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Environmental & Humanitarian Filmmaking

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Environmental & Humanitarian Filmmaking with Taylor Rees

Taylor Rees, Kenna Klosterman

Environmental & Humanitarian Filmmaking

Taylor Rees, Kenna Klosterman

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Lesson Info

1. Environmental & Humanitarian Filmmaking with Taylor Rees

Lesson Info

Environmental & Humanitarian Filmmaking with Taylor Rees

Yeah. Hello, everyone. And welcome to Creative Live. My name is Ken Klosterman, and I am your host today for the podcast were photographers that we have here on Creativelive where we come to you live. Of course. Right now, from my living room to yours to the living rooms, kitchens and studios, home studios of photographers, film makers, creative industry game changers from all over the world To let you all know that you are not alone in your creative struggles and winds as well. We're all living this creative life, and the more that we can learn from other people's stories, the more it gives us the courage and ability to keep moving forward with our own. And so today I am super excited to have our guest, Taylor Res. And Taylor is a photographer, a filmmaker, documentarian, Um, she is a photojournalist as well, and an avid explorer, Taylor does a lot of work around environmental and humanitarian issues that she is passionate about and making changes through filmmaking through the world.

Her background is, um, at Yale. She ran the Environmental Film Festival for two years again before becoming a full time director and filmmaker and producer. She is a Sony artisan, and she has also shot for clients including National Geographic, North Face, the United Nations and so many more and so, so excited to bring on today. Taylor Reedys, Taylor, Thank you so much for joining us today. Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It's it's exciting. This is This is the most live thing I feel like I've done during quarantine. So yeah, well, toe have live conversation, and, um, looking forward to it. Awesome. And so speaking of that, the live factor I would love thio give shoutouts to people who are tuning in from all over the world. So if you are whether you're watching on creativelive dot com slash tv, where you can click on the chat icon and let us know where you're tuning in from or if you're on Facebook Twitter again, give me those shout outs. And, um, we can let Taylor know where you are joining from eso Taylor today is very exciting because one of your most recent films is being released today. We're recording on September 1st. How is it already? September? I'm not sure, but from curls with love. So I love to start talking about some people's most recent projects and then kind of going back in time. So congratulations. Tell us about this film. And what led you to to create it. Yeah. So, um, the film launched today on YouTube, and so that's like a place to find it. Um, the back story was kind of interesting. My my partner both in filmmaking and in life. Renan Osterc did a trip to the North Pole full filming a group of women who did kind of an all women's trip there and got connected with this group tomorrow unlocked. And they wanted Thio go to the Kuril Islands and kind of commissioned a piece from us that brought photographers and adventures together to kind of explore this place. And Thea, other producer from tomorrow unlocked. Pavel torrid. And I were talking about how, like, Well, we can't go to this zone if we, you know, we don't bring some scientists to kind of help us interpret this landscape both underwater and over water. And so he and I spent months trying to find someone who studied this region. We went to Scripts Institute of Oceanography, where we connected with um, Richie Supola, who is also on the trip, Who's an oceanographer? Um, but, you know, we just really couldn't find anyone from Japan or Russia who, uh, who worked in this area. So we ended up bringing re she and Geoff Kirby as two Ecologists and scientists to join all the photographers. And we thought, Well, just go and kind of see what happens and just document the journey. And the night before the trip, Um, literally, we get a phone call and basically someone said, Oh, there's this Russian marine mammal biologist that is asking if he can hitchhike on your boat. And, um, his sailboat was destroyed in ah, volcanic eruption two weeks ago, and he needs to check and see if the seals and sea lions survived on that island and check his time lapse cameras and eso. He was just hoping to kind of stowaway. And we're like, Well, there's really only one bed. It's in the hallway and he was like, You know, it's no problem. So that was Vladimir broken off on Dhere. E joined our crew and completely changed the journey. And so the film is really about, um, it's really about him and his work and this adventure and yeah, so excited to be able to release it out into the world, there's ah ah, go fund me that's attached to it because supporting this kind of scientific work is really difficult in these regions. So we're also doing some impact work with him. Well, that's very exciting. So again, from curls with love and that's spelled K u R I l s right. And, um and so I think it's really interesting, Taylor, that you talked there about a couple things I want to explore further finding stories, uh, and then impact as well. Uh, and so I know sort of in in a number of the projects that I've heard you talk about or watch that you talk about how the story can change, Um, in the in the making of the story, uh, and and going back to, um, one of the epic adventures and filmmaking of, uh, adventures that you had back in Burma. Myanmar. Uh, and so I'm wondering if you can take us back thio that story. Um and how that how you're kind of direction changed at that point? Yeah. So it was 2014. Um, I had just finished graduate school where I did a master's in environmental science and environmental media. Um, and my partner was living when I was living in Utah. So I finished grad school, moved in with him, and we got the opportunity to go thio to Burma to the northern tip, where the Himalayas kind of extend. So it's actually that, um, the Burmese himal a A and that Ernie was intended to kind of investigate this mystery, which is what is the tallest peak in Southeast Asia. It's, um, inconclusive, perhaps to the state, because you really have to stand on top with a high powered GPS to get that reading. Not even satellites can determine. Um, And at the time I, you know, I was It was my first expedition. It was my first trip to Asia. It was a very new, in exciting experience for me. It was definitely a ah mountain climbing and kind of, um, writing, uh, driven journey with National Geographic in the north face. And that was kind of the goal. And, uh, yeah, the journey itself. Waas um incredible. Extremely arduous. We walked over 300 miles in total Um, and along the way along the walk, we basically was 150 miles to the mountain and 150 miles out, passing through all of these, um, villages in this northern region. And, you know, each night we were staying in a different community. Um, Andi, you know, there's there's just a lot going on within those communities so that I think what really hit me at that time was, um, you know, at any any time you travel or any time you're telling a story, Obviously, all around you are are so many other stories that are happening. And if you're you know, if you're on a mission for one, you kind of have to stay in that mission for one. But I was feeling extremely drawn by what was going on there. Um, three, the the the, you know, state government, I think, was trying to turn that area and two more of ah, um, tourism or conservation zone. But the communication between those that lived there was, um, not super healthier collaborative. And so we we create, we we just made space and time to have knowledge sharing sessions. So at night along these villages. We would sit and with a translator and just kind of go back and forth and I don't know, I just really fell in love with, like that, that kind of storytelling tuning into those kinds of questions. And eventually we made it up to the top of the mountain and the team attempted. I got very close but did not succeed. I stayed at base camp, um, alone for two weeks and so just kind of, um, further embedded a little bit into the into the culture of the people that we were there with, um and we came out and I think it transformed me because it both, you know, reinforced my love for adventure and exploration. But it also solidified to me how important I think it is, too, you know, really create a lot of space to have dialogue with any community that you're passing through, especially as a storyteller. And, you know, see if there's opportunity Thio work together to kind of come up with with a story that they might need to be told. And so in that circumstance there was a story. We we ended up taking letters that they, um, needed to be delivered to the government. Um, but we didn't get an opportunity to necessarily tell that story with them in film. Um, but yeah, it was an experience. Well, it's and you could people can watch some behind the scenes videos about it out there. You search Taylor's name, and, um, it just what I found interesting was that it was, you know, one of your early expeditions, and you've done many more since there, um, but that you it was that, you know, connecting with the culture in addition to the land on how that kind of has shaped what I've seen you create in other in other projects as well. Um, can you can you tell us a little bit about the one of the most recent projects that you're still working on? Kind of Similarly, in this concept of co creating, um, with with hearing the voices of people who are in the spaces where you're going to tell stories, but you're working in in northern Chile. Can you tell us a bit about that project and how that, you know, kind of mindset of working co creating is happening there? Yeah. Um, So I'm currently working on a feature documentary about, um, kind of the Social Justice side of green technology and sustainable transitions. It's taking place in northern Chile and also Argentina, where lithium mining is exploding as a result of the demand and increase for electric vehicles. And so, um, this story came to me through a group in San Diego called the Center for Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice. They're a group of, um, mostly academics connected with UCSD and scripts, at least at the time they spread out elsewhere, who are, um, dedicated to a lot of different kinds of work in the social justice space. But in particular there they're transforming how their own scientific work is done. So they're calling it D Colonial. Feminist science. And essentially, what that means is, and I think what you know, what scientists do is often what filmmakers due to or how these industries have typically functioned in the past, where you know, people in positions of power who have resource is will go out into the world into other places, and scientists will study things and they'll study landscapes, or they'll study people as like an expert, you know, And, um, you know, in some way shapes and forms like documentary filmmaking. Um, has a, you know, has a very extractive history. This idea of like going to a far place to, like be the one to tell a story about someone else. So D colonial. Feminist science. It really relies on, um, premises and values of relationships of deciding together, um, across, you know, where where, at least in this example, these scientists are going down rather than just deciding like, Oh, we're going to study how the water table in this region works. They work with the communities to, um, two together, kind of come up with, Like, what? What questions are important. What? How can we generate knowledge or information or data that can actually be used by these communities? So it doesn't just end up in reports and in institutions, Um, here in the us, like, how do we really co create co create knowledge in ways that are that are useful, that air, especially in solidarity in in the cases of like fighting for justice? Um, with these mining operations. And so we've basically been applying those same practices, too. The making of the documentary and there's a lot of groups of people in a lot of organizations who are doing this kind of work. Just trying. Thio bring new principles. You how stories we're told, who gets to tell stories, how their co created with, um, characters, their communities, especially if those characters or communities air at all vulnerable or at risk. Um, and and yeah, I mean, what it really looked like is the first trip that I went down there for. We spent a lot of time, um, giving presentations and just creating a lot of space to talk about, you know, if we were to make a film, Um, like, here's how I see it could look, How do you think it could look, you know, and where Here's how it could be used in the US And here's what an impact campaign that's kind of organized in the U. S. Could look like, you know, we we met with lawyers that are helping them, you know, how How would this film provide assistance or be impactful in your communities? And how can we create something that does it all? Or do we need to create two different pieces and, um, just the whole and then. Ever since then, the many trips I bring cuts of the film and we talk about it together. We're, you know, we're directing that story together, and it's changing often. And with covert, I haven't been able to get down since February. So hoping, hoping to get back? Um, yeah, I was just actually talking Thio one of the organizer's Rosa in Argentina this morning. Um, they're, you know, they're actively working Thio bring, like, a legal front to this issue. Um, basically, like a lot of the laws, environmental laws were being broken, as as these minds are expanding into indigenous territory and and, um, disrupting natural ecosystems pretty drastically. So, um, yeah, we're just, you know, we're in constant communication. It za riel privileged to be able to be a part of it. I'm, um I'm excited to just, you know, continue the journey. I'd say we're about halfway through, and it's interesting, Um, that you to to talk about, um yeah, just that again that that co creating, um, and the importance of, um, working with, like, working with people on the ground in the places where you're telling the story. Um, and I'm curious if we can now kind of go back Thio, Um, earlier days for you and because a lot again, you're talking a lot about environmentalism, work, science, work and what came first for you? Was it Was it the science, or was it the photography and filmmaking? I, um, took a photography class in high school duck a dark room film class and just loved it. So I've always loved, um, photography and, you know, the arts and crafts of imagery and storytelling. Um, I went to school. My bachelor's degree was also in ecology and climate change. And during my field research trips in Greenland, um, the first one that I was I spent two summers in Greenland during undergraduate study and it was amazing, like to show up in this country. And in the summer, there's this place in Congo Loose walk called Kiss the King Glusac International Science Station. And it's just like a locust swarm of scientists from all over the world. Like, you know, come and descend into this place in the summer and there you know, hydrologists and physicists and climatologists and ice core studies and all these things, and they go and they go out onto the landscape and and, you know, are trying to learn and detect. This was back in, you know, 2000 and 456 And so climate change. You know, the dad that collecting from climate change was was in full swing trying to figure out you know, how these changes were impacting environments. And, um, but what I noticed was just yeah, that same thing, Like not seeing a lot of interaction with the local innuit communities. And, you know, I kind of wondered, like, Are they brought into these scientific studies? Are they taken on these trips to the ice to, like have dialogue about what they see and what they know? So it's not just, you know, scientific tools. And so the following summer, I brought a video camera, got a small grant and tried toe make a film kind of about that, interviewing locals about their experience of having all these scientists in their space and kind of what that was like in the summer. Um, unfortunately, I you know, I cut it to some radio, had music and put it on YouTube, and I lost the file, and it's has since, like disappeared um, but that's you know. Anyway, that's really the first time I realized what a tool filmmaking could be. Um, so, yeah, I just I think it's they've gone hand in hand my whole life, both science and photography and, ah, love for kind of telling stories. And, um, looking especially, like at the interaction between Earth and Earth systems and people. And and then you also have that, um, impact layer, um, on all of that as well. And I heard you say, you know, media is power. And so when you when you go into, um, several, you know, some of these projects do you have that end goal in mind? Of what? Your what you are hoping to change via filmmaking. And is there another success story that you can share with us? Yes. I think this is a really interesting question that a lot of people are wrestling with today. I mean, I think documentary film can be so many things that can be, um, deeply personal. It can just it could be art. It doesn't have to have an impact, necessarily It it has value, you know, stories. Um, are who we are there. How we live? Um, they they are. They change us, they create us. And so, uh, you know, but But when in the context of, like, environmental and humanitarian documentaries in particular, I think that there is a strong push that we're in right now to really clarify exactly why we're making these films and what impact they have. And, you know, a part of that is like, you know, being really strategic and having a lot of, you know, having a goal. That's that's that Everyone kind of knows is the direction to go in. And you could be building those impact campaigns whether they're legal or, um, petitions or, you know, shifts in consumer behavior or all these things kind of along the way. Um, but it's just as important to recognize that any time the story is told, there's going to be impacts on the people who is told about, um, you know, whether those were intentional or not. So part of that impact is also just knowing. It's not just like, how much good can we do, but it's like once this is out and it does change people's perception of a place or an issue like How do we know that that's going thio not be harmful to anyone who was involved? And And I mean, I think it's a very beautiful point that you just made in terms of, um, stories are stories air who we are stories air, how we live and they can be art And, you know, and not even, you know, you think documentary. And you often do think like that there's not that there's an agenda, but that there is potentially a goal in mind. Um, can you can you share some of maybe one of your personal projects? That is, um, a story that truly impacted you as a as a human ous? Well, yeah. We just released a short film called Ashes to Ashes, which is, ah, story that, you know, the coming together of it was was not intended. It kind of was kind of a bit of a family affair, actually. Um, surely Jackson Whitaker, who is a producer of the film and also a character in the film she's a black artist and dr from the South, but living in Massachusetts. I grew up just around the corner from her. We live on the same Street. And, um, she a number of years ago was hosting kind of a neighborhood dinner. She was going to be putting together a funeral memorial service for the, you know, 4 to 6000, um, men, women and Children who were lynched in the gym during the Jim Crow era and, uh, many of whom did not receive funerals. And so she was doing the ceremony, and she had been looking for a filmmaker to kind of help cover it. And she couldn't She couldn't find one. And my dad was at that dinner, and my dad was like, Oh, surely you should call Taylor like she does Doc these days and so surely called me and asked if I would help document that, um, funeral and, um, which was amazing. You know, we got the chance to do that together. Um, just kind of interviewed her about about, you know, art and healing and addressing dark parts of history as, ah, as a way of healing and and then threw her one day. She was like, Oh, Taylor, I you know, I was at an art gallery and I met this man, Winfred Rembert, and he survived a lynching in the sixties, um, on attempted lynching, he was, and he's alive, and he lives in New Haven, which was just another and a half away. Like we should go down and interview him. And maybe, you know, maybe you can come to the ceremony, and and we can, you know, do a little bit more to to bring light and stories to this to this part of history. And, um yeah, at that time, too, there was a lot of really important conversations coming out of the black film community in particular about, you know, uh, use of, um, imagery of violence against the black body and how this could be exploitive. And so I was feeling really like, Oh, I don't know if, like, um, if this is my place as a white woman to tell the story and yet I had, you know, uh, committed and engaged to doing so I wasn't gonna say no or run away from it out of fear, either, eh? So I knew I was just going to be on a learning journey about you know, how to be a better ally, how to bring in divers, film crews, and, uh, work with advisors and writers and kind of make sure that we were going to be able to do this with tact and sensitivity. And, um so that was an amazing learning journey in itself. Just, you know, knowing how to kind of do something that, um, was a bit scary. But it's also, you know, it was it was a huge opportunity. And, um, Thio do take that learning journey and win. Fred, the main character of the film, is just the most like, amazing and lovable human being on this planet. He's a huge Star Wars fan, and every time we'd film with him at the end of the day, we'd sit down on this porch and he'd be like Taylor, like, can you make me an Obi Wan Kenobi costume? And I go get a sheet we'd like pin and make these robes, And he had this light saber and we do photo, um, photo shoots, and actually, I just talked to him the other day. I guess, uh, someone from the Star Wars world reached out after seeing the film when they're making him his own lightsaber like a real one. And, um so he's really excited and, you know, he's currently kind of in and out of the hospital. I'm really hoping he stays well so he can receive all the love and responses to the film which just also released a couple weeks ago. And you can find it on the meo if you search ashes to ashes. Vimeo, itt's up there. It's a staff pick. So, yeah, I would love if anyone hasn't seen it. I would really love for people toe to take in that story. And, um, connect with Winford if you feel inspired. What? I I just watched it this week. And, um what I love about what you just the way you described it is making me smile. Um and and especially yeah, his his star Love of Star Wars. Uh, and and just the the the joy that is able to coexist with pain. Um, is is something that, um, take that definitely, you know, comes through, um, with him with the the other storylines that are going on, um, in the film. And, um and so you know, and sort of the the power of art. He's a he's an artist. Um, and, um, the power of art in healing. Um and so, yes, I highly encourage everyone. Toc go watch ashes to ashes. Um, have have you had I mean, filmmaking as an r photography as an art is that sort of creative process a, um ah. Healing process for you as well. Or is there when you're when you're attempting a project, you know, is there do you go into that mindset as well as to how it's gonna affect you personally? That's all right. I don't realize my my phone's off, but apparently it rings on my computer. Um, yeah, Don't you know it's interesting because the film raises the question. Is art healing in a way? And yet I think that for surely like that's her goal, you know, like doing art and hosting these events or multiple artists and creativity is coming together to address ah wound. Whether that's personal or cultural, um, is is healing. And but for when, I'm afraid it zits not really healing. You know, I don't think it's making him better. Um, I think he's compelled to do it because he is an artist and he wants to share his story, and he's He's just someone who is there and expressing, and that's just he's driven to do and you couldn't stop him. And I I think personally, I tend to agree with that being true for me too, that I don't I don't like, do our films or tell stories like thinking like this is gonna heal this these all these parts of me, um, which are both personal and and cultural and, you know, you know, community and if not global. But I do think that, um, you know, being in touch with the parts of myself and the parts of our world that are, um, hurting maybe ah or in need of attention, like it's just it's a response to that call, you know, toe, toe look, and to listen and, um, to explore that and yeah, I don't know if I don't. I think it raises questions about the definition of healing. Like, what does it mean? Thio? He'll like, Do we or does our planet, like, ever get better? Or is it just always changing? Um, but I find a lot of power and transformative power both in my personal life and what I see happening around me in in that in the process of, like, you know, addressing things that are hard. And so that's probably why I'm driven. Tell these kinds of stories. E I also questioned the concept of healing, um, as well. So I'd love thio sort of dive a little bit further into that. Whether that's on a personal level, um, or you know, or right global level. Um, because it's I just I love that you use the word transformation or, um, uh, integration. Or just like it's It's future focus versus past focused, um, and and, you know, always evolving, I guess. Um and I don't know. I'm curious. If there are Okay, lets I'm going to switch gears. I'm gonna switch gears. Thio, actually, um, the moonwalk, um, and another you were putting out work left, right, and center right now, my friend. Uh, so this was one that I saw come out recently A project with Sony or Sony Artisan, Um, and and again, like another like, sort of creation of something that is epic, that is, but, you know, took many try, allow and error, and, like, maybe it's gonna happen. Maybe it's not. Can you Can you tell us about and also, though this, like when you're in it, you're the strong connection to the earth, the planet, the moon, Um, and showing the beauty of that. Can you tell us a little bit about this project? And, um, some of the biggest challenges with it that you overcame? Yeah. So this is thesis oniy moonwalk piece. Um, it started really as, ah, a za dedication. Thio, Dean Potter, who is, uh, who was a climber and a really good friend of rain on my partner's Andi. He kind of did the original move block, which was shot by, um, actually, don't don't remember, but he, you know, walked a high line between two desert towers with the moon behind him. And so, Andy Lewis, who is a highlighter based in Moab, Andi, we're all talking about, you know, like, well, maybe we could do this again. Um, but it in, like, a new way, you know? So that original moonwalk piece was shot, I don't know, 10 years ago, and so, um, Sony, who we work with were both Sony artisans, and they were coming out with the new A seven s three camera, which is kind of the new low light machine, um, incredible sensor capabilities and just want they were like, Hey, you know this this new cameras coming out. Do you guys have any ideas for how you might want to test it? And we said, Well, we've been tossing around this idea of this moonwalk where Andy Lewis would high line between two desert towers. We would line it up with the rising or setting full moon and shooting. Um, shoot it with this camera. And so it seems easy enough, but it was the most complicated thing I've ever done. It's so funny because someone posted a comment once in one of the videos, like if you had just called a physicist, you know, they could have told you exactly how to do this, but the answer is like, That's not true at all. Like we had. We were using the photo pills app, which, um, allows you to set, you know, a million different things. One of them is that you can set a point of, like where you're going to shoot and where, um, and like where the moon is gonna be, and then where you would want to be if you needed to align these things. But there's so many factors like, um, elevation and the timing. And every single moon cycle of the moon shifts every single night at chefs. And so we scouted this during the full moon of April and May and June in preparation for the July full moon. Um, and you know, even the fact that the towers, like we had to move the moonwalk many times two different towers, the ones who finally decided on were higher. So the moon actually crosses the path of those towers earlier when it's setting by, like, a number of seconds. And that difference changes the degree pattern where you have to be by degrees. And so it's like you get all of these tools and all of these calculations together, and you you basically can put yourself like, almost in the right spot, but you know, to to a degree of like, you know, 20 m radius. But, um, you know when when the moment happens, like you're always scrambling a little bit to get over and you can run. Yeah, I don't even know where to begin. It was so hectic, Um, by a miracle, we pulled it off and did capture Andy and the full moon in the same frame a couple of times. Um, it was a really fun journey with a really good crew. And and the Stony seven s three cameras. Amazing. Um, I had to give it back, which is a bummer. And and people can when you've got some behind the scenes that is part of the story and can see you and team, you know, running around to try to get those angles in. You know, in all of those moments and it just it, um I was just super impressed by the the that again continued dedication because you tried multiple months, multiple moon cycles. Um, and and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. And with this, when it when it does all come together, like, what does that feel like for you in that moment when you know, like it z all coming together? Oh, in that moment, it was blissful because we had failed so many times that when it when it like, it worked. And that was our last chance. Like even you've been during that trip. You know, you kind of have, like, four days to do it. You know, two days on the front end of the full moon into two days after rhythm is pretty big. And that was our last night. It was our last chance. And so I was a huge relief. But, you know, I think the funny thing about creativity is like you don't often get surges of joy. Like when you get something like I think sometimes it comes with, like, a wave of depression, you know, like you're like, huh? Now the thing is done. And I don't know, like who I am anymore. I don't know what to Dio. That's like, maybe more for long term, long term doc projects. But yeah, that's Sony Moon. Moment was the moment of joy. It's interesting because I kind of always liken that to, um, like the post wedding blues. You know, that people talk about like that you're planning something for so long, and it's kind of this, like, such a huge could be such a huge important thing. And then after it people are like, now what? Yeah, definitely. It is. Okay. Are you I mean, you Obviously you you have a number of projects that you're continuing to work on, but what? What? You know, You You've mentioned your partner ran on, and you're you partner on projects and in life. Um, and is there downtime like, is there How do you approach working and living and co creating with another human and and how does that sort of affect affect the work? I guess that was a good question. We, um 2018 and 2019 were so crazy. I mean, we were back to back to back on jobs. Sometimes together, sometimes apart. Um, both. Just like going at the pace that I wasn't sure we were going to be able to sustain. And so when Cove it happened and we had just moved, it definitely gave us a little time to reflect, um, and spend time together to which was awesome, because we have been doing more and more projects apart s O. That was really good. Just remember like oh, like I really like you. Like hanging out together is great. You should We should keep doing this. Um, so So, yeah, that's been good. And I you know, I think we had visions and aspirations to create some sort of good balance with life and work. Because we do. We're both full time film producers and directors. We have a studio. It's in our house. Um, we are both, like, overly passionate workaholics. We can't put things down like it's from the minute we wake up until midnight. 365 days a year. And so we, you know? Yeah, I think both on and I definitely or like with this, you know, we're not gonna be able to do this for much longer. At this pace, we started implementing some boundaries, like, Okay, we have to exercise every day, you know, And like, um, just making sure that we were taking better care of ourselves. So if we weren't going toe figure out how to structure our lives differently, at least we weren't getting super rundown. So that's helped a little. And, um, but, you know, starting after that moon shoot, we've been back to back again. We haven't had a day down. We wrapped a commercial shoot, um, yesterday and we're heading Thio Africa tomorrow. And so it's, um it's Yeah, it's it's happening again. Andi, I don't I don't know. I think if you are just if you love what you dio and, um, especially in these fields, these creative fields, it's really it's not like you do a math equation, and then you have the answer. It's It's a creative process. It's always it's never ending. Um, if anyone has the answer to balance, um, I'm all ears. I had no idea you were leaving for Africa tomorrow. So first of all, thank you for making the time, Thio be creative. Live with us. Uh, what is the Can you talk about what you are going there to work on? Sure. Um, yeah. So, uh, Andrew Harrison Brown is a film director producer. Hey, did Cafaro on the last male white Rhino. And, um, when lambs become lions, which is about elephants, trading and poachers and just kind of the human side of that. And he has a long standing relationship with the Turkana people of northern Kenya. It's been working on a documentary there about this. Um, you know, basically, the story is there's a young boy who is about to go through his warrior initiation ceremony. Um, in a culture that not only revolves around war, but it is it is the culture especially for men. The backstory to why there is this conflict between the Turkana and the Samburu, and I'm I just barely know a little still learning catching up. But I mean, if you go back thio colonization of the region that these people were forced into some of the, um, less productive and arid lands. And essentially, it's like hard for anyone to survive. And so there's. There's this longstanding conflict between these two communities who live on opposite sides of a river, and it's just like, you know, infused into this culture. So this young boy, Kolej, is you know, we're gonna be there for his Warriors ceremony, but he's like, Why are we? I don't wanna do this like I don't want to become a warrior, and, um, and so there's there's change happening there. There's a cultural shift happening within those communities where I think a lot of people are questioning whether AH, culture built on conflict is good for anybody. And so there's, um, there's a woman, Josephine, who is uncredible activists in the community. She's been organizing kind of any time that there's a raid or conflict or some sort of, you know, if someone. There's a murder of some kind. She she'll go to the other community and kind of broker peace. And she's her mission. Um, I don't totally understand the full scope, but her thinking is like If we can teach the women, um, from these communities to, like, Invent were, you know, become entrepreneurs, there's going to be enough resource is that we don't have to continue to, like, kill each other. And so she's organizing these things called. I think it's Queens for peace and the women from both communities need on opposite sides of the river and they walked together and, um but there was a raid. I was getting texts. That phone call actually was from Kenya. I guess there was like, there's a raid happening right now and the police are there and, um, it's all going down as we speak. And so you know, it's It's, uh so Andrews directing the film, and I'm being brought on to direct the female component of it, so kind of embedding with the women and, um and learning from them kind of what they're what they're trying to accomplish. And and then Brennan is also going to film with Andrew, Um, from award kind of cinema Cinema, too. Graphic perspective. I haven't had enough coffee today, so Yeah, they're really exciting. And we've got It's an all Kenyan producing crew. That's there. Um, so it's it'll be a really cool experience. I'm not feeling super prepared, but I don't know if you ever are. Wow. Well, I will be watching your instagram to see if you're able to share behind the scenes. And first of all, you know, I hope that, um everything is is okay in the midst of what is happening right now, Um, there. But what a You know, what a powerful experience that that is going to be for you. And I'm curious if, as a female filmmaker, um, you know, in what can be heavily male dominated industry filmmaking and photography as well. Uh, what I mean, you embedding with the woman is Do you forsee your ability to tell that story as different being a woman? Um, yeah. I mean, I was just talking to someone about this yesterday, you know, like there's this big push, like, you know, higher, higher women and create all all female Cruz. And, um, we definitely need to hire more women in the film industry and the DOC industry in particular. And there's some great resource is like brown girls. Doc Mafia is a great one for anyone listening to this that puts together crews, especially dot crews, and wants to bring more women of color into that space. Um, that aside, like, you know, it's interesting that especially with all these women's campaigns, you know, like I it's both amazing to see and it should have come a lot sooner. But at the same time, um, I think that there is some risk in this thing of like being like women or this and men or that, you know, And so when really, like we need to move to a space where all genders across the gender spectrum are, um, have opportunity and have space for their voices and their art to be, you know, a part of our culture. And so um, yeah, I'm like just trying to figure out how I feel about the women's campaign movement right now, you know? I mean, it's very it's also commercialized, and so that could get kind of funky, too. But, you know, as a female um, a za woman identifying filmmaker. I do think that at least I personally you know, I can. We'll have a better way of, I think, tuning into what these women are going through and what they're, um, what they're creating. And that is why Andrew brought me on. You know, I think he recognized that it's such a It's such a female driven, um, social change, uh, movement there that he wanted to bring in a woman to help tell that story. Um, but I don't know if I would say, like, blanket statement, like, you know, men are insensitive and women are sensitive, and most of the time that's true. But I think we should be getting away from that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I mean, your question was just like, Do I think I'll I'll be able to do something different and I for sure, but, um, anyway, that's a wind. E answer. E Nit's It is. I mean, again, going back to Well, we've, you know, there's there's being, you know, two genders. But then there's, you know, in history perhaps, but, um, just the, you know, the, um, it spectrum. You know the fact that, um, like you said, there's not. You can't pinpoint one aspect on on one person and then you know, it's Ah, it's a no, it's a It's another conversation. It's a long conversation Women, women in filmmaking. And, um, in any case, I'm I'm curious about the directing part. And if you could talk a little bit just in the in the few minutes that we have left, um, for people who are sort of getting started in in filmmaking And what are the aspect of, like what? What does it mean? Teoh To be a director like there's a lot of times you hear these words, you know you're the director or the producer, but if people aren't in it, aren't in the projects. Um, what sort of the main aspects of what you do in that role? Yeah, that's a really good and interesting question, I think, especially because, um, you know, so many of these types of dark projects are often groups of people who all come together who all wear many hats. You know, the producers also d I ti ng, which means like backing up data. And, um, you know, the cinematographer's also doing sound, and everyone often has a creative passion for the story. That's why they have agreed to take on 19 roles and get paid $19. And, um, you know, it's like, I think, you know, being a director inherently is holding the creative vision and the space for everything that's happening, at least in the dock space, you know, in the dock space. It's, um, knowing the story, putting together the story, feeling it out, knowing of all knowing all the things that are gonna happen or could change and then being there as it evolves and it will always change. And so, you know, basically really paying attention to the characters and the and what's happening and like knowing Okay, like we have Thio, we have to change Howard filming this, you know, we should let's take a down day and, um, re strategize because we're focusing so much on this angler, this part of the story that we're missing this other thing that's happening So you're kind of like the Eagle that, uh, is following the important through lines. And I think, um, for me, like having an emotional pulse, are tapping into the emotional pulse of like all the different people who were evolved involved, and knowing how and when and in what ways to, uh, to connect with that is like a big role of a director as well. And you're you're guiding the ship. You're directing cameras telling them where to shoot and how and kind of leaving the team. But, um, I really love being a part of doc teams where anyone can, you know, have contributions in the director space can offer creative ideas. Can I feel like we're all figuring out the story together? And, um so you know, it's a it's a loose. It's a loose role. It's It's with these types of projects. I mean, obviously, it takes a massive team whether that massive is a small team with everybody doing 19 jobs like you said of or you know or the ability to bring in. Um uh, you know, all types of other people. Um what? What is your favorite hat toe wear? Um, I mean, I'm pretty much on all projects. I I'm a producer, director and shooter, so you know, we're the places that we go to are often very remote and, you know, it's just too expensive to bring Cruise. So, um, you know, our our our main team often is like, I'll be a director producer, and I'll shoot, But they'll also be a main, um, meine cinematographer director of photography and then kind of an a c assistant camera. Um, who flies drones and, um, backs up data like an A C D I t drone. So that, like, three man crew three woman woman man crew can take you pretty far. Um e like human e t roll. I'll tell you that. Just as important to know what you don't like as much as what you love gonna get. We did this in, um, in North Kivu, in the DRC, uh, for National Geographic a couple years ago. And I was shooting and directing interviews and, you know, kind of feeling all roles. It was just or not, and I as the camera crew, and so I was backing up the data, except, um, the electrical plugs that we're plugging into were not calibrated for our laptops was being, like electrocuted for, like, multiple hours a night in my fingertips. While I'm like, trying to focus and not drop cards or mess up files. I think that was the last time that I and I might have lost If I I don't know. It happens. It's scary. Yeah, that does not sound like a pleasant experience. E I closing out. I did read an article that was about both you and ran on, and that was asking you to describe each other in three words and, uh, Bonanza that you were glowing honest and resilient on. And I see the, you know, the glowing, the honest, the resilient. I'm curious if you could, um, just kind of even though experience that you just talked about is, you know, there have been so many moments of resilience in in the type of work that you dio is there. Is there something that you can share with people out there about how you do push through in those moments that then you could look back and say, Gosh, I was really resilient. Yeah, like just what? Um, what I've learned about, uh, kind of overcoming challenges in some ways. Well, I would, I guess, first and foremost, I think we all probably face them every day. You know, I think it's human nature. We're evolved. I read this really interesting study not too long ago that, um, that a lot of like the onset of Alzheimer's come from people who aren't like problem solving, like an anxiety that, like there's a tie between anxiety and not using your brain to solve enough problems like we were, you know, were built for adversity, where we used to have to figure out how to do everything to survive all the time. And so I think when we don't have enough to dio that's stimulating in that way. That's like engaging us. So, like, work through a problem. I think that's when I feel the most anxiety. So, um, you know, I guess we're all yeah, we're all dealing with crisis season in life and on these shoots they happen all the time. And when they happen, they're they're you know they're bad because when your camera breaks down and you're in the middle of a jungle and there's, you know, you're not, you're not what you're supposed to be and that you know, there's all these things that are going on. You're like, okay, like I am surviving and I'm trying to pull everything together to make my mission here. This creative mission, whatever it is like work. And maybe it's that when the when the stakes are high and when, like, it's just like when it's bad, it's bad. Like I think I thrive in that environment, you know? And I bet a lot of us do. And, yeah, I don't know. I don't know if there's like it's not like there's a lesson to it. Like if you're drawn to it and you love being an absolute chaos and having everything fell apart all around you all the time. Like, I guess you'll put yourself in those situations which I tend to dio And, um, it's fun. You know? I think it's at the end of life like I'll look back and, like, get to see all the things I've gotten to experience, and I feel really grateful. Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your stories, your wisdom and just so many exciting projects for people to go see and check out. Where can everybody find you? Follow you on and see a lot of the things that we've been talking about. Okay, Yeah, I have a website. It's Taylor free solo Reese dot com. Um, my middle name is actually free solo. My parents were climbers. It's on my birth certificate. I was gonna ask you about e. Saw that somewhere. And I was like, No, really? Is she serious? Yeah. Yeah, they were. I was born in Idaho. My dad and I think that the name as she came from my godfather who was a climbing to this day, is like a climbing dirtbag photographer that you can either find in the Rockies or in the desert. Greg. Jan. So he gave me that middle name and Oh, yeah, also, my instagram handle is Taylor free solo on instagram. And that's where you can find me and yeah, we'll be updating, I think, from the field in Kenya starting at the end of the week. So awesome. Well, thank you, everybody. Thank you to Taylor. Thank you, everyone for tuning in. I'll just give some quick shoutouts Thio people. We had Carol from New Jersey. We have Susan in Quebec. F Lamine California, Phoenix, Arizona. We have Argentina. We have the Bahamas and Cleveland and Belgian and more coming in. Um, saying thank you so much. Eso uh, yeah, So once again, thank you for the important work that you do too. Just as a fellow human, um, living on on this beautiful earth. Um And, um, with the work that you're doing, um, towards, um improving. Um What what we have here and protecting saving, uh, and transforming.

Class Description


Our weekly audio podcast We Are Photographers brings you true stories from behind the lens and behind the lives of your favorite photographers, filmmakers, and creative industry game-changers. From their struggles to their wins, host Kenna Klosterman discovers the real human stories about why they do what they do.

Listen to this and other audio episodes on our audio Podcast page.


In this episode, Taylor shares insights on the making-of a number of her recent films including From Kurils With Love. Her short documentary film Ashes to Ashes became Oscar qualified after winning 18 film festival awards on its circuit. She is currently working on a feature documentary about the impacts of green technology and lithium mining in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. We discuss the importance of co-creating narratives with the people and communities who are the subjects or may be impacted by her films. Find out what the role of director actually entails and hear stories from expeditions all over the world.


Taylor Rees is a filmmaker, photojournalist, Sony Artisan and avid explorer. She’s driven by an insatiable curiosity to explore and tell the stories beneath the surface. She infuses her passion for adventure into her work around environmental and humanitarian issues, bringing new perspectives and deeper public understanding to the complexities of climate change, conservation, indigenous rights, environmental justice and extractive industries. She's shot and directed pieces for clients including National Geographic, The North Face and the United Nations.

Ashes to Ashes 
From Kurils With Love

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