Nat Geo & Samsung

What it Takes with Jimmy Chin

You Ask

Part two of our three part series collaborating with Nat Geo and Samsung. The talent is Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker and world class climber, Jimmy Chin. The location is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And obviously, like the first one, shot using the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra phone.

We Answer

YES! As equally big fans of The Grand Tetons and Jimmy Chin, we’re in! And we’re beyond grateful that this project is continuing on…

Why would that even be a question?

You may remember from our previous case study from the Arizona shoot, we’d learned at the bar on the way home that the planet and subsequently, our industry, had been ravaged by COVID-19. Everything was on indefinite pause. We sat for several weeks agonizing over whether this project would ever be salvaged, or whether it would be pushed to that all too familiar “TBD” deadline we had been hearing too frequently in those days. Flying to Wyoming was out of the question. Honestly, flying anywhere was too risky, so we waited and watched as the state’s reported their numbers and the safety assessments nationwide continued to evolve.

But sitting around waiting isn’t really our strong suit so our production team got busy researching. We watched every episode of Jimmy’s Master Class on Adventure Photography (we highly recommend it as it’s a fun one), devoured every commercial and short, listened to various interviews, studied the Grand Tetons and re-watched Free Solo and Meru (my personal favorite). Inspired that we would someday soon be able to tell a great story with great people again, we developed a treatment with the guidance of Jimmy and his right hand producer, Shannon, that would provide the perfect backdrop for Jimmy to show around a Nat Geo contest winner, Ty, and Samsung Galaxy Team Creator, Laura, while showcasing the many stellar camera features of the phone.

Screen shot of zoom call with Jimmy, Nat Geo, and Saumsung

After a few Zooms with Jimmy, Nat Geo and Samsung, we had our location chosen, our story written and approved, talent and features locked. It was all up to America now. So we crossed all our fingers in hopes that people would wear a mask, continue social distancing, stay out of bars and wash their hands. And little by little, day by day, the country began to re-open.

We began to book local live action shoots again and projects started to pick up. But when TK called to let us know that Wyoming WAS. A. GO. we were beyond STOKED. And away we went.

Justin and Heather wearing masks in the airport giving the thumbs up
Airplane being loaded with luggage.

So flying during a pandemic is … interesting. It was our first time back at BWI and we were actually quite impressed with how seriously Maryland continues to take the coronavirus. Not a single shop, kiosk or bar was open and it was the first time we’d boarded an AM flight without Starbucks and Bloody Mary’s. Just sayin’. The AirBnB sitch followed suit. Looking for a house that could accommodate three people with their own rooms AND bathrooms in the budget was a task, one only the amazing Monesha can land seemingly effortlessly (we know this took a lot of work Mo, thank you!). But traveling for the first time in this pandemic was weird. We had to be extremely cautious as we were about to meet up in Wyoming with people who were also coming from Montana, British Columbia, Utah, New York and Colorado. As Midge Maisel might say … MASKS UP!

Clouds blocking the sun over mountains

We made it safely into Jackson Hole and what a magical place. We had all forgotten a little what it was like to be transported again to a faraway place. And I have to say, it felt amazing. And right. And we were more than ready to meet Jimmy, Ty and Laura. We can report that as far as Academy Award Filmmakers goes (he’s our first), Jimmy’s pretty chill. A climber through and though, he was a genuinely nice human who loves doing what he does - being outside, being a badass athlete, and being creative. It was cool to watch him compose shots, work with the light and work with Savannah (aka SAV-AGE, our climber) who is a ridiculously talented climber and photographer herself. We were basically a group of directors and cinematographers directing and filming each other for two days in one of the most stunningly beautiful landscapes in the world. It was equal parts fun and daunting.

Laura and Jimmy looking at a phone while on a hike
Heather and Jimmy hiking gear standing with their arms around each other with trees in the background
A man taking a picture of 3 people standing ontop of a rock. The sun blurs their features as it is in the background.
Men on a hiking trail

But, to tell a story with “the camera you have with you,” the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, having only 2 days in a location where you’re at the mercy of mother nature, and filming very verite style, but not really true verite, continues to be an amazing creative challenge. But, never one too great for a group of Accidental Generalists like us. Because of COVID, we were running a slimmer than normal crew and hiking up and down between the parking lot, the base of the climb and the top of Blacktail Butte non stop. We had to skinny up our crew, our gear and our shoot windows as natural light was critical and cloud cover was not in the cards. Waiting patiently for the best light and using the right filtration on our Moment lenses was key as we toggled between dappled forest lighting and screaming hot exposed rock surfaces. Oh yea! And if you read all about the phone tech from the AZ case study, you’ll see that at the time, the phone cases with the lens mounts weren’t yet available for the S20 Ultra, being that it was so new… so we had to make our own. Luckily for us, after sharing the video with our good friends at Moment, they were impressed enough to send us the new cases just in time for this shoot to pick back up. Our biggest update to the tech for this shoot was coming up with a video village solution. Remember, these are phones. There is no easy video output connection to hook up so Heather, as Director, and clients can see the image. So we brainstormed. These phones didn’t actually have cellular chips in them, but they did have wifi access. Hm. We’re out climbing an 80 foot wall that likely doesn’t have its own router. Hey, what if we brought a crazy fast high power router? Enter our friends at Teradek. The Teradek Link is a 1000ft capable dual band router that can be powered off of Gold Mount batteries. Now we’re mobile. We quickly set up a wifi LAN, connect the phones and ipads to the LAN, and with the use of some sweet screen mirroring apps, we’ve got full picture in real time from the Samsung phones to our iPads. And ACTION!

3 people standing near each other all looking at their phones and wearing masks
Justin crouched behind a camera looking at the viewer with a man several yards behind him with crossed arms
A man climbing a rock face in the distance. Past him there is a large field, a lake, and moutains
Photocredit - Laura Szanto

We don’t like when things are easy. We are at home on the road, solving problems as we move through airports, all in the name of telling these incredible stories. Thank you again to our friends, TK, Mike and Adriana, and all the folks at Nat Geo and Samsung. And to our new friends, Jimmy, Ty and Laura … we’ll be watching you from afar and forever routing for your continued success. Thank you for sharing a little of your genius with us.

Fun Fact

These were Justin’s very first drone shots recorded since receiving his pilot’s license. They were NOT captured with the phone so they made their debut in this Director’s-Cut only.