LOCKDOWN HAS BEEN A frustrating experience for so many creatives, but it’s particularly difficult for someone so used to travelling the globe as action filmmaker Ellie Cartwright, who right now is just itching to pack her rucksack and head off on yet another daring adventure.
“This is the longest I’ve spent in the country – let alone just the four walls of my little house – in over five years,” Ellie reveals. “I’ve found it very difficult but, although I might have been unable to explore, I have been able to create, and I’ve started making ‘How To’ videos, which I’ve really enjoyed and hope to continue doing.”
Ellie confesses to always having had ‘itchy feet’ and, after graduating from the University of Salford, she started her career in broadcast television working on productions such as The Apprentice and Don’t Tell the Bride. Just a few years later she was off to Australia where she quickly developed a passion for filming ocean sports such as surfing. However, it was when she landed a job as shooting director on a travel series around New Zealand called RV Rampage, in which contestants competed in adrenaline fuelled challenges like white water rafting, glacier climbing and off-roading, that she really found her niche.
“With all these amazing high action activities the camera operators were expected to do it all along with the contestants,” she says with a smile, “complete with camera in hand! That was the job that changed my life and I discovered adventure filmmaking was my calling.”
Moving back to the UK she started working for a major sports company and from there she founded her own production company, Wanderlust Action Films, which gave her the opportunity to travel the world filming events such as ultra-marathons, surfing and extreme sailing. She’d found herself the perfect job and can’t now imagine ever doing anything else.
THE PERFECT KIT
Throughout her career Ellie has regularly worked with high end broadcast cameras, but although these are designed to deliver awesome quality they are, by their nature, heavy and cumbersome and have to be treated with respect. Not the ideal companion for those capturing action sports in other words, and what was required was a model that was both robust and weather-sealed to the point where it wasn’t going to be scared of water but was also compact and lightweight and a true hybrid, capable of delivering both pro-spec video and stills.
The answer lay in the Olympus MFT OM-D system which, while a fraction of the size of a full frame rival and with fast and beautifully scaled down lenses, could still perform to the high standard required. Having been approached by Olympus after they’d encountered a short film she’d made with British Number One female surfer Lucy Campbell, Ellie became the brand’s Video Mentor and she’s hugely enjoyed working with the system ever since.
“I love the lightweight nature of the Olympus lenses and camera bodies,” confirms Ellie. “I started off with a trip to frozen Lake Kerkini in Greece with Wildlife Ambassador Tesni Ward to film her capturing Pelicans on the OM-D E-M1X, and this was followed by a road trip around Scotland shooting with the E-M1 Mark II.”
To celebrate the launch of the E-M1 Mark III Ellie was tasked with creating a series of films about the new camera and the adventures it can take you on. She consequently travelled with Olympus Ambassador Geraint Radford on his first trip abroad to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, where he photographed outlandishly huge bugs using his macro kit, and then it was on to the mountains of Madeira with fellow Olympus Mentor Tom Ormerod to film his quest to photograph the variety of landscapes the island has to offer.
“The highlight of the trip with Geraint was a canoe trip down the inner Amazon to see all the wildlife there,” recalls Ellie. “In Madeira, meanwhile, each day began with a 4am alarm call to capture the sunrise on top the highest peaks and stunning beaches of the island. To this day these trips have been the highlight of my career.”
In Ellie’s opinion the OM-D E-M1 Mark III is the perfect travelling filmmaker’s camera. “That’s not least because hiking up mountains with full frame cameras gets tiring!” she laughs. “I particularly appreciate the incredible image stabilisation that’s built in – up to 7.5 stops of compensation – because I always shoot handheld and will only work with a tripod when producing very specific shots, such as timelapses. I like a lot of movement in my pieces, even interviews, since it gives the viewer the feeling of being part of the conversation.
“The inbuilt 4K timelapse is also great. It’s super easy to set up and 4K means you can adjust the shot nicely in the edit. The 120FPS capability is something I was very excited about as well: I love all things ocean and so capturing that in slow motion is always brilliant. It was also especially handy for filming bugs in the Amazon when you only have a few seconds of real time to work in before they fly or leap away!”
TIME TO LEARN
Ellie’s latest project, which again is being undertaken in tandem with Olympus, is the Wanderlust Academy. “The idea eventually is that we’ll be teaching a wide range of skills and will be running events such as drone workshops and editing courses,” says Ellie. “However, the first ones, which are sponsored by Olympus, are focused on social media, action filmmaking and photography, and the courses will be held against a backdrop of the Welsh lakes and mountains.
“We want our guests to have an exciting adventure whilst teaching them the skills they need to create their own social content. It’s an immersive academy ideal for small brands and businesses, or anyone that wants to break into the world of action and adventure filmmaking.
“We’ll cover storytelling, interview technique, shot planning and then have some fun learning a new skill, such as rock climbing, before returning to learn how to film and photograph action sport and what different principles you should consider. We’ll finish up by heading to the cosy homestead, complete with cinema room, where we’ll teach editing principles and show how to put together an engaging film.”
Clearly the ongoing pandemic has meant that the courses are on hold just for now, but once they are up and running they promise to provide a spectacular learning opportunity, delivered by someone truly passionate about their craft.
Instagram handles: @ellieactionfilms @wanderlustactionfilms @waf_academy
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