Interviewing an Artist: Elina Osborne on her PCT Film Experience
It is no secret that thru-hiking is good for the soul, but some people find that a months-long sojourn in the wilderness also does wonders for their creative sides. Year after year, hikers turn their adventures into art, songs, poetry, paintings, sculptures, videos, and more. Recently, one such creator is garnering well-deserved attention for her video series recapturing her hiking experience in exemplary fashion.
Since Elina Osborne (aka Tip-Tap) successfully completed her NOBO attempt on the PCT in September 2019, she has been editing and publishing “chapters” of her journey onto YouTube. One of her first videos, released in November 2019, has already fetched over 200,000 views. The 16-minute short film serves as a kickoff to her PCT series, providing an overview of her hike and what viewers can expect to enjoy in the coming videos.
I chatted with Elina to learn more about her filming background, what led her to the PCT, how her filming impacted her hike, and what advice she would give to future hikers who wish to document their journeys.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is your hiking background? How did you get to the PCT?
I think it’s a natural thing to be interested in hiking when you grow up in New Zealand. I’ve grown up doing day hikes and a more casual approach to hiking, which has been always been an interest of mine, and a passion. Then as I got older, I started doing some more multiday hikes and continued to enjoy it.
The first time I ever heard about thru-hiking and long trails was when I read the book Wild. I had no idea (trails like this) existed and that people actually did it. Then years down the track, I got to a point where I was like, “Hey, remember that crazy idea…”
In 2017 I actually lived in the States and worked there for just over 13 months. I came back to New Zealand for a year and was working, wasn’t fulfilled, ended a relationship, and I got to a point where I (wanted) to go do something for myself. Then that idea (of hiking the PCT) popped back into my head and I couldn’t let it go.
What is your background in film?
I’ve always been interested in filming—when I got to university I decided to study video production. Then I minored in digital media, which focuses more on back-end, aftereffects, motion graphics, and that kind of thing. In my third year, we were given the opportunity to either direct or produce a short film or a documentary, and I really wanted to direct a short doc. I started at an edu-tech company, editing their videos. I went over to the US to Harvard, Yale, Brown, meeting students, filming them, editing these videos for (the company’s) YouTube channel.
I quit that job and started working for the New Zealand Police when I got back to New Zealand. It was a new role and they didn’t have a job description, but they said, “Bring your skill set. What can you do?” So I launched a YouTube channel for them. I did a very similar thing where I was filming “a day in the life” of different roles within the police and built their YouTube channel. Mainly I was just curious about what people did. That’s something that I always base videos on: what am I curious about; I’ll go film that.
Did you know you wanted to film your PCT experience before you started hiking? If so, did you know what that project was going to look like?
Having a camera in my hand is such an extension of me that I would have regretted it completely if I didn’t. I wanted my focus to be on hiking, but I also wanted to be able to capture it without hindering my experience. That was why my biggest question was what camera to take: If I take a really big camera, then it might make my experience less enjoyable because I’d be carrying something heavier.
Did you know what kind of project you wanted to create at the beginning, or did you figure that out as you went?
I knew I wanted to interview people, because I felt like the most interesting thing out there was going to be the people, but I had no idea what the storyline was going to be. It actually stressed me out a little bit, but then after a couple of days I realized it’ll come out the way it’s meant to come out, if I am just intentional with what I film.
In the months I had to prepare, I could see that the people who had finished in 2018 were so nostalgic and sad about leaving the trail. Not just because they missed the trail itself, but they missed everyone who was out there and the relationships they built. I could tell that people were going to be a big aspect and the community was going to be a very important and meaningful part of my experience.
What was difficult and what was rewarding about filming?
When you’re hiking, you don’t want to stop walking. Sometimes you’ve got good momentum, so if you see something really beautiful (that you want to film), the balance is challenging. It’s why I got the camera I did, which was on a little gimbal, so I could film and walk. Then there’s other things, like your gear logistics; it’s another thing to look after. The more things you have, the more complex things get, but it’s definitely worth it.
The rewarding thing that enhanced my hike was that I had a great excuse to talk to new people, learn about them, and go deep very quickly. One of the girls who I filmed for “It Is The People,” Grandma, was from Paraguay. She was saying how she had never met her birth mother, and was getting up the courage for it. I just met her, and then this came out of mouth. That is so incredible to get to know someone that quickly and for them to open up to you. That was a cool aspect of filming on trail.
What camera did you use to shoot?
The camera I use is a Sony a7S II. I took a 35 mm Sony lens, which is more compact, so the weight of the camera was not as bad as it could have been. I also took with me an on-camera mini road mic, which allowed me to get crisp audio.
The other camera I took was my DJI Osmo Pocket. I love that camera. I had a lot of fun with it, and then I broke it in the Sierra after the first stretch. I left my fanny pack open when I glissaded down off Kearsarge and all the snow piled into my open fanny pack. It was so dumb. I could have easily prevented it if I just zipped up the fanny pack, but all the ice piled in and melted, and my little gimbal camera was just sitting in a puddle of water when I got to town. That was a reminder that I do need to look after my gear.
Did you have any special town chores to take care of the camera?
I had to make sure I was charging my two different cameras. My storage system wasn’t that great. I was too scared to ship SD cards, because I was worried that they could get lost in the mail. I kept them in a little electronics bag, but in Bishop, California, I accidentally left the whole bag behind.
We got a couple days into the stretch and I was digging around in my bag, and I thought, “Wait, wait, wait, where’s my electronics bag?” It had all the SD cards of everything I’d filmed up until that point and I was absolutely gutted. If I hadn’t found it, which I obviously did, none of my videos would have been the same. “It Is The People” would have been completely different. I wouldn’t have been able to do all these vlog chapters. It was a bit heartbreaking.
How did you find it?
I was praying to the trail gods and when I got to Mammoth, I called Hostel California, where I’d stayed, but they hadn’t found anything. We ended up triple-zeroing in Mammoth, and the girl (from Hostel California) called me and said she found (my) electronics bag behind the fridge. I remember exactly the moment I did it. I was in the kitchen about to leave, then I started having a conversation and I left without it. From then on, I made sure to not lose that bag.
Was filming on trail something you enjoyed doing or a burden? What was the creative process like?
At the beginning especially, I did feel burdened. I couldn’t sleep the first night because I was thinking, “OK, this is your one shot to film and capture your experience,” and then literally because of that, I slept in. I woke up at 6:20 and opened my tent and everyone was gone. I think that was a humble reminder that you don’t (have to) worry about it, just take it as it comes.
It’s also very hard because you want to capture the whole experience, but when you’re having a really rough time, you do not want to pull your camera out. I often didn’t feel like filming when I was walking up, or climbing something, or the times you cry on trail. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It just became a part of my day.
In terms of when I would film, especially with the trail family I was hiking with, I’d film at camp at the end of the day. I actually didn’t end up filming everyone who was in my trail family. I never wanted to force it, if it was a bad day, and everyone was grumpy.
What was your process to turn your videos into a film?
Once I was off trail, I put my ideas down before it became a chore. Creativity flows really well after a hike. I watched all the footage, and then wrote a script. I wrote what I remembered from the images; it helped determine the story that I would tell. After I watched the footage, I began editing. The story is born on the edit; the story is more important than the images. To edit the videos I used Adobe Creative Suite Premiere Pro and After Effects, and I used Photoshop Lightroom for photos.
Do you have any advice to hikers who want to document their journeys?
My advice would be to remember that you are out there to hike. Prioritize your experience, because that’s why you’re out there: to enjoy nature, to enjoy relationships. Don’t let trying to capture something detract from your overall experience.
First, be comfortable and confident with the camera gear that you’re taking. You don’t want to be worried about the technicalities. Second, have an idea of a theme in mind—what you want to capture and retell to people when you go home. It gives you more of a focus of what you will film, so you’re not pulling your camera every couple minutes. Those two things will make capturing it a lot more enjoyable and won’t take away as much from enjoying the moment.
The main thing is to be intentional with what you film. I’ve seen some cool compilation videos, like singing a song over the whole trail, and it’s really specific. It’s so intentional. It takes a couple of minutes out of the day to film it, and that’s it. Something like that is super powerful and it doesn’t detract from the actual walking.
Prepare what you can, and then as soon as you can’t do anything else, just relax and take it a day at a time. The trail is so long, you can work it out. Just enjoy it! I would reiterate that same point for people who are trying to capture the experience: let it enhance your experience, not detract from it. Also, people are nice.
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