In the latest video from the series Of Souls+Water, director Skip Armstrong and producer Anson Fogel profile river surfer Christopher Peterson. Peterson grew up on the North Shore of Hawaii and found himself fighting for everything in his life, from his place in the local lineups to his place in surfing as a whole. It wasn't until his grandma called and asked him to come live with her in Idaho that he changed his outlook, a story that's told in more detail in The Warrior.
This is the fourth film in the Of Souls+Water series, and it includes elements not found in the first three. The main character is a bit rougher around the edges. The beginning of the film is held together by still shots, rather than by an edit of slow-mo shots and time in the water that dominate the other shorts and the second half of this one. To get a bit more perspective on how the team at Forge Motion Pictures found, filmed, and edited so many different adventure profiles, I interviewed director Skip Armstrong.
Where did the idea for the Of Souls+Water series come from?
Anson had been envisioning an artistic and poetic series for some time before Of Souls+Water and did the brainstorming to create the title and the original concept of the characters featured. I had done the Seasons series in 2011 and wanted to progress on that foundation. NRS had contacted both Anson and I separately to meet at the Outdoor Retailer show to propose ideas, and, somewhere in the mix, our ideas meshed into one concept.
You've profiled everyone from a young expedition kayaker to a 67-year-old mother to a whitewater playboater pulling tricks of big waves in the dark. How did you pick your subjects?
This varied so much from film to film. Erik Boomer is a really good friend of mine from Idaho and we worked with him when we filmed WildWater. Boomer is an amazing guy and I love his approach to whitewater and day-to-day life. Anson reached out to Bryan Smith to help find Melody. An email was sent out to the sea kayaking community and we got several responses back that we should contact her. I still can't believe that she agreed to spend eight days in the desert with three stinky guys more or less without knowing us at all.
One of the best parts of creating this series is getting to spend so much time with our characters. All of us have made so many new friends. I pretty much stalked Ben Marr on Facebook and wrote him out of the blue. I literally told him I had an idea for The Shapeshifter and that it was going to be a little weird and he was all about it. Ben is truly one of the best kayakers and one of the nicest people I have ever meet. Christopher Peterson and I met last summer at a dinner party and became good friends over the year, he is one of the bravest people I have ever known. Adam Elliot and Mark Deming at NRS helped me get in contact with Rob Elliot to film The Elder.
Skip Armstrong on the set of The Warrior. Photo: Skip Armstrong
Of all of the videos in the series, which has been the toughest to shoot and edit?
Great question and hard to answer. Each has presented unique challenges. The Shapeshifter was burly because we drove 52 hours from Colorado to Quebec and back in just two weeks. Fun aside, we were exhausted after that one. The Nomad was shot in five different locations and was logistically the most intensive. Each film had so much uncertainty around weather and water levels and we worked hard to get it just right but when Mother Nature is in charge we realize we are just rolling the dice and hoping it will all work out—and there is always some stress involved with that. The waterfall in The Nomad was so amazing—that was a huge gift from Mother Nature as that area rarely has snow, let alone that much.
How much back and forth is there between you and Anson Fogel in crafting the story? Can you describe that process a bit?
Anson and I worked very closely to create The Nomad and The Mother. From there I, along with assistant director Thatcher Bean, ran with the series. Anson provides the best feedback I have ever received and he has done all the sound design and color correcting on all the films. All of us at Forge work closely on all projects regardless of who is spearheading them. I'm biased of course, but our collective is really cool—we have a lot of freedom to do creative work and we all support each other where we can. In this series I would edit a concept and present it to Anson and Thatcher and we'd talk about it. I'd edit more and show them until we had a finished film.
What have you learned or taken away as a filmmaker after shooting and directing this series?
I've gained a tremendous amount of confidence in pulling off complicated shoots on tight deadlines while maintaining the highest quality image possible. I've had so much support from friends at Felt Soul Media, Camp 4 Collective, and a good friend in New York City, director Ryan Fenson-Hood. Everyone has taught me so much and helped me through the times where I might be taking myself too seriously or getting hung up on a detail. I can't wait to create more content in the future and continue meeting the wonderful and interesting folks that make up our outdoor community.
What do you hope others take from the series?
In all content I create I simply hope to connect with my audience. I hope our audience gets to know and see our world in a new way, gets insight into others' motivations and thoughts, and perhaps learns something new along the way. I hope these films are motivating people to get out and experience our wonderful planet.
Also, I'd love to recognize NRS and New Belgium for being such amazing supporters of this series. Without them and their massive trust none of these episodes would ever have been created.