Interview with Boundary Waters filmmaker Carl Martin

Carl Martin’s Boundary Waters crew seems to redefine the meaning of canoe party. His second canoe country video, released this week, shows them bouncing down rapids, climbing waterfalls, and laughing at a thunderstorm which catches them out on the lake.

The video is simply fun to watch, especially with paddling season just far enough way to inspire a bit of wilderness wistfulness. I asked Carl a few questions, from the background on the group to his advice for making high-quality Boundary Waters films.

Enjoy the video below, and then read on for his thoughts on capturing the wilderness’s character.

What was your route on this trip?

We entered through Kawishiwi, headed north to Malberg and then west over to Alice, up through Thomas and Frasier to Kekekabic.  Eddy falls was as far north as we made it.  We came back through Ogishkemuncie, Gabimichigami, and Little Sag.  Then it was a lot of little lakes back to Malberg and then out through Kawishiwi.

How many trips have you done with this group?

This video documents the ninth year of this trip, but I actually didn’t go on the first few trips, so this was only my sixth year. The guys who started it were 17 the first time they went up. We joke that they weren’t old enough to book a hotel room, so they went to the wilderness.

Carl Martin photo from recent BWCAW winter camping trip

Carl Martin photo from recent BWCAW winter camping trip

We also went on our first winter Boundary Waters trip as a group a few months back, so that might become a new tradition.

What kind of experience are you trying to convey with your videos?

The videos are about us as people and the energy, excitement, joy and challenge that we get from the Boundary Waters. I try to treat the Boundary Waters like another character, rather than having it be the subject of the film itself. There are some really great videos out there that take on the Boundary Waters as a subject and present it in a beautiful, Ansel Adams-like style, but the stories I’m interested in telling are about people and the way this amazing place affects them. Obviously, there are still nature shots and landscapes in my videos, but for me, it’s the reaction shots and the people shots that make my videos work.

Any tips for other people looking to make wilderness videos?

You can’t be too precious with your gear. The first few years that we brought digital cameras, we kept them inside a dry box, inside a bag for most of the trip, so we didn’t really come back with anything worth showing. Whereas this year, I took out my camera during a thunderstorm out on the water. It’s probably my favorite shot in the whole video, and there’s no way I would have gotten it a couple years ago. I’m not saying you should be reckless. I didn’t keep the camera out for long, and I kept it covered, but you have to be bold and trust that your gear is tougher than you think.

Do you spend a lot of time shooting video while you’re up there? How much do you have the camera on?

We always have the camera handy, but it’s definitely not always on. We cover a lot of ground on our trips and spend a lot of each day paddling and portaging, so that sort of naturally gives us a balance. 2011 was the first year that I made a video from our trip, and I didn’t really explain to the other guys, or even admit to myself, the real scope of what I was trying to achieve. So we treated the video shooting very casually at first. I had just gotten my first video-enabled DSLR, and one of my friends had just gotten a GoPro, so we were both playing around with the features and trying things out. It wasn’t until a few days into the trip, once I started going back through the footage, that I realized we might actually have something and I started becoming more intentional about getting shots.

It can take time to get the right shot. Is the rest of your group pretty accommodating of you shooting video?

As I said, the first year was pretty casual, but once we got home, and they saw the footage from the first year, everyone got on board with making these videos. They even helped me lug around all the additional camera gear I brought this year. Now we are all working together as a group to orchestrate a larger-scale documentary piece to capture our trip this coming summer since it will be the tenth year of the trip.

What keeps bringing you back to the Boundary Waters?

The Boundary Waters is kind of the perfect vacation. It is so completely different from what I usually do on a daily basis, and it has an excellent balance of relaxation as well as hard work and a sense of accomplishment.

Also, once you have the basic gear (a sleeping bag, paddle, etc.) it’s an absurdly economical vacation. Every year we each throw in $100 to cover food, gas, permits, water filters and other miscellaneous supplies, and we usually each get about $20 back at the end of the week, so it’s $80 for an eight day vacation. It’s cheaper than staying home.

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