Breaking Boundaries: On location with Sherpas Cinema

Standing at the base of the ‘Peak Express’ on Sunday, there was a palpable atmosphere amongst the crowds awaiting their chair to the summit of Whistler. This was not only due to the 124cm of untouched powder left in the wake of a two day storm which tore through the sea-to-sky corridor, but because to lookers’ right of the queue, stood high up above the iconic two-stager ‘Air Jordan’, was Julian Carr peering over the edge of his soon-to-be launch pad.

This was the culmination of a month of filming with Sherpa’s Cinema as they wrapped up their in-bounds segment for ‘Into The Mind’.

Momme Halbe and Dave Mossop get the crane set in amongst the trees for the next shot

A month earlier, we all met at 7 45am in the Lot 8 Car Park on Blackcomb, all very excited about the prospect of what was to come - though nobody could have predicted the 28 days we had in store. Standing in the lot was the family for the next 4 weeks: the pros; the crew; and the invaluable extras who completed every shot whether it was weaving down a cat track or shredding the steeps in ruby bowl as the professionals were left to execute their lines in the background. Joined by the likes of Austin Ross, Matty Richards, Julian Carr, Izzy Lynch, Michelle Parker, Tatum Onerod, Eric Hjorleifson, James Mcskimming and Stan Rey, to name but a few (no, seriously), the quality of the segment was never in doubt. This was destined to be a banger. We, the film crew, gathered our equipment and in true ‘sherpa’ fashion were each laden with cameras, tripods and cranes as we headed for the lift, pros in tow.

The heli gets the shot as a crew of skiers shred some early morning groomers on Blackcomb

Day one set the tone for the segment; an adrenaline-fuelled furious attack on the inbound areas of Whistler Blackcomb that left the experienced on-lookers with their jaws on the floor and the athletes asking “Would you like to get another angle on that?” Mcskimming laid down the gauntlet after sending a huge laid-out 60ft backflip over a cliff that even regular Whistlerites wouldn’t have looked twice at. Flanked by Austin Ross and Matty Richards they tore their way through the Grey Zone just above the cat track that takes skiers to the Crystal Zone. The frame held the image of the recreational skiers enjoying the on-piste terrain just as much as the pros were stoked on the more technical lines less than 100m away.

After the success of ‘All I Can’, Sherpas had set the bar high to follow up the epic film, but with a creative and talented team and athletes that understood the film’s narrative, it was certainly an achievable vision. The in-bounds section is merely a chapter in their story, but one that holds a great deal of importance: whether you are the toddler having their heel wiggled into a binding for the very first time before ski school; the mum and dad trying their hand at skiing a double diamond on a pow day; the grandparents skiing blue groomers in the morning sun; or the professional hitting a 90ft backcountry booter, the feeling is the same. It is the constant that keeps everyone on a par and what makes winter sports so unique.

Air Jordan towers over onlookers on the day that Julian Carr made history by sending a 100ft frontflip over the famous double-stage cliff

As Julian backed up on the in-run atop of Air Jordan, the hundreds of onlookers in the queue where I was recording sound asked me what was about to happen. “Knowing Julian, he’s about to front flip the whole of air Jordan, but I don’t have radio contact so I don’t know when it’s going to happen” I told them. As soon as I said that, production manager, Momme Halbe, called me to say we were 2 minutes out and it was time to start recording. I told people around me to keep looking up, and the 500-strong queue waited in anticipation. Stan Rey kicked off the single-shot sequence with his first decent on Air-Jordan – a two stage cliff drop – by dropping the first 30ft to the middle section and sending a backflip to his feet off the larger, 50ft drop as about 15 extras skied the terrain to lookers’ right of the feature. The crowd were hooting and hollering at what they witnessed. And then silence for a brief second ensued as, like Icarus flying towards the sun, a silhouetted Julian Carr projected from the top tier in an out-stretched superman position, clearing the entirety of the cliff in one swoop. The noise was like nothing I’d heard before outside of a major league sport venue. The applause continued as Julian and the team made their way to the bottom of the lift and the stories of that day haven’t stopped yet.

Callum Jelly lines up his shot as dozens of skiers prepare to drop in on Spanky's Ladder

Several weeks later after every line had been slayed, and every bar had provided our come-down refreshments to each and every boundary-pushing shoot on the hill, the shooting phase was wrapped. The stressful days of running round in the sub-zero conditions trying to heli-strap counter-weights to the 18ft crane have been replaced with the stressful days of running around in the plus-thirty conditions in the office trying to deliver the story of skiing at all levels for its release in September.

My short time with Sherpas Cinema didn’t just give me an insight into the family of the Sherpas crew, but the community of the entire ski industry. This small section of a soon-to-be iconic ski-film, will re-root the essence of winter sports in the eyes of every person to have ever considered sliding on snow.

Amateur footage hints at what is to come from Sherpas' own footage of Julian Carr's massive frontflip

The Fifth Wins at Raindance (04/10/12)

Our film won entry to the Raindance film festival in the Collabor8te 48hr film competition. A tough field of entries was narrowed down to just 10 finalists who were invited  to a screening at the Apollo Cinema on Regent Street in Lomdon.

The fashion photographer and film-maker, Rankin, who runs Collabor8te as part of Rankin Film Productions, was there to present the films and host the evening along with Nokia and Raindance.

We were in a tough field of films and for us to even be included amongst them was a huge honour, and at the end of the night our team, 'Quink Tattoo' were announced the outright winners of the competition.

We have since had our film posted by @raindance @collabor8te and @nokia_uk and it was featured on the homepage of Rankin's magazine website, 'Hunger'.

The Fifth (28/09/12-30/09/12)

A small team of old friends all now working in the creative industry teamed up to produce this short film for the Collaborate x Rankin 48hour film festival, with a shot at having our short film screened at the prestigious 'Raindance' film festival in early October 2012.

From concept to creation, between 7pm on Friday 28th September and Sunday 30th September 2012, we produced and delivered a high quality, provocative film that stands out from the selected brief given to us to fulfill of 'Capture and relive'. 

With James LLoyd's artistic direction and formidable sound recording and mastering, he took hold of the brief and his team to develop and create the film he visualised. The initial concept came from Rebekah Heys and Gus Miller, Rebekah being responsible for the photo below and a large reason why the film is so beautiful. Gus Miller's theatrical experience allowed him to take control of the directing of the actors, particularly Peter Cary who delivered a moving performance that maintained the high quality throughout every aspect of the film, as well as Florence Hapgood's vital performance at the end of the film which contributed greatly to the succinct and deep conclusion to our exploration into the appreciation and awareness of sound. 

Matt Howey Nunn took control of the cinematography and managed the entire production with Alex Martin Simons making every single role run smoothly, and ultimately is a large part of why we were able to ever create such a film. Angus MacRae (www.angus-macrae.co.uk) scored the entire piece from scratch, with very little direction and information to go on as we made the film, and delivered the music for the film that complimented it in a way that none of the production crew could have anticipated and by far exceded our expectations.  

‘The Fifth’ dir. James Lloyd - Interview by Collabor8te for www.collabor8te.com and HUNGER TV

1) Making a film in 48 hours is a daunting task. Can you describe your process and how you went about making the film?

The first people I asked to join my team were Rory and Matt. They work as a videographer and photographer respectively and I knew without their involvement I could not make the film. We had a pre-production meeting a few days before the competition to discuss potential briefs and film ideas, locations to which we had access, and the availability of other crew members. We took stock of the equipment we had, and arranged to borrow or rent for the weekend what equipment we didn’t have but felt we needed, such as lights and a generator. We assumed most of the films would be shot in London and in an attempt to set it apart, decided to use Matt’s parents’ house in Kent as our base for the weekend.

Theatre director Gus Miller drew up a list of potential actors for us to keep on standby until we knew who we might need. He also introduced us to composer Angus MacRae and arranged with a local theatre to allow us into their costume department on Saturday morning. Although we didn’t use the costume department, having Gus on board added huge flexibility and production value to the project.

Other than Rory as editor, Matt as cinematographer and myself as producer roles weren’t clearly defined until we knew what film we wanted to shoot. I felt that any member of my crew could have directed us for the competition but I took the role as I had the clearest idea of how I wanted to shoot the concept we went with.

2) You used the theme ‘Capture and Relive’ but this is obviously quite broad. How did you go about developing this concept?

We felt it was important that whatever film we ended up making responded creatively to the brief we were given, and the theme ‘capture and relive’ immediately appealed to us. Knowing we were shooting in Kent ruled out ‘the city through my lens’, while ‘low light’ and ‘live colour’ seemed too much like stylistic choices than a theme we could base a plot around. Our initial responses to the theme were stories relating to cameras and photography. We assumed this would be the most common interpretation and so we tried to steer discussion in a different direction with more literal interpretations involving impossible-to-shoot kidnapping plots.

Gus suggested that ‘capture and relive’ did not necessarily have to relate to an image, but also to sound. As someone who works in production sound, the idea of making a film about someone obsessively collecting sounds had an immediate appeal. When we asked ourselves why he was doing so, Bekah gave us the twist that we reveal at the end of the film.

3) What limitations did you have in trying to make a film within 48 hours?

A 48 hour time limit brings inherent limitations as to how a film can be shot. We knew we could not set the film at night, as filming on Saturday night would not give us enough time to edit on Sunday. We also knew we could not use a great deal of locations. Luckily we had planned enough in advance that we avoided many other limitations. We had all of our actors lined up so rather than trying to find one on Friday or Saturday, we were calling actors and saying we didn’t need them – a wonderful luxury to have.

I felt that scripting a film from scratch in such a short time was beyond my capabilities and that keeping it silent was the optimal strategy. Rather than have a storyboard, we just took a loose structure and shot list into Saturday’s day of production. I simplified and refined the structure as we shot but knew that much of the structure would be left to Rory to define in editing.

One limitation I had not anticipated was that with a crew of six creative people, 48 hours was not enough time to use all of their ideas, or even have all of their ideas heard, though they may have been good ones.

4) You shot at several locations, how difficult was it to move around within the time limit?

Although the locations we filmed at were quite distinct, they were quite close geographically. We all grew up around Tonbridge, where we shot the film, and so relied on our local knowledge to source appropriate locations and ensure that we spent as little time travelling as possible. Transport itself was easy as we had two cars for a crew of six, and we used minimal equipment while filming on location; we only had move around two 5Ds, lenses and my sound equipment.

5) One of the most striking things about the film is that there is no dialogue. How important was the music to the film?

Due to the nature of the story it was vital that the film contained no dialogue. I wanted the story to be told purely through Angus MacRae’s score and the ambient sounds that our character records. I was reluctant to have the score seem overly extra-diegetic and felt the best way to make the music seem as if it could exist within the film world itself was by avoiding heavy orchestration and instead being a solo piece. As the piano was such a prominent part of the set, we all agreed it would be the most appropriate instrument to base the music around.

Via a phone call on Friday evening we gave Angus a brief outline of the film and by Saturday morning he sent us a draft of the main theme. We were astonished at what he had created in such a short time and I was especially impressed with the ambiguity of the emotion behind the piece. The sense of inquisitive melancholia within the score informed the way we filmed more than Angus may have expected. We played it constantly while dressing the set and in the background during some of Pete’s listening scenes. The music therefore had a huge impact on the tone of “The Fifth” even before the film had been edited and the final score applied.

6) The opening has some interesting colour choices in terms of cinematography. Can you discuss these further?

I gave almost complete control of the film’s visuals to my cinematographer Matt, who was assisted by Rory and Bekah in creating the visual tone of the film. I was confident that while I was worrying about every other aspect of the film, I could leave the cinematography in their capably creative hands. On the subject of colour in the film, Matt says:

“It was important to me to create warm yellow tones in order to provide a sense of lived-in comfort. I wanted this to create a contrast between when the protagonist is at home and when he is out recording sounds. Most of the location shots are just daylight, with a small amount of colour grading in post, focusing on blue and magenta tones. This feels colder and less comfortable for the audience, mirroring the feelings of the protagonist.”

7) What work and filmmaking experiences have you had before and how did this help you while making ‘The Fifth’?

I work as a freelance cinematographer and production sound mixer so I’m usually working on other people’s productions. As I’ve gained more production experience I’ve increased my understanding of what makes a production run well by seeing other people do it. I recently made a short film and music video with xFilm which gave me the confidence to finally take control of my own production. I’ve entered a number of time limit based competitions before, with some success, so felt I had an idea of the kind of films that do well in these competitions and how to very quickly turn an idea into a film. Although this film gave me my first chance to direct, produce and design sound, my previous experience ensured that filling these roles was exciting but never intimidating.

8) Can you give any advice to other filmmakers who are trying to create successful short films under tight time and budgetary constraints?

We were very fortunate to already have between us most of the equipment needed for making the film. Matt, who also worked as my production manager, called in favours to borrow almost everything else for free. The network of contacts he and Gus brought to the production proved invaluable and shows the importance of networking in filmmaking.

In order to make a film under such tight time constraints it’s also important to be flexible. We planned ahead but knew we could not plan too well or we would tie ourselves to an idea which we could not fit to a brief. During the 48 hours a few things went wrong, but we weren’t worried because we had not burdened ourselves with additional self-imposed time limits like using locations or actors we could only film for part of the day. The time limit also encouraged us to refine the idea as much as we could. This should be the goal of a filmmaker in any production and so in this case the time limit was more a benefit than a limitation.

I would never make a film again without someone specifically there to fill the role Alex took on. While five of us were concentrating on making the film, he did everything else. This included:  transport; food; asking location owners to sign releases; housing our two actors Pete and Flo; and supervising the gruelling post-upload form-signing marathon. It was vital to have someone on set doing these jobs to allow the filmmakers to make the film, and in the dying hours of the competition to have one level headed person around when everyone else was panicking.

9) What was your favourite part of the production process?

For me, the most exciting part of the production was the point at which we came up with the idea. Within the space of a minute I went from having no suggestions I was happy with, to having a very clear idea of how we could make the film. It was a huge relief to be able to take a promising concept into the Saturday and I was sure we would have a good film at the end of the weekend if we could keep it simple and shoot it well.

10) Do you have any future films in development?

Over the weekend I discovered that my group of friends for the past 11 years also makes a great filmmaking team. After the success of ‘The Fifth’ we are all eager to push on under the Quink Tattoo name and continue making films. We have two which are soon to be put into production: the first we conceived in our pre-production meeting for this competition and should be a very different film to ‘The Fifth’ in tone and style; and the second is an animation based idea I have brought to the group after planning for a while.

Matt Pound and Lt. leek (26/08/12)

I filmed a series of short live videos for the up-and-coming Kent folk band, Matt Pound and Lt. Leek following their show at 'Local and Live' 2012. Their full EP is available to download here  - http://lt-leek.bandcamp.com/album/matt-pound-lieutenant-leek-ep