AFS Instructor and Founder, Michael Brown shared some of his insights gained throughout his filmmaking career, during his presentation at the PIX Conference in Seattle, WA in the beginning of October. Michael creates a positive impact through photography and film and does a wonderful job of demonstrating that not only in his career, but other aspects of his life. As a high alpinist climber and cinematographer, Michael’s career has lead him in many directions and allowed him to experience multiple life changing trips. It’s with the footage and the stories of his events that you will get a glimpse of what it may have been like to climb Mt. Everest. With the accumulation of successful summits, group led trips, & unfortunate devastating accidents, there seems to be a deep sense of reflection after each journey.
What we love about Michael, and especially this presentation, are the humble and realistic truths to not only summiting the highest mountains in the world, but also to conveying the stories of other people’s life-changing experiences through a medium in which everyone can appreciate.
For me, real satisfaction comes not from climbing to the top of Mt. Everest, but to be there with a friend who is blind, who you helped get there. That stays with you, because happiness fades, but that type of satisfaction stays with you for a long time.
He carries us along with him through some career highs and lows of his most talked-about trips. Although it seems like there is no soil or adventure Michael wouldn’t pursue, he demonstrates how certain moments or events in his career have dramatically changed the outlook of his future.
It was very extreme and cutting edge, and I was always looking for bigger and bigger risks myself.
In that process I learned a very big lesson that changed my career direction forever.
Maybe these aspirations for bigger and bigger risks make adventure filmmakers like Michael so successful. It’s not only risks that can effect you personally, but can effect or jeopardize your career. In Michael’s case, the fork in the road or the shift of vision within his career was after a risky attempt, not on Mt. Everest, but another peak that is considered even more difficult to climb than Everest.
So why do we keep going back to the mountains? I know for me it’s a place of solace. The one fear that I have, maybe more than death, is the fear of loosing the ability to feel what I can only feel in the high mountains, in that sacred place. The tragedy on Shishapangma really changed how I felt about what I was doing. The adrenaline rushes weren’t going to cut it anymore, and I found myself gravitating toward making films that included an element of the human spirit.
Michael’s itinerary has allowed him to shoot in various National Parks and document iconic climbing routes around the world. Similarly, important to those places, are the people and athletes that go with him into these beautiful places. We’d say that these type of places and people are where Michael really excels and translates his comfort, vision, and hard work into collaborative works of art.
For me this is the perfect kind of expedition adventure, where I can be hanging on the wall- three thousand feet straight up on El Cap in Yosemite looking straight down at Kelly. For me that is my ideal place to be. Knowing that also we’re telling a story that can go back home, and for Kelly, about sharing the life saving gift of organ donation.
There may be a heightened sense of awareness after diving deeply into others’ stories. Imagine that your job relied on the ability to depict someone else’s truth, vulnerability, and deepest secrets: this is no easy task. As a professional, Michael has always pushed the boundaries, and he doesn’t stop at that. He continues to go deeper as the stories unfold and even continues to ask questions to better himself and how he is contributing toward the greater good.
Showing up and being psyched to work hard, makes things happen.
Even the most successful people have their bad days. That inner drive to create and explore can be lost when you’ve exceeded your limit. For many hitting a low translates to failure, but for others, hitting a low is an opportunity to change or start fresh in a new direction. For Michael, this new direction after lifting from the fog was an unexpected miracle.
Something unexpected happened as we were making this film about veterans. Suddenly this film became much bigger than I had ever done before, the pressure was supper intense. It was a lot, and destroying my health. It was a downhill spiral. And then, I met a magical person named Julia.
Julia had really saved my life – after being so deeply into this film, she pulled me back from the edge, and helped me see there was still a big world out there not just this movie I was trying to finish.
Fully immersed in his own story, Michael not only takes the lessons he’s learned throughout his filmmaking career with him, but is eager to share them with his family and the upcoming generation of creatives and adventurers.
I think about what lessons I want to give my own kids now, from my own career, it’s about looking for satisfaction from places inside yourself, rather than trying to find it from awards or what the outside world might give to you. To also be willing to take risks for other people, I hope they can take those things into their own lives.
Michael finished his talk with a challenge for all of you.
Think of someone you’d love to see succeed, and think about what risk you can take to help them, nothing big or heroic, so someone else can succeed.
Watch Michael’s live presentation from the Pix Conference Here.