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Discovery Enters Scripted TV Market with "Klondike"

Toward the beginning of Klondike, the Discovery Channel’s new drama about the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush, the show’s two primary stars, Abbie Cornish and Richard Madden, meet in a Dawson City saloon.

Cornish plays Belinda Mulrooney, the indomitable owner of a timber mill; Madden is Bill Haskell, a stout-hearted Vermonter who’s come west to seek his fortune. He’s about the only miner in Dawson City with a shred of decency. Mulrooney, detecting as much, orders a round. A greedy stew of miners, hookers, fiddlers, and grifters surrounds them. The local preacher, played by Sam Shepard, is notably absent. “Gold’s a whore,” Belinda warns. “You may lust after her, may even think you love her, but you don’t need her.”

If gold’s a whore, then Discovery runs a busy brothel. In recent years the first network in adventure television has offered Gold Rush, Jungle Gold, and Bering Sea Gold. This latest offering, though, is decidedly new. Klondike is Discovery’s debut scripted drama, a six-hour, three-part series that premiered on Monday and wraps up this evening.

Based off Charlotte Gray’s 2010 historical account, Gold Diggers (liberties are taken onscreen), directed by Simon Cellan Jones and co-produced by Ridley Scott, Klondike seems to be an effort to carve out a place alongside HBO and Showtime, at least for a moment. In addition to Madden and Cornish, the network invested in Tim Roth, who plays a sociopathic entrepreneur known only as The Count; Shepard, the town’s preacher and conscience; and newcomer Johnny Simmons, who serves as a young, story-collecting Jack London.

Six hours is an 800-meter race—not enough to stand up to a full-length series, and too much for a movie. A few plot lines come undone early, others drag on too long. But the acting is terrific, the writing is mostly good, and the scenery—Alberta's Spray Lakes stand in for the frozen Yukon River—is spectacular. Echoes of HBO's Deadwood are apparent from the opening credits, and although Klondike isn't nearly as tightly wound, it's certainly entertaining. The avalanches and wolves (real ones, not the CGI variety) only help.

 The series follows Haskell as he and a partner, Byron Epstien (Augustus Prew) head north seeking adventure and money. They manage to escape a thunderous avalanche—Discovery moved 300 tons of snow and used nine bags of explosives to create the scene—but Epstein quickly succumbs to a rifle shot to the gut from a jealous miner below a canopy of northern lights.

The show’s primary plot hinges on Haskell’s quest for vengeance and the romance with Mulrooney. She, meanwhile, engages in a vicious power struggle with Roth’s Count for control of the town’s timber. Roth, feral and typically brilliant, is unfortunately given short shrift in favor of Haskell, who can be cloyingly noble. Part of Deadwood’s genius was putting the bad guy up front. But when The Count takes the lead, Klondike is delicious. 

“What would you like to confess,” Shepard’s preacher asks him in church.

“Arson, murder,” says The Count.

“When did you commit these acts?”

“Well, I haven’t, yet,” Roth snaps.

Eventually, greed overwhelms, the bodies pile up, and so do the platitudes. Just about everybody starts offering newfound wisdom about gold’s corrupting power.

Haskell intones, “While we seek out gold and abstractions like justice, death only seeks more.” After striking it rich he contemplates skipping town to start a farm. Mulrooney supports the idea, saying that her lover is “too damned good for the Yukon.”

But that’s not true. The real Bill Haskell, we're told, returned to the Yukon one last time, and that didn’t go well. The allure of the north is strong. Discovery knows as much—Monday’s premiere episode drew 3.4 million viewers. Whether or not the network dives headlong into scripted drama remains to be seen, but it’s probably a safe bet that the gold rush will continue.

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Kit Crawford on Lunafest

Back in 2000, Luna (makers of the “whole nutrition bar for women”) hosted Lunafest, a one-night showing of seven films by, for, and about women. One thousand people attended the event, held at eight different venues across the United States. Proceeds—about $8,000—benefitted the Breast Cancer Fund.

Fast forward 14 years. Lunafest now plays in more than 190 locations across the country. All proceeds—more than $1.25 million—benefit women’s organizations; $656,000 of that has gone specifically to the Breast Cancer Fund.

The current Lunafest season kicked off in October 2013 and plays in cities around the country until June 2014. The nine films range from four to 21 minutes in length and feature everything from basketball-playing grandmothers to a female wrestler preparing for her first coed match. Love, strength, and survival are common themes.

“We feel very fortunate that we can bring such powerful, artistic, and award-winning films to a local community in a way that not only makes an impact, but supports women and raises funds and awareness for an important cause,” says Kit Crawford, co-owner of Clif Bar, maker of Luna.

Here, Crawford takes a moment to tell us about her involvement with the festival.

What was the original idea behind Lunafest?
We were looking for a way to support women, and noticed that not only is there a synergy between women and film, but there is also a clear underrepresentation of women in the film industry. We wanted to support these gifted women by giving them a platform to tell their stories and fundraise for a great cause.

Lunafest was an opportunity for us to meet women where they were, and connect with them through storytelling—a key focus for women in film. The film festival is truly an empowering way for women to raise funds for the Breast Cancer Fund and local nonprofits, allows us to bring communities together, and supports the underrepresented women filmmakers. 

How involved are you in the organization of the event?
Lunafest is truly a team effort. My team and I work very hard to organize, design, and select the films that will be featured at each year’s festival. We are committed to sharing the inspiring stories of our very gifted women filmmakers. I am always blown away by the artistic, moving, and thoughtful works we receive, which can make my job very challenging!

What's your favorite film this year?
Each film is so different, and so special, and offers an important perspective from a women’s unique point of view. Last year, we received 950 film submissions, and it was incredibly difficult to narrow the entries down to just nine feature films!

But, if I had to choose just one film that really stuck with me this season, I would have to say that it’s Granny’s Got Game. What I love about this film is how well it showcases how communities of women support each other.

What is the effect of Lunafest on viewers?
In about two hours, our viewers are entertained, encouraged and often educated to make a positive impact on the community. Lunafest allows viewers to be a part of something special, and when you get up from your seat, you'll walk away and hopefully be changed for the better.  

Lastly, what’s your favorite flavor of Luna Bar?
My favorite flavors are Luna Protein’s Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Luna Bar’s Chocolate Dipped Coconut. At the Lunafest season premiere, we gave away some of our fans’ favorites: Lemon Zest, Chocolate Dipped Coconut, and our newest flavor, Carrot Cake.

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How to Make a Killer Whitewater Video

You don’t need vanloads of equipment or even years of training to become a professional adventure filmmaker. You just need a decent camera, some innate talent, and guts. Rush Sturges is proof. The 28 year-old professional kayaker and filmmaker started his career when he was in high school, shooting paddling groups on the Salmon River in California with a Canon camcorder. In 2009, he started his own production company, River Roots, which has since produced three full-length paddling films. He has worked on projects on almost every continent, most recently in Mexico directing aerial footage for a kayaking, surfing, mountain-biking, and BASE-jumping video for the Mexican Board of Tourism.

We caught up with him in-between edits and asked him what it takes to become an adventure filmmaker.

1.  It’s Not Your Equipment; It’s How You Use It

In the modern era of (relatively) affordable digital SLR’s, the playing field has never been more even for aspiring filmmakers. “Take the fact that the Canon 7D, which only costs $1,500, has been used to shoot Hollywood movies,” Sturges points out. “The reality is that, to the average eye, the difference of quality between top-level cameras and consumer/prosumer cameras has become increasingly thin.” According to Sturges, “It’s not so much what you shoot with, it’s how you shoot it.”

Good Options for Starting Out:

High-End (Read: “Expensive”) Options:

2. Listen to the Music, and Keep It Eclectic

According to Sturges, music is the root of all of his projects. “It’s the heartbeat and driving force behind cinema,” he says. “The best directors also tend to have the best soundtracks.” (Think Tarantino, Scorsese, Anderson, etc.). Sturges tries to find songs that are not yet popular, or underground enough that he can afford the rights to them. “There is a real art to this,” Sturges says. “And it often requires countless hours on music blogs or programs like iTunes, Soundcloud, Spotify, or Pandora.” If you are having trouble finding music you can afford, Sturges suggests getting a composer to create something original. “For my DVD projects, about 40-50% of the music is original,” Sturges says. “This will also make your project more unique.”

 

 

3. Tell a (Good) Story

“Storyline should always play a role in your filmmaking,” Sturges says. “I’ve always been a fan of action-sports porn, which is generally just epic footage set to a bumpin’ soundtrack. There is a time and a place for this, and God knows I’ve put in my hours making these kinds of movies. However, as you mature as a filmmaker, most people tend to go in the direction of being more story-oriented. This is the trend in action sports, too, and it’s exciting to see it move in this direction.” In a nutshell: You need a beginning, middle, and an end. “The three-act structure has been a tried and tested format since the dawn of entertainment,” Sturges says. It works.

4. Create a Solid Team

When Sturges selects the people he wants to work with on projects, he tries to pick out the ones that he knows are going to be efficient and fun. “When creative people are having fun in the field, they are usually doing a good job,” Sturges says. ”As the director, it’s your duty to choose a group of like-minded and positive individuals who can get the job done. “It takes just one big ego in a group to throw off the balance,” he says. “You need to be able to accept your own faults and also point out the faults of others in a way that is diplomatic and favorable to progress.” It simply won’t work if you have everyone on your team working on a different film.

5. Prepare Yourself for Postproduction

Sturges often spends more time editing his films than being in the field shooting them. Get ready to spend a lot of time at the computer. “I tend to be meticulous about making sure my shots are all on the right beat within my edit,” Sturges says. “This is easy to overlook, but if you watch your edits enough you will start to see your faults. If you are just starting out with editing, your best bet is to learn Adobe Premier. Adobe has a few more options and also enables you to mix most formats.”

6. Fake It Till You Make It

If you feel like you’re not sure what you’re doing or that you’re in over your head, there’s a good chance you are. “The best thing you can do is roll with it,” Sturges says. “From my experience, this is a big part of filmmaking in general. The reality is that, like any art form, there is no exact science. The best you can do is to maintain a positive attitude, and do your best.” As long as you remain confident and open throughout the creative process, you will probably be fine. “Work hard to make the best product possible with your team,” Sturges says, “And chances are you will get hired the next time.”

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The Best Outside Stories of 2013

You know those year-end letters your overachieving relatives send out around this time, informing you of all they've been up to? This is ours, and yes, it’s been a helluva year. We started out by picking up some hardware at the National Magazine Awards and elsewhere, and went on to our biggest year online yet. But enough about us. It's the never-ending flow of awesome stories we have the great honor of telling that define such success. So, ICYMI, we present: The Year Outside: 2013.

January

Our hangovers (from both NYE and TDF) had barely lifted when Lance Armstrong came clean. Well, kinda. Watching Lance dissemble and faux pas his way through the Oprah interview was awkward for everyone, but it did lead to the Outside-approved #Doprah drinking game. Later in the year, Alex Gibney’s documentary The Armstrong Lie finally succeeded in pulling back the curtain on the conspiracy.

April

The Boston Marathon bombing, memorialized by a now-iconic Boston Magazine cover, reminded us that America is still a target. It also introduced us to 78-year-old Bill Iffrig, who fell to the ground but finished the race, the badass police woman who was the first to draw her weapon, and Carlos Arredondo the heroic man in the cowboy hat who helped stanch the bleeding of Jeff Bauman who lost both legs to the blast.

{%{"quote":"“'The Armstrong Lie' is the first and last Lance pic you’ll ever need to see.”"}%}

Ultrarunning continued to be the most-talked-about way to ambulate through the woods—because obstacle races can now kill you. This year, though, the simian-looking cult of barefoot running finally gave way to the clown-shoe cult of deep-dish Hoka One-One shoes—which perform like fat skis for your feet. Yes, it’s scientifically proven that if you add three inches of padding to the bottom of a shoe, running on rocks and downhill will hurt less.

May

A relatively quiet spring on the Great Plains—meteorologically speaking—gave way to one of the most ferocious tornado outbreaks of all time. The EF-5 monster that flattened sections of Moore, Oklahoma, came only a week before the largest tornado ever recorded touched down south of nearby El Reno. That tornado was 2.6 miles wide, had wind speeds of nearly 300 miles per hour, and will be remembered for killing legendary stormchaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and their colleague Carl Young.

June

The so-called Sherpa brawl on Everest stole the headlines, but it was the news on June 4, that the government was doubling the accidental-death insurance requirement for Everest’s high-altitude porters, that was the biggest news of the year for Sherpa climbers. The increase came just as we were finishing an exhaustive report on the overlooked Sherpa climbers of Everest.

Close on the heels of thoughtful books, like Philip Connors’s Fire Season, which continue to make the case for accepting fire as a natural part of the landscape, we continued to fight megablazes in Arizona, New Mexico, and California like they were ignited by Iranian missiles.

In Yarnell Hill, Arizona, 19 hotshots died while trying to prevent a the town from burning, the biggest wildland firefighting tragedy in 100 years. A report released in September blamed a lack of defensible space in the town of Yarnell, among other factors. In December, new GoPro footage emerged that captured audio of the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ final moments before they deployed their fire shelters.

July

The tide finally began to turn against Sea World after the release of Black Fish. The film adaptation of Tim Zimmermann’s Outside exposé on the San Diego company’s coverup following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau led to widespread public outrage as well as boycotts of the parks by several well-known musical acts. Sea World has recently gone on the offensive, taking out full-page ads in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post trying to win hearts and minds.

When on the evening of June 22, about 16 villagers disguised as Gilgit paramilitary officers hiked into base camp on the 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat what ensued would become one of the worst massacres in mountaineering history, an attack recounted by David Roberts in an online exclusive story

{%{"quote":"“Her husband, David, couldn’t bring himself to see his son’s burned body. It hurt too much. Instead, he gave Robert a gift he had meant to give him the last time he saw him alive.”"}%}

September

At the time, little was known about this GoPro video filmed from the back of an eagle, save that it was filmed in the Mer de Glace area of Chamonix. But this clip quickly became an Internet sensation, pulling in over 55,000 shares on our site.

October

This month wasn't good for the nutritional-industrial complex. We learned that sugar is a lot worse for you than we’d ever expected, vitamins don’t do anything, and dietary supplements are responsible for a shocking number of liver failures in America. So much for supps!

Camouflage was the biggest thing in fashion, with new prints from The North Face and Patagonia among others. Does the trend owe its roots to the ascendancy of Duck Dynasty and its now infamous star Phil Robertson, or the big comeback that hunting is making among the adventure set? Elsewhere in the fashion industry, scientists finally figured out how to waterproof goose down, making puffy jackets possibly the most versatile piece of insulation in your closet.

The end of October sent the country into widespread panic. No, not another financial collapse or terrorist threat. Responding to complaints of irritated eyes and throats, headaches, and unbearable odors, a judge in Los Angeles County moved to stop production at a Sriracha factory in California. The threat of curtailed hipster ketchup turned out to be our biggest news story of the year (um, go figure; you guys love your hot sauce!).

November

Ski porn hit new highs with the amazing cinematography and mind-melting edits of Valhalla and Into the Mind, both of which made Discovery’s Planet Earth look shabby by comparison. We were told that these films contained a narrative arc—that's pushing it, but they were trying at least. It didn't really matter; everybody loved them, anyway.

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For the third straight year, the Earth has unleashed a hundred-year storm. Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 6,000 people in the Philippines, though that number will likely rise. Is climate change to blame? Yeah, probably, but we’re not going to do anything about it until our vacations at places like Aspen Mountain get cut short for lack of snow.

In the month's—if not all of 2013's—most weirdly uplifting story, two Canadian men rescued a beached shark that was choking on a moose carcass. "It was a good feeling to see that shark swim out," said one of the rescuers. Yes. Yes it was.

December

The Oscars short-list for documentary films revealed a newfound love for the Outside and Mountainfilm genre, with Blackfish, The Armstrong Lie, The Crash Reel, and God Loves Uganda all getting the nod. Our favorite was Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel, a nearly perfect documentary that turned the heroic sports recovery on its head and made us fall in love with the Pearce family—especially David.

And finally, what big year would be complete without more news of Christopher McCandless, the wayward youth who gave away his money and hitchiked to Alaska where he met his demise? Jon Krakauer wrote an insightful piece for The New Yorker about new research into the cause of McCandless's death. But the bigger story might have been the reports of scores of Into the Wild fans making pilgrimages to the bus where McCandless last lived, risking their own lives along the way. Diana Saverin went to Alaska to learn more about who these people are, and why they felt compelled to embark on such a journey.

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