Michael Brown (Geog’90) was in Skywalker Ranch in early April, putting the final touches on the audio track of his new adventure film, “The Weight of Water”—and he wasn’t taking the trip to the legendary Marin County, California, recording center lightly.
“The Weight of Water” follows the blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer as he kayaks the Grand Canyon. And, for Brown, the sound is a vital element of that experience.
The roar of upcoming wild water is often reflected in the anxiety on Weihenmayer’s face as he prepares to tackle the rapids, Brown said. However, even before the filming began, the blind adventurer’s intensity, commitment and response to challenges were already well known to Brown, who also filmed Weihenmayer summiting Mount Everest in 2001 for the film “Farther Than the Eye Can See.”
“It’s the lead up that’s really intense; when you come on the horizon, and it goes from smooth and glassy to the rapids. That’s when you can hear the roar from the rapids, especially in the Grand Canyon where it’s echoing off the canyon walls. That’s where it really gets you in the guts and all your instincts say, ‘stop,’” said Brown.
The soundtrack will also incorporate the radio instructions to Weihenmayer telling him how to tackle the rapids, so with an original score and dialogue to fit in, that’s no small order for the audio editing. However, Brown, the University of Colorado’s 2012 George Norlin Award winner for his extensive contributions to adventure filmmaking, said film’s visual appeal is every bit as captivating.
Beyond that, of course, there’s the canyon itself, an environment that rapidly changes human perception during the 277-mile voyage from Lee’s Ferry to Pearce Ferry. “After you’ve been in the canyon for four or five days, your short-term memory changes,” Brown said.
It’s the lead up that’s really intense; when you come on the horizon, and it goes from smooth and glassy to the rapids. ... That’s where it really gets you in the guts and all your instincts say, ‘stop.’”
You are no longer processing information about your telephone or cars. Beyond that, there’s this incredible sense of space.”
Brown is acquainted with all types of wilderness expeditions, having summited Everest five times and made more than 50 expeditions to all seven continents, capturing film ranging from the Arctic and Antarctic to the world’s most dense jungles and even some of the world’s deepest caves. His work has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television, ESPN, IMAX theaters and the BBC.
Still, he admits that with a growing family, this picture almost didn’t make it past the filming. While the filming was completed in September 2016, the unedited film sat for some time until David Holbrooke, the former director of Telluride Mountainfilm, talked Brown into finishing the project.
The film may be released soon, though Brown isn’t planning any big adventure films in the near future.
“I’ve been shifting my focus from this to being a dad for a while—making sure that my kids have a chance to do the things in life I’ve loved,” he said. “I’d like them to see Everest, though not climb it, and I’d especially like them to experience other cultures.”
While Brown has no immediate plans to complete another film with Weihenmayer, he said they share far more than a sense of adventure.
“I like to get shots when he’s just sitting there,” Brown said. “I quickly forget that he’s blind, and that’s not the first thing that his friends think about either. He’s got brothers. He likes giving people a hard time and being a bit ornery.”
Learn more about Serac Adventure Films, which Brown founded, at its website.