In May of 1996, climbers from two commercial expeditions began their final ascents toward the summit of Mount Everest. Out of nowhere, a violent storm places the adventurers in a blizzard that was unlike any other ever experienced by the climbers. In these extreme conditions, the teams faced wind and freezing temperatures in an epic battle to survive against nearly impossible odds.
Everest documents the awe-inspiring journey of these two teams of climbers. But beyond telling the story of what the climbers faced, the team responsible for making the movie — both cast and crew — faced their own battle with conditions far outside those normally found on a movie set.
Of course, film shoots are always challenging, but work on Everest surpassed the limits of most. With unit shoots in locations as far afield as Nepal, the Italian Alps, Rome and Pinewood Studios in the U.K., the challenges of filming this epic-adventure exceeded all expectations.
Director Baltasar Kormákur knew that he wanted Everest to be authentically and cinematically shot so that the cast and crew, as well as the audience, would comprehend the immensity of the mountain and be emotionally invested in the stories of these actual people.
The film’s schedule was ambitious, beginning on January 14, 2014, with a reduced unit starting principal photography in Kathmandu. Scenes were shot at altitudes of 16,000 ft., giving the cast an acute sense of the challenges of life at high altitudes. “The altitude really hits you,” relays Jason Clarke, who plays the leader of one of the Everest expeditions, Rob Hall. “You hike in, and it gets you ready; acclimatization starts at base camp.”
Despite being more used to five-star hotels and luxury trailers, the Everest cast — and crew for that matter — quickly grasped the reality of life on the mountain as they trekked through the foothills. Kormákur lists some of their issues: “The water was freezing; we didn’t have any heating in our accommodations. We slept with electric blankets. We could hardly get out of the bed to take a piss because it was so cold. The cast didn’t have assistants or help with much. They had to walk to set and carry all their own gear.”
Josh Brolin, who plays climber beck Weathers, recalls those trying times: “Balt wanted it as real as possible. We worked whatever hours they needed us to work so the conventional filming day — when you get a call time, go to a trailer to get your makeup done and so on — just didn’t exist. I remember lying in bed exhaling massive clouds of breath, not believing quite how cold I felt.
Jake Gyllenhaal (playing Scott Fischer) adds: “Watching crew 12,000 ft. up on the mountain in a snowstorm moving equipment, Sherpas carrying huge fans on their backs, helicopters dropping pieces of camera, and all of us carrying things up there — setting lines 15 minutes before a take and bringing cameras up to different angles on different rocks — the organization of all that, along with the intensity of making this movie, was extraordinary.”
Everest is available beginning Jan. 19 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2015 Universal Pictures
Credit: Jasin Boland