the boys were filming using a drone. I’d never seen this done before but the footage they were getting of the Skye ridge was absolutely spectacular. This was our last day and I didnot want to leave. We sailed out into Loch Scavaig, the drone buzzing
around the boat still filming us with the spectacular silhouette of the Cuillin Ridge in the background.
So, I guess that’s the easy bit done. Coldhouse Collective have still to film Finlay Wild running along the ridge and all that, and then there’s the painstaking work of editing the miles of film taken. I know the huge effort that has gone into the making of this film and that ‘Cúchulainn’ will give an amazing and real picture of Skye in all its many moods.’

Written by Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes exclusively for Coldhouse Collective.


Shooting on the Cuillin Ridge

One of the unspoken rules of our expeditions into the mountains is that no one can complain about how much they are suffering. Early starts, long distances to cover, heavy packs, a lack of sleep – these are all things that every member of the team will be struggling to deal with and overcome in their heads. You accept it, you understand that you are all in the same situation, and you support each other with some frivolous banter and hearty encouragement. Any moaning just drags down morale and motivation.

With this in mind I found it difficult packing up my rucksack for what was to be my third trip up to Sgurr a Bhasteir on the Cuillin Ridge, a distance of about 5km and a total ascent of around 850m. I’d sprained my ankle about three weeks previously, and had it strapped up. I was concerned about slowing everyone down, but equally excited to be hobbling my way around the mountains again.

Matt Pycroft, Matt Hardy, Ryan Goff and I were set to spend a night filming and bivvying on the ridge – capturing a running sequence at sunset and sunrise. I knew the route well having been up and down twice to exactly the same spot last year. Not a great distance but a fair amount of height gain. From Sligachan you can see Am Basteir and the route in. I’m not sure if that makes things better or worse – the tiny silhouette of the Tooth never seems to get any closer as you trudge up the path next to the Allt Dearg Beag waterfalls, and on a still day the midges nibble your ears and the humidity makes the pools of water beneath you incredibly enticing.

Camera equipment, bivvy kit, extra layers and food and water all makes for a decent load to carry. Once you get up onto the ridge there aren’t many options for water, so you need to think carefully about how much to take and where you need to top up along the way. Meals and snacks also need to be carefully planned. You burn so many calories that you need to make sure you have enough energy to keep going and to keep the morale high, but equally you want to be as fast and light as possible to minimise the suffering and cover ground efficiently. A tricky balancing act that can only be perfected with practice.

That being said our intrepid cameraman Matt Hardy donned his usual 100 litre tardis-type pack, and Ryan’s hip belt broke before we left the car park, inducing an emergency repair fashioned from a spare piece of webbing. No complaining though, this was all par for the course.

The trudge passed slowly and uneventfully, and thoughts of the previous year’s trip drifted in and out of my mind. I had to chastise myself for feeling less than enthusiastic about making the same journey again – complacency is not my desired disposition, and I reminded myself I was lucky to consider these mountains familiar and have an abundance of memories amongst them.

On top of the ridge we setup our camp on the col close to the deep gully of Bealach nan Lice, a lofty position with glorious views to the North, West and East of the Isle of Skye. The guys prepped the kit and we began to recce for the sequence in preparation for sunset. The sky was clear save for a few streaks of white cloud that crept in and around the summits.

Matt Hardy was our body double for Finlay Wild, record holder for the Cuillin Ridge traverse and the subject of our capture in a couple of days time. Matt gallantly dashed backwards and forwards over the rough ground, bobbing amongst the gabbro like a chamois, following our instruction over radio comms and patiently waiting for the right wisps of cloud to frame the shot. No complaining from him, and I’m pretty certain he was even enjoying himself.

Concentrating so hard on capture in the mountains sometimes means you miss the opportunity to appreciate your situation, you’re so caught up in the technicalities of filming. Not so on the Cuillin. The atmosphere, the contrast of dark rock and empty sky creates the sensation that everything is moving, alive and breathing steadily, the ridge some great Leviathan washed up on the shores of Skye.

As the sun finally set at around 1030pm, we took in the red pink hue over the sea and then settled into our sleeping bags. Sunrise was at 0439am which meant starting up again at 0330am to prep for the next sequence. Matt and I had a fairly spacious tent with plenty of room for boiling up water in the porch and stashing kit. We chuckled as we listened to Ryan and Matt jostling for room in their slightly less palatial abode, the only time any kind of discomfort was vocalised.

Sunrise came around too quickly as always. I’m not a morning person before 10am, let alone 0330am, and the lack of sleep almost made me indifferent to the dawn light. Almost, but not quite. Matt Hardy danced over the ridge in front of Am Basteir as the light threw down its blue hue and opened up orange corridors across the land below. Ryan moved about deftly with the Sony FS7 shouting directions, and Matt Pycroft hunkered down on a rock ledge in an elevated position with the 5D Mark IV to capture the stills.

My duty was to approve of everything and ensure steady progress – no shot was to be left uncaptured. Then breakfast. Cold and tired, I fired up the Brew Kit as the incredible reds and pinks in the sky gave way to washed out whites and grey. We passed around coffee and porridge and discussed the capture and whether we were satisfied. The weather was due to turn and the clouds were banking up like the dark rings under our eyes.

It is a big effort for what turns into a few minutes of footage for a short film. Packing up and walking back down we debated the pros and cons of shooting in the mountains, the limited options you have when the weather turns bad, kit maintenance, tiredness and motivation. The conclusion we came to is that there can be no complaining, because not only is it all worth it in the end, but more importantly the experiences we have doing this job are enough to sustain us when we spend weeks on end back in the studio in front of our screens.

We reached the Sligachan Hotel at about 10am. Two days of toil for a small segment of a seven minute film. We ordered a full Scottish breakfast each.

“My ankle hurts,” I moaned.
“That was the worst nights sleep ever,” Ryan whined.
“Shut up” said Matt and Matt at the same time.