Earthquakes Can't Stop Us!
We were looking forward to shooting this project for a long time, and now that the edit is wrapping up there is finally some time to blog about it.
My friend Brian at Adventure Access in Songpan, Sichuan asked us to help him put together some promotional content for their trekking company last year in December. We wanted to shoot during the nicest weather of the year, which meant we had to wait until the following August.
We spent 4 days in the Amdo Tibet region of northern Sichuan, shooting mountain biking, trekking, and cross-cultural interaction with local Tibetans.
I've lived in China for the better part of six years, and for me this was seeing a face of the country that I've never seen before. It was an amazing experience.
The only real hiccup on this project was the fact that just one week before our scheduled shoot, a magnitude-7 earthquake struck just 66 km north of Songpan where Adventure Access is located. This earthquake killed 19 people and injured another 247 people. It also caused several landslides, including two that closed a main road into the area.
Originally we were booked on a direct flight from Guangzhou to Jiuzhaigou (about 30 minutes from Songpan). After the earthquake tourism in the area came to a screeching halt, and flights into that small municipal airport were cancelled indefinitely.
We had to fly to Chengdu instead. Then, thanks to the landslides, a five-hour drive to Songpan became 11 hours as we drove the long way around.
Fortunately we were still able to get four full days of shooting.
The great thing about shooting in Tibet is that you can point your lens in any direction, and it's basically going to be a great shot. With that in mind, much of this project did not have much of a shotlist. We just knew what activities we needed to shoot, and whom to interview. We divided up our schedule according to activity and location. In ways it felt more like shooting a documentary than a promo film.
Our first day was spent shooting mountain biking. For reference material, Brian showed us a film called "The Ridge" (by Cut Media), featuring professional rider Danny Macaskill. We liked the look of this film, but our brand film for Adventure Access would be a bit different in that we were going for more of an overview of the area's biking trails rather than telling a succinct story of one ride.
Brian and his staff were our actors for the day. We piled all of our camera equipment into an Ibex (a one-wheeled bike trailer) and followed along until the guys would tell us that we were at a good spot to film. Then we would ride past the point we wanted to shoot, unload everything, set up the shot, and on "Action!" they would ride past the camera.
This was really tedious, as the set up and breakdown for each shot was very time-consuming. In the end we had to go back for pick-up shots on the last day.
We shot most of the day in 48fps for slow motion on our Panasonic GH5. For long shots we used our DJI Phantom 4 drone, following riders or sweeping up alongside to cross their path at the top of a ridge.
Next we went to a Tibetan monastery in the nearby village of Shangniba. This is a regular hiking destination for Adventure Access full-day treks. Guests get an incredibly beautiful hike, but they also get to interact with local people and their culture.
Brian and his family have lived this area for 17 years. They speak Tibetan. They have relationships with people in multiple villages surrounding Songpan. So when their trekking guests show up to a Tibetan village like Shangniba, they are treated like old friends. We sat down with a young monk in his home while his grandmother served us tea and tsampa.
This was by far the most challenging day but also the most rewarding. Brian led us on a trek up the 14,300-ft Mount Zhaga. We got to the top after about 8 hours. I was seriously regretting my collective lack of exercise in the previous weeks. The main challenge was the elevation and the lower levels of oxygen.
Only after we had spent about seven and a half hours on the side of this fourteener did Brian let me know that most people take at least two days to make the trek. We got to the top and back in under 11 hours.
The content we were able to get at the summit made the whole trek worthwhile (go fullscreen 4K to get the whole effect):
After a morning of mountain biking pick-up shots, we spent our last afternoon shooting interviews for the brand film. We decided to wait until the last day to shoot the interviews for a few reasons...
First, this gave us a chance to get to know the staff and the culture of Adventure Access. The questions we asked in the interviews were thus better informed and we spent our limited time more efficiently.
Second, the staff got to know us better, which made them more comfortable in front of the camera. Our results were better for it.
In the end we provided two different deliverables for Adventure Access: a brand film for their website, and a video to play on a 4K TV in their Songpan shop.
If you find yourself in China with several days to kill, I highly recommend a trip to Songpan with our friends at Adventure Access. You won't regret it!
Below: Watch the full brand film in 4K!
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