We were fortunate enough to have two great filmers on our trip to Ecuador. Climbing Volcanoes, getting spit on by Shamans, and helping a village get clean water is a tough job, but these guys had the hard job of capturing these adventures. We now have the arduous task of editing this journey and as we sift through hours and hours of footage and build a story, one of our cameramen, John Logan Pierson (www.JLFilms.com) was gracious enough to write about his experience. Enjoy.
Sitting in the city at a computer monitor brightly displaying images captured while shooting the gypsies in Ecuador, it all seems other-worldly – women in neon colored skirts digging muddy pipe trenches, monkeys leaping from camera to camera, a weathered mystic spitting fire – in many senses, other-worldly it was.
As a filmmaker who is constantly aspiring to adventure further, higher, and deeper, the Modern Gypsies’ trip to Ecuador was an opportunity to capture adventure for the greater good; tack shooting alongside camera-whiz Kevin Steele (kevsteele.com) on to that and it becomes a dream trip. Three weeks spanning everything from Ecuador’s snowy volcano summits to its roaring waterfalls is not a shoot that comes along every week. From the moment I emptied my entire outdoor gear closet into my bag for the trip, I knew it would be a unique whirlwind of an experience.
The simultaneously fun yet challenging thing about shooting these three gypsies is that they travel to experience everything a country has to offer so, from the moment you leave your bed each morning, the experiences are non-stop. The early part of the day might include a leisurely trip to a scenic overlook above Quito but that means they’re just conserving their energy for an afternoon spent using motorcycles to dodge the notoriously wild-west traffic of Ecuador’s capital.
Quito certainly offered historic vistas and an urban pulse but from the moment we landed in country, the whole team had the trip’s two major goals in mind: bringing clean water to Gulahuayco and summiting Cotopaxi. From a shooter standpoint, the former was out of our hands; the mountains, however, weren’t going to climb themselves.
Successfully shooting mountaineering is a dynamic balance between mitigating objective hazards (rock fall, crevasses, weather), overcoming physical challenges (stamina, altitude sickness, lack of oxygen), and being in the right place at the right time for the shot that will best tell the story. As we filmed John, Taylor, and Eric receiving a powerful blessing from the local shaman, I hoped that her blessing for a safe and successful venture into the mountains would extend on to me too.
The trio’s combination of persistent training, preparation, and raw gypsy spirit paid off in three amazing treks up Ecuador’s rugged volcanic slopes. Here were three guys who had never before held an ice ax nor strapped on cramp-ons and they were learning to use their ax in the dark at 17,000 feet above sea level. What followed was, at times, a lesson in just how many different ways one can hold an ice ax but what matters is that the gear collectively helped get the whole team up and down safely with exhausted but smiling faces. After socked-in weather on Rucu Pichincha and Illiniza Norte, the skies opened up and we were treated to a gorgeous, blue bird day complete with under-cast clouds blanketing the landscape below us. 19,000 feet never looked so good.
Many would have headed from Cotopaxi’s summit straight back to Quito and from there, the States, but with those heights behind us we had only realized one half of our goals. We were Gulahuayco-bound with a singular purpose: to bring clean water to people who had waited far too long for such a seemingly basic necessity of civilized living.
From the moment we stepped out of the van the village of Gulahuayco was equally as welcoming as Cotopaxi was harsh. A major traditional ceremony started off the minga. Afterwards, we followed the colorfully dressed residents as they started piling into trucks headed out to the work site. In the days that followed, we witnessed an inspiring community-based effort to do something great. Shooting amongst the villagers was a uniquely social experience centered primarily on their fascination with peering into the camera’s viewfinder to see themselves, a friend, or whatever happened to be in the frame at the given moment. We learned early into our stay that it was rare for small English-speaking groups to spend so much time in the village and, consequently, have the opportunity for such intimate experiences. Often times, the fascination with our cameras was so great that we would trade snapshots (with, of course, a viewing to follow) in exchange for the children staying behind the camera with us instead of peering into the front of the lens as we shot.
Two social fascinations stood out across the adult villagers. The first was a penchant for shaking hands to mark hellos, goodbyes, and even the passing “hey”. Normally this is proper social etiquette but five people later, with a camera rolling in one hand, it becomes a juggling act. The second trend came in the form of a question. From minutes after we arrived “How much does this cost?” was a constant question, especially for the two of us carrying backpacks full of equipment. While we learned later that a sort of transparency with material wealth is endemic to Ecuadorian culture, the question was most powerful in a conversation I had with one of the village’s younger members. A seven-year-old boy had decided to accompany me on the arduous walk from the bottom of the village up, past all of the houses, and to the top of the hill where the water collection tank sits. As we made our way up, we got to talking and he wanted to know where I lived (New York City), what was my home like (it’s an apartment), do I like my home (very much), and then, “are there lots of cars in New York?”
We had shot earlier that week as the villagers packed into the limited cars available to save the rugged two-mile walk to the work site. I replied explaining that there were in fact many cars in “Nueva York.”
“Are there planes?”
“Actually, there are many planes.”
He paused and looked up at the high-altitude blue sky above us possibly envisioning a sky full of planes and then,
“Did you use a plane to get here?”
“How much did that cost?”
For all of his curiosity, I didn’t know how to respond. His curiosity seemed so pure and the city with a sky full of planes so close that I couldn’t answer. He just seemed so content to know a little bit more about a place so far away and in many ways, I echoed that sentiment in having the opportunity to learn about his lifestyle so far from my own.
We arrived on top of the hill to find Eric, John, and Taylor celebrating with the other villagers as water streamed into the collection tank for the first time in years. Objective two: complete. What a shoot. What a trip.
— John Logan Pierson (www.JLFilms.com)