Feeling inspired by Kendal Mountain Film Festival and the Brit Rock Film Tour but not sure where to start? In this two-part series, award-winning outdoor filmmakers Alastair Lee and Natasha Brooks offer their top tips.
You can find part one of this series here: How to Make an Outdoor Film Part 1: Filming
Alastair's recent film, Climbing Blind, won the Judge's Special Prize at Kendal Mountain Film Festival. With twenty years in the industry and over 100 international awards to his name, Alastair is a veteran of outdoor filmmaking. Don't miss the Brit Rock Film Tour, founded by Alastair and currently touring the UK. He has collaborated with the best of the UK’s adventure filmmakers resulting in a stunning line-up of compelling stories from the vertical world. Films, dates and venues here.
AL: Don’t be afraid of cutting. When I was getting going, I’d film Dave Birkett doing some new E9 and I’d edit it down to 2.5 minutes. Some climbers would complain, “You didn’t show the whole thing,” but if you like watching live climbing then go to the crag! Climbing is fundamentally boring to watch. It's a filmmaker's job to remove dead air. I’ve just made a bouldering film, and bouldering distills climbing, but 90% of the time, even in bouldering, nothing is really happening.
Dealing with the fragmentation of time, that’s what films do, and you can play with that. Tarantino does it. Christopher Nolan does it very cleverly in Inception, and also in Dunkirk: he divides the screen into an hour, a day and a week, with the boat as a week, the plane as an hour and a day was, I think, the guy on the beach. Outdoor filmmakers should be just as adventurous when dealing with time.
WATCH the trailer for Climbing Blind, which features in the Brit Rock Film Tour, on BMC TV:
How to cut
Typically with climbing filmmaking you start and finish with a wide shot. You can't keep cutting back to wide, it doesn't work. You need to move to a different angle ideally, to stop it being jarry.
You need to vary your focal lengths as well as your angles. For example, if you have a wide shot with the subject close to the camera, cutting to a tighter shot but with the climber further away cuts really well. Or you might cut from a wide angle shot to a close-up of a hand, but then you can’t cut back to wide, you need something else, mid-range ideally.
You can’t keep editing from a climber back to drone footage, either. Unless the drone has moved way closer. I tend to use longer drone cuts, to make up from the lack of interest as you’re far from the climber. Keep it slow and cinematic, it can’t be slow enough, most drone stuff is too quick.
When editing you need to think, what editing techniques will bring the emotions of the scene out? You might cut to a wide shot, perhaps to show a big run-out. You're not meant to do it, but sometimes jump cutting — just chopping a chunk out of a segment of footage — works. I did this on the Asgard Project a bit, and it can be very powerful in conveying that this isn’t all smooth going. It brings the tension out.
There’s a rule about the 180-degree field of view: you’re meant to keep the camera on one side of it. Everyone breaks that rule now, though. We all understand. The audience has progressed. We’re all filmmakers. So essentially there are no hard and fast rules.
Well exposed flat light, recommends Alastair
I've read quite a bit about three-act structures. Ideally, you want to introduce your characters and set up the objective of the film first. You can do this either way round; I like characters first. Then act two is the story — it’s the film, basically. Here you can do all kinds of things, delve into their back story, go and meet their parents. Then ideally towards the end of act two something dramatic occurs — a plot point. You also want a plot point early on for some drama — perhaps something happens that changes our perspective on a character, or something goes wrong.
Doubt has to be there all the time in a story. The interest is in the doubt and the conflict. But the classic scenario is that towards the end of act two, something bad happens, and then that gets resolved somehow.
Don’t get too technical. Barry Hampe has written a brilliant book about documentary filmmaking, called Making Documentary Films and Videos: A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries. I’ve never seen any of his films but the book is brilliant. With editing there are all these rules, he says, and I suggest you don’t learn them. He’s right. When you’ve done your edit, does it make sense, can you follow it. Don’t do it too much by numbers.
When you've finished, show the film to your mum, or your mate who doesn’t know anything about climbing. Doesn’t understand the difference between E4 and E10. If they get something from it then maybe you’ve got a story that transcends. That’s usually a human story. For example, in Free Solo, to make the story accessible to a wider audience they used the mechanics and tension between him and his girlfriend and the film was about that relationship. That gave us the insight into Alex as a human. It’s hard to relate to him, which was a problem for the filmmakers.
It’s an organic process, making a film about climbing, it’s really unnatural and a lot of work.
Natasha Brooks has received the BMC Women In Adventure Film award, the BMC Peoples choice award 2015, and has made the official selection of many film festivals including BANFF Canada, KMF, SHAFF, New York Wild Festival. Her film Blue Hue has toured over 40 countries world-wide with the BANFF World Tour and was broadcast on Channel 4.
The internet is awash with amazing free online tutorials for all your techy needs. Whether you're new to editing or you're an experienced cutter, there's always more we can learn. You might have to sift through lots to find the gems but it is worth it. Whether you learn better from written or video tutorials, rest assured, there will be at least one kind person that has taken the time to share the know-how.
Give yourself time
Don't underestimate how long editing can take. If you have made the effort to get outside and film, then you want to allow enough time to do this justice and for the story to fully unfold in the editing room.
Less is more
Go easy on the colour. It can be tempting to ramp up the saturation and contrast to try to make your imagery pop, but remember that sometimes less is more. Let the magnificence of the natural surroundings shine through.
Natasha's freediving skills complement her underwater filmmaking
Take a break
If you look at a project for too long you become blind to it. Go for a walk, go for a swim, go dance the night away. When you return you will have the fresh vision and clarity to move the project forward.
Show your friends
When you think that your film is nearly complete, invite your friends to watch it with you. It is amazing how you will critique it in a new way just by watching it along side them. You also benefit from their feedback (don't get offended by this, their comments can be gold dust!)
More about Natasha on Instagram, Facebook and on her website tashbrooks.com
WATCH: Natasha's award-winning autobiographical documentary, Blue Hue on BMC TV:
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