Adventure film and television, one more for the road: ExWeb alumnus David D'Angelo

Posted: Jan 10, 2013 04:01 pm EST

(Tina Sjogren) We broke bread in a refurbished sweatshop to bring luck to ExWeb's new digs in Manhattan's SoHo. He squeezed his motorcycle into one of the elevators and parked it right by his desk.

He helped peddle the first 'consumer versions' of Contact, wrote some of our best stories and helped edit videos for K2's Magic line. We scooped stories about fake oxygen, flights over Everest, and killed 10 Germans on Cho Oyu by mistake. Then he bagged big E for himself: through its wild side, with Abramov, in his first shot.

We had met on Everest south side some years prior, in 1999. Barely 20 years old, American business major David ("Dave") d'Angelo and his friend lurked around BC and we, "climbers in residence", offered tea. It kicked off a long friendship formed around adventure and technology.

Here goes the "final" final entry in ExWeb's recent adventure film futures roundtable, with ExWeb alumnus David d'Angelo just back from an overseas gig.

ExplorersWeb: After your memorable stunt at ExplorersWeb (The Kid Climbed Everest, Imagine That) you went on to shoot reality shows for the Discovery channel and others. Name your five biggest.

Dave: Yes, I did! My top projects in no particular order were Amazing Race, Bomb Patrol Afghanistan, Whale Wars, Deadliest Catch, Storm Chasers, The Iditarod, and Border Wars.

ExplorersWeb: The Afghanistan docu was a "real" reality show - what's the difference to that and scripted reality shows?

Dave: Good question, this throws a lot of folks off. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has two categories for the Emmy’s - Reality and Non Fiction.

The difference is that with Non-Fiction, the folks you’re filming would still be there. The Deadliest Catch guys would still fish, the soldiers in Afghanistan would still be there. With ‘Reality’, the subjects wouldn’t be there if the cameras weren’t there. The line starts to blur when non-fiction show become more and more produced and setup.

The Afghanistan show is called, Bomb Patrol Afghanistan. In 2010/11 we deployed with an EOD unit out of San Diego and documented their deployment in the Northern part of Afghanistan.

ExplorersWeb: Your favorite gig yet and why?

Dave:That’s a tough question, I’ve been very lucky to work on some amazing shows. This past June I got to be a running cameraman on Amazing Race for the first time and that was a standout experience. It’s an around the world scavenger hunt. When you and 30 other people land in a new country and you hear the seat belt ‘ding’ go off after parking at the gate it’s like you’re shot out of a canon. A herd of teams and their assigned camera crews running full bore through the airport, what a rush!

They’ve each been amazing and I’ve learned so much, not only who I’m filming, but also myself. You’re put in these often difficult environments and not only have to take care of yourself, but you have to get the story and shots.

ExplorersWeb: After chasing tornadoes and fishermen pirates, climbing Everest with the Russians and shooting war zones; you barely survived your own bachelor party. What happened?

Dave: Didn’t know this was going to get personal... well, we had just rented a ski boat and I made the mistake of sitting up in the bow on the edge of the boat. When the boat took a hard turn to port, I fell off the starboard bow and the stern of the boat along with the prop unit tagged me pretty good.

ExplorersWeb: How are you healing?

Dave: Considering I got ran over by a boat 6 months ago I’m doing great! Out of the wheelchair in September, started working again in November, and was skiing just a week ago. I’m not 100% yet, but should be there in the first quarter of 2013.

ExplorersWeb: What do you plan to do next?

Dave: Not sure yet! I just finished a small project that for reasons beyond our control got cut short. Was
supposed to be working on that through March, but now that I’m back home we’ll see what shakes out in 2013. There’s a couple irons in the fire.

ExplorersWeb: Do you see a future for adventure reality shows?

Dave: That’s a tough question. It really depends what ‘adventure’ is.

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?

Dave: I don’t think there’s really been a shift in interest. Deadliest Catch and the Antique shows are closer than you think. The one thing I learned years and years ago is that people don’t care about things - they care about people.

Deadliest Catch isn’t a show about crab fishing - it was the first year or two, but really, it’s the same thing over and over again. What makes that show so lasting and close to viewers is that it’s a show about people crab fishing. Characters are key, they’re who the viewers bond with, relate to, and want to watch week after week. Whether they’re going picking in a South Carolina barn or prosecuting an IED in Afghanistan, we want to know more about them, why they do what they do, and how they handle/overcome adversity.

I can’t speak for how the industry adapts. Usually what happens is that they take a chance on a new show, and if it does well, a million others copy it. As a shooter and producer in this genre, I try and do what I’ve always done, and that’s tell a good story, making sure I have all the elements necessary so the editing room can cut a good show.

ExplorersWeb: Showcasing Contact, you edited really cool live video on your Everest expedition. The clips were fast and the music was rap instead of the usual Nepal chants. This was ten years ago, before Youtube! Adventure documentaries can be slow and boring. Do we need a change of pace?

Dave: It really depends. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is documentary that is the slowest I’ve ever seen, but it’s
incredibly fascinating. You have a guy that is fanatical about his sushi and is a great character. He’s not likable, but you’re able to see why he is the way he is and you can respect that. Couple that with good cinematography and you have a slow, yet fascinating doc.

I don’t think we need a change of pace in adventure docs necessarily, because slow can work. We need less talking heads and more immersive storytelling. That’s one of the things that can translate from the world of non-fiction television to the world of adventure documentaries. A lot of adventure docs are just talking head interviews with pretty shots overlayed and a lot of voice-over on top of that.

What is needed is more immersive scenes - the story unfolding as it happens. I don’t want you to tell me, I want you to show me as it’s happening.

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

Dave: I hate to say it, but for a person who’s never climbed a mountain, which is a large part of the audience, it’s incredible boring. I can’t even watch them anymore - and a whole hour or more of it? It’s the same thing over and over. You pack, you fly, you heli/trek to base camp, you check weather, you climb, you wait, you climb some more, you maybe summit or don’t summit, you go home. And beautiful mountain visuals can only go so far.

On an expedition, when the interesting personal interdynamics takes place, the camera gets kicked out of
the tent. There’s no benefit to the climbers for that part of the expedition to get filmed, so it doesn’t. Who wants to see themselves acting like a jackass on a website or the TV.

Instead the story is about a team that seemingly gets along fine dealing with weather and mountain conditions. This is just not interesting to a person at home. For someone who doesn’t climb, they want to see how the team works together good and bad.

I’ve been out of the climbing loop for quite some time now, but you also after to factor in that a lot of these crack teams that are doing amazing climbs have been doing this forever, they know each other well and work effectively together - so there isn’t a story there. Just a bunch of awesome dudes who are very skilled in an area that most folks know nothing about climb a hard peak that you’ve never heard of. In the community this is amazing and is well respected, but to the average person, it’s just not interesting.

I hate to be down on it, but I just haven’t really seen anything recently in the climbing genre that’s been different and new.

One of my favorites of all time is an old website - - it wasn’t posted as it happened, which I wasn’t a fan of, but it’s like 6 short videos on the expedition. Fun, quick, and interesting.

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?

Dave: That’s a great question. For me, get a great group of characters, send them on an amazing adventure, and film it! I can’t wait to watch Space Dive, I’ve got it downloading right now. The story of Felix Baumgartner‘s space jump looks amazing! If done well, this should be a great doc - it has all the elements.

After the whole event went down and folks watched it in droves on the internet, the doc is just kind of an afterthought, which is a bummer. As far as a web event though, everyone watched it.

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?

Dave: TV is doing great these days. I don’t know the numbers, but it’s hard for me to find someone and not
be able to discuss a current show on TV without them knowing about it. There’s amazing programming going on - we’re in the golden age in my opinion. All the genre’s are thriving. The Mad Men’s, Breaking Bads, and Walking Dead shows are more popular than ever. These are shows that are structured in a way that you have to watch the whole season and the one before it - you can’t just get away with just one episode.

The non-scripted shows are off the hook. Honey Boo Boo is crushing it. Make fun of that show as much as you will, it’s a huge hit - America wants to know how those folks live - we’re utterly fascinated.

The Discovery shows are also doing great. The redneck genre of fishing/swamping is incredibly popular right now. As far as I can tell there’s no decline whatsoever - folks are tuning in and they’re watching shows fanatically - and watching week after week. The only difference I see is that we’re watching it on our own schedule.

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?

Dave:I think it’s a combination of things. For me, I can wait and watch it at home. A film really has to be great for me to want to go out to the movies. It’s also spendy - by the time you get a sitter, buy a ticket, pay for pop corn... etc... While the overall numbers are going down, I just heard that SkyFall is the top earner for all time in the UK. Maybe we’re just getting more discerning. We’re seeing less, but when there is something to see, everyone’s coming out.

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?

Dave: I have no idea on this one. What I am seeing is Netflix starting to make their own shows. Lillehammer was fun and Arrested Development is going to be huge for them.

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

Dave: It must be working - SkyFall did really well, Hunger Games is crushing it. I’m really out of the loop in the film biz though, so I really don’t know.

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

Dave: There’s no money in documentaries. You invest all this cash and you never get it back unless it gets
picked up by a big house or network. Why invest in something you have little hope in getting a return on.

I don’t really see this demand with my peers for documentaries - in fact, it’s almost less. Everyone I know
is watching Breaking Bad and Walking Dead. The last doc that I feel has had small widespread appeal was Jiro Dreams of Sushi and I think that stems from it being pushed on Netflix.

Next, part 2 final:New medium and new tech.

#Mountaineering #Tech #topstory

After ExplorersWeb Dave moved on to the adventure film industry.
Image by David d'Angelo, SOURCE
"On an expedition, when the interesting personal interdynamics takes place, the camera gets kicked out of the tent," Dave notes.
Image by David d'Angelo
Thumbs up for the Space jump. "As far as a web event [...], everyone watched it."
courtesy Red Bull Stratos, SOURCE
"We’re seeing less, but when there is something to see, everyone’s coming out," said Dave.
"I don’t really see this demand with my peers for documentaries - in fact, it’s almost less. Everyone I know is watching Breaking Bad and Walking Dead."
Image of Dave crab fishing: "Deadliest Catch and the Antique shows are closer than you think," he says, "the one thing I learned years and years ago is that people don’t care about things - they care about people."
Image by David d'Angelo
"I do" from a wheel chair. Ground up by a boat propeller one week before his wedding Dave escaped with a shattered knee and torn shoulder.
Image by David d'Angelo

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