Onekotan – The Lost Island

Expedition to a deserted island
Client

Red Bull Media House

Concept & Idea

Mischfabrik & M-Line

Regie

Simon Thussbas (Mischfabrik)

Produzent

Matthias Mayr (M-Line)

Year of production

2016

Awards

In April 2015 we, in collaboration with Red Bull Media House went on an expedition to Kamchatka – more precisely 400 kilometers from Kamchatka. Hidden in the pacific ring of fire between Russia and Japan, lies Onekotan – the lost Island.

Three Freeride-Pros. Two volcanoes. One Island. One goal: the first decent of the volcano Krenizyn. A volcano in a volcano.

The 52-minute long adventure documentary was available exclusively on Red Bull TV from 25. September to 25. Oktober 2015. Afterwards the film was distributed through Amazon Videos/iTunes, a cinema tour in the german-speaking territories and was included in programs of several film festivals.

Biggest achievements

// International broadcasts mostly during Prime time on Servus TV (Austria, TVA Group (Canada), Fox Sports (Australia), Globosat (Brazil), Abu Dhabi Media (UAE), JSC First (Russia), View communication (Belgium), SAS AB (France), YLE Broadcast (Finnland)
// Part of the program of the European outdoor film tour 2015/2016
// Award for “toughest cameraman” at the freeride festival

It was our, to this point biggest adventure for us as a film production firm. A voyage into the unknown. Into the deepest part of Russia. Onto an island in the middle of the pacific fire ring. Onekotan lies 400 kilometers before the coast of Kamchatka. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere. But we wanted to go there no matter what. For our biggest adventure. To draw lines where no one has drawn lines before/ To ski where no one as skied before. On a volcano inside a volcano.

Behind the scenes: On an island… Inside an island.

Our team spent 18 days on a deserted island with at times -40°Ceclius apparent temperature with unrelenting snow storms, somewhere in the pacific fire ring between Kamchatka and Hokkaido. What happened behind the camera for the project “Onekotan”, what it takes to withstand the adverse conditions and why anybody would even get the idea for such an expedition… Who would better tell you than director and DOP Simon Thußbass himself…

 

(But) why?

Hey y’all – to begin the probably most interesting question: “Why the hell would you do that?”. For me personally, it was a combination of action and location appealed to me. Here the hard facts of the project: skiing in one of the most remote locations on earth. Thousands and thousands of kilometers from home. Hundreds of kilometers from any civilization. On a volcano inside a volcano. A place nobody ever skied before. Anyone that has just the smallest adventurer inside him, knows that there isn’t much to think about.

 

But that honestly wasn’t the only reason to take on the project. Already in the early stages of the project(development), it was clear that the Red Bull Media house would be on board. For the Mischfabrik team as a young and aspiring film team, there were worse things than knowing that each of our own productions/ concepts would run through several levels of the worlds leading company in regard to extreme sports coverage. A little attention from our direct neighbors in Salzburg surely couldn’t hurt…

 

What happened behind the camera:

For me, adventure always means venturing into the unknown. You never know what’s going to happen next and have to be prepared for all instances. As a camera operator you are additionally carrying at least three times the weight in equipment around. Because of the long distances we had to cover on the island, it wasn’t always possible to stop to record footage and give instructions from a time stand point of view – the others would have probably lynched me. Therefore I often had to walk faster than the rest, to get ahead or catch up.

 

Also the accents and descents with all the equipment for the expedition were very strenuous, probably the hardest of the whole time on the island. We were a good team, but here and there I caught a mean look from the others when I focused on the camera while the rest of the crew had to do all the heavy lifting. But hey – I traveled to this island to produce a film.

In terms of equipment we probably exaggerated a bit: we had five film cameras, two photo cameras, two drones, ten lenses as well as several steady-cams & tripods. Basically, enough to produce two films. For the power supply of the entire equipment, we brought a fully charged car battery, as well as a small diesel generator, which didn’t function to well. To be one the safe side, we brought a tone of batteries – that helped a lot, because we weren’t always dependent on charging the batteries and the problems with the generator didn’t make a big difference.  In the end we did use every part of equipment we had brought and even destroyed a drone and a tripod. The island really demanded its tolls in technical equipment. So the back up wasn’t a bad idea after all. “Be prepared for all conditions!”

 

THE ISLAND – DO’S AND DON’TS

The only real “Don’t” was due to the cold. With the prevailing conditions we could never, never expose our skin to the air. Even when just a square centimeter of skin wasn’t covered by appropriate, water-resistant clothes it would immediately freeze in these conditions. With 100km/h wind, -10 to -15°Celcius quickly feel like -40 to -50°Celcius.

A clear “DO” on the other hand was, that I built myself an igloo in the second camp instead of sleeping in the expedition tent. On the one hand, would a two-man-expedition tent been to small for me and my equipment and in the igloo,  I had my own little kingdom, where I could have a minute of peace from time to time. But the true advantage was, that in the igloo I wasn’t exposed to the same humidity as in the tent and therefore could clean and prepare my camera equipment without it fogging up.

 

Another clear “Do” I unfortunately only discovered during the trip. It totally makes sense, but somehow I didn’t think of it before and only got the advice from our vet and expedition expert Phil Meier: No matter how long you are on expedition – bring a fresh pair of socks for every day! Cold, moist feet are for sure not an option that is a lot of fun..

 

THE LAST ACT – DRAMA

To this day I still am unsure how I should feel about the end of our adventure. As you know, we had to be flown out extravagantly by helicopter, because the crew of the ship determined it to be to big of a swell to land ashore safely. When the ship didn’t want to pick up us up, I thought: “How can they do that? We already payed for them to take us back!”. Then I thought, how it would be to stay a couple weeks longer on the island… Would it be dangerous? How dangerous? Would it maybe be cool for the film?

 

I quickly came to the conclusion, that it would be an important part of the film. From then on I fully concentrated on capturing it and left the organization to the rest of the team. I completely withdrew myself (so to say). But before, I had to unpack all the equipment that was already packed away in suitcases for our journey home…

So in the end the decision of the ship’s crew turned out to be good – besides of course for the enormous costs that came with the helicopter extraction: we had an additional dramaturgic highlight for the end of the film, which probably no viewer would expect… and the view from the heli, back to the island, that in those 18 days had demanded so much from us but also given so much, was a worthy end to our adventure!

Cheers, Simon

P.S. Shortly after our screening for ServusTV an email from a viewer reached us, who had visited Onekotan himself in the 90s. The following extract still gives us shivers 10 months after our visit…

“[…] You were lucky, your camp in Mussel-Bay was built on several grenades, from some of which, in 1988 we used the TNT-plates for starting a fire with wet wood! […]”

 

Puh…

Making of