The weekend of the 15th & 16th of June we were northward bound for our first foray into Celtman filming for Steve Ashworth Media as his freelance crew, the three of us often mix and match on similar filming projects, so it was a pleasure to join forces with him once again. Celtman is based in the beautiful but incredibly remote village of Torridon, Scotland. We stuffed ourselves and camera gear into the car on Thursday to make sure we had an enforced day of being fairly relaxed on the Friday before the mayhem ensued on Saturday morning.
Equipment for adventure filmmaking
Equipment is a question we get asked about most - we always like to be light and fast in our approach, you can have as many Cineflex cameras as you like but, if you can't get into position quick enough you won't get the shot, unless you have a combination of Kilian Jornet's speed & Hulk-esque strength (which we sadly don't). In fact we did devise our own Cineflex, renamed the Stevieflex - more on that later...
So, equipment - our trusty Lumix GH4s, soon to be upgraded to the GH5s, DJI Ronin M, DJI Mavic Pro 2, GoPros, radio mics, and shot gun mic. Simple but it works well for us, and it all fits on our backs without crippling us.
The GH4s in particular are absolutely bombproof, I've even dropped one off the side of Halls Fell (by mistake), and I watched cringing as the world turned slow mo and the camera bounced from crag to crag and remarkably came out unscathed bar a small dent. Miraculous.
Anyway, bags - we use the Lowepro Sport Flipside 20 - sadly now out of production but the best camera bags for adventure filmmaking we've come across. Clothing, both Matt and I are Salomon ambassadors so we're lucky to have access to some incredible gear and footwear from this light and fast brand that keeps you sorted in the mountains.
Steve was heading up the production so his role was to storyboard the film, direct, film and edit, Matt's main job is drone filming and my job was to be an embedded camera op with an athlete's support team.
Steve's brief was to produce a short film for the next day, with less focus on story, and more on the visuals, and then a 15 minute story-fuelled documentary for later on down the line. It's not unusual to be asked to turnaround an edit of an event film in the same day, or for the next day to be shown to the athletes (e.g. Berghaus Dragon's Back Race, Cape Wrath Ultra) - and I think this has to be one of my favourite production methods - always intense, erring on the stressful side but really rewarding. There is normally an in-team competition to see how much emotion we can generate in the audience. People want to be moved and inspired and hopefully if we do our job well, the films will!
The race begins at 5am, which equates to a 3am wake up call, and the night before all three of us slept in our respective cars in a lay-by near to the start so that we could take advantage of that all important extra 10 minutes of sleep. I never sleep properly before a job anyway, thinking over the stories, wondering how the day will play out, what shots to watch out for, etc etc.... it feels a little like pre-exam nerves. It's almost a relief when the alarm goes and the action begins.
The beginning of Celtman transported me back in time, with a simultaneous nod to the future with hundreds of people milling around on the shores of Shieldaig all clad in anonymous neoprene, the glassy loch reflecting the dark peaked mountains and the thudding of the be-kilted drummers calling the athletes to arms under the flickering flames of the Celtman logo suspended high above in the air. The cries of the seagulls filled the air as the indigo light of the morning mixed with orange glow of the fire pits - a strangely haunting scene that didn't fail to move me. All thoughts of the 3am start vanished and it was a privilege to be filming on that lochside.
It was fascinating from my side to be 'in' with the athletes, to view the story from the inside as part of a support team. I was accompanying Timo in the support car and his partner Magdalena who was racing. Both of them are experienced athletes, so the seamlessness of their teamwork shouldn't really have been a surprise, but watching them work together was like watching a carefully choreographed dance. From the slightest nod of her head Timo was able to work out what Magdalena needed, he could anticipate what foods she was most likely to ask for at what part of the race, he could tell from a distance if she was struggling, how she was feeling, and how to keep her happy. I'm fascinated by the incredible determination and talent of athletes and the extent of what the human body can achieve when it's being pushed, in other words I'm super nosy and love stories, which made this assignment perfect for me.
Meanwhile Steve and Matt were focusing on the visuals and stories out on the hill. Matt's drone work is always jaw droppingly stunning (to me at least!), and the weather conditions were ideal - the cloud were zipping along adding depth and drama to the mountains, and the sun was glinting in and out, the resulting footage had shots of the athletes moving with the scenery, vast landscapes and tiny people speeding along the ridges.
As for Steve, he had been up in and around Torridon for the past week collecting community stories for the documentary. His aim for the documentary is to weave in the community side of Celtman so getting to know the locals was key and his aim is to bring to the big screen the stories of the people who live and work in this remarkable landscape that is such a vital part of the race. I could spot a Steve shot anywhere - his distinctive stabilised wide angle shots are amazing, they make you feel like you're there racing alongside the athletes, plummeting down mountainsides and tumbling through the jellyfish, and with some additional dramatic (but very safe!) out of car filming between Matt & Steve they managed some incredible Stevieflex shots.
(For anyone who is interested, a Cineflex is a huge camera that looks like a rotating giant's eye - it's what Mr Attenborough relies on to get those close up moving wildlife shots, they are also priced at around $400,000 so we are significantly cheaper should any prospective clients be interested...!)
By the end of the day, the three of us had close to 300GB of footage, and Steve had the unenviable job of sifting through it in fast forward to pull out a 5 minute edit in time for the presentation the next day. Even the simple job of archiving the footage is time consuming - the clock ticking is a constant and the wheel of death spins as the bytes transfer agonisingly slowly, but he pulled it off as he always does and the resulting edit was wonderfully executed, with audio from the locals woven into the highlight footage from the race and emotions running as high as the mountains.
It was a true pleasure to feel part of this Celtman community if just for a day. Everyone I spoke to talked of the Celtman 'family', to them it was more than a race. The world feels a little topsy turvy these days with the daily news inundating us with updates each more bonkers than the last, so to escape to the mountains and spend time working with some wonderfully fun, kind and adventurous people was just brilliant.
The ceilidh was fun too!