How to Document a 24-Hour Event
Jalbert Productions International's approach to shooting Tough Mudder's 2013 World's Toughest Mudder event.
At the end of every Tough Mudder season, those who believe they are amongst the toughest Mudders are invited to compete in the World’s Toughest Mudder Event. It is more grueling than any other Tough Mudder regional event, spanning 24 hours with double the amount of obstacles per mile than any other event. Yes, it’s pretty badass. When Tough Mudder hired us to document the 2013 World’s Toughest Mudder for the third consecutive year, we had to develop and refine our approach to capture this epic event in its entirety.
A 24-hour event is a unique beast in its own right. Not only does it cover a range of different times of the day- from the early morning sun to the dead of night- but it also requires a great deal of endurance from everyone involved. We needed to produce two pieces of video content for the brand - an event highlight video and a 15 minute documentary of the event. Our main focus was to capture the athletic competition in a dramatic and exhilarating way. Therefore, the real challenge was to be in multiple places, capturing multiple athletes, and developing multiple storylines all at the same time.
THE GAME PLAN.
Each lap of the World’s Toughest Mudder course was 5 miles and each athlete had an ankle tracker that tracked them every mile. One of JPI’s producers, Stefano Pennisi, was positioned in “the bird’s nest”, where he used a walkie talkie to communicate with each JPI crew member on the track about the athletes’ positions as he tracked them through his laptop tracker application. Thanks to this logical tactic, our crews were able to anticipate the athletes' arrivals at each obstacle. JPI had four teams, each with a camera, a producer, and audio capabilities stationed at a different parts of the course. Instead of chasing the runners around the track, we would wait until they came to us. We’d then communicate back to “the bird’s nest” to confirm our athlete’s position and keep our team on the same page. Once we got into the twilight portion of the event (midnight- 6am), the athletes became more spread out and the pace slowed down, so we condensed our crews down to one cameraman and one producer and decided on which storylines/athlete we’d want to track throughout these late hours.
One of the major difficulties we faced with filming World’s Toughest Mudder was the ability to capture all of the developing stories at once. During the day, when the race was just getting started and the competitors had more energy, the stories developed at a much faster rate. Our system with multiple crews on the course ensured that our team would not miss any beat of story development. By the time night fell on the World’s Toughest Mudder, however, it transformed into an entirely different race. The temperature dramatically dropped to near freezing, visibility decreased to almost nothing, and the competitors were running on pure determination. It’s during this time that not only their mental and physical strength was truly tested, but champions are defined. Producing this part of the race required completely different tactics and a new level of stamina. In order to capture the most important moments, we needed to predict the outcomes and developing storylines in advance. We needed to be aware if a competitor was moving up in the ranks, if someone got injured, if a team was taking a break in the pit, etc. We also had to gage in the moment how to balance the amount of time we spent filming each specific story before moving onto the next. This especially got difficult when there were multiple storylines developing at once on different parts of the course. Thanks to our team’s intuition, focus, and timing, we were able to capture a particularly key moment when this year’s winner passed last year’s winner on the course, as you can see in the video below. We also captured the early leader, Knut Hoeller, moments after he injured his ankle and was forced to leave the competition early.
THE FINAL PRODUCT.
JPI produced an event highlight video that was used to promote World’s Toughest Mudder (seen above) and a 15 minute documentary to tell the event’s story in detail. Documenting any event presents its own unique challenges, but our film production company was able to successfully capture this particularly grueling event due to our endurance, systemic approach, teamwork, and acute focus on telling the best story.