Looking back it was a little more than two years ago that a producer, Tim Joy, hired me to shoot a 5-day wilderness canoe expedition. Just to begin meant 11 hours of driving north from my already rural home in Pittsfield, Vermont to lake Temagami. Then a quick boat trip to the island that served as base camp. In my career, I have shot hundreds of subjects in hundreds of locations, and I find every single one unique and exciting - but this ranks among the top 15 along with shooting for Landrover in Sabi Sabi, documenting traditional Greek weavers in small mountain towns, and interviewing Richard Branson on his island.
5 days with no cell service, living 100% outdoors rain, sun, bugs, and all. Capturing the struggle and triumph of a group of amazing young girls as they learned to paddle and portage heavy canoes and gear through thunderstorms, mud, rocks, and sunshine. To set up camp, cook over a fire, and "up and roll" every morning.
Today, after I got this week’s episode of the podcast out, I needed to reignite the creative spark. So I dug up this footage and put together a little video. ( In the original footage there are lots of close-ups and faces, but this was shot for a client and I don’t have the rights to those - so it’s all blue skies, rainy skies, and water. )
I was doing a footage search for a client yesterday and came across this gem in the archives. On a sunny day, I loved nothing more than shooting on snow. On the sleety days where I made up rules for how long I'd go without feeling my feet before heading inside or calculated the body mass to surface area ratio to determine how much more likely I was to become hypothermic than the big guys I worked with ... that was what they call "level 2" fun. The kind that builds camaraderie and leaves you with great stories and a sense of accomplishment.
Today the cameras are smaller, lighter, cheaper, more versatile and best of all take better pictures, but the basics are unchanged.
I challenged myself to create a series of four videos with myself as host, and to talk about my own creative and personal development journey. I have made fun of people who do this for my entire life...until I started producing Spartan Up podcast and listening and learning from them. There is still a high proportion of blowhards and snake oil salesmen in the self help arena, and yet those reminders, hacks and lessons propel me forward.
As Doug Comstock said - I'm not telling you anything new, I'm just reminding you.
So here is video three of the series. In this video I talk about the two most helpful tactics / principles I have learned.
It started when I heard an interview with James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. He said to establish a habit start with something really small, for example one push up a day. It sounds ridiculous. But when you start with a small commitment you'll be more likely to keep it. Once you start keeping it you begin to see yourself in a new light - as someone who does a push up every day.
So I decided I'd run one mile every day. I've written about that, and it's been going pretty well. And James Clear was right. Success there lead me to take on another challenge. When COVID times started I committed to posting a daily photo journal here on my blog for a month. I did that too. I realized that the simple practice of writing and photographing every day was helping me grow as a creative, whether anyone read it or not.
Now I'm challenging myself to create a video, with me as the on camera host, talking about my own creative journey, every week for the next four weeks. Here is the first:
Next week I'm going to talk about the value of keeping your work to YOURSELF.
8 years ago the small town of Pittsfield was struck hard by the remnants of Hurricane Irene. In a town of fewer than 500 people more than 10 homes were completely destroyed. The town, with little official infrastructure, was completely cut off from the outside world. Pittsfield did not have it's own police force, ambulance, hospital or school. What it had was strong resilient community.
Our house was among those hit hard, but still in many ways it was a glorious time. Days filled with sunshine and community. The roads were closed so everyone walked, the pace slowed down and everyone was looking for ways to help their neighbors.
That first Sunday when the storm hit was frightening, we saw the river rise higher than we'd ever seen it rise. Friends had to be rescued by volunteer fire fighters and neighbors just minutes before their house collapsed, my husband was stuck for the night in the car in the driveway. Unable to get back to our house as it was slammed by 8 feet of raging water, and unable to cross the bridge from our road into town. Meanwhile I had taken our two young kids and my mother to the Swiss Farm Inn for refuge.
By 7am the first morning the town gathered at the town hall to start coming up with a plan. Already neighbors were feeding each other, taking each other in, and sorting through debris for prized possessions. Soon after families with heavy machinery started building roads, the two general stores in town set up a massive BBQ on the town green with the food from their quickly thawing freezers, medical facilities were set up in the library, and an outdoor school was set up on the green.
I did what I knew how to do. I started to capture the story. It was awkward at first. I wanted to be part of the story, part of the effort to rebuild, but eventually I realized this was my best way to contribute.
The film aired on PBS 4 or 5 times, now I'd like to get the word out - community resilience comes from strong community bonds. Here is the complete documentary.
Part crazy, part inspiring,always thought-provoking - this year a Guinness World Record was set. Sometimes confusing, sometimes surprising, always enlightening - the Death Race is back.
What I love about photographing this event is that pretty quickly all pretense is gone. Self consciousness in gone. The athletes are focused on their challenges, their internal battles, and each other... and all that can be read on their faces. Extreme joy, exhaustion, pain, love and triumph.
This is one of the quick turn around social videos I cut for the Spartan during the race.
How do you tell a story of struggle and triumph? How do you show how truly and astonishingly difficult an endeavor is ... and how do you do that in a way that expresses the power and triumph experienced in overcoming that challenge? We used to depend on the narrative arc of a movie or a book, but we no longer tell or consume stories in a linear fashion. Today each image needs to stand on its own, and at the same time be part of a narrative expressed via multiple channels, sometimes simultaneously.
This weekend I photographed a 60 hour endurance event called the Spartan Agoge. Here are some of my favorite photos from the weekend. Ones that I hope show the strength, joy, suffering and transcendent determination the participants experienced.
The Peak Mountain Bike race has taken a variety of forms since its inception. From the 666 to the "Gnarly Adventure." In 2017 the race became a Leadville Qualifier, and with that it was time to revamp it's image. For 2017 we came up with a new name "Peak Woodsplitter." That inspired names for the rest of the Peak series which now contains the Peak Woodsplitter, Peak Snowdevil Winter Ultra/ Snowshoe Race, and the ultimate race the Peak Bloodroot Ultra. Along with the new names we designed a series of "stamp" based logo treatments, social and email campaigns.
The idea was to keep a reference to the Peak history with the classic peak mountain element, while embracing a gritty homegrown feel that the races have as compared to their big brother Spartan Races.
One of the best ways to get attention, engagement, and show off the Green Mountain Trails where the race is held is with a series of videos distributed via social media and email.
Abigail Sera is a true Spartan. A friend talked her into trying her first Spartan Race in Killington, she signed up in the open category but ended up with a better time than most of the pros. That didn't change anything for her, she went back to work patrolling Vermont by snowmobile in winter and by boat in summer. Last winter I traveled to her family farm in Vermont to meet and interview her. Now you'll see her in this season's NBC coverage of the Spartan Race series and Spartan's latest lifestyle commercials.
Next time you see me ask me to tell you the rabbit story...
The Spartan Up podcast has been an amazing journey, both professionally and personally. I've had the opportunity to work with great partners to build an interview series from the ground up, as Dean Graziosi said "make it up, then make it happen." In the process I've been able to learn lessons from every one of our guests, and quite a few from our hosts as well. Here's our latst trailer:
You can find all 137 episodes on our YouTube channel, iTunes, or wherever you catch podcasts by searching for Spartan Up.
Over a 10 month period this year, I consulted for a gubernatorial campaign on their digital goals, social media training, social media tactics, and managing their paid social media. Here are some of the lessons I took away.
Sometimes You Don't Have the Data You Want
Data is important, but it's not everything. If you're selling a product it's pretty straightforward, you can measure the success of every move you make against the sales of that product. In the online universe, success can be a matter of testing and interpreting the data to hone in on the audience and message that will generate the most sales at the lowest cost. In an election ultimately there's only one measurement that matters … votes. As we've seen in national elections, polling data is not reliable, the only solid data is election results - that information comes too late.
You Still Need Goals
Even though you have uncertainty you still you need to set goals and measure progress to be effective. We learned to set multiple goals and change them throughout the campaign.
Numbers Can Be Deceiving - Look Beyond the Numbers
If your goal is engagement and you see a spike, before you celebrate take a closer look to see if it's generated by positive or negative comments. A high relevance score and a low cost per engagement from Facebook might be misleading. Be sure you understand what's behind the numbers. If you set a Facebook campaign optimized for an action, take a closer look at how often that ad is being delivered to voters. How many voters are you turning off on the way to generating that click? This is why a hands on human approach is so important to paid social.
The Only Constant is Change
Be ready to make changes at any time. Humans just aren't as predictable as we like to tell ourselves. Take your research and make your best guess at what will work, test it and adjust. Then do it again... and again. Once you have it all figured out, expect everything to change as news events develop. Even if you've got the perfect system, if it runs more than a few months there's a good chance your social media platforms will change (for example Facebook added new audience targeting options and lead ads during our run.)
People Love to See themselves
Some of our must popular shares were photos from events our candidate attended. They say all politics is local, that means lots of visiting. The best way to win votes – meet voters. On social media, you can amplify the power of these visits by sharing photos of the candidate visiting neighborhood landmarks and leaders.
We had a fantastic team, and we needed it. Keep a cache of engaging posts at the ready for slow days, there won't be many of them. The rest of the time be ready to react quickly. Responding to voter comments not only allowed us to set the record straight, it gave a good sense of what was important to our audience and made them feel heard.
Sometimes the Audience is Too Small
Common advice about paid advertising on Facebook pretty much boils down to finding the audience that allows for the lowest cost of customer acquisition. Our case was different. There's a finite set of people that are likely to vote. That's the target audience, like it or not. Even a statewide election, in Vermont anything we did to segment that audience by issue, demographics or location usually created an audience so small it became ineffective for Facebook campaigns. If you do define micro audience segments be sure to keep advertising budgets small, it's very easy to over saturate.
So how does all this apply to your next client? Every client is like a puzzle. You start with your gut instinct (informed by the client's research and experience) and then you start testing. It's the process we went through to understand how to effectively manage social media for this political campaign that is the takeaway.
It has been more than a year now since I started working with the founder and CEO of Spartan Race Joe De Sena developing and producing the "Spartan Up!" podcast. We've traveled the world exploring what drives successful athletes, entrepreneurs, CEOs, adventurers, professors authors, thought leaders .. even monks, trying to discover and share what we can learn from them. I think I've shot about 300 interviews, and Joe's done another 20 or so without me. So what have we learned? Joe has a series of articles published in Entrepreneur, Inc and here on Linkedin breaking down many of the lessons. I'll try to sum up my thoughts from behind the camera here.
This week we published the 100th episode in which our panel of hosts each talk about their favorite interviews so far. Doctor Johnny chose a few of the authors, Col Nye chose National Geographic Explorer Shannon Galpin, Dr. Delle chose the world's greatest living explorer Sir Ran Fiennes, Sefra chose Sealfit's Mark Divine and Joe chose one of my all time favorites Karim Jaude.
So what if I had been asked to choose? Impossible. BUT among my favorites are Nate Carr and his amazing positivity, Tony The Fridge and his intensity, Jay Jackson who reminded us to say we "get to" no we "have to,"Levison Wood who had JUST returned from walking the entire Nile,Nicole DeBoom who brought out Joe's "sassy" side, Mimi Anderson who is unstoppable, of course Angela Duckworth THE expert on GRIT, Risa Mish and her concrete tips on critical thinking, Richard Branson who reminded us to see the best in everyone, Amit Kumar who learned experiences are better than possessions, Dan Edwardes who understands the links between fear and physical movement, Zach Even - Esh who talked about the failures and struggles on the way to success and lives it with sheer enthusiasm for life, Dick Costolo who made the connection between stand up comedy and business success, Juliet Starrett and her hippo escape story, Frank Grippe who understands the value of sheer force of will, Jennifer Gilbert who one day decided not to deviate from her life's plan,Mark Webb who was amazing already and just kept it up after losing a foot ... I hate to start this list knowing I'm missing so many - I can honestly say there has not been one interview that has not taught me something.
If I had to sum it up -
1. Sometimes it's just sheer force of will that gets you there.
2. Optimism is KEY, without it you will never persevere.
3. The mind lives in the body, you can't take care of one but not the other.
4. Every thing you do is a privilege, never take it for granted.
And from the panel - when you have a good team around you, hard work becomes a pleasure.
Here's the 100th episode:
This week we spent 7 days of shooting with Firedancer's director Bob Griffiths and producer Sharon Shepard-Levine. I could not have done it without my excellent crew:
Rich Fredette, Geoff Eades, Dan Mazur, Mike Turner, and Blake Farnham.
Special thanks to MISIMITPO and the color orange.
Click the photo to see the rest of the album.
To look at his smile after completing the Spartan Beast at Killington you'd think it was easy.
We picked Chris up just before 3am on Saturday September 22nd and drove him to meet Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena at Killington. By 4am, in the clear cool starry night, Chris began the 13 mile 35 obstacle race. I set him up with a POV camera and followed him on and off over the first few miles through the dark. While my crew (Blake) rushed back to base to pick up time lapse shots of dawn breaking, Forest Call walked the entire trip with Chris. It wasn't until about 5:30 pm that we were able to walk Chris through the finish line.
We've put together a video for Spartan coaching following Chris on his entire 20 week experience here in Pittsfield Vermont at Spartan HQ culminating with his experience at the Killington Beast.
Great job Chris, I can't wait to see what you take on next!
[videography: Marion Dane Abrams, Forest Call, Blake Farnham]
Have you heard about Chris Davis? Not too long ago he was 700lbs. He measured the distance he could walk in feet, and had to plan his route from car to office carefully. He went to the doctor to see about gastric bypass surgery and was told he was TOO HEAVY. Chris motivated himself, lost 100 pounds, had the bypass surgery and has not stopped pushing himself since.
Today finds him in Pittsfield Vermont, home of the Spartan Race "Spartan HQ," where he is training with Joe De Sena for next week's Spartan Ultra Beast. It's a 26+ mile obstacle course on the face of Killington Mountain. We've been documenting his progress in weekly videos for the last 20 weeks, and we can't wait to see him take on the Ultra Beast. Go get it Chris! We're rooting for you.
You can follow Chris on Facebook at the Project Chris Davis page.
"Flood Bound" will air on Vermont public television for the first anniversary of Hurricane / Tropical Storm Irene. We will also have DVDs available for purchase at www.FloodBound.com in a few weeks.
Watch "Flood Bound" on VPT:
Thursday August 16th - 8:00 pm
Monday August 20th - 7:00 pm
Saturday August 25th - 4:00 pm
Learn more at www.FloodBound.com.
This fall Bohler Productions asked us create this clean simple open for their half hour show "The Best of Burlington Vermont."
You might not know that Madmotion is located in the tiny town of Pittsfield Vermont (pop 427), and that our town was one of many along the Green Mountains hit hard by Irene.
Many of our friends have been looking for reports on our family and our community after flood damage cause by irene. The damage was significant. In a town of 430 people, 9 homes were lost completely, many other homes and roads were damaged, and the town was cut off from the outside world. We were spared the loss of family, friends and neighbors, and began rebuilding immediately
Hard working volunteers in this town have done amazing things. We cry sometimes because we cannot believe the strength and generosity of our neighbors, sometimes because we are tired and overwhelmed. We laugh, for the same reasons.
Crews have worked day and night to patch roads, reach stranded people, set up a makeshift medical facility, check on neighbors, cook meals, set up "school" every day on the green, get supplies into town, shore up neighbors homes, sort through water damaged belongings, organize propane and gasoline distribution, hand out foor and water, slog through paperwork and much much more.
This community that was always self reliant, strong, ingenious and generous has proven itself (like so many other Vermont towns) to be even more so when faced with challenge. So take that Irene!
UPDATE: 9.6.11 - here's a VPR report from our town today https://archive.vpr.org/vpr-news/pittsfield-still-largely-cut-off-by-road/
"Vermont is a state I love... I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all, I love her because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who almost impoverished themselves for love of others. If ever the spirit of liberty should vanish from the rest of the Union, it could be restored by the generous share held by the people in this brave little State of Vermont." ~Calvin Coolidge, after the floods of 1927
UPDATE: 1-9-12 VISIT www.FloodBound.com to see the Flood Bound trailer.
Last week the Professional Firefighters of Vermont invited me to join them for lunch at their annual convention. They presented me with the 1st place award we won for their Fire ops 101 video at the national IAFF Video Awards. It's been a pleasure and an honor to work with them, and hope for more projects in the future.
We really loved working with the Professional Firefighters of Vermont (PFFV) on their latest project. Two years ago the video we created for them won First Place in the Special Projects category at the International Association of Fire Fighter Media Awards.
This year's project was a great collaboration.
It's fun thinking about some of the themes that keep coming up in our work. Looking at the last few blog posts I see a lot of snow and skiing, but as I imagine winter drawing to a close the themes of Vermont, collaboration, community and creativity come into focus. "Vermont Spotlight" was created from a perfect blend of creativity and collaboration inspired by Vermont. 1 producer (me) + 2 hosts (Doug and Kelley) + 1 musician (James Mee) + 1 Vermont barn = theme music for "Vermont Spotlight."
It's fun to look back, and at the same time look forward to that warm summer sunshine.
[videography & Editing - madmotion] [hosts - Doug & Kelley Lewis] [musician - James Mee]
The Death Race. Where do I begin. It's a happening more than a race, to complete it or survive it is to win. You don't know when it starts (last year it began unexpectedly at check in Friday night rather than "race start" Saturday morning.) You don't know when it ends. Race directors tell participants only what's next, not what comes after next. It's physically, mentally and emotionally gruelling. The first year only 7 people ran the race, this year they have to limit the number of entrants.
But the challenge as a producer is how do you show that suffering on TV. How do you get across how hard this race really is? The answer is tell the stories of some of the participants, and be in the right place at the right time. Last year, with a crew of only 2 videographers, 1 sound man, 1 PA and 1 intern we tried to follow the constantly changing action over a 48 hour period. Below is our 13 minute edit, now being used by the event organizers as a promo..
If you can't sit through the 13 minute adventure, you can watch a light :45 second promo on Youtube that I cut from the first year of the event.
A few years after I moved to Vermont I dragged a "portable" edit system to Stratton to help produce a VNR (Video News Release) for the U.S. Open. That was in the early 90s. This year I was asked to design a new TV commercial for the Open using still photos from the Open's earliest years.
The Open has changed a lot in those years, and it's unbelievable the progress the sport of Snowboarding has made. Here's the :30 TV Spot, and a little flashback to a 1997 promo.
[design - Madmotion] [sound design - Busted Barn] [Production - Xcetera]
1997 Stratton promo video
[producer - DH Productions] [Videography - David Huot & Marion Dane Abrams] [Editing - Madmotion]
On March 27th I was envious of the "pause" to reassess and learn I kept hearing about. I was fortunate enough to still be working, so I committed to a more active blog. This is my chance to think out loud about podcasting, messaging, story, nature, family and life.
~ Marion Abrams