Terry Abraham Interview – Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike

Monday 30th March 2015

Life of a Mountain is only the second feature length film from 37-year-old videographer Terry Abraham. The former IT worker’s cinematic debut, The Cairngorms in Winter, scored a surprise hit with outdoor enthusiasts in 2013. The two-hour film interweaves intimate portraits of local celebrities, like broadcaster Eric Robson and fell-running legend Joss Naylor, alongside the people who live, work and visit the mountain. It is beautifully shot and set to an original, orchestral score. Following a sell-out premiere on the IMAX-style screen at the Rheged Centre last May, we caught up with Terry and asked him the secret of his new-found success.

 

Why did you choose Scafell rather than a more traditional story-led narrative?

I was very clear from the off what I wanted to do. Scafell has got mass-market appeal – it’s an accessible place for people of all ages and abilities. I wanted to capture the British countryside at its very best. It’s always annoyed me that more outdoor productions aren’t based in UK. Those that are often don’t do the landscape justice – even major series like the BBC’s Wainwright Walks. Places like the Lakes can look world-class. It was just a question about whether I was up to the job – both skills wise and taking on the physical challenge of filming by myself.

 

How did you get into filmmaking?

I’ve always had love and passion for the outdoors. I used to camp out with my grandfather who was a gamekeeper in Sherwood Forest. I’m not formally trained, though I was considered a talented artist and illustrator and always had an interest in film and video, which I started to study at college, but I quit after only three months. A heart scare ten years ago reignited my interest in wild camping. I started taking my camcorder out with me and built up a YouTube following and won a couple of amateur filmmaking competitions. When I was made redundant I decided to give it a go.

 

The way you financed the film through Indiegogo was innovative

People tell me it’s innovative but it’s just what I do. Social networking made me realise there was a fan base out there. I had 60 days to reach my target of £5,000 on Indiegogo and we hit it in 10 days. I didn’t think this was a low-budget project until I started talking to my peers. Now I realise it’s practically no budget. I’ve been compared to the Steven Spielberg of the outdoor world – my films might not be award-winning but they have mass-market appeal. I’m not bothered about what festival judges think. It’s the public who pay my bills and it’s them I want to thrill.

What is it about the film that engages people?

I can only quote what other people have said. I obviously have an eye with the camera and style that appeals to people but to me that’s just the way I see and think. I want to bring back the romance and drama that so inspired the Lakeland poets and show people that this is the real deal – there’s no Photoshop or Hollywood studio. I’m just capturing beautiful scenes here in Britain that they can go and see for themselves. I hope I’ve created a little time capsule of life around this mountain that historians will be able to look back at in years to come. I didn’t want it to date so there are no fancy silly camera moves or quick-cut editing – it’s just the mountain and the people telling the story in the frame.

 

Are you perhaps guilty of being over-sentimental and not addressing controversial issues like the Three Peaks Challenge and ill-equipped walkers head on?

It was a deliberate decision not to have an editorial voice. Personally, I despise the Three Peaks Challenge and the effect it has on the area but I didn’t want to be preachy – it’s not in my nature to force my opinion on people. If you ask, I’ll tell you what I think. I wanted people to make their own minds up.

What’s next?  

I’m in no rush to do this again! I’m going to wait until the film is out and see what happens. Next time I’d want a crew with a soundman and a proper audio mixer plus someone to carry kit. My pack weighed in excess of 30 kilograms which restricted me on shoots. I’d also want to do it on a bigger, more chromatic scale but not so it loses its heart and light touch. I’ve got in mind Kinder, Snowdon and Ben Nevis and returning to the Lakes to Helvellyn as I was welcomed with open arms in Cumbria.

Watch Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike

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