This film was a year in the making.
I met Dee while filming a short piece for local coaching/fitness company Wy’east Wolfpack. Her ability to persevere and her drive to pursue triathlon racing so soon after having had her accident (only 2 years after the accident at that time) really inspired me.
A few weeks after filming I got to thinking: Would Dee be interested in climbing Mount Hood… Oregon’s highest mountain peak? And if so, could I film her doing that? So I called her up and she was immediately stoked about it and jumped on board.
I then contacted a local Portland outdoor supplier, The Mountain Shop, with the idea and they happily agreed to help supply Dee with any equipment she needed to get up the mountain.
Next, all I had to do was put together a production team and a climbing team. The production team consisted of Corina Burke and Ethan Burke, a producer and cinematographer who I know from my university days. The climbing team included Theresa Silveyra (an enthusiastic climber, runner, adventurer who I had summited Hood with before) and Mack Robertson.
The original plan was to film only the climb. However, as we talked through the script and story, we began to see the importance of showing Dee outside of the mountaineering realm and in her day-to-day life as an amputee.
I put a lot of consideration into how we would shoot it: Should we do lots of slow-motion? Pack it full of interviews? Have super inspirational music?
No, I wanted it to feel raw and real. The film “The Wrestler” has always stood out to me…how it cuts deep into our emotions without over-embellishing itself, so I wanted to mirror that following from behind, raw sound, intimate moments, fly on the wall feel. In practice, that “look” ended up being a fixed 35mm lens, shot nearly wide-open at F1.4, and mostly handheld at 4K 24fps.
Going into filming, we shot in Dee’s home, on public transportation, at the public pool, around a public track, in the Columbia River, and in the Mount Hood National Forest including on Mount Hood. Our experienced producer, Corina Burke, was able to take care of all of the little details, permits and sign-offs, allowing me to focus on directing and shooting.
As we approached filming on Mount Hood, we went into it not knowing how Dee would fare. Would it be too difficult for her, or would she make it up alright? However it was done, we wanted to do it as safely and prepared as possible. Thankfully, lead by Theresa Silveyra, we had had the opportunity to train a bit beforehand.
On a particularly snowy day a few weeks before the real climb, Dee learned proper use of crampons, how to hike on ice, and how to use an ice axe correctly. We also practiced various self-arrest techniques (if you are falling, stopping yourself from sliding out of control and being injured or killed). It was a fun day out and Dee, along with the crew, did a really great job in the training. We felt a lot more confident going into the actual climb in a few weeks.
Then we climbed Mount Hood. You’ll have to watch the film to know what happened next…
After the climb, we knew we needed a bit more content to really round out the film. Dee was running a triathlon in a couple months time and we thought that was a great opportunity to capture Dee in a different element. I had prior arrangements on the day of the triathlon, so couldn’t make it there to film. But Ethan Burke was able to step up and do a fantastic job of filming Dee throughout the race.
As we had no funding for the film, everyone was donating their personal time and resources. This meant that paying jobs took priority, and so I was only able to work on editing the film in my free time. Additionally, we were waiting for Dee’s court case to settle (still pending 3 years after the accident). Once things were finally cleared (and she won the case) we could continue forward with editing.
In the editing room, the film went through a few different renditions. In the early stages I had made it completely black and white, but that had felt very solemn and morose. We didn’t want the film to be completely depressing, so I shifted it to color and the film continued to improve through each round of edits. Finally in early January, nearly a year after I had initially approached Dee with the project, we were ready to premiere the film.
In February, the premiere at The Mountain Shop was a fun time with friends and family packing the place. After the film we had a great Q & A / discussion time with a guest panel including Dee, myself, Jono Lewis from Hanger, and Andrew Jirik from Why Racing.
We’re extremely proud of the film, thankful for Dee’s openness, and excited to continue sharing her story with the world!