Danny Schmidt is an award winning shooter who  has worked with the National Science Foundation, PBS, NatGeo, and Christi Kuhn of the TRUST Foundation under ColorBurn Productions. Danny has also covered a wide array of social ecological issues, some of which can be seen by visiting his Vimeo channel.

He shot the film on an FS100 in extreme and low light conditions using a shoulder rig, steadicam and a variety of ikan on-camera lights. Finding Traction is scheduled to air on Montana and Vermont PBS stations in mid 2013. 

It’s August 14 at 10pm and we are standing at the intersection of State Road 17 and the Long Trail in Vermont’s Green Mountains, at a place locals call App Gap.  This is one of several dozen intersections where the Long Trail meets civilization over the course of it’s circuitous 273-mile route from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts state-line, and will be the 4th time we will have seen Nikki Kimball in two days.

Just over two years ago, Kimball, a North Face ultra-marathon runner and Vermont native, conceived of a project to run the length of the trail at a record setting pace of 4.5 days.  It is a feat few people would attempt–even those sporty, overachieving runners–who breeze past the rest of us on our local walking trails.  But for Nikki, whose accolades include 3-time ultra-runner of the year and 3-time Western States 100 champion, this latest mountain running project is certainly within her grasp.  Though she certainly didn’t expect it to be easy, anyone on Nikki’s 6-person Long Trail support team will tell you that her ability to put her head down and keep going is nothing short of super human.

Finding Traction Trailer from Partnership Productions on Vimeo.

As word of Nikki’s plan reached our team of filmmakers back in 2011, we knew that the Long Trail project would provide an amazing lens to examine the strange, unknown world of ultra-running.

We began shooting in Bozeman, Montana where Nikki lives and works as a physical therapist, and a place where the confluence of big skies and big mountains provides a stunning backdrop to almost anything you point your camera at.

Through a combination of steadicam, verite coverage of race events, and intimate interviews with Nikki and her team we felt prepared to tackle the Long Trail in Vermont.

We’re from Montana – we’re used to thin air, rough trails, and changing weather.  But the adventure that lay ahead in the wet, steep New England mountains as we tried to keep up with Nikki’s feverish pace, was nothing we could have prepared for.

Standing on the side of the road with our cameras ready to go and Ikan LEDs ready to fire up, we waited anxiously for the sign of 2 headlamps, Nikki’s and her pacer’s, to emerge from the woods.

Our production team of 5 was split roughly into two groups.  One crew would hike into the woods to capture Nikki on the trail as she neared an intersection.  Another crew was embedded with her support team documenting the behind-the-scenes nerves and preparation of new shoes, blister tape, and energy refuel – a strange combination of high-end sports supplements, cold cheese burgers, and half melted pints of Ben and Jerry’s.

Nikki’s plan was to run nearly 20 hours a day over the course of the week which meant we would need some very reliable lights.

As we faced obvious power restrictions, we knew that the color-accurate Ikan battery-powered LEDs would be just the ticket to filming in the dark woods and back roads of Vermont’s Green Mountain Forest.

For 5 nights we put these lights to the test – the ID500, iLED312, and iLED120 – and they all performed wonderfully.

As is often the case, our aspirations for the film greatly exceeded our budget but thanks to the support of IKAN we were able to create stunning imagery of Nikki’s Long Trail attempt.

I would recommend these lights for a production of any size and scope.

Danny Schmidt, DP

Finding Traction

…and for some backstory:

Here’s a quote I received from Danny mid-shoot:

“These lights are absolutely killing it out here.  Long battery life, super bright, lightweight, and perfect for a documentary production of which 1/2 the shooting takes place in the dark. ”

One week later…

“Those lights saved us on production this week.  We spent so much time filming at night and trying to light up the exchange areas on the trails and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Another week later:

Nikki Runs Along Camel’s Hump Summit from Partnership Productions on Vimeo.

Danny is currently working with Terra: the Nature of our World. From their website:

TERRA: The Nature of Our World is the pre­em­i­nent sci­ence and nat­ural his­tory pod­cast series that explores the nat­ural con­nec­tions that pro­pel life on Earth. Over­seen by grad­u­ate stu­dents in the MFA in Sci­ence and Nat­ural His­tory Film­mak­ing Pro­gram at Mon­tana State Uni­ver­sity, TERRA dis­trib­utes inde­pen­dently pro­duced sci­ence, nature, and envi­ron­men­tal films. We are proud to bring you these unique sto­ries from around the globe that cel­e­brate the won­ders of the nat­ural world.”

You can email Danny at Danny[at]lifeonterra.org or check out his Vimeo.