How Red Bull gets the ultimate shot

Written by Simon Wyndham

Red BullStill/crop from The Fourth Phase

Red Bull is nowadays a name perhaps even more synonymous with action sports and extreme filmmaking than it is with the drink that started the whole show. A new series of films reveals what it takes to produce eye-popping adventure sports videos.

Whatever your feelings about the drink itself, and like Marmite they tend to be rather polarised, it cannot be denied that Red Bull is now a major force in sports media production. Whether it is sponsoring groundbreaking expeditions or putting on an extreme sports event, it produces some pretty compelling films, as well as giving adventure sports an exposure that they may not otherwise get.

Far from the low budget, athlete-produced videos of GoPro, Red Bull generally produces its films at a higher tier using the latest filmmaking technology. With adventure sports being some of the most difficult types of activity to film, despite the ready visual interest they can provide, this throws up unique challenges that are often difficult to overcome. Most adventure sports take place in very mountainous terrain, often with extremes of weather conditions, with all the difficulty of access and equipment transport that this entails.

In fact, filming such subject matter can produce challenges similar to those faced by high-end natural history programmes, such as Planet Earth 2, only with the additional risk that your main subject matter faces very real injury or even death. Getting the shot in the first place is difficult enough. Obtaining it with cinematic beauty adds a new layer of pain and toiling. Making sure you get the shot is more essential than ever.

Behind the adventure

Nowhere are the trials, tribulations, and frustrations of obtaining such shots shown as in a new series of films produced by, yep you guessed it, Red Bull. The shorts document the creation of the film The Fourth Phase and show not only in great detail the lengths that the crew goes to to obtain the shots, but also their thoughts on the reasons why they must go to such effort.

It is an abject lesson in what it takes to make something truly good, with many days given up to planning, testing and setting up for what often amounts to one single, but iconic, shot. It also shows us that, if the shot is worth getting, it is worth the pain and expense. But be warned; if you don't like seeing expensive gear getting trashed, this is not for the feint-hearted!

The insurance costs must be eye watering. The drone episode, for example, documents the destruction of systems sometimes going into the $250,000 bracket for a full laden aircraft, as it goes careering into the side of a mountain – not once, but multiple times. Entire athlete performances are missed while aircrafts' systems go down mid shot. The crew even goes to the lengths of transporting their gear up to the top of a pointed peak to get a good drone take off zone, disembarking from the helicopter as the pilot balances it precariously on one skid.

While it may appear mostly sunny with blue skies, the temperatures that the gear is being exposed to will be pushing it to the limits, especially when it comes to drone batteries, which are notorious for pretty poor cold weather performance.

Importantly, the videos show that what appears in the final films to be seamless, epic cinematography and sports performances were the result of many months of extremely hard work and grind, with a rather substantial amount of frustration sprinkled on top for good measure. It is a reminder that, when we see something amazing, we often forget how difficult such a thing was to create or capture. When we watch films, we can all too often take them for granted. This goes for the best films at the cinema through to documentaries, such as the aforementioned Planet Earth 2.

It is very easy to be cynical about productions such as these, when companies such as Red Bull seem to have a factory that is creating more-and-more content. We can get caught up in the commercialisation of it all and end up forgetting that what we are seeing is often high quality content produced by some very talented and dedicated filmmakers.

Unfortunately, the videos cannot be embedded here. But they can be enjoyed over a cup of tea at the links below.

The Shot

The Technology

Tags: Production

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