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Capturing maximum action on film in Vail

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily/Dorte PietronMichael Brown stands atop a mountain overlooking the African landscape during last year's Serac Adventure Film School.
Dörte Pietron |

Through a camera lens Michael Brown tries to capture athletes “pushing the boundaries of human possibility.” This weekend, at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, he hopes to teach his students to do the same thing. Anything but your typical teacher in a typical classroom, Brown is an adventure filmmaker and founder of Serac Adventure Film School. The video camera is kind of like his blackboard, which Brown uses to present the lessons of the day to eager pupils.

The Teva Mountain Games bring some of the best extreme sports athletes in the country to Vail every summer and Brown believes it’s the perfect venue to teach students how to capture the maximum amount of action in a short amount of time within a controlled environment. Beginning today, Brown will teach students everything from pre-production, to proper filming techniques and editing. All of the filming takes place at the games and students will have two days after the games to finish editing their work.

Brown was already an accomplished adventure filmmaker when he came up with the idea of starting a film school. His documentary “Farther Than The Eye Can See,” which recorded Colorado resident Erik Weihenmayer’s journey to become the first blind skier to summit Mount Everest, won 18 international film festival awards.

“Having been making films for a long time and then having all these really young guys and girls coming and working for Serac Adventure Films, it was hugely rewarding to see them all experiencing things for the first time and just really having a lot of fun with filmmaking,” he said.

Brown was inspired by the enthusiasm the kids had for his art and starting a school to pass on his knowledge just made sense to him. Capturing on film what these athletes accomplish is an incredible experience, according to Brown, and he knows from his previous film expeditions that there is a large number of people who want to break into the field.

Carole Snow, 27, is one of those people. She started out as a reporter in Chicago and said she’s always been fascinated by documentary films and expanding her skills beyond print and into video. When her boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer she began thinking about all the things she always wanted to do, but never did. Snow’s desire for adventure led her to Serac Adventure Film School and what will be her first trip to Colorado. She also is the only girl participating in the school and has no idea what to expect of mountain conditions, she said.

“I though Serac would be a good way to just throw me out in the field and force me to come out with a final project and to work with … what I would consider to be some tougher elements for filmmaking,” Snow said.

Brown started the film school last year when he led students up Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. The school’s next trip will be to Peru and Brown said he’s working on other sporting events and locations for future school sessions. Price varies according to what each adventure consists of and sponsorships from other companies may also reduce the cost of the school for students, Brown said.

Some of his students from the Kilimanjaro trip have gone on to have their films shown at festivals and on television. Brown is proud that he had a hand in building their careers.

“One of the best aspects of course is that sort of excitement that people get when they make a film or when they get a great shot or, most importantly, when they show it to other people,” Brown said.

WIth the advent of editing programs like Final Cut Pro, cheaper, high-quality video cameras and the popularity of extreme sports all over the world, Brown said it’s a good time to be an adventure filmmaker.

Anders Carlson, a 19-year-old adventure sports enthusiast from Glenwood Springs, is ready to find out if that’s true. He’ll be shooting at the games all weekend.

“For me it will just be a good time to get out there and practice shooting and learn some new techniques,” Anders said.

This won’t be his first time filming action sports, however. He said he’s recorded his friends skiing, kayaking and even participating in a triathlon in the past, but hopes to use this time with Serac to make a quality project while networking with other industry people.

Anders also believes he’s ready for a career in a field where aging filmmakers may not always be able to keep up with the athletes and get the best footage.

“These guys are starting to get old and they want to pass on their knowledge to a younger generation who can really get out there and push it,” Carlson said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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