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Adventures / Climbing / Behind the Scenes: ‘Brighter Night,’ an Alaskan Ice Climbing Epic

Jordan Halland takes us to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, with elite local climbers Alan Gordon and Jamie Pierce.

By Sophie Rosenblatt

We bet you’ve never seen ice climbing like this before. A rainbow of hues dances across ice shapes only Mother Nature could make in the new film Brighter Night, which is making its debut here on ROAM today.

We asked director Jordan Hallander a few questions about his dream-like artistic vision and stealth tactics needed to pull off Brighter Night. The short film features climbers Alan Gordon and James Piece in colorfully lit glacier caves on the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska. Here Hallander shares with us some anecdotes, behind the scenes moments, and deeper thoughts around the making of Brighter Night, filmmaking, and adventuring in general.

ROAM: Behind the Scenes: ‘Brighter Night,’ an Alaskan Ice Climbing Epic
Making 'Brighter Night' on Alaska's Mendenhall Glacier; Photograph by Jordan Halland

Where was this filmed?

Jordan: We filmed Brighter Night on Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, in January 2018.

The ice looks so sculptural, what kind of ice is it?

Jordan: It’s glacier ice, and we use a lot of ice caves. We wanted the ice to be really crystal clear so usually it’s the ice that’s has not been exposed to air. The elements are not that clear, so we wanted to find really, really clear, transparent ice.

How did you set up the lights? Are they powered by a generator?

Jordan: Nope. They’re all LED based lights. We had this company called Color Spike that gave us a handful of these light bars that could change colors, and you can sync them with an app to adjust them on the fly. Then we also went to Costco and just bought LED work lights and covered them with gels to change the color of the lights.

I’m sure there was some trial and error getting the set up. Any stories to share?

Jordan: We realized very quickly was the camera that we had brought out to initially shoot everything didn’t do as well as we had hoped in low-light situations. So we ended up using the camera that I brought just to shoot stills as our main camera. That was the Canon 1DC. We had cinema lenses on that camera to get as much as we could out of the camera, and it did amazingly well. That first night we were kind of scrambling and thinking like, what are we gonna do if we don’t have a camera that can handle the situation?

The climbing looks tricky. Who are the climbers?

Jordan: The climbers are Alan Gordon and Jamie Pierce, and they’re both almost professional-level ice climbers in Alaska. They live right in Juneau. They spend probably more of their time on the glacier than in Juneau. Alan’s probably—I’m not kidding—right now on the glacier climbing. They’re just phenomenal athletes. They’re the best climbers I’ve seen. The climbing was really tricky. For Alan climbing on the roof of that one cave, we drilled guide holes so he could get his pick axe into the ice. Then Alan did that sequence for us one night for about six hours, climbing on the roof over and over and over again. The only reason we quit is because we ran out of batteries and cards for the camera. If we hadn’t had done that, I’m sure Alan would have gone for another two hours. He’s seriously an animal and like one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen.

ROAM: Behind the Scenes: ‘Brighter Night,’ an Alaskan Ice Climbing Epic
The team used colored gels and LED lights to illuminate the climbers and ice; Photograph by Jordan Halland

What hours did you shoot to capture this at night?

Jordan: We were up there for 10 days. We would head out anywhere between like 5:00 pm and 7 pm, and then we would hike out to the glacier. It’s about a two-mile hike out to the glacier, and then we would hike another mile or two to these ice caves and walls that we wanted to shoot on. It was good and it’s not easy hiking either. A big part of it was this boulder field that was covered in ice. We would spend probably two hours hiking out to the glacier, and then we would set up and our thought every time was that we’re going to shoot until the sun comes up—or until we’re out of cards and batteries.

Then we would hike back at like 6:00 am usually, and we get back to Alan’s house and make nachos. That was kind of our routine. Then everyone would sleep til like 11 am or so. Then we kind of start waking up and prepping gear for the next shoot, go get fish and chips, and then head out to the glacier and do it all over again. It was a crazy, hectic schedule and by the end of it we were literally exhausted.

How cold was it?

Jordan: It was really cold. The coldest night, I think it was -18. The warmest it had ever gotten was -8 Fahrenheit. So, well below freezing. We would spend most of the night with the batteries under our arms to keep them warm or the bar lights that we had, the Color Spikes, in our coats just to keep them warm. Then as soon as it was time to shoot, we’d pull them out, put them on the wall and then shoot, and then immediately take them and put them back in so that they would stay alive.

We lined our camera bags with hand warmers just to keep the temperature up in there so that everything was working and functioning. Then the climbers, usually Alan and Jamie, were usually pretty warm cause they were working pretty hard, but me and the camera guys, we were just standing there so a lot of the time we would just start doing pushups or running in circles, jumping jacks, anything to keep our body heat up because it was so cold. If you just stood there, it still didn’t matter how thick your parka was, you were going to get cold.

Can you give us sense of your camera kit?

Jordan: Cameron and I both had F stop gear bags and that size was going to be an issue. We couldn’t bring a ton of gear. So before we went, every night we would talk about what kind of shots we wanted to get and then only take the lenses and the camera gear that we needed to get those shots. So we have a slider that ended up not working very well in the cold, but we would only take that on a couple of nights we knew we would want to use it. We didn’t use a gimbal, everything was off the tripod. We tried to minimize our gear as much as possible and fit everything in our backpacks, lights and everything. It was kind of tricky, but also I kind of liked limiting the amount of stuff [we had]. You have to be creative and kind of work on the fly.

ROAM: Behind the Scenes: ‘Brighter Night,’ an Alaskan Ice Climbing Epic
Temperatures dropped to -18 F during the shoot so the team developed ways to keep gear warm with handwarmers; Photograph by Jordan Halland

What advice do you have for young filmmaker who wants to pull off a creative vision that is out of the box?

Jordan: Just do it. That’s one thing that I can’t say enough. The reason that I’m able to work the projects that I do is because I just decided to do them.

I had someone the other day email me and say they wanted to start making films, and they’re going to do it in five years or so. I wrote them back and said, you know what, just out of curiosity, why are you wanting to wait too long? And they said, well, I want to make sure that I’m good enough and I can handle it and do it.

I say the same thing every time, just start. You’re not going to be good enough at first. You might suck at first, and that’s okay. The point is to do it enough that you get comfortable and you learn and then you can look at your first projects and cringe because of the mistakes that you see in them because you’ve grown as a filmmaker.

So it sounds simple, but that’s really my advice, is don’t think about it, just go out there and start working and start making stuff. Don’t expect to get paid or don’t expect people to pay you to make stuff. Just start making it, and if it’s interesting and it’s good and you like it and people are excited about it, then you’re going to get work and it’s going to turn into a career for you.

People love unique ideas and unique thoughts. When I approach a documentary, I want to make something that people haven’t seen before. Not that I’m reinventing filmmaking, I don’t think that at all. I’m building off of things that I’ve absorbed as a viewer over the years. That’s what you do, you take your influences and then you turn them in and make something of your own out of it. The more you can speak in your own voice, the more people will take notice.

What does ROAMing mean to you?

Jordan: ROAMing to me means not being afraid of the world. Having the guts to just go into a situation, not being fully sure of what’s going to happen. That’s what makes roaming fun is just getting thrown into something and instead of saying like, no, I don’t think I want to do that, just saying sure, let’s see what happens and doing it. I think that’s the best part of traveling or filmmaking or shooting photography, anything is just roaming, having an adventure spirit and just saying I’m going to see what, where this takes me. So yeah, that’s what roaming means to me.

 

Why is it important to roam?

Jordan: I think it’s important to roam because when you do that, you are expanding your worldview and you’re seeing how other people live and their experience. It’s something that you can then appreciate and understand and then it in turn changes the way that you view everything. and I think that it’s important to do that with travel, with politics, with every aspect of your life, is to not just stay isolated in what you’re comfortable [with], but talk to someone that you may not agree with, or be friends with someone that culturally might not be someone that you’re supposed to be friends with.



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