Renan is not only a filmmaker – he is also an expedition climber, landscape artist and is well known for taking his camera into places where you wouldn’t dream of going. He has co-directed and starred in the Sundance 2015 winning film “MERU”, co-directed the TIFF award-winning film “SHERPA”, worked on the National Geographic TV Special “Down To Nothing” and shot stills and video for National Geographic.
Together with his wife and creative partner Taylor Rees, they travel the world, camera-in-hand, searching for their next story to tell. With portable and easy-to-use gear at the top of their priority list, we figured Renan and Taylor would be the perfect crew to bring out to our home turf, New Zealand, and test our all-new Genie II.
Renan, well known for bagging the summit of Mount Meru under extreme conditions, has naturally been drawn to what New Zealand has to offer and this trip was the perfect opportunity to explore new landscapes and locations.
Milford Sound, Mount Cook and Queenstown are just some of the places we had the chance to explore during their trip. With a couple of campervans booked and a rough plan to hit the road, we hoped for the best and set about giving Renan and Taylor a taste of what’s on offer out here in New Zealand.
In Renan’s words: “Location certainly plays the biggest role. A lot of times a landscape becomes a character. That’s what I really want to bring to life”. And without a doubt, New Zealand has some of the most photogenic spots in the world.
All we did that week were the things we are most passionate about; travelling, shooting and capturing as much as we could along the way.
Day 1 – Good preparation is key
We arrived in Queenstown a couple of days early to prepare for Renan and Taylor’s arrival. Renan flew in fresh from an adventure in the Arctic and had a few days before we were to head out on our trip. This was a good chance for him to acclimatise a little, take a breather and get familiar with the gear. Prepping gear is key before hitting the road. Typically, you hope to take every bit of film equipment you own but when every gram counts, you need to pack light. Portable gear that’s quick and intuitive to set up is key for these kinds of trips.
For Renan, the biggest challenge is having to fit gear into smaller spaces. He always tries to pack carefully and efficiently. Plus, testing everything beforehand to make sure it all works is super important. There are many things that can slip through the cracks if you’re not careful. His recommendation is to choose your kit wisely to avoid packing redundant gear.
“I usually carry a couple of Genie Minis even if it’s not a time-lapse trip because they are so small. I also use the light-weight Manfrotto tripods and the full-frame mirrorless Sony A7 cameras. That series is what I usually go for. These are the very light cameras” – Renan said.
“A while back, during a National Geographic expedition to Burma’s jungle, I forgot to bring a backup for the Red monitor and ended up having to shoot with the Red without the monitor for most of the trip. That’s pretty much having to shoot blind which was a bit of a challenge.”
Day 2 – An astro time-lapse experience like no other
With all the gear ready to go, we hit the road south towards Te Anau and Milford Sound. Taylor faced with the challenge of driving on the “wrong” side of the road while Renan catches up on sleep in the back. We arrive at Milford in the middle of the night. As we get closer to the inlet, Renan spots the moon pouring over the peaks. It’s the most epic welcoming scene that Milford could offer us.
Panic sets in at the thought of losing this epic moment. Renan, with gumboots on, grabbing the first camera he can lay hands on along with a Genie II and a tripod, scrambles out of the car before we’ve even come to a stop. The next 5 hours are spent running around with headlamps on, setting up multiple time-lapses all around the inlet, not really knowing what we would capture until we’d wake the next morning.
“Time-lapses are the last thing that I get to shoot these days because of the time and effort it requires. Having motion control that is easy to setup definitely helps because you don’t even have to think about it when you are exhausted.” – Renan says during our interview.
Renan’s Astro time-lapse advice: “Try to shoot when there’s a little bit of moon to have more light in your shots. Realize that when the moon is rising and setting is just like the sun and this can add magical light. Also, I normally try to expose a bit brighter than it looks to the eye. You’re going to need that when you bring your time-lapse into post-production. Is nice to have brighter exposures and cleaner images.”
Day 3 – Lake Quill
When it comes to stunning scenery, New Zealand is hard to beat. Nonetheless, some of the best locations are still hard to reach. With a trip to Lake Quill on the top of everyone’s minds, we set about hustling a ride up from any heli operator we could find. As expected, it’s not easy. Milford has become quite the tourist attraction and with all the heli companies completely overloaded with tourists. Our sweet talking is getting us nowhere.
“It was a pretty hectic day because it was a last-minute decision. If you don’t have a plan and things don’t seem to be going your way, that’s when you need to try a little harder. We started using word-of-mouth while we were there to make it happen” – Renan said.
Fun fact: Renan left one time-lapse going for 24 hours and it disappeared around mid-morning. While we were asking around we found out a local fisherman had taken it thinking it was lost. We ended up getting it back later in the day. That added a little bit of stress to the situation.
Then comes a lifeline: an old pilot friend shows up who is about to fly out for his next pick up, finally a familiar face at the helipad! Unfortunately, he also has a full schedule, but he also knows every other pilot there so, after a bit of digging, we manage to find the only heli in Milford with an hour gap in its schedule.
Time is not on our side, but we take the plunge anyway. The flight to the top of Lake Quill is breath-taking. We only have 45mins to shoot and the weather is rolling in quick. We hustle to get as much done as we can. This time, a quick setup is the only way to go. No time for perfect composition and complicated gear.
According to Renan, “the best part of a run-and-gun shoot like this is getting the chance to see that rare location, culture or person that you can never take for granted. At the same time, it’s hard to pull away that fast when you already had a taste of it. You often leave feeling that you didn’t do it justice”.
Looking back through Renan and Taylor’s multiple filming adventures, the Burma expedition is the perfect example of a trip where everything seemed to be going wrong. They ran out of food, the dynamic of the group was not always easy, all the gear was breaking and they didn’t have enough porters to carry it all. On the bright side, this really helped with their storytelling. It simplified things so that they were really focused on what needed to be captured for the story. “Down to Nothing’ ended up being a film that people connect with.” – Renan says.
Day 4 – Up in the Sky
After spending 3 days shooting at Milford, it’s time to head back to Queenstown. We have one last shot in mind. It just so happens that Shotover Camera is testing every single Heli Gimbal they own. With about 6 flights scheduled, we jump at the chance of camera operating in the heli.
Imagine flying in super windy conditions, floating all over the show, but having your camera stay perfectly level and smooth. All while being controlled from inside the helicopter. That’s the magic of Shotover gimbals.
“Aerial film-making is incredible. There’s not much else that conveys the power and the beauty of the landscape like it does when you’re flying in the air. It’s all about finding new perspectives, changing people’s views on different landscapes” – Renan says.
“I have always done different things over my career to try to push that. Whether it’s carrying new and improved camera systems to very remote mountain ranges on bigger aircrafts or putting a gyro-stabilized camera system in an ultralight trike like I did in order to film Bears Ears National Monument”.
We asked Renan about the coordination between the pilot and the shooter: “In aerial-filmmaking, the pilot is the real director of filmmaking that is moving the camera the way you want to move it. It’s great when you spend time with the same pilot because they know what you’re looking for and you’re thinking in the same terms. Most of the shots I am looking for are flying very low close to the mountains or the people. That’s hard to do with a fresher pilot.”
Day 5 – The storytellers have a story worth telling
After a few hectic days, we find a quiet place on the riverbank. This is the perfect place to ask Renan and Taylor about their journey as adventure filmmakers.
One of Renan’s favourite memories of this trip was seeing Milford Sound for the first time. The way that the moon was creating beams of light over the mountain that night was incredible.
One last piece of advice from Renan for up and coming adventure film-makers: “Find a story that is close and personal to you. Instead of trying to chase after some of the unreachable locations that you see over and over again, try to find something that comes from the heart. This will normally create more emotion and it will be more powerful in the end.”
Do you want to win Renan Ozturk ultimate (more than $9000 in value!) adventure filmmaking kit?
We’ve teamed up with Cinema5D, Manfrotto and Freefly to give you a chance to win a massive amount of kit.
We’re giving away 5 prizes and that means more chances for you to win! Here’s what you could take home:
13th November prize – Freefly Movi for iPhone + Manfrotto Bumblebee bag + Syrp Super Dark VND Filter
20th November prize – Manfrotto Wheelie Bag + Syrp Genie Mini Pan Tilt Kit
27th November prize – Syrp Genie + Syrp Magic Carpet Long Track
4th December prize – Syrp Genie II Linear + Syrp Magic Carpet Pro Short Track
4th December TOP prize – Syrp Genie II Pan Tilt + Syrp Genie II Linear + Syrp Magic Carpet Pro Medium Track + 2 Manfrotto tripods + Manfrotto Bumblebee bag
The Production Lamingtons series aims to show creatives in their natural habitat. It covers everything from equipment, planning, creative direction and alternative processes. Enter the workflow of filmmakers, photographers and other creatives who are pretty bloody great at what they do.
See more from Renan here: www.renanozturk.com