Rex Pemberton: How To Make a Living as an Extreme Athlete
How exactly do extreme adventure athletes make a living? Through sponsors. And how do they get those sponsors? By providing something in return—usually some form of compelling content, like thrilling adventure films, or interesting articles about their trips. “I make a living from extreme sports, so filming is everything these days,” says Rex Pemberton. You name an extreme sport, he’s into it—BASE jumping, wingsuit flying, climbing, extreme skiing—and he’s got an enviable list of sponsors supporting him, from The North Face to Australian printing company Heidelberg.
But Pemberton’s sponsors didn’t just appear magically overnight, even though he was the youngest Australian to climb the Seven Summits. He first had to gain their attention, and then give them some sort of value in return for their help. “You need to film to get exposure, exposure brings sponsors, sponsors allow you to buy food and continue living the lifestyle you have chosen!” he says.
Pemberton first became involved with Adventure Film School in 2010, joining an expedition to the Himalayan peak Lobuche with 11 wounded veterans and blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer to shoot the film High Ground. “After the expedition [director] Michael Brown and I became good friends and I have been involved with the school since,” he says. Now, he’s on the instructor side, and loves teaching something he’s passionate about.
“It came naturally, the more I progressed as an outdoor athlete the more demand there was to film my climbs and projects for sponsors,” he says. “I started filming my climbing and fell in love with outdoor cinematography and the stories you can tell by capturing magic moments.”
For the past 18 months, Pemberton’s been working on a rigid skydiving wing called the Xwing project. And, of course, he produced a short film about it, which you can check out here.
We caught up with Pemberton to pick his brain for advice for aspiring adventure filmmakers—and get the scoop on exactly how extreme he really is. Here’s what he said:
For me the biggest lesson was all about planning the film correctly and then capturing the story in the right way. So many times we hit start on the recording not really knowing or understanding why we are shooting that specific shot. The school taught me to be purposeful with my filming, which helps me speed up my post-production.
Go and take a film course. If you’re into outdoor filming, the Adventure Film School is certainly the best course money can buy. I would say you don’t need the most amazing camera and lens, you don’t need the most expensive tripod to shoot great stuff.
Follow your heart and passion for the subject. Look at unique and different angles to capture the story and have fun in the process.
Film work is hard especially in the outdoor environments. You carry twice as much gear and have to move twice as fast as your subjects. Expect it, accept it and then have fun doing it. The reward of telling a story from your adventure is well worth it.
The craziest thing I’ve ever done to get a shot? Jump off the North Face of the Eiger in a wingsuit to film my wife flying down a mountain. We actually do it on a regular basis, but I still think it’s crazy! Crazy cool!
I was afraid of heights as a kid. When I stood on an edge, I would freeze up and get really nervous. Now I hang off El Cap in Yosemite, BASE jump off mountains in Switzerland and love that tingly toes nervous feeling of standing on an edge!
Check out some of his other work: