With three national Emmys from five nominations, multiple industry awards and more than fifty film festival prizes: check Michael Brown's take on the future.
Image by Serac Adventure Films courtesy seracfilms.com, SOURCE
Mike is the man behind the camera for blind climber, Erik Weihenmayer's historic ascent of Everest. Brown was Director/Cinematographer for 'Farther Than the Eye Can See' - the first HDTV production to the summit of Everest - and back in 2002 blind Erik was also the first test pilot for Contact.
Michael Brown was the first to test run the new Contact GEO positioning system in 2004, when sail racing with Gary Swain (in image) who is still waiting for a heart transplant, and still dreaming to one day climb Mount Everest.
Another Contact pioneer, on Matterhorn in 2003. The peak is K2 for a small woman with a transplanted heart. Kelly Perkins looked into the camera and stated, “You can have Everest, Gary. This is enough for me.” Image live over Contact 2.0, courtesy of Kelly's expedition.
For two years running, Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers brought the crew of Serac Adventure Films to tornado alley in the American Mid-West.
Michael Brown in a crevasse as appearing in Time Magazine, the New Yorker and others.
Image by Nicolas Brown courtesy seracfilms.com, SOURCE
The movie poster for High Ground, about wounded soldiers, in theaters Nov. 2, 2012.
Image by Serac Adventure Films courtesy seracfilms.com, SOURCE
Another of Michael's recents: about climate change. Serac Films' clients include ABC Sports, NBC, CBS, Voom, iNHD, National Geographic, FOX, Outdoor Life Network, Discovery, PBS, IMAX, MTV, BBC, Outside Magazine, Popular Science, USA Today and many others.

Image by Serac Adventure Films courtesy seracfilms.com, SOURCE
Mike's Sports include Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Scuba Diving, Caving, Mountain Biking, Skiing, and Mountaineering. Posters and stills by him such as this bivy at El Cap in Yosemite can be bought on various digital outlets as well as at seracfilms.com.
Image by Michael Brown courtesy Seracfilms.com, SOURCE
The future of adventure film and television: Michael Brown, Serac Adventure Films

Posted: Nov 28, 2012 06:18 am EST
(Tina Sjogren) Social TV, GoogleTV, personal 3D videocams and rent-a-theatre concepts: Internet has disrupted print media and some say TV is next.

In an attempt to predict what the future will look like, ExplorersWeb asked documentary producers, cameramen, folks building special interest platforms and other adventure film makers for their take.

We kicked off last week with Tom Sjogren of HumanEdgeTech. This entry is by a veteran in the industry: Michael Brown of Serac Adventure Films.

Mike is the man behind the camera for blind climber, Erik Weihenmayer's historic ascent of Everest and the subject of a two time academy award nominee film, 'Farther Than the Eye Can See.'

It was the first time a High Definition camera was taken to the summit of Everest and incredibly enough, back in 2002 - blind Erik was also the first test pilot for Contact 2.0 expedition technology! With Michaels help, he typed his own dispatches to a self-publishing website, before the word blogging became mainstream.

Michael was in addition the first to test run the new Contact GEO positioning system in 2004, when sail racing with a friend who is still waiting for a heart transplant. For comparison: Google launched the Google Maps API in June 2005.

With three national Emmys from five nominations, multiple industry awards and more than fifty film festival prizes, Brown's Serac Adventure Films have extensive experience from theaters, broadcast television, the Internet and other new media platforms. His projects too numerous to count, Mike is a top mountaineer who summited Mount Everest five times and made over fifty expeditions to all seven continents.

So what's his take on the future? Here goes.

ExplorersWeb: You've been in the documentary film making business since 1992: that's exactly 20 years! What is the single biggest change you've seen?

Michael: Actually started my company 20 years ago, have been in the film business for longer!

The biggest change I have seen in my 25 years in the business is the democratization of filmmaking. In my time it went from almost purely (expensive) film based image gathering to nearly everyone having a motion picture camera in their phone - and nearly everyone having a phone in their pocket.

Interestingly the editing and story telling technology have advanced as much but not as many people have made that leap and actually edit their films. It's a world of single shot and fragmented stories.

ExplorersWeb: Old media routinely created heroes, now regular people increasingly make their own fame and spectators have gone from "them" to "me". Is
there a similar change in film, and if so will documentaries have to be more participatory?

Michael: I think that audiences will always seek out heroes (extraordinary and inspiring individuals) though the same democratization through technology will allow new and innovative ways of discovering these outliers.

There is a phenomena of the 'everyman/woman reality show but the ones that survive need star power. The hero concept is not in danger - it's deeply engrained in western culture and if anything, getting stronger.

ExplorersWeb: There have been several attempts to do adventure reality shows - do you see a future for that?

Michael: There is absolutely a future for adventure reality shows. The challenge they must overcome is not an audience - it's the fact that they are harder to shoot and therefore more expensive.

This obstacle will be overcome by storytellers who are able to make this kind of production routine through advanced skill and technology.

ExplorersWeb: One TV documentary producer (for Discovery) told us "before it was the Deadliest Catch" now it's Antique Shows". Have you noticed shifts
in interest and how do you adapt?

Michael: Antique shows are popular in a time when the economy suffers because people are looking at ways to survive or make a buck - or aspire to make a buck by watching someone do it on TV.

Adventure is more of a luxury and as the economy improves, or people get used to this state (eg Polish Mountaineers), doing with less, adventure will return.

Discovery and other television seek the lowest common denominator for their audience. They all try to land in the middle of the bell curve because that is where their executives see the largest audience. This is where technology is going to remove them from play. They are ignoring the potential audiences that exist away from the middle.

One can find the kind of programming one wants with a simple search. Audiences are waking up to this simple fact and dumping traditional television.

ExplorersWeb: Are stories told differently today in adventure documentary compared to 20 years back?

Michael: Story telling has changed a lot in 20 years. The principles of great story are the same but the spread of knowledge and sophistication of the market has improved the skill of story tellers. Adventure storytellers have had to get a lot better to compete.

ExplorersWeb: Adventure documentaries can be slow and boring. Do we need a change of pace?

Michael: Slow and boring are subjective terms. Good storytelling engages an audience. When someone is experiencing a story in small bite sized pieces through the internet they may need to receive the story in a way that allows for these bite sized experiences. When I go to the theater, I still want the experience to be engaging for the full 90 minutes.

ExplorersWeb: The first video posted on YouTube was apparently a 19-second clip called "Me at the Zoo." Peoples attention is shrinking. Has Youtube
made an impact on adventure film making? (Are productions more fast paced these days?)

Michael: I partially answered this in the previous. I would say that it depends on my distribution platform. I want the film to be engaging at the appropriate length. If I am making a web clip it is going to be distilled to the essence and yes, the story will resolve quickly. For a theater presentation, I will take more time to create atmosphere.

ExplorersWeb: Really cool videos posted by expeditions on YouTube and Vimeo often have very few viewers. Why do you think that is?

Michael: Search technology and audience involvement needs to continue to improve so that good material rises above the 'noise'. This is not a new problem. In traditional models the same problem existed.

A filmmaker coud make a great movie but unless it was well marketed it would never see the light of day.

I heard a statistic once, could have been an urban legend, that 80% of movie scripts sold never get made.

ExplorersWeb: Interestingly, adventure is no 2 top grossing genre (after comedy) in movies. Only it's not OUR adventure, but Batman, Lord Of The Rings etc. Reality usually beats fantasy, so how can real adventure films beat Men in Black and Harry Potter?

Michael: We need to go back and reexamine the idea of hero in question #2. The big difference in the Hollywood version is the story telling and the actual jeopardy the heroes experience. If OUR adventures put us so close to death we would actually turn audiences off.

They want to 'experience' the close call but not actually have someone take that risk. Films like Touching The Void  and Solo dance along that thin line. These are amazing stories but almost too real for the audience. Void was really successful, probably because the audience knew that Joe would live. We know that Batman will prevail even as we see him flirt with death. This is an important piece of psychology for an audience.

The biggest challenge is and always will be funding. Television is an entertainment medium and historically documentary has been informational. Audiences do not perceive it as entertaining.

ExplorersWeb: Print media have experienced a sharp drop in advertising; broadcast TV may stand before a similar 'cliff'. What do you think will happen and have you noticed declining demand for TV productions?

Michael: I have noticed a decline in demand for tv productions, so much so in fact that I have not made tv for a few years. The last tv show I shot was a Nova program called Extreme Ice that later spawned the film Chasing Ice. That was in 2009 so it has been a long hiatus. 

ExplorersWeb: Revenue at movie theaters is generally also down (last year reported the smallest audience since 1995). Rising ticket prices and competition from other forms of delivery are blamed (bigger TV screens, internet TV etc). What do you think is going on?

Michael: I am not sure what is going on with theaters but it actually seems to stay pretty much the same, this year is back up again. I think that there is so much at stake and the theater experience is really a great one for audiences that numbers will fluctuate depending on corporate marketing decisions.

ExplorersWeb: Demand is up for Indie, foreign and documentary films. Theaters generally don't carry those so you've adapted the rent-a-cinema concept with Wounded Warriors/High Ground where people can rent their local theatre to watch your movie with their friends. How's that going?

Michael: In the end we are disappointed with Tugg. While it was great to reach so many theaters, their revenue model is too much in Tugg's favor. Additionally they didn't work as hard as they should have to make each screening special. We had complaints that the box office didn't even know the name of the film - all it listed was Tugg. We did okay financially with sponsors and DVD sales (!) making up the shortfall.

ExplorersWeb: Some believe the change in cinema will come from experience, i.e. giving fans something new they can't get at home. How could that
translate to adventure? Rock climbing documentaries with mobile climbing walls? Dinner-and-movie ticket serving Sherpa stew?

Michael: This has been around for a long time - Warren Miller and even my dad toured with their ski films in the 60's. It's another way of doing it but it's not going to take over.

ExplorersWeb: Out of the 40 most expensive box office productions some 30 were made only in the past 5 years. Clearly the film industry is throwing money at the problem. Can their resources preserve the current power balance or is there a paradigm shift brewing?

Michael: There is a trend of Hollywood studios putting all fo their eggs in one basket. John Cater was a disaster, in the short term, for Disney but that was an outlier and they will make money somewhere else.

It's a business trend, the studios discovered that they can make more with big hits. They would rather make 600 million on one movie than 100 million on five movies. This is also influenced by the fact that they own the theaters. They can pull a movie that doesn't work for the big audience right away.

ExplorersWeb: There's lots of new and increasingly cheaper film-making technology. Meanwhile, skilled pro docu-makers for the outdoor lifestyle say it's increasingly harder to finance projects. "Nobody buys documentaries anymore." Why is that and what can be done?

Michael: Television is buying promotable series. One off's are hard to promote and its hard to build a loyal following. We need a new way of looking at documentaries and perhaps not every expedition is worthy of a documentary.

ExplorersWeb: Quality Web TV productions are popular but have a hard time to get exposure and are difficult to monetize. Any ideas what could be done?Product placement?

Michael: Product placement has been popular for some time across the industry. It isn't going to change too much now. 

ExplorersWeb: Could we see the birth of an entirely new medium? What kind?

Michael: I think the area of virtual reality has potential, especially if it is realistic and can apply in the real world.

ExplorersWeb: Have you seen demand for adventure related Web TV (short and episodic videos created specifically for YouTube, Blip.tv etc) at all?

Michael: Yes, we have been commissioned to create 'bite sized' adventures. The budgets are small but the concept is gaining momentum.

ExplorersWeb: What about truly live adventure video (Space Jump) does that format have a future?

Michael: That was amazing but it would have been amazing in any era. The ability to share it live was also amazing and expensive.Like live television it has and will continue to have an audience. I doubt that Felix could get the same funding for a second jump like that. 

ExplorersWeb: What about the new online platforms (EpicTV, WildTV, etc). Often well funded some even sponsor productions: will they be the new specialty channel giants online?

Michael: Yes, online platforms are getting stronger and will be the power players in the future.

ExplorersWeb: How will they hold up you think vs. YouTube channels, Vimeo, Hulu, Netflix?

Michael: These channels are the next evolution, Youtube and Vimeo are free and it's hard to start charging for what was once free. Netflix is in flux and it's hard to see where it will go. iTunes is also impressive.

ExplorersWeb: The most interesting internet media platforms you've found?

Michael: I have found a few but I can't comment yet - I would be referring to one that we are working with.

ExplorersWeb: Anything cool on mobile?

Michael: No, too small a screen though iPads and tablets will do in a pinch.

ExplorersWeb: What about 3D? It's spiking but Cameron (Avatar) is not convinced it'll stick. Is 3D a hype or here to stay? Would you recommend it for adventure documentaries and if yes: post-conversion or 3D camera?

Michael: I think it needs to evolve even more to really differentiate from flat screen. It needs to go all the way and become immersive.

ExplorersWeb: What about personalized TV (single-viewer units, mobile, pads). How hard/expensive is it to adapt to all the new platforms?

Michael: It's not expensive in the bigger picture - just a different render but there are so many already.

ExplorersWeb: Do you have any experience of Social TV (interactive - tweets, polls etc)?

Michael: Not much.

ExplorersWeb: How could you as a film maker create products that viewers can interact with? Will you adjust your filming and editing technique to the way people interact with the content?

Michael: Not yet, I still like to tell the story. Eventually I'd like to create VR landscapes and include interactive elements. I have a feeling that someone will figure it out way ahead of me.

ExplorersWeb: A polar skier recently told us kids don't watch adventure video; they don't go outside at all in fact but stay indoors to play computer games. Can we create adventure cinema that is as exiting as computer games?

Michael: Yes! Virtual reality is going to be sweet but it will be like Hollywood movies - really fantastic and unlimited. Skiing to the poles will have a different place - not in virtual reality.

ExplorersWeb: Will we need to merge the two, that is use gaming tech and bring in sensor information?

Michael: Yes, we will need helmets or at least goggles and an accelerating chair with gloves and boots.

ExplorersWeb: There is a merger of web and traditional TV (Google TV etc). Seems like a good idea to check statistics, maps, gear and stuff while watching an adventure documentary but currently most such attempts have flopped. Could it be that we just want to relax when we sit down to watch TV?  Or is it only that the concept needs time?

Michael: The concept needs time, the audience needs to get used to the idea of pausing the story to go see a map or learn a statistic.

ExplorersWeb: New kind of tools are emerging: drones, contour cams, various robotics with built in cams for extreme shots - what cool gear do you
know of out there?

Michael: The same stuff - GoPro is amazing.

ExplorersWeb: Finally: Will folks like you become redundant in the future; will everyone make their own videos and will that suffice?

Michael: I think that storytellers who know the craft will always have a place. I am not worried.


The future of adventure film and television, roundtable kick-off: Tom Sjogren, HumanEdgeTech



Climbing Blind in the Foothills of Everest

Emmys for Everest! "Farther Than the Eye Can See" gets two nominations

Everest: Golden Camera prize for Serac Films

Extreme Blogging in 2003

Gary's long walk to Everest has begun
#Mountaineering #Tech #topstory #interview