ABC Open – Mini-documentary

While in my second year of university, I had the opportunity to work alongside an ABC producer and create a short documentary.

I shot, edited and pieced together the story myself.

“The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate,” O. Henry.

 The New Year had me excited, but one thing excited me most – the chance to make a mini-documentary with ABC Open through my course at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

What am I going to make a mini-documentary on? I have never even filmed anything.

But I had to put this thought on the backburner, at least until I had a holiday.

I stood in the airport newsagency looking over magazines. I stood there for 15 minutes while my girlfriend waited impatiently with her hand on her hip, leaning on one leg and tapping her foot. I grabbed an outdoor magazine and exchanged some coins with an unpleasant lady behind the counter, then threw the magazine in my bag before boarding my flight to Bangkok.

I was sitting in Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, waiting for a delayed flight south. It was 2am local time and I hadn’t slept in around 20 hours. My eyes were blurry; my girlfriend lay across two seats with her legs across me. I turned to the last page of the magazine and the first line struck me instantly.

“I was born in 1985 on the Sunshine Coast,” it read.

“This guy is only a little older than me and he’s a Sunny Coast boy,” I thought.

John Cantor was his name.

The last page of the magazine was John’s own brief autobiography, detailing his spontaneous foray into adventuring after reading Jon Krakauer’s cult classic, Into The Wild.

The story briefly detailed John’s expeditions across Alaska’s Brooks Range, including his three failed efforts and finally his fourth successful attempt.

I kicked my girlfriend’s legs off me and jumped up. I knew I had my subject for my documentary. My girlfriend just stared blankly at me with sleep in her eyes.

I quickly emailed John and within a couple of days I had a reply; he was eager to be involved.

I spent my holiday looking forward to getting home.

The original idea was to film a literal day in the life but I settled for a story which I felt formed more organically rather than trying to create something that I thought wasn’t accurate.

John himself helped me out quite a lot. As a former film student he gave me incredibly helpful pointers. He also kindly allowed me to borrow his Alaskan training footage as well as his own camera for some shots.

Overall I am happy with my end result.

I managed a few sequences of John running on the beach which happened to join together well and I learnt some valuable lessons shooting the surf footage.

However I am not satisfied with how the audio turned out. It was an overcast day and the room the interview was shot in had an echo.

Things I have learnt from this project:

  1. Use a room that doesn’t echo – Even if it has the best light, go for the room that sounds best. You can brighten up the footage later.
  2. The weather never behaves.
  3. Action footage of surfing is pretty difficult.
  4. Panning and manual zooming takes practice.
  5. Great opportunities always present themselves if you are open and available to them.

Spending time with John and being able to make this film has been a wonderful and rewarding experience. I also grew up wanting to be an adventurer, and John is doing just that; he is determined and focused and has personally inspired me.


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