A Conversation on Planning (and Inspiration).

I feel compelled to share with you my latest documentary short film in the series I’ve been commissioned to create for Russell Investments. This particular piece is about planning–a topic that bridges my client to the rest of the world’s day to day endeavors–but it might as well be about inspiration. That’s the primary reason I want to share it here… Not for the commercial message, but because Helen Thayer is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.

She began climbing mountains in New Zealand with Sir Edmund Hillary (first man to summit Everest) at age 9. She solo walked to the north pole at age 50. She has walked thousands of miles across numerous deserts, most notably the Gobi Desert in China, when she was 60 . She has walked across Antarctica. She has lived with wolves in the Yukon for a year. She was a national champion in track & field and luge. She has represented 3 countries in international competition. It came up rather casually that she’s summitted Mt. Rainier more than 20 times. And she most recently celebrated her 70th birthday by kayaking the Amazon River. Oh, and she’s really coming into her own now as a National Geographic photographer. She’s 72 now and she’s showing no signs of any real slowing down.

You’ll see a few shots in the video of her snowshoeing along a snow-capped ridge. I’m buzzing over her shooting out of the helicopter. Immediately following the shots you see, a storm blew in and we had to land and pluck her from the ridge. I’ll never forget this brief moment… we set the chopper down atop the peak…”We gotta get out of here,” I belted under the roar of the rotors. I explained that we were in an emergency situation an that we needed to get out of there immediately. She gave me a wink, and asked if I could leave her up there and come pick her up in a few days time after she’d had some time to look around a bit more. She said to me, as serious as a heart attack, “I’ve got plenty of food and water and I quite like it up here…” I’ll never forget it.

[See the first two documentary shorts I created for the project here. And the ‘making of’ video which features the RED one camera and Nikon D3s camera here.]

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tony s says:

i glad i saw that.

karl bratby says:

inspirational stuff…

Game Critic says:

The beginning is just breath taking and this women really inspires me.

MCJ says:

This is one of your best short films yet. I loved the detail in the closeup shots, especially the one toward the end with feeding the llama. Excellent job, Chase. And thank you for sharing it with us. Cheers.

Anthony says:

As many others have said, thanks for sharing this. Have already re-shared it with my own mother who is in need of a little inspiration like this. Cheers.

Richard says:

Thank you Chase – this helped me allot – more than you can imagine. This has given me a new meaning to life and would enjoy meeting her some day. Not to put to fine a point on it, but you have helped me too with photography. Thanks to both of you. Regards, Richard

Omer Faragi says:

Always great to see people who can see their own goals and targets crystal clear!!
thanks for sharing Chase :)

Todd says:

Just had my first big break with a branding firm. They want to do a “talking head” segment, much like what you’ve done here. Less personal story and more financial stability talk. 3 minutes max per person. I am scrambling to put together a bid to account for all the unknowns and equipment I need for video. I will use either a pair of D300s or D3s. Sound is just as important as well, so I am having to cover the bases on mic equipment too.

A super long reach, but are there any quick bullet points/lessons learned that you would expound as critical information that you’ve learned and thought were vital when dealing with the video side of things? Whatever tidbits would be amazing.



Ajani says:

Once again.. impressive and inspiring work.

Well done.

Chase says:

@grady: it’s simply called inertia… ;)

Michael Nguyen says:

” A problem is only a problem until it’s solved! ”

Loved that!!!!

Joe Federer says:

Great work – well ‘planned’ to every detail, it seems. Thanks for sharing.

Alexandra says:

Loving this post :) Very inspiring.

Larry says:

As an old guy hitting 50 this year, this is an important and motivating post. Thanks for bringing Helen to the attention of your readers.


Well done Chase,
I really like how rich the b/w looks. How did you end up working with Russell, or any large company for that matter? Are you still out knocking on doors or do they just come to you?


Thank you Chase for this post. I can see why you are inspired by Helen. Her planning, approach and ability to think through problems has allowed her to minimize risk and push the limits of what is possible in her own life. A lesson we can all learn as human beings and photographers.

Dov says:

Cool!!!! Let’s some great behind the scene footage!!

Howard Haby says:

Wow. That was great. Very inspirational. Beautiful video.

Emma says:

Thanks Chase.
My dad died just 2 weeks ago, its been tough, but listening/watching Helen has really helped me. A beautiful film thank you.

Greg says:

Really inspring… It reminds me of an inspiring Mallory & Irvine tribute vid. (They climbed Everest in 1924) check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y0dRYjH7fE

Joseph from Pittsburgh says:

Incredible! It was great to put a face to the woman I remember listening to in a Rick Steve podcast interview. I really enjoyed the video; especially the black and white, and how the story went very well with the visual editing. Nice work Chase!

Dan says:

I’m not sure about some of it to be honest. Perhaps I need to see it in context to the broader group of films to come (I assume its a series). I dont think its a hugely effective piece of communication (in terms of its commercial purpose).

The cinematography is perfect (with the exception of the shot where you ‘split lit’ her face -not something I would choose to do to a woman in her 70s). I guess my main beef is ultimately with the directing (possibly the piece is a bit too long and there is no ‘progression’ of pace in the underlying message.

I think the selection of the musical score is the weakest element here. Obviously this concept has been done many times before (concepts of financial wealth creation related to real life) therefor the bar is set quite high.

If it were me I’d cut it to 3 minutes tops and re work the music score (something with more direction (yet still maintaining that timeless/traditional/elegant feel you wish to convey).

You also need to convey more emotion. Its important for consumers to see laughter and enjoyment (even when you are communicating such dull concepts as theories of financial instruments).

Overall though its still high class work and impressive visually. You need to be brutal though in your analysis to ensure it is effective communication. The key points I would contest at this point in time would be the length of the piece and the music score. Good luck with the project.

I can see why Dan may have found it a bit long. It comes in in between that three and ten minute mark which is hard for the “average” viewer to hold onto. More a problem with the American attention span than anything else.

Personally, I found myself so captivated by how visually striking every shot was and how inspirational she is I was left wanting more. I loved it and wish you’d been financed to expand this into a full mini documentary.

Wow… amazing woman and an amazing video Chase!

Thanks for sharing!

Jack Pope says:

Awesome! I love the shots with the animals- both feeding and walking.
Just realized you switched to wordpress and remembered Dartanyon’s “did you notice” tweet… Now I get it

sarah says:

wow. nicely done.

Wayne says:

Thanks for sharing this – further inspiration to overcome the tyranny of “or”!!

Jason says:

How profound that most of us in our complacency fail to see life as something to be lived, not to be a spectator. I for one have been moved by Helen’s story, and I applaud Chase and his team for bringing it artfully to our attention. I am deeply humbled and plan to “never retire from life”. Thank you Chase.

Eric Naslund says:

Really nice work, guys! Good emotional content and heart-felt, true message. Russell Investments should continue to thank you for such great work. Love to see a BTS, but if not in the cards, no worries.

Thanks again, Chase, for continuing to inspire!


Anonymous says:

THIS was so wonderful – And I LOVE the one on glassblowing because I can relate! Beautiful work!

Eric says:

Great video, Helen Thayer is an inspiration for all.

Brilliant,, what a amazing woman. 72 years of age,,, and no sign of giving up. Just awe inspiring.

Very well put together Chase.


Howard J says:

Great video Chase! Love Helen Thayer, she’s so interesting and inspiring. This past January she visited Utah and gave a lecture that was broadcast on a local NPR station talking about her Polar trek, it’s free to download the entire audio recording here: http://kcpw.org/blog/local-news/2010-01-20/global-trekker-helen-thayer-opens-2010-nature-of-things-lecture-series/

Jill Rosell says:

Thanks for sharing Chase. I am actually a Kiwi myself living in Bend, Oregon. I did not know of Helen till now. They say life begins at 40 but I guess I could change that till later now!
I enjoyed watching your podcasts of your photo shoot in NZ.
Keep sharing.


Krystal Kerr says:

Wow, what an amazing and inspiring woman!

Wow. Chase you’ve topped the series by far. Thank you so much for letting the world here these peoples stories. The technical aspects of this piece are jaw dropping, as usual, but the story telling really drove it home this time, more then others. Yet another Amazing gift you have given us.



gregorylent says:

turns hokey with the “planning” talk .. could have done that with a lighter hand ..

Anonymous says:

Great, very nice. Thanks for saharing. Lucas _From Argentina

Mike Curry says:

Woah….. Incredible and inspiring!


Jeff Caven says:

Excellent work Chase. Inspiring. Helen Thayer is an amazing woman, Thanks for sharing! Cheers.

Gerry Kong says:

thanks Chase for the sharing. Really inspiring!

David says:

Man, I feel like a lazy sack of crap compared to that woman.

Even her Mom at 91 looks ready to crush out an expedition.

Adam says:

Thanks Chase – great inspiration for a Wednesday at the office. Helen reminds me of my grandmother who turns 90 in June and hasn’t stopped. Great as always.

Dan says:

Very cool..

Joshua says:

This is the best one yet – in my opinion.
I love the black and white (great for the snow scenes) and the quasi-slow-motion feel you used for the voice overs. I think that gave it a very nice methodical, well-though out feeling to the overall piece that reflects the subject matter very well.

It’s people like Helen that show us all that there really are far fewer limits to ourselves than we think.

Great job, and thanks for sharing this one!


antwerpenR says:

Thanks for sharing – inspirational and thought provoking – R

David says:

thank you, Sir Chase!

Mark says:

This is awesome. Thanks for sharing, Chase.

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