|Perhaps no one was better suited
for this herculean task than David Breashears. Breashears
is both an accomplished mountaineer and an Emmy
In 1985, he became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest twice. He has participated in nine filming expeditions on all sides of the mountain. Arguably, no one knows the problems and poetry of capturing Everest on film better than Breashears. He knows, for example, that to capture the mountains many faces requires a daring sense of imagination -- a willingness to plunge cameras deep into gorges and down the abyss of ice chasms.
Breashears may have filmed on Everest before, but not with IMAX® equipment. No one had. At first, the logistics of it seemed beyond the realm of even Breashears experience. The standard IMAX® camera weighs 80 pounds and a single, 500 foot roll of film weighs 5 pounds. It would be impossible for even the fittest and most acclimated human to lug the IMAX® camera to Everests oxygen-depleted "death zone."
From the beginning, Breashears and MacGillivray Freeeman Films knew keeping the weight of the equipment down would be vital to the projects progress. The team worked intensively with engineers to create a specially modified IMAX® camera weighing only 42 pounds, fully loaded, and designed to withstand Everests extreme temperatures. Plastic bearings and synthetic drive belts replaced metal parts to provide greater flexibility in cold temperatures -- and the camera was powered by a special 6 pound lithium cell battery, which can operate in temperatues well below freezing.
In the spring of 1995, Breashears led a team to Nepal to test the new light-weight IMAX® camera. They discovered that filming with the camera was different from anything they had ever attempted. "You dont just pick up this camera and start shooting," Breashears explains. "It takes many people to move the camera and equipment, and it takes time to set up every shot. Also, you have to be very careful when shooting because a 500 foot roll of film lasts only 90 seconds."
The test also revealed, for example, that the IMAX® camera cannot be loaded while wearing gloves -- a daunting notion at 20 or more degrees below zero!
"Filming on Everest is much harder than climbing Everest," concludes Breashears. "Your job is never done; youre up in the evenings talking about shots, downloading film, cleaning the camera, repairing the camera, writing shot lists, recording dialogue and preparing. During the day, youre constantly looking for good shots, trying to make the proper decisions: Is it safe to stop here? Is this good light? Do you demoralize the team by stopping too many times? By stopping to get this shot, do we lose good light up higher, or risk not reaching camp? From the beginning it was clear that, if we succeeded, this would be one of the epic achievements in Himalayan filmmaking."
Despite the obstacles, Breashears and company came
down from their test expedition with stunning images. The
expedition could handle the weight. All systems were go.