Tell it on the Mountain – Tales from the Pacific Crest Trail follows a handful of diverse characters that go on a life-changing journey. This film features several legends of the trail, including Scott Williamson (former record holder for fastest thru-hike, and the only hiker to ever “yo-yo” the PCT), Billygoat (a John Muir look-alike who’s been hiking the PCT every season for the past 20 years), a retired and renowned “trail angel” out for her first section hike, and other lovable characters. Armed with cameras to record daily video journals, they give us an insider’s view into what it takes to spend half a year living in the wild. Meanderthals reviewed the film a few months back.
Tell it on the Mountain is part adventure film, part documentary, and part video journal. It follows a diverse cast of characters as they undertake a life-changing journey along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a string of trails running from the US-Mexico border, through the heart of California, Oregon and Washington, and ending 7 miles into Canada.
Putting this all together as Producer and Director of Photography was Shaun Carrigan, the subject of this next Meanderthals interview with notable people in the hiking community. Shaun has spent the last decade helping revolutionize the way sports are broadcast. With five National Emmy Awards to his name, you’ve seen his work on the Summer and Winter Olympics, the World Series, the Daytona 500, and nearly every baseball broadcast on television. He’s hiked 1,400 miles of the PCT and considers the High Sierra his favorite place in the world. Tell it on the Mountain is his first feature film.
[Meanderthals] Thank you very much Shaun, and welcome. So, let’s get started:
After watching Tell It on the Mountain, I could tell it was quite the undertaking. How long did the entire project take from start to finish? Were you ever overwhelmed during the planning phase by the daunting amount of work?
[Shaun Carrigan] Believe it or not, the very beginning of this project probably started as far back as 2002. I hiked my first 160 mile section of the PCT with a college buddy. We carried a video camera, captured the experience, interviewed each other and generally just had a really great time. After the trip, we had this incredible record of our journey. More importantly, we realized that if we were attractive, funny or interesting, we’d have something pretty awesome. The next summer (2003) I graduated from Chico State and spent the next 3 months hiking 1,000 miles along the PCT. The hike changed my life. It made me realize what was possible in the universe with a little blood, sweat and passion. I knew I wanted to share this incredible experience with others, but I still didn’t have the film in mind.
In 2004 I was spending time with an ex-coworker and we were having lunch talking about films we’d love to make. Lisa Diener, the Director looked up from her meal as I described the film and just said “OK”. We were off and running. Lisa as an outsider had a completely different take on the PCT and the film than I did. By bringing both visions together, we were able to create “Tell it on the Mountain”.
In 2005 we shot a fund raising trailer and in 2006 we shot the bulk of the film. In 2007, I did pickup shots, time lapse beauty shots and we logged hundreds of hours of footage. To be honest, editing this film was a complete and absolute bear. Our first “string out” or “really, really, really rough cut” was 20 hours long. Going from 20 hours to 2 hours took years of compromise, careful selection and getting rid of pieces we never wanted to lose. Both Lisa (Apple) and I (Sportvision) have very time-demanding positions which added even more delay to the process.
After we got the film edited down to the length and stories we wanted, we spent several years perfecting the music and graphics. Because of our careers we just couldn’t settle for good enough.
We’re incredibly proud of the final result.
[Meanderthals] Hauling all your equipment into the extreme remote wilderness had to be tricky. What were some of the most intimidating logistical challenges you faced? Were there times that Mother Nature made your job nearly impossible? The photography pros may also be interested in what hardware you used.
[Shaun Carrigan] The two hardest places to shoot were/are also the two hardest spots to hike. Both the High Sierra and the Cascades proved to be quite a challenge. Carrying all of our normal backpacking gear to survive in the Sierra and then additionally carrying 15+ lbs of camera gear was far from easy. I was lucky enough to have a Production Manager (college buddy who agreed to be a mule) for the Sierra. Without him and his positive attitude on long days, I’m not sure I could have pulled it off. The physical demands of shooting all day, hiking the PCT and trying to keep a positive and proactive attitude was probably the biggest overall challenge.
Catching up in the Cascades actually came down to lots of detective work and lots and lots of luck. As with much of the production, serendipity played a huge part for magical moments to come together. I caught up with Jackalope and Eagle Eye in the Cascades on one of their very last nights on the trail by hiking straight up a spur trail for 3 hours. My calves have never been so sore. However, the shots were worth it. One of the best shoots I had all summer. Things happen for a reason.
I shot the film with a Sony Z1U and Nikon D200 for most of the time lapses. The Joby GorillaPod and a cheap, but capable Slik tripod held them up. Sony lavaliers and a Sennheiser shotgun mic captured all the sounds. It’s funny to write this all out as the gear I would use now is so very, very different.
[Meanderthals] Scott Williamson is quite the amazing athlete, holding numerous records for long-distance and speed hiking. What was it like trying to keep up with him, or did you just hand him a portable camera with instructions to document the best he could?
[Shaun Carrigan] Scott was a special case. I could keep up with most of our hikers, but Scott was a very different story. I was wary of slowing him down and he was so generous with his time and attention to the film. He was kind enough to carry a camcorder and record his experience as were many of the hikers, but it was specifically important for us to have Scott do such a wonderful job capturing his experience.
One of the benefits of giving cameras to the hikers was to capture these incredibly intimate moments that would have been impossible in any other situation. The beauty was that the camera became their friend in the middle of the wilderness. The camera became someone they could open up to and chat with. It was a key element to making TIOTM what it is.
Believe it or not, I didn’t give Scott much direction or training at all, he watched me when we first started shooting and he just made it happen. He’s so passionate about the trail, the experience and the people that I think he knew that he was being an ambassador for the trail through this film. With that in mind, he took so much extra effort to capture his journey.
We couldn’t have done this project properly without him.
[Meanderthals] I found myself relating the most with Billygoat, as he is nearest my own age. Do you have a favorite anecdote you’d be willing to share?
[Shaun Carrigan] It’s interesting that you connected best with Billygoat. We really think the strength of the film is that everyone finds someone they can relate to. If we did our job correctly, you relate to multiple characters and stories throughout the film. There’s a part of me that connects with nearly everyone, but depending on my mood, I actually identify with different hikers every time I see the film.
I spent several days meeting up with Billygoat in different places, but my very first day was near a place called Scissors Crossing. I met him at dawn, interviewed him in his sleeping bag and then we began to hike downhill for about a mile or so. My camera battery all of a sudden gave out. I stopped Billygoat and dropped one of my backup batteries in. Also dead. I grab the last battery and it was dead too.
I embarrassingly explained the situation to Billygoat and apologized profusely and asked him to hike slowly and I’ll do my best to catch up. He was incredibly understanding and offered to wait for me. I told him I’d be right back and I ran back up the mountain for more batteries.
I arrived back a half hour later with three fully charged batteries and BG had setup camp again. Sleeping bag, ground cloth and all. The best part was I was able to shoot him breaking down his camp for the second time that morning. BG was understanding and very giving with his time. I felt ridiculous for grabbing the wrong set of batteries, but BG just rolled with it like a pro. He’s one of my favorite people on the planet.
[Meanderthals] Do you have a favorite place, or favorite remembrance from the Pacific Crest Trail?
[Shaun Carrigan] I hate to be so cliche, but there really are so many. I did 160 miles in 2002 and then 1,000 miles in 2003 and then shot parts of the film in 2005, 2006 and 2007. So my memories and moments of the trail have these incredibly epic times in my life attached to them.
In 2002, a college buddy and I walked from Mount Lassen to Mount Shasta and during that trip I had the worst blisters of my life. To this day I have parts of my toes that have no feeling because I walked for so long on them in a near torturous experience. Those days are seared into my mind, not because of the pain of the blisters, but because they were this new and incredible life affirming experience. As Iñaki says in the film, “You can go as far as you want, you only need time.” Doing it yourself and moving inches on a state map is a unique and incredible experience.
In 2003, I took to the High Sierra all alone. The self confidence and self reliance from this trip was beyond life changing. It reset the bar for what was capable in life.
A favorite place is hard to choose, as anyone who knows, the breadth of experience and landscape of the trail is pretty unbelievable. I’ll say that I’m partial to the Sierra and specifically Forrester Pass, Lyell Canyon and the view of Banner Peak from Thousand Island Lake. Just jaw dropping awesome!
[Meanderthals] When you get some time off, where do you like to do your own hiking and backpacking?
[Shaun Carrigan] Since I live in the SF Bay Area, I’m only hours from the PCT and do my best to get to the Sierra whenever possible. Truth be told, I don’t get there nearly enough, but this summer I’m planning an attempt on the Sierra High Route. It’s one of those adventures and challenges in life that truly scares me. Just the thought of it as I type this gets my blood pumping.
I also love the Lost Coast, the Marble Mountains and the Trinity Alps in Northern California. Bits of the Trinities and the Marbles are along the PCT, but I’ve enjoyed exploring the non-PCT parts as well.
[Meanderthals] Will you be in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics? What is your involvement in the production?
[Shaun Carrigan] I’m the Senior Coordinating Producer with Sportvision, the premiere broadcast sports enhancement provider. We work with nearly every large and small television network in the country.
This is the first Olympics since 2006 I will not be actively participating in. I have to admit that while it’s a tad disappointing, I’m overwhelmingly happy to spend an Olympics on the couch. In the past I’ve produced special effects for multiple venues and formats. During the Summer Olympics I would manage a small team of Associate Producers creating content for both NBCOlympics.com and the NBC broadcasts. During the Winter Olympics I produced special effects for Alpine Skiing and a few other events.
I’ve been truly blessed to work with the networks and production teams that I have over the years. However, as I said, I’m quite excited and content to spend an Olympics at home. While they are an incredible experience, it’s a month of grueling non-stop hours.
[Meanderthals] After the great success that Tell It on the Mountain is enjoying, certainly it has whet your appetite for more. What is next for you Shaun? Do you have any other projects percolating?
[Shaun Carrigan] We’re incredibly proud of what “Tell it on the Mountain” has achieved, but we would still love to get a broadcast on air. We plan to release on iTunes, BluRay and hope to start showing up in stores across the country. We’d love for REI, EMS and other retail stores (HINT, HINT) to call us up and order copies.
For now, it’s really about getting TIOTM out into the world as much as possible. We’re so proud of the film that we believe it deserves a chance to be a part of the public’s consciousness.
Non-outdoors documentary ideas are definitely brewing. I’m in the very earliest stages of developing a concept.
[Meanderthals] Thanks so much Shaun. It’s nice to get an insider’s perspective.
As I indicated in my review of the film, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, the scenery, and the PCT. You can get your own copy of Tell It on the Mountain – Tales from the Pacific Crest Trail directly from the film’s website or from Amazon.com. If you are as passionate about hiking and wilderness adventure as I am, I know you will have fun watching. And who knows? You might even be enticed to try some of the Pacific Crest Trail yourself.