April 24, 2014

The Art of Storytelling: A Filmmaker's Tip

As a mountain person I am familiar, all too well, with the stories that present themselves in the mountains — the quest to go higher, the drive to push farther and the epically stunning imagery waiting to be captured at the top. There is the ever-present danger of death, methods of survival and related tales to tell about each adventure. I know. I was caught in an avalanche…once upon a time.

But here's the catch: We don't want our friends or family to encounter danger and hardship. So how do we plan to find compelling stories in the mountains without putting lives on the line?

This is the contradiction I face every time I make a film about mountain adventure. To document something "risky,” we’re counting on real life danger for dramatic effect. I generally choose the alternative: Find a story in another piece of the human experience.

But how do you do this? Maybe it's a relationship. Maybe it's a childhood dream, and the protagonist must choose between chasing that dream or letting it die (i.e. Mission Antarctic). Maybe it's a piece of the sport that is rarely captured — because it’s so small that only macro lenses can see or is so big that most people aren't privileged with the perspective. (Maybe you need a helicopter!) Whatever it is, no one wants to brush shoulders with death.

But we all want good stories. So go out there, find your friends, find your passion — but don't get caught up in the trend of making their life the thing that's at stake. Stories need stakes. We need our friends. End of story.

—Sam Giffin

Sam Giffin is based out of Washington state and is a producer and director at Right On Brothers Films. His credits include Downhill Affair: A Love Story, Return of the Niña, Livin’ Tiny: A Quest for Powder and Parking Lot Culture, which will screen at Mountainfilm 2014.

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