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Posted October 12, 2015 by admin in Resource
 
 

Catatan Produksi Film Everest (2015)


About the Production

Powerful Day in History:The 1996 Climb

It was a beautiful sunny morning on May 10, 1996, when Rob Hall, the safety-conscious and meticulous leader of New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants, and Scott Fischer, the highly-experienced mountaineer and team leader of the Seattle-based Mountain Madness, led their teams on a final ascent toward the highest point on Earth: the summit of Everest, 29,029 ft. (8,848 m) above sea level or the cruising altitude of a 747. The teams had spent the past two months working their way up the colossal mountain as they acclimated themselves to the extreme cold and the thin air at these high altitudes, dealing with oxygen levels so low that the simple act of walking can be utterly exhausting.

Three of Hall’s climbers and two Sherpas reached the summit that day, but with little warning, an unexpectedly violent storm blew in with a hurricane’s force, engulfing the adventurers as they were descending on the mountain. As the storm continued to rage and darkness began to descend, Hall tried in vain to assist an exhausted client, mailman and climber Doug Hansen, down a 40-foot wall known as the Hillary Step (28,840 ft./8,790 m), named after the legendary New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary.

By evening, Hall was exhausted, spent from his efforts to rescue Hansen. Unable to make the descent himself, he remained alone-exposed to the elements on the South Summit (28,752 ft./8,764 m) for an unthinkable two nights as the storm raged unabated. Fearsomely high winds crippled the efforts of exhausted rescuers, who were unable to find their way in the darkness and blinding snow. Attempts at rescue from below had been thwarted.

Andy “Harold” Harris, an Adventure Consultants New Zealand guide from New Zealand, disappeared high on the mountain; he was last seen heroically climbing back up to the South Summit, in an attempt to render assistance to Hall and Hansen. Although he reached Hall on the summit, where they spent the night in 80-mph winds and in -40 Fahrenheit, Harris vanished in the dark of night was never seen again.

Fischer, who had reached the summit with his guides, Anatoli Boukreev and Neal Beidleman, as well as six of their clients, also had severe difficulties on the descent. Although accompanied by Lopsang Sherpa, Mountain Madness’ lead Sherpa, just below the Balcony Summit (27,600 ft./8,412 m), Fischer collapsed and finally convinced Lopsang to descend without him. Lopsang did so, with the hope of sending someone else back up into the storm with additional oxygen to aid Fischer’s descent.

For his part, Boukreev, having descended ahead of his clients earlier in the day, attempted to reach Fischer but was forced to turn back because of the raging weather. Later in the night, he succeeded in rescuing other lost climbers who were stranded further down the mountain at 26,000 ft. (7,925 m) at the South Col. (so named because it is the lowest point of a ridge or saddle between two peaks).

Meanwhile, another struggle for survival was occurring 2,789 ft. (850 m) down the mountain on the South Col. Beck Weathers, a Texas-based pathologist climbing as part of the Adventure Consultants team, was stricken by an extreme case of snow blindness as he made his ascent for the summit. Years before, he had undergone corrective eye surgery, and now, on his way through Everest’s “Death Zone”-a place where oxygen is so scarce that the human body shuts down vital organ systems-the altitude began blurring his vision, blinding him to everything more than two or three feet in front of his face.

Hall made Weathers promise not to continue up the mountain, and told him to sit down and wait for his return from the summit so they could descend together. A few hours after he had halted his ascent, however, Weathers found himself in the middle of the raging storm, struggling to shield himself against its pummeling effects.

Finally, a group of fellow climbers descending from the summit came upon Weathers and attempted to aid him. He was roped to Adventure Consultants guide Mike Groom as they desperately tried to find Camp Four at approximately 26,000 ft. (7,925 m) on the South Col. But with the wind-driven snow and darkness obscuring even the ground beneath their feet, they failed to locate the tents on the wide, featureless expanse of the South Col. Exhausted, they huddled together, sharing their remaining warmth in a last hope for survival to ride out the white-out conditions and sub-zero temperatures and wait for better visibility to let them find their respective camps.

When a lull in the storm finally came, Groom knew he only had a small window to go for help. He left Weathers and four other climbers, all of whom were nearly unconscious, and returned to Camp Four for assistance. At this point, all involved were in a profoundly weakened state. It had been more than 27 hours since they began that day, and they had run out of bottled oxygen, food and water. Frostbitten, oxygen-starved and freezing to death, they were utterly spent and at the edge of their will to live.

Help returned a few hours later. Very late in the night, Boukreev rescued the three remaining Mountain Madness clients from the storm. He grimly concluded that Hall’s clients, Weathers and Yasuko Namba, a Japanese climber who made her seventh out of the Seven Summits, were already too near death-nearly frozen and unable to crawl or speak-to help.

In what was later described as a mountaineering miracle, Weathers managed to revive himself and-despite his cripplingly blurred vision, deadly frostbite and hands that were frozen to his wrists-stagger his way to the Camp Four tent the next afternoon. A day after that, he was escorted down the mountain to Camp One (19,800 ft./6,035 m) by a rescue team made up of climbers from other expeditions. Those present described that Weathers looked like a walking corpse.

Also in the region at this time was Guy Cotter, another Adventure Consultants guide, who was running an expedition on the adjacent Mount Pumori. Cotter had been in radio contact with Hall throughout the summit day, and when the storm hit, he quickly recognized the dire, life-threatening situation his longtime friend was in. The following morning, he hiked the short distance to Everest Base Camp (17,500 ft./5,534 m) to offer whatever assistance he could to the team.

Cotter attempted in vain to arrange for Hall’s rescue, but two Sherpas climbing up toward Hall were forced to turn back 350 ft. (106.7 m) below his position, exhausted and unable to continue. It was apparent that the rescue efforts and the storm had taken their toll on everyone. There was simply not enough able-bodied manpower to bring Hall down the mountain’s precipitous upper slopes, and all attempts to save him were abandoned. Finally, the beleaguered survivors on the South Col. wearily descended the mountain with the aid of their Sherpa companions.

Peach Weathers and longtime Kathmandu resident Lisa Choegyal worked with the U.S. Embassy to secure a Nepalese military helicopter to rescue Weather’s husband, Beck, and another climber from the top of the Icefall, at an altitude of 19,685 ft. (6,000 m). The rescue was heralded as one of the most daring ever conducted in the mountains of Nepal.

Weathers survived, but the storm claimed the lives of Hall, Fischer, Harris, Hansen and Namba, as well as three climbers from a group comprised of Indo-Tibetan Border Police-the first Indian team to reach the Summit from the North Col. (23,031 ft./7,020 m). At the time, it was the deadliest day of Mount Everest’s history.

A story of human endurance, resilience and unbridled ambition, the events recounted captivated the media around the clock and the world’s imagination. The tale of the brave survivors and lost adventurers is an extraordinarily relevant one that continues to resonate today.

 

The Call of the Mountain

The summit of Mount Everest, the mightiest mountain on Earth, is more than five miles above sea level, close to the cruising altitude of a 747 jumbo jet. Its fearsome and unforgiving peak has hosted thousands of daring climbers who have felt compelled to rise to the greatest challenge in mountaineering. The tragic events in May 1996 represented, at that time, the deadliest climb in Everest’s history. The world’s media were transfixed by this story of human endurance, which became the subject of best-selling books and documentaries, often with contradicting accounts of the events.

Working Title producer Tim Bevan first became interested in the story when he read Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” soon after it was published in 1997. Krakauer, a journalist who had been part of Rob Hall’s Adventure Consultants team on the mountain that May, had first documented the events for an article in Outside magazine. Bevan’s producing partner, Eric Fellner, shared his enthusiasm for the project; they discovered that Universal Pictures, with which Working Title has a long-term distribution agreement, coincidentally owned other properties relating to the events.

These included Beck Weathers’ “Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest,” from which the film draws inspiration, as well as the transcript of the final satellite phone conversation between Rob Hall and his wife, Jan Arnold. While the families of the climbers involved had remained mostly quiet about the tragic events over the years, they maintained an ongoing dialogue with the filmmakers, working toward an appropriate time for a feature-film reimagining of the events to be made.

Reflects Bevan: “To start with, we reached out to DAVID BREASHEARS, who had been on the mountain in 1996 and shot the seminal IMAX film about Everest. I discovered that he definitely had the best documents relating to it. It’s one of those stories, because there’s something so gripping about it-and the fact that so many people either have written or spoken accounts about what had happened up there-that it’s a bit like a Rubik’s Cube. Every way you jangle it, there’s another permutation that pops up. It was in danger of becoming one of those stories that would never be told because of that fact, but it was truly a passion project for Working Title.”

While it had looked as if the movie was going to be made earlier in the ’90s with director Stephen Daldry in charge, it wasn’t until 2011 that the elements finally started to come together to bring this story to the big screen. Blockbuster film screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy worked to deliver a deeply moving and powerful script, while advances in visual effects meant it would be possible to capture the jaw-dropping conditions that day without putting the cast or crew at risk.

It was at this point that Bevan and Fellner began communicating with director Baltasar Kormakur, who was in Los Angeles shooting Working Title’s action-thriller Contraband, which starred Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale. Says Nicky Kentish Barnes, who produces Everest along with Bevan and Fellner: “Baltasar was far and away the man for the job. He had a commitment to bring the story to life authentically.”

Critically acclaimed in his native Iceland, Kormakur is a director as skilled in action as in drama, and his roots provide him with more than a passing familiarity with cold weather. Kormakur’s films include 101 Reykjavik, A Little Trip to Heaven, Jar City and Inhale. After Contraband, he went on to direct The Deep, which eerily captures the tragic real-life story of the lone survivor of a capsized fishing boat off the frigid Icelandic coast. Shortlisted for the Academy Awards in 2012, the film showcases the director’s talents for tackling the harshest of nature’s elements.

When he was first asked to read Everest, Kormakur’s reaction was pure excitement. “Landscape and weather is at least the half of me,” he provides. “In Iceland, nature is never far away. Volcanos erupting and avalanches taking out villages on a regular basis remind you of Mother Nature’s might. Having traveled on horses through the highlands of Iceland for weeks and no civilization in sight, I always wanted to tell a story of people faced with the extremes of nature and that way reveal their characters in a subtle way-learning more and more who they are as they get deeper in. In my experience, you will never learn to know your friends better than in such conditions-what they are made of-especially when it gets real. So being offered to tell a unique story on the world’s tallest mountain was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I could not shy away from.”

Kormakur admits that this opportunity appealed to him on a profound level: “I wanted to make it in the most authentic way possible. To take people on a journey up Everest and show them the mountain in a way that hasn’t been possible until now and at the same time create intimacy between the characters that is all too rare in big studio films.” He pauses, believing this story is both one of achievement and a cautionary tale. “Everest is a metaphor for any kind of ambition, and anyone who has ambition needs to balance that with his or her family life. There’s the mountain and there’s home, and the distance between the two is immense, pulling in two opposite directions.”

The filmmaker was fascinated by the many who’ve attempted the climb, interested in the glory of the experience or desire to achieve a lifelong goal. He reflects: “You might ask, ‘Why do you need to climb Everest?’ and nobody can really answer that. But you might also ask, ‘Why do you need to live life? Why do you need to have a career?’ Even people who have a lot of money, they still need to have careers. So it’s one of these questions that is hard to answer.”

Kormakur immersed himself in discovering what happened that day on the world’s highest mountain, recognizing the immense challenges of the project, both emotionally and physically. “The story is so well-known and well-documented,” says Kormakur. “But there are many different versions, and they often contradict each other.”

As he worked with his fellow producers and with the writers, Kormakur insisted that they shape the film’s story in a way that respected all concerned. It was of paramount importance that they honor those eight people whose lives were lost on the mountain that May, and to tell a balanced story without looking to justify or criticize any of the decisions made before or after the ascent and descent.

To give a bit of context, delay-causing crowding and congestion have long been an issue for climbers on Everest; there were 34 climbers from multiple expeditions attempting to summit on that fateful day. But no one could have foreseen the sudden arrival of such a vicious storm after what had earlier been ideal conditions for standing on top of the world.

Co-producer Breashears has been working with Working Title on the project for more than a decade and served as a consultant, advising on climbing and filming in Nepal. When the 1996 tragedy unfolded, he was on the mountain co-directing and co-producing what would become the beloved 1998 IMAX film Everest. In turn, Breashears was able to instruct cast and crew in exactly what conditions were like. “Everyone associated with this film that I work with has been deeply concerned about its authenticity, and honoring the characters involved,” he says.

Also helping to translate these events to the screen is GUY COTTER, the Key Alpine Adviser on the project, who now runs Adventure Consultants and helped coordinate rescue efforts for his friend Rob Hall on the day he died. Cotter and Hall had climbed together since they were teenagers. “For us in the high-altitude mountain-guiding fraternity,” he says, “the events of 1996 taught us a lot. There were a lot of questions that we asked ourselves afterwards, about how we avoid this sort of thing happening again. I think as an industry, this enabled us to grow up, if you like.

“Rob was definitely at the peak of his game,” continues Cotter, “but it was very early in the development of high-altitude mountain guiding, and sometimes pioneers don’t always survive the discovery of the parameters of the environment that they’re in.”

Kormakur’s research and preparation for what he describes as “the hardest thing I’ve done in my life” began in earnest with his reading every book and document about the events that he could get his hands on. He had countless conversations with people who had climbed Everest, trying to understand the mind-set of a climber. He took a trip to Everest early in preproduction, then traveled to New Zealand to meet the families of those involved.

Kormakur reflects on what he learned: “I was incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to be on Everest, to get to travel, to get to be in a part of the world, which I honestly never thought I would. I always dreamt of Everest, but it wasn’t part of my journey.”

Rounding out the team of producers are Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson of Cross Creek Pictures, who last partnered with Working Title in 2013 to bring the extraordinary epic Rush to the big screen. “The production was an extraordinary collaboration on a massive scale, and we are proud of what we created,” says Oliver and Thompson of Cross Creek. “Hear the name Mount Everest and you’re transported to a place of adventure, admiration and profound respect-not only for the people who have conquered the mountain, but for the people whose lives were lost realizing that dream. This film delivers an intimate portrait of what it’s like to cling to life in the harshest conditions on the face of this planet, and Baltasar is one of the very few directors who can push the envelope far enough to capture on film the actual dangers and anxiety-ridden excitement of surviving at 30,000 feet.”

With the core production team in place, it was time to get moving with the casting process. This team would indeed find the perfect set of actors-an eclectic and supremely talented ensemble-who were up for the challenge of facing all the emotional and physical strain involved in telling the story of Everest in all its amazing detail.

 

Dreamers and Heroes: Casting the Climbers

Considering the lofty goals that Kormakur and his producers set for those who would be cast in Everest, they knew there was no better way to achieve them than to take the actors on that journey themselves.

The director explains what was important to him in looking for the ideal talent: “I needed the cast to face the elements and deal with their fears. To pull all this off it meant that there was no easy way out. To shoot in in the foothills of Everest in high altitude we had to trek up there ourselves.

Shooting -30 C in the Val Senales, 12 to14 hours a day for six weeks. Creating a giant freezer on stage so we could blow real snow on the actors. These are only few of the things we did to give it our all. But if you felt sorry for yourself, all you had to do was to remember the real people and what they went through in reality.” He reflects, “Ultimately, all this struggle wouldn’t be worth much if the story of Rob Hall and Jan, Beck, Doug, Scott Fischer, Anatoli and all the others was not handled in a truthful manner.”

Australian actor Jason Clarke, best known for his leading roles in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the award-winning Zero Dark Thirty, plays New Zealander Rob Hall, an incredibly well-regarded climber who discovered mountaineering while he was growing up near the Southern Alps on the South Island. In 1980, he reached his first Himalayan summit, the 6,856-meter Ama Dablam in Sola Khumbu, at the age of 19. In 1990, he summited Everest with his climbing partner, Gary Ball, and Sir Edmund Hillary’s son, Peter; the group gained national attention when they made a satellite-linked phone call from the peak-one that was broadcast live on New Zealand television.

Hall and Ball immediately put their entrepreneurial skills into raising sponsorship funds for a global tour to complete the “Seven Summits” challenge-scaling the highest peaks on each continent. They upped the ante by attempting the challenge within seven months. The pair succeeded with just hours to spare and became household names in New Zealand. They invested the profits from their adventures into setting up an international mountain-guiding business, Adventure Consultants, in 1992.

While to many amateur mountaineers the whole concept of marketable adventure was abhorrent, Hall believed the mountains were for everyone and if clients wanted to pay for expert leadership, he would provide it. Adventure Consultants quickly became a premier expedition-guiding company. Ball died of cerebral edema, a form of high altitude sickness, high on a mountain in Nepal in 1993, leaving Hall to run Adventure Consultants on his own. By 1996, Hall had successfully guided 39 climbers up to the top of Everest. Although the price of a guided summit attempt, tens of thousands of USD, was considerably more expensive than those offered by other expeditions, Hall’s reputation for reliability and safety attracted clients from all over the world.

Clarke gives us some insight into his character: “Rob had a great love for the mountains and the wild places on Earth. It is one thing to want to do it yourself, but quite another to want to share it and take other people. From what I’ve learned, Rob truly loved to take people, and to help them see what he saw and achieve their goals.”

Like so many, Clarke was keenly aware of the tragic events long before the filmmakers approached him to play Hall and was honored to take on the role. “I knew the story. I remember where I was when I heard it was happening, and because it unfolded over a number of days, it gave people time to think about it and imagine the full horror. The story is so affecting, and I had a real emotional connection to it.”

Kormakur, who was an actor early in his career, acknowledges that Hall is not a particularly easy character to play. “He was pretty conservative,” he says. “He was called ‘The Mayor of Base Camp,’ known for planning well and wanting to control things, and those qualities can be annoying. Where some actors might shy away from that to try and make the character more charming or sympathetic, Jason really took those qualities on, delved deeply into them, and cared deeply about portraying him as the man he was.”

The performer’s commitment to giving Hall his due extended to the intimate conversations that his character had with his wife, fellow climber Jan Arnold. Reflects the director: “Equally, Jason was able to portray so well how loving Rob was in his relationship with his wife, and the fatal decision he made with Doug Hansen on the mountain, which came from his goodness. The sweetness of his character comes through Jason’s portrayal.”

Once Clarke was on board he approached the role wholeheartedly, embracing the responsibilities that come with playing a real person; along with Kormakur and producer Bevan, he went to New Zealand to meet Hall’s widow, Jan, and their daughter, Sarah. This meeting was the real cornerstone for him. “It was quite extraordinary,” says Clarke. “We had two or three days together, and I’d never heard their side-their experience of it-and this was 17 years later. During those couple of days, we shared a lot, even though there was a lot of nervousness to begin with on their part.”

But as they talked, their relationship developed, and Clarke began to see how to face the challenge ahead of him. “It was the beginning of me trying to work out how I could play this guy and understanding my level of responsibility in terms of doing justice to it. It had become a much more personal thing to make sure that I understood these events, because it’s one of the great mysteries of Everest. Anybody who climbs anywhere in the world knows about it and has theories and opinions on what happened and why it happened,” he says.

Clarke’s preparation for the role included climbing with Cotter, who had taken over Adventure Consultants after Hall’s death and also serves as Key Alpine Advisor on this film. Clarke’s relationship with Cotter served as more than a simple instruction guide to climbing. “Guy was one of Rob’s best friends, and he’d known him and climbed with him for a long time,” says Clarke. “Finding a friendship with Guy, and finding a way to understand that New Zealand sense of humor, which is very different to Australia, really helped inform me.”

The actor continued climbing in the lead-up to the start of principal photography, learning everything he could about the technicalities involved and the equipment mountaineers carry. Once MARTIN HENDERSON, who plays Andy “Harold” Harris, was cast, they climbed together, everywhere from Ben Nevis in Scotland to the Tasman Glacier in New Zealand. It was important for both actors to understand the elements that would later be simulated in a studio, with wind machines and snow effects.

Clarke says wanted to feel what it’s like to be exposed to the elements for hours: “I wanted to rely totally on my gear and my own skills to get through it and to feel what it does to your mind. I knew there was a lot we would have to go through to get it right-either in a studio or certainly at lower altitudes than 29,000 ft.” Clarke also carefully studied photographs of Hall, listened to his radio interviews to get his accent right, and even stopped drinking coffee because the climbers were all tea drinkers.

Cotter was impressed by Clarke’s ownership of Hall’s character. “Jason was very protective of Rob’s credibility and his reputation,” Cotter says. “He wanted to make sure the film didn’t try and simplify the story for dramatic effect, and steer away from the real truth, because Jason felt particularly close to the character and did a great job of portraying Rob’s strengths and his approach to doing things.”

Academy Award -nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who has established himself as one of the finest actors of his generation-with an array of emotionally searing and physically challenging roles defining his body of work-plays Scott Fischer. Fischer was an American climber and guide, and the first American to summit 27,940-foot Lhotse, the fourth-highest mountain in the world.

Fischer grew up in Michigan and New Jersey, taking climbing courses after being inspired by a show he saw on television. Beginning in 1970, he climbed the world’s highest, most challenging peaks and introduced the intensity and the joy of the mountains to many others. As a climbing instructor and guide for more than 25 years, Fischer understood that the discovery and challenge of climbing could transform people’s lives.

In 1984, Fischer founded Mountain Madness, a service for guiding clients to the summits of the world’s highest mountains. He led a cleanup expedition in 1994 to Everest, reaching the summit for the first time. May 1996 marked his first commercial expedition leading others to the summit.

Fischer was known for his fun-loving approach to life, and he had a different guiding style than Hall. Gyllenhaal nevertheless approached the role, and the responsibility of tackling it, with just as much zeal as Clarke. “My interest in this movie has always been about the people who climbed Everest on this expedition and their reasons for doing it,” Gyllenhaal says. “I think the simple idea of climbing Mount Everest is exciting. But it’s each person’s reasoning for doing it that is truly fascinating. Everest begs the questions inside all of us: What do we want to accomplish in our lives? What gives our lives meaning? This mountain, literally or figuratively, asks that question to everyone. It’s a metaphor for so many things, and it is Mother Nature humbling us.”

Gyllenhaal discovered what many climbers before him had long known: “It’s not about getting to the top; it’s about community and the connection with the climbers around you. The summit is not always literal. It would seem to me that the real summit is the connection to the people with whom you are climbing. We don’t realize that we’ve summited already, in the relationships that we make. Sometimes, as in the case of this story, it’s too late before you realize that.”

Gyllenhaal appreciates the challenge of adapting and interpreting a real story without distorting its facts. “You’re tied to the facts,” he insists. “But at the same time, you need to bring your own truth to the situation. I think that all of us are trying to become these people, their essence, while staying true to what we believe.”

In researching the role, Gyllenhaal corresponded with Fischer’s children, coming to understand the tremendous respect the mountaineering community had for their father. Says the performer: “They talked about going to Nepal themselves, heading to the base of the mountain and meeting many of the people who knew their father. So often, the response from his children was one that was full of love toward their father-how much he listened, how fun he was, how loving he was. I think Scott’s attitude kept him very present and positive, and that attitude was contagious to those around him. He didn’t fear death, and it was the general appreciation of life-particularly when he was climbing-that made him such a great guy to be around.”

Kormakur believes Gyllenhaal shares a kind of spirit with Fischer. “For me it’s all about the energy,” he says. “His energy was different than Jason’s, which made the experience all the more enjoyable and more fun. Scott was a great climber also, but he definitely approached it differently than Rob, and Jake has nailed that.” Gyllenhaal was drawn to the contrast between the two men. “Scott believed Rob was a bit of a hand-holder,” notes the actor, “whereas Scott’s point of view was that people should find their own way. I liken it to different parenting techniques, in a way. One says, ‘Don’t touch the stove because you’ll get burned,’ and the other will let them get burned once so they’ll never touch the stove again.”

Although Gyllenhaal is firm in his belief that both approaches worked, he very much understood why the men had their own companies. “They were equally effective, given the fact that Rob and Scott were both extraordinary climbers, but it would have been hard for them to work together. Inevitably, they were going to clash in style, but both were wise, talented men.”

In the end, though, their mutual respect meant they did combine efforts to rescue their clients on that fateful day. “I think that’s what makes the movie so fascinating,” adds Gyllenhaal. “These two different techniques have to work together in order to get to the top of the mountain. We often think that our way is the only way, and yet when we’re tested the most, we have to adopt other people’s techniques to survive. That humbles us, and we realize that what we think was our way wasn’t the only way.” While coming directly from another project limited Gyllenhaal’s preparation time, he is naturally athletic and did find time to train for high-altitude exposure. He describes an experience with Josh Brolin, which gave him an inkling of the situation the climbers would have faced.

“We were in altitude simulator at 30,000 ft. for 10 minutes,” notes Gyllenhaal. “Josh and I decided to stay longer. We thought we could handle it, and we were feeling good. We were laughing and talking about the fact that we didn’t think it was so bad, and then, all of a sudden, we got out of the chamber and just felt sick. We went from laughing to immediately feeling low energy and sad. It was an incredible realization. We realized the power of being so high up and what that does to your mind. You’re not thinking the way you should be thinking, despite your best intentions, and so you are not acting the way you would in normal life. It became very clear how hard it is to survive at such a high altitude.”

Academy Award nominee Brolin, one of Hollywood’s top leading men, is known for challenging roles in both mainstream studio productions and thought-provoking independents. He plays Beck Weathers, the Texas pathologist who survived the expedition but lost his right arm, the fingers and thumb on his left hand and his nose to frostbite. He authored a book about his experience, on which the film draws, and continues to practice medicine and deliver motivational speeches.

For Brolin, the attraction to the project was the mountain itself: “When you read a script, you want to be moved,” notes the actor. “What I loved about Everest was that the great protagonist and antagonist was Everest itself. I like the idea of this immeasurable unknown. You go up there with great intentions-and maybe there’s a little hubris, a little escapism, a little inability to deal with family issues or personal issues or whatever it is-and you deal with something that’s so much grander than anything you could ever comprehend. Yet you don’t really know what that is until it consumes you.”

Kormakur appreciated Brolin’s complexity, noting: “Josh has a very serious personality, but at the same time he can be very funny and unpredictable. That part of him plays very strongly into this character. While it’s a harrowing story of what happened to Beck, Brolin brings certain lightness to him. He is a loud-talking Texas guy who likes cracking jokes. Having met him myself, that kind of dual personality was something I was very interested in.”

Kormakur admits that Brolin was his first choice for this role: “I was lucky that he wanted to do it, because you have to have that in you. You have to have lived a bit and have to have gone through things to have that in your vocabulary. He brought it all.”

Once Brolin was aboard, he too began climbing, scaling Mount Whitney and Mount Shasta, both in California as well as climbing on and around the Eiger in Switzerland with the late Dean Potter and the late Graham Hunt. He felt that this allowed him to discover what truly drives mountaineers. “I thought, ‘I will never do this again,’ and then I found out that’s the key to all these guys,” Brolin offers. “They’re in these situations and they say, ‘I’ll never do this again,’ and within an hour of being home recuperating, they end up turning around and looking for the next mountain. It’s an addiction of sorts.”

Interestingly, he notes that the extremes Weathers faced that day meant he was content not to go back again, and not just because of the injuries he suffered: “I get the feeling that he found a peace and tranquility after undertaking that expedition and maybe found something that he was looking for and didn’t need it any more. I can’t speak for him, but it was like he wasn’t drawn to go back.”

Kormakur agrees: “The way Beck describes it in his book is that he was depressed over a long time. He was looking for something different and started climbing mountains quite late. On that expedition, he realized that he just wants to get back home. He wants to fix those things, and he’s gone too far away from his family. In the end, he realizes he didn’t need to summit, because he’s already found what he’s looking for in his family.”

Throughout production, Brolin was stunned that Weathers survived against all the odds. “The thought of his family kept him alive,” surmises the actor. “It comes down to this very real element that’s totally unexplainable. It’s inexplicable how this guy survived as long as he did, exposed to 80-miles-an-hour winds and sub-zero temperatures for 18 hours. I will never understand it.”

Veteran actor John Hawkes, who has played some of the most complex characters and grittiest roles in cinema in the last couple of years-including his Oscar -nominated turn in Winter’s Bone, as an alluring cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene and most recently in the fascinating drama The Sessions-joined Everest as American postal worker Doug Hansen.

Hansen had climbed Everest in 1995 with Hall, but he had to turn back just a few hundred feet from the summit. He returned in 1996 even more eager to finally make it, and some reports suggest it was Hall’s desire to ensure that Hansen reached the summit this time that cost both men their lives.

Like his co-stars, Hawkes recognized the responsibility that comes with playing a real person. “It’s unique, and it brings an extra weight of responsibility to try to do right by that character’s family and friends,” Hawkes says. “You dig a little deeper in that respect. You learn a lot about the character and you have a script, and you have to somehow balance the two. All of us have tried to find what we can about the truth of these people and try to bring that as best we can to what we’re doing. Hopefully, we have done it well.”

Hawkes read extensively about Hansen’s life and had conversations with people who knew him. “He was an atypical member of the expedition in that he was a blue-collar guy, a postal worker,” notes Hawkes. “Rob Hall had actually given him a discount that year to come back and try again. He was, by all accounts, a really easygoing, likable man. A good climber, though he had some health problems that year, which slowed him up a good bit. But he was thought of as a great team member, a guy who liked people and who was fun to be around.”

With less information available on Hansen than the other characters in the research material, Kormakur had discussions with Hawkes about a carpenter friend of his that he thought might be quite like the Hansen they’d discovered. “By all accounts, Doug was a happy-go-lucky guy and very easy to talk to,” says Kormakur. “John is very meticulous and was very specific about what he wanted when he did research, and my friend became a bit of inspiration for the character of Doug.”

Michael Kelly, best known for his roles in films such as Changeling, Dawn of the Dead, Law Abiding Citizen, The Adjustment Bureau, Chronicle and Now You See Me, as well as for playing Doug Stamper on Netflix’s House of Cards, portrays American writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer.

Krakauer, a talented climber and journalist who joined the Adventure Consultants expedition that year to write about a guided ascent for Outside magazine, reached the summit that fateful May. Five weeks later, the author delivered a candid manuscript of his magazine article, later writing a book about the expedition titled “Into Thin Air.” Following the tragedy, Krakauer publicly criticized the commercialization of Mount Everest.

Kelly explains a bit about his character: “He was a great technical climber who obviously adapted well with the altitude. I love him as a writer, and to be able to play him was a real honor.” Embracing the role, Kelly says: “I read Jon’s books and researched him quite a bit. I tried to learn and understand as much as I could about him. I looked at interviews he did after the ’96 disaster, which really shed some light on him as a person during the actual expedition.”

In acknowledging the responsibility the actors had in playing real people, Kelly asked himself whether Krakauer’s presence as a journalist influenced any of the decisions made by the people he was writing about on the mountain. Krakauer had originally planned to climb with Mountain Madness and write about the group-tours industry, but he ended up climbing with Adventure Consultants instead. “I think both Rob and Scott were fully aware of a journalist being with them,” notes Kelly. “I have to ask myself: ‘Did that push these men to go a little further than they would’ve gone?’ Had Scott’s team made it and Rob’s team not made it, Jon might have written about that. It does beg the question.”

Japanese actress NAOKO MORI, best known as Toshiko Sato on the hit BBC Television series Torchwood, plays Yasuko Namba, famous in Japan for becoming the second Japanese woman to reach all of the Seven Summits, including Everest, where she died of exposure on her descent in 1996. Namba worked as a businesswoman in Tokyo for FedEx, but her mountaineering hobby took her all over the world. At 47 years old, she was the oldest woman to reach the Everest summit (until her record was later beaten by Polish climber Anna Czerwinska, who summited at the age of 50).

While Mori only vaguely remembered the events as they were reported, when she read the screenplay she made an immediate emotional connection. She picked up the script one evening while recovering from jet lag and planned to read just a couple of pages before going to sleep. “But I couldn’t stop reading it,” she recounts. “In fact, I couldn’t sleep after that. I was completely overwhelmed and disturbed by the whole thing. It had me from the start. It was so tragic but so inspiring at the same time and made me want to celebrate Yasuko’s life and her spirit of adventure and determination.”

Martin Henderson, a New Zealand actor who rocketed to international attention starring role opposite Naomi Watts in The Ring, plays Adventure Consultants guide Andy “Harold” Harris, who died during the dreadful events that unfolded that day on Everest. For Henderson, the film was an opportunity to offer some clarity as to what might have actually happened to Harris. Indeed, the circumstances of the guide’s death remain unknown.

“It was Harold’s first time guiding on Everest, and actually his first time ever guiding to that altitude, so it was a big deal for him,” Henderson explains. “By all accounts, he was a very eager, gregarious guy, a good teacher and a patient guide who was helpful to the clients. We’ve extrapolated on the idea that he went back up and tried to help Rob and spend a bit of time with him, and then ultimately, probably through hypothermic shock, stumbled off the mountain.”

Henderson met with Harris’ family and friends as part of his research for the role, and while he acknowledges the gravity of playing a real person, he is hopeful that the film acknowledges a broader responsibility. The performer notes: “What we’ve managed to make with this movie is not a film that points the finger, so much as a film that shows an event that is a chapter in the evolution of a human endeavor. As a species, we always want do the next thing. But in any human endeavor, there’s a point at which something goes wrong, and from there we learn, and that’s very tragic. But it’s also how we evolve. This event was a big moment in the history of Everest and of how people have learned to prevent things like it happening again.”

Henderson embraced the physical challenges climbing with Clarke in Scotland and New Zealand in preparation for the role and loved the opportunity to delve into the world of mountaineering-only getting a full appreciation for it when he found himself on the side of a mountain with Clarke. “We were standing on a mountaintop with just precipitous drops into oblivion,” he recalls. “You couldn’t see the bottom, and that feeling of anxiety and sheer terror was so overwhelming. With mountain climbing you feel the rush and the terror, but you can’t give in to the feeling in order to get where you need to go. You have to constantly fight with your emotions in order to stay present and make good decisions.”

Australian actor THOMAS M. WRIGHT, known for his work on the American television series The Bridge, plays Adventure Consultants guide Mike Groom, one of the world’s greatest “big” mountain climbers. In 1995, Groom became the fourth person ever to climb the world’s four highest mountains without the assistance of bottled oxygen, and in 1999, he successfully climbed Makalu, the last of the “big five”-the fifth-highest mountain in the world.

Wright has come to understand what drives climbers, not least of all through the relationship he formed with Groom. He says: “John Hawkes and I were having a conversation about why we were making the film, when David Breashears has already done so well in the documentary Storm Over Everest. I think it’s by virtue of the fact that with a feature film, you can take people into those moments and into those feelings. You can give them an impression of what it was like to be trapped out on the South Col. that night, to be negotiating those winds.”

Brought aboard the production to portray Guy Cotter was Sam Worthington, well-known for his powerful work in James Cameron’s Avatar. Now the CEO and leader of Adventure Consultants since Hall’s death, Cotter is a highly experienced guide who was climbing the nearby Pumori peak when events transpired on that fateful May day in 1996. Until the storm hit, Cotter had been in regular radio and visual contact with Hall’s team on Everest.

Because Cotter served as a key advisor on the film, Worthington was able to get to know him. “I’m not basing it on a carbon copy,” the performer says. “I’m not trying to do an impression of Guy. But it was helpful to garner what his feelings were on the day, as well as the sensibilities of the man and how he approaches his life and his job. He’s a very efficient man. He believes in structure.”

Worthington very much understands what compels people to climb these extraordinarily complex mountains. “I’m not as extreme as these guys are,” he notes, “But I can understand why, when people asked Hillary why he wanted to climb Everest, he said, ‘Because it’s there.’ I think a lot of people think like that.”

Naturally, Cotter found reliving the events of 1996 was a challenge. “It brings it back to me, and given it is now 20 years ago, I felt I’d already processed those events and moved on,” he reflects. “But it’s a story that’s so powerful and so worth telling, because it’s a lot about how people perform in extremes, and how they can unravel when pushed to the limit.”

During preproduction, Cotter trained all of the actors in climbing techniques and worked especially closely with the actors playing experienced mountaineers, so they would look the part on screen. He was extremely impressed by how much the cast took responsibility for the production. He commends: “I haven’t been involved in a project like this before, where I’ve seen the actors own the roles that they were playing to the point that they were very involved in the script and wanted to make sure that their character was portrayed correctly. They all recognized that they were playing real people, and not just some fictitious character.”

For supporting roles, the filmmakers cast several outstanding actresses, including Emily Watson as Base Camp Manager Helen Wilton and ELIZABETH DEBICKI as Base Camp doctor Caroline MacKenzie. Portraying Rob Hall’s wife, Jan Arnold, and Beck’s wife, Peach Weathers, are lauded performers Keira Knightley and Robin Wright.

Kormakur discusses his supporting performers: “It’s fantastic to be able to do a mountain movie where you can cast women as well. It’s not like you see in male-driven stories when they will try to shoehorn in the women; in this case there is no shoehorning. They are actually part of the story, and that’s the reality. The drama that was happening at Base Camp, and at home at the same time, is very much part of the story.”

When considering Kormakur, the cast unanimous believed that he was the right man to lead them to the summit. “I love working with Balt,” lauds Clarke. “He allowed me to bring my energy, and I’m obsessed with getting my ducks in a row and my facts straight. He was great at filtering that and moving me just to do it. He led the way, hiking up the Himalayas, and he’s absolutely the right guy for this.”

Gyllenhaal echoes his co-star’s commendation: “Baltasar likes to roll and wants us to experience the elements, and he pushes us in that way. I love that in making movies; getting as close as you can to the real thing is always fascinating. He’s relentless, driven, courageous and a bit crazy at times. There’s fearlessness to him, and at the same time, he’s incredibly sensitive and understanding.”

Hawkes believes that the director’s background makes him uniquely qualified to bring Everest to the screen. “He’s from Iceland, and he likes a challenge,” the performer sums. “We always joked that he’s a Viking. He’s formidable. He was tough and tireless through the very difficult process of filmmaking in extreme conditions.”

 

An Epic Journey

Of course, film shoots are always challenging, but work on Everest surpassed the exhaustions of most, as the cast and crew boarded an epic production that became an expedition of its own. With unit shoots in locations as far afield as Nepal, the Italian Alps, Cinecittà Studios in Rome and Pinewood Studios in the U.K., the challenges of filming this epic-adventure exceeded all expectations.

Most audiences are familiar with Mount Everest through documentaries, so it was critical for Kormakur that he steer clear of that cinema verite feel. The director knew that he wanted Everest be authentically and cinematically shot so that the cast and crew, as well as the audience, would comprehend the immensity of the mountain and be emotionally invested in the stories of these actual people. To that end, he would never ask his team to do anything he wouldn’t and tends to direct adjacent to camera-as close to the actors as possible-as opposed to sitting back in a tent at video village.

Kormakur’s right-hand man during the shoot was cinematographer Salvatore Totino, director Ron Howard’s collaborator on such blockbusters as The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, as well as the filmmaker’s more intimate work such as Frost/Nixon and Cinderella Man. Together, they were committed to lensing this sweeping epic in a manner that showed off the majesty of the mountain and the danger that was around every turn.

Because of the Herculean task of moving this much equipment during production, Totino did have some issues getting his equipment into various locations. As well, there was the conundrum of keeping the camera from freezing. Fortunately, warming tents for the ALEXA were readily available.

The film’s schedule was ambitious, beginning on January 14, 2014, with a reduced unit starting principal photography in Kathmandu. Scenes were shot at altitudes of 16,000 ft., giving the cast an acute sense of the challenges of life at high altitudes. “The altitude really hits you,” relays Clarke. “You hike in, and it gets you ready; acclimatization starts at Base Camp. As actors, we were blessed, traveling in and around the Himalayas, and we became a tight bunch.” Despite being more used to five-star hotels and luxury trailers, the Everest cast-and crew for that matter-quickly grasped the reality of life on the mountain as they trekked through the foothills.

Kormakur lists some of their issues: “The water was freezing; we didn’t have any heating in our accommodations. We slept with electric blankets. We could hardly get out of the bed to take a piss because it was so cold. The cast didn’t have assistants or help with much. They had to walk to set and carry all their own gear.”

Brolin recalls those trying times: “Balt wanted it as real as possible. We worked whatever hours they needed us to work so the conventional filming day-when you get a call time, go to a trailer to get your makeup done and so on-just didn’t exist. I remember lying in bed exhaling massive clouds of breath, not believing quite how cold I felt. But that lent to everything. As much as we complained, we liked it and it brought us together as a core group.”

Breashears, who has spent his life filming in unforgiving places with extreme environments, notes: “We all came together not having worked together before and were immediately thrown into this maelstrom of activity, out of the chaos of Kathmandu into the foothills of Everest. We had to deal with the challenges of a crew, many of whom had never been 15,000 ft. and higher. We didn’t have the luxury of slowing down as a trekking or climbing group does, as we were under tremendous pressure to get a lot of work done in a day.

“We had a minimum of 190 to 200 individual landings in the approach to Mount Everest, moving crew and huge sling loads of gear to remote mountain perches,” he continues. “Because we were doing that and not travelling on foot as much, it was more difficult to acclimatize. It totally eclipsed any other logistical effort with which I’ve been involved in the Himalayas.”

Producer Kentish Barnes sums up the crew’s experience: “It was brutal but a fantastic bonding experience for the team.”

From Nepal, the unit relocated to Val Senales in northern Italy to shoot exclusively on the Senales Glacier, with approximately 180 crew members from the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Italy, the U.S., Iceland and Nepal forming the unit. A challenging shoot was made even more difficult when the production was hit with one of the heaviest snowfalls in recorded history, which at times buried the set in meters of white powder.

Explains production designer Gary Freeman: “We would be erecting tents up a mountain, which were very difficult to access on 45-degree slopes. As Balt likes his extreme locations, we would come back two days later and the tents would be gone, buried underneath thick snow. My team did an amazing job just continuously digging the set out and rebuilding it.”

Due to fears of avalanches, which played havoc with the production schedule, the Senales Glacier was also closed for days at a time. When the glacier was open, cast, crew and equipment alike were transported by a combination of snowcat, snow quad, snowmobile and helicopter up the slopes, with some people choosing to go up in cable cars and chairlifts.

Breashears recalls those complex days: “It was a prime environment for the actors to learn what it’s like to be in a high, cold, windy environment. They were outside for eight or nine hours a day, sometimes 10, and occasionally we worked into the dark.”

The South Tyrol area of the Italian Alps provided a fantastic, dramatic landscape to double for Everest, though it did present the cast and crew with many challenges, including working at a high altitude with wind chill temperatures as low as -30 C.

Gyllenhaal walks us through this time: “Watching crew 12,000 ft. up on the mountain in a snowstorm moving equipment, Sherpas carrying huge fans on their backs, helicopters dropping pieces of camera, and all of us carrying things up there-setting lines 15 minutes before a take and bringing cameras up to different angles on different rocks-the organization of all that, along with the intensity of making this movie, was extraordinary.”

To contribute to the authenticity, production cast 11 real climbing Sherpas in the film. Indeed, they left their home country of Nepal for the first time to travel to the Italian Alps, and eventually to the Cinecittà and Pinewood studios. Breashears describes their reaction to Base Camp on the studio back lot: “They were just awestruck. That the Sherpas felt they were at Base Camp says everything about how good the work was.”

Producer Bevan reflects upon the Sherpas’ contribution to the production: “If the mountain belongs to anybody, it belongs to them. They are very much part of the mythology of Everest and, indeed, the climbing of Everest. They’re also our unsung heroes because they did the heavy lifts.”

The Sherpas helped to complete the design of the set by arranging the kitchen as they would at the actual Base Camp. They even went in there to make their own meals when the production worked late and they had grown weary of craft services. It was not uncommon to find them cooking dal bot, a lentil stew with rice, a typical Sherpa dish.

From there, the production moved to Pinewood Studios in London, where the design team had re-created many familiar sights from the face of Everest, including the Khumbu Icefall, the South Col. and the summit, on the famous 007 Stage. Shooting these segments in a controlled environment was essential, allowing Kormakur to achieve the shots he wanted without placing any of the actors or crew in danger.

Creating costumes for the cast wasn’t as simple as a trip to the nearest outdoor-gear store. The events of the story had occurred nearly 20 years ago, and technology has moved swiftly in the field of mountaineering clothing.

Costume designer Guy Speranza describes three levels: a casual outfit; one that would have been worn from Base Camp to Camp Three (24,500 ft./7,468m); and gear for the summit, which involved thick down suits. “That was our biggest challenge,” notes Speranza. “We had to find period down suits that were available in many multiples, because we have so many stunts and stages, and just so many individual characters.”

Another consideration was warmth, or rather, overheating. While many scenes were shot on location and at altitude, the 007 Stage and Pinewood Studios served as stand-ins for the scenes with higher altitudes (i.e., higher up on the Khumbu Icefall, the South Col. and the summit). Down suits meant for 29,000 ft. would have been far too warm for the actors to use practically on the room-temperature soundstage. “In the end, we pretty much created the suits ourselves,” says Speranza. “We gave each actor their own color, so we could instantly recognize who we’re looking at, even when they’re wearing oxygen masks, goggles and hats.”

The 2014 climbing season on Everest kicked off as the film neared completion. But on April 18, tragedy struck again when 16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche. A massive piece of glacier sheared away from the mountain along a treacherous section of constantly shifting ice and crevasses known as the Khumbu Icefall, forcing an unprecedented shutdown of the world’s highest peak.

The avalanche became the deadliest disaster in history on the world’s highest mountain. At the time, there was a second unit crew at Everest Base Camp that was acclimatizing in preparation for their ascent to shoot plates for the film. Fortunately, none of these crew members were injured. This latest tragedy underscored the potential for loss and devastation faced by those who attempt to understand this mountain…and just how at her mercy we truly are.

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