The View from Above
Behind the scenes on an aerial mission to document Outlet Falls
BY CONOR MIHELL
As point-of-view adventure footage quickly becomes cliché, camera-mounted drones promise to be the next big thing in paddlesports videography. Aerial shooting offers unique points of view that frame the athlete within the scope of the environment, yielding often-dramatic, edge-of-your-seat results with a palpable sense of speed and power in the context of Class V whitewater.
We’ve seen the compelling results of aerial photography released this spring in a series of cuts from a Red Bull-sponsored mission to Mexico’s Rio Michoacan. Recently, Pacific Northwest remote controlled aerial videographers Shifted Cinema joined forces with Substantial Media House to document some of the world’s best whitewater paddlers on the White Salmon River. Shifted Cinema is comprised of two 24-year-olds: Former ski racer Ethan Fortney and expert RC pilot Weylin Rose. “It’s a two person operation,” says Fortney. “Weylin flies the heli and I control the camera.”
With the release of a behind the scenes look at the White Salmon shoot, we caught up with Fortney to learn more.
CanoeKayak.com: What brought you to the White Salmon this spring?
Ethan Fortney: A few months prior, we had mentioned to Fred Norquist of Substantial Media House that we wanted to try our hand at shooting some whitewater. We had seen very little whitewater footage and really didn’t know much about the sport, but what we had vision and desire to create something powerful. So when Fred gave us a call and said the river levels were just about right, we loaded up a couple helicopters and got on the road.
In paddlesports media we see lots of stills and videos of paddlers hucking Outlet Falls. What was on your “shot list” heading in?
Going into the first day of shooting at Outlet, we had no shot list and had never seen the falls. If we had a shot list, it’s likely it would have been thrown out the window immediately. When you see the falls in person you understand it’s power, allure, and how very unforgiving the environment can be if not understood and respected. In an uncontrolled environment like that, you can’t ask anything more of the athletes. So after we scouted and everyone was getting ready to get on the water, we explained our operation—flight paths, where we would be in relation to them, battery life, etc. Then we simply let the vision come to life.
Are you satisfied with the outcome?
We are definitely happy with how our first shot at big whitewater came out. I can’t say that we are ever “satisfied,” we are our harshest critics and are quick to break down shots, but given the situation and environment, we were not disappointed. What we are most excited and grateful for is how the kayak community has received this “behind the scenes” video. We can’t wait for Substantial to release the full webisode.
What are some challenges of working with RC helicopters in the river environment?
Operating in that particular river environment was full of challenges. It was only hand launching and catching of the helicopters, and we definitely trimmed a tree or two. I don’t think we took off or landed on the ground at any point during those two days (not standard operation or ideal). As you could see, we did our fair share of hiking with the equipment as well. Fortunately, we have spent a lot of time climbing mountains and flying through thick forests chasing mountain bikes in the past which turned out to be perfect practice for chasing kayaks down a river.
What was it like working with the boaters on this project?
It was great working with that crew. They were always laughing and having a good time, then they would approach the water and it was all business. It was intense to simply watch that switch. But the guys were all happy to accommodate in any way possible, help carry our gear to the location, [and they] even shared their PBRs! Awesome little family they have down there.
What’s your take on the explosion of amateur POV footage? How close are drones (in terms of price, ease of use) to entering the realm of everyday users?
As we all know, GoPro/POV has revolutionized the film industry. Drones (or [unmanned aerial vehicles] because it has a far less negative connotation) are definitely the next/current revolution. As far as getting your hands on a fun entry level, single operator drone with a GoPro on it, the time is now! They are starting to pop up all over, which is great as long as those people are smart with the equipment and technology.
For a professional like yourself, how do you stay ahead of the curve?
Being safe, skilled, and smart with the equipment. Knowing and maintaining your equipment is as important as being able to make it fly. These are incredible machines capable of creating shots that literally take your breath away, but you have to know its limitations as well as yours. Fortunately, Weylin is a Jedi when it comes to flying and maintaining the equipment. That is simply a testament of his nine years of flying and maintaining as a hobby. If it were anyone else piloting, I would not be so at ease having my head buried in the monitor.
What’s the future of adventure cinematography as it pertains to whitewater?
Hard to say, but we would love to be a part of it.