Tight Gear, Loose Plans with Award-Winning Filmmaker Jeremy Grant

Tight Gear, Loose Plans with Award-Winning Filmmaker Jeremy Grant

Posted by Joseph Schwartz on

As a globe-trotting filmmaker, one must embrace the "Tight Gear, Loose Plans" mentality. Best laid production plans go up in smoke with poor weather, logistical SNAFUs and a myriad of other potential issues. Jeremy Grant has traveled everywhere, and seen it all, and knows the value in keeping his gear tight while preparing for the worse. Without further adieu: 
I'm an Emmy Award-winning adventure filmmaker with over twenty years in the game. A lion's share of my work is in the outdoors chasing mountain bikers around the planet, from the North Pole to the Gobi Desert; exploration has played a central role in my storytelling. I just wrapped(technically the film is mastering as I type this) a film in collaboration with Teton Gravity Research called ESPERANTO. The film is a mix of stories following the biggest names in the sport and top unknown riders from around the planet celebrating cycling as a kind of universal language. It was a special project that brought me to places like Ecuador, Zambia and Spain. The premiere tour kicks off on June 16th globally. When I'm not chasing athletes around the globe I'm chasing my 3 kids around our yard in Nelson BC Canada.
What do you always bring on trips?
The first thing we bring on any trip is way too much camera gear. Filming has changed so much since I started. It used to be a camera, a few rolls of film and your tripod. Now it's drones, gyro-stabilized camera mounts, audio gear, multiple cameras, and the list goes on. We usually have between 10-20 pieces of luggage... and that's before you bring your bike or skis. There is a saying in adventure filmmaking that it's 20 percent shooting, and 80 percent moving gear. But it's not enough to just bring all that technical camera gear, we're filming in the middle of nowhere intentionally hunting out the most hostile landscapes on earth so you need solid personal gear. Mostly that's a solid down jacket, tent, and lots of sunscreens and from there it really depends on the trip. For the Arctic an eye mask was essential for sleeping as it was 24 hr daylight, for the Tatshenshini River it was bags to hang your food as it is ideal Grizzly Bear habitat; in the Gobi desert, it was just anything to haul as much water as possible as the temperatures were as high as 45 C(113 F). A big part of these trips is being flexible and working with local guides to be prepared. I think my favourite thing in my bag is something I don't pack myself. Every trip I leave on my kids hide stuff in my bag, a letter, a piece of art, some candy and it's always hidden well enough I don't find it until a week or two into the trip, so that's probably my favourite thing that comes with me.
What’s the most essential piece of gear you use?
RED Camera. It's a 6-8K cinema camera and it allows you to create Hollywood style images in remote locations. They aren't light but when you're sitting in a theatre watching the images it's hard to beat. They are tough but still fragile so how you transport that gear becomes essential. Same as the hard drives you bring with you. At the start of the trip they are just worth a few thousand dollars but by the end, they are worth the entire budget of the entire trip. Everything is kept on those drives. Keeping them safe becomes essential. We'll send a few drives back with different people in case a plane "goes down" on the way back.
Has there been anything you left behind/forgot? 
Sunscreen. It's always sunscreen. I can remember every drone battery, every microphone, every camera, every hard drive but soon as the sun sneaks through the clouds it's lobster time.
Worst film trip for logistical nightmares? Best filming experience?
Worst and best? hmmm. Those two often go hand in hand. But both would be the North Pole. It's so remote up there we had to charter twin otter plans to land with tundra tires on this uninhabited Island. We had to put up an electric fence around the camp to keep the polar bears out. We only had the food we packed in for a month so it was all dehydrated food. The sun never went down. We got the plane stuck in the mud and had to dig it out. But that's also the best filming experience, we had a dream team of humans and no screens or anything to distract us. Spending a month just south of the North Pole was an experience I know I'm lucky to have and I'm super grateful for it.
What’s your favourite gear-organizing pro tip you could share?
The best tip I can share was thought to me by my mentor, filmmaker Bill Heath, he taught me that it's all about building a routine. Whether it's preparing the film in your camera or packing for a trip, make it a ritual that you do the same every time. That way when it's stressful full and high stakes it's committed to muscle memory. For packing it's the same thing, have a home for everything, put your battery in the same compartment every time, and put your media in the same zipper. The more you can unconsciously do the more you can consciously focus on the creative. I've heard it pointed out that Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama wear the same outfit every day because it's one less decision to make. Gear organizing should be the same way, develop a routine, a layout and stick with it, so you can focus your decisions - your energy, on bigger things like creative and keeping the polar bears away.
Why do you use the specific gear and/or brands that you do? What makes them stand out from the alternatives?
A gifted photographer once shared this idea with me that buying the right gear and using it for a long time is a form of environmentalism we don't talk about much and I try to adopt that idea. I want the right tool for the job and I'll use it as long as I can. I want something that lasts. That's tough. I've done this travel thing long enough there is always a new gimmick to encourage planned obsolescence but I want the gear to serve the process not be the process. At the end of the day, my job is as a storyteller and all the gear is there as a means to enable that story. Too often the gear can be pitched as the creative direction behind a shoot, the gear is just the language, you have to decide what to say with it. I stick with brands that make gear as a microphone, not a preacher. 
insta:  @jeremy_grant_
Jeremy's new film 'Esperanto' releases on June 16th worldwide. To find a show near you visit tour.tetongravity.com

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