Filmmaker and director Tommy Joyce is no stranger to the extremes of nature. His work has taken him across the world to camp alone 6,700m up a mountain in Nepal, chart the frozen wilderness of the Antarctic Peninsula and negotiate the dust clouds and intense 49C heat of the Sahara Desert. These are testing places for people and equipment — whether he’s capturing someone at the peak of human endurance or a landscape in just the right sunlight, it’s work that comes with both challenges and rewards.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I moved to Boulder, Colorado when I was 12, and it was all skiing, mountain biking and hiking from there. As I got older, I started carrying a camera with me and documenting my friends skiing and on other adventures. I then met pro photographer Keith Ladzinski, who took me under his wing. In 2021, we became business partners in a film production company, Triage Creative. The next thing you know, we were doing all kinds of work around the world — and I knew that it was absolutely what I was meant to be doing.
What are your favourite locations?
The places I’ve fallen in love with are the places that I would have never visited if it wasn’t for the job — for instance, a project on dinosaurs in Niger in the Sahara Desert was incredible, and so was an assignment in Antarctica. The locations are usually fairly extreme, and our work could be filming anything from wildlife conservation to commercial projects.
What challenges do you face when filming in such remote locations?
The environments are often pretty unforgiving. You’re living and dying by the weather report. If you’re not hot, you’re cold. If you’re not sweaty, it’s windy, or the bugs are horrible. There’s always some level of environmental adversity, but you just go outside and embrace the fact you’re going to have to deal with it.
The most ‘out there’ I’ve ever felt was the two nights I spent alone in a tent at 6,700m on the side of Dhaulagiri. At that altitude, it was bitterly cold — I was on a steep mountainside on a dug-out platform. The team I was documenting were climbing ahead of me, and I only had four drone batteries to last two sunrises and two sunsets. Physically, you’re exhausted, but you’re still trying to wake up at 2am to set up a Milky Way timelapse, and again at 5.30am to get a 20-minute film of the sunrise, before flying the drone to find your team hiking on the ridgeline in that light window.
What’s in your kit list for trips like these?
On the Dhaulagiri expedition, we wore full Himalayan snowman down suits. The camera equipment always changes, but there are things I always bring, like my laptop, hard drives, sunglasses and Anker portable chargers, which means I’m always flush with power.
Before using Anker, we encountered huge power issues when filming on Dhaulagiri. We allowed the logistics company to provide the power. However, within the first week, we realised the equipment was old and wouldn’t support the power volume needed. I had to limit my creative potential, fly fewer drone flights and reduce the editing time I spent on my laptop. Every day was like managing water in a drought.
How do you balance capturing the humanity of a story while experiencing harsh conditions?
In the moment, anything happening to me personally fades into the background. Once your eye is in the viewfinder, it’s like you enter this tunnel vision. Although you’re on high sensory alert for what’s happening around you, suddenly you’re okay with the mosquitos biting your body because ‘the moment’ becomes more important than that. It’s a great feeling — disappearing into that creative world and just doing justice to what’s happening in front of me.
How do you build relationships with your subjects?
For The Mirage (a film following long-distance runner Timothy Olson along the Pacific Crest Trail), Tim brought his family along, who we all got to know. In the end, the film became less about running and more about a family story, but also one of endurance. We hired a crew to follow Tim in a Sprinter van for the entire two months.
The stories [about wider communities rather than a single subject] are interesting because you end up stopping at local bars or restaurants and making friends. Someone might tell you to visit so-and-so who lives nearby because they have a great story. We take a journalistic approach — we have a loose plan, but if something interesting comes up we take that path.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into off-grid filmmaking?
My number one tip is to build relationships with athletes. Today, every athlete needs a content creation company, especially adventure athletes who don’t have direct competitions to participate in and grow their name. I spent many years travelling the world with professional climber Sasha DiGiulian, which allowed me to build relationships with her sponsors, opening additional doors. Plus, athletes always have the coolest trip ideas.
This paid content article was created for Anker Technology UK. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic, National Geographic Traveller (UK), or their editorial staff.
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