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That one time we climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro

It’s been couple weeks since the last chapter of the Above the Clouds series was released at Rockford First Church.  I feel extremely blessed to have been involved with it.  The project was a beast!  From training to prep, to shooting on a Mountain to creating a story to deliver after the climb has come and gone.  It was probably one of the hardest projects I’ve been apart of but I would totally do it all over again.  We decided to shoot this like a documentary, and there was definitely a learning curve, so here are a few lessons I learned while directing a documentary on a mountain:

1.  Train.

If you’re planning on taking a trip up a mountain, some sort of hiking trip, or anything that’s going to be long days of moving, it really helps to be in shape!  It’s one thing to be able to do the task and a whole other thing to do the task AND film at the same time.  Training before we left was HUGE for us.  I couldn’t imagine trying to climb a mountain and document any content with any energy I had left if I hadn’t trained before hand.

2.  Travel As Light As Possible.

As a director, I wanted to make sure we were going to capture everything and have it look the best.  So I was a little over zealous with gear I thought we needed.  We brought tripods, monopods, extra lenses, lots of extra batteries and even extra cameras.  We were going to be on a mountain for 6 days, so I wanted to be prepared for anything.  I even almost brought a Movi and a slider!  It’s good to be prepared, but if you can simplify it without getting rid of quality, it will seriously help you out.  We started with all that gear on day one, and then ended up putting away mostly everything except 1 camera, 1 lens and an extra battery.  We realized a day in that we can get most of everything shooting hand held.  And was really happy with the end result.

3.  Pain is Temporary, Story is Forever.

Most projects that I’ve been apart of I’ve planned out everything.  How it’s going to feel, the shots I’m going to get and what the end result will be.  With this, we wanted to film everything and see what story would come out of it.  We didn’t want to force the end result of the documentary to give room for any stories that might come up.  This meant we needed to shoot everything.  And filming while hiking a mountain was tough!  It was easy to feel lazy after each day after long hours of hiking and climbing, and in those times, be missing something that we should be capturing.  It was a struggle to get out of our warm tent to capture the mountain in the moonlight or to set up a time-lapse of clouds rolling in because we were totally whooped from the day.  But if you can persevere the pain and discomfort, it’s totally worth it!

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Shooting time-lapses above the clouds at Karanga Camp. Photo Cred: Matt Sandberg

4.  Bring a Photographer.

I’m not a great photographer but luckily we had one with us!  There were two of us shooting video.  Myself and another named Matt as well.  He loves making great films and also loves shooting photography as well.  I knew he was going to get great pics, but I didn’t realize how important that can be to help tell the story after we got down from the mountain.  You can check out some more of his awesome photography HERE.

5.  Hit While the Iron is Hot.

We climbed Kilimanjaro in the end of September but the series didn’t launch until end of February.  Right when we got back, I had some pretty big projects due right away but this was a real crucial time to log any content so we didn’t forget anything later on.  We pulled a meeting with everyone involved with the climb, brought an audio recorder and just brain dumped day by day what we experienced.  It took a few hours, but was extremely helpful when it came time to structure our story.

Rough story outline before the edit

Rough story outline before the edit

6.  Enjoy the Moments.

One movie that has become a recent favorite of mine is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”  There’s a scene where Ben Stiller’s character, Walter Mitty, is looking for a photographer named Sean O’Connell, played by Sean Penn, to get a negative gone missing.  When Walter finally finds Sean, it’s in the mountains where Sean is trying to capture a ‘Ghost Cat’ (snow leopard) on camera.  There’s a moment where a snow leopard appears in frame, but Sean never takes the picture.  When asked why he didn’t, his response was, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”  I thought, “That is awesome!”  I wouldn’t agree to the ‘T’ on the this, I mean, if there’s something amazing in front of me, I’m going to capture it!  But after I do, I learned how great it was to just pause and soak in what I’m experiencing.

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It’s a huge blessing to be able to do what I love day in and day out.  Especially being able to create with really good friends.  Climbing Kilimanjaro and filming this project was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.  So here’s to completing the ‘Above The Clouds’ series and to the next big project on the horizon!

Also, if you want binge watch the series, you can check them out below or visit rockfordfirst.com/abovetheclouds

Chapter 01 • Fundamentals

Chapter 02 • Polé Polé

Chapter 03 • The Grade

Chapter 04 • Pioneer

  • Dude, so good. Favorite part was… “Pain is temporary. Story is forever.” Still
    Can’t believe this even happened.