We were contacted in late March 2015 by BJL Group Ltd. about filming one of our rock climbing instructors for a new Subaru advert. They had some ideas about how the advert was going to look and feel but nothing more than that, so they enlisted our help in finding a location and getting into the technical side of things. The first place for us to start was with the storyboard or concept drawings to gain a better understanding of the advert. After seeing the shots they wanted and knowing that the venue had to be within a reasonable drive from London, we knew instantly that the Isle of Portland in Dorset was going to hold the answers.

Setting up before the filming

After much discussion amongst myself and the team we decided that we wanted to head to Blacknor South on the West coast of Portland, as this offered some great climbing options, was impressively high and had great views into the distance – everything a film director would want! So the venue was chosen, the date set, and a technical team was in place to rig the camera operators in position to get those stunning shots.

It was now the day before the shoot and I received a phone call from our climbing star of the advert to say that he’d come down with flu! – Ahh! So with less than 24hrs to go I’d just lost the star of the show and a climber who can onsite a 7a+. So the morning was spent frantically phoning around trying to find someone who could climb hard and was available the next day to drive to Portland. In the end we decided to go with Henning Muller, a great climber and full time climbing instructor. So with myself, Kyle and Henning we had a crew but now the weather looked like it was set to play havoc with our plans!

It was the day of the shoot and the wind was howling as I woke up at 5:30am, it looks like the weather forecasters had not be telling lies and the 40-50mph winds were in full effect. So it was off to the lockup to load the kit and meet the team.

We’d chosen Portland not only for its stunning scenery but also for exactly this reason, that if the weather was bad we could always use the other side of the Island. After much discussion we decided to head to the ‘Cuttings’ as this would give and impressive cliff height (20m) – ideal for the shoot and sheltered from the worst of the wind.

Getting close up shots on a gopro

We met the film crew armed with the latest GoPro 4k cameras and drone cams (they wanted a first person style advert) and we headed off to the rocks.

First we went on a whistle stop tour of the rocks so the director could get a feel for the place and scout out any locations he wanted to film. After this is was time to load up and bring all the climbing and camera equipment down to climbing area. After 10 minutes of us being there the clouds seemed to disappear, and the sun burst through. This meant its was time to take off the windproofs, thermals, and multiple layers we’d all been wearing as we had found a suntrap that was also completely sheltered from the roaring winds above!

…. ‘Anyone bring any sunscreen?’ – The answer was no!

The first sequence to film was the journey to the bottom of the rocks and getting geared up. This was the relatively easy part but took a while as working out camera angles when there is so much climbing gear flying out of the bag took some doing. Once this was complete we chose a route and set our climber (Henning) to work to get warmed up. Armed to the teeth with GoPro hero 4 camera’s looking from his POV (point of view), up, down, leg cams and more he’d soon completed 4-5 accents of the route.

Then it was time to get the long shots and cutaway shots, so we rigged a few angles high on the rocks from which to film Henning as he climbed up to us. The director was extremely happy with these and we soon had everything we needed except for the drone shots.

Long distance shots with a drone

So it was time to lift and shift all the climbing and rigging equipment out of the way to ensure none of it would be seen as the drone flew overhead. After a few drone technical issues its was soon up and flying around getting flybys and over the shoulder shots as Henning climbed his way to the top for the 7th or 8th time.

So with the light gradually disappearing over to the West side of the Island we had to move fast. We used a different location at the cuttings with a 7a overhang so if the Henning fell he wouldn’t injure himself on the rocks. We rigged a few lines up to allow Henning to ascend the route before being transferred over the falling rope.

We also rigged another high camera angle to capture a cutaway shot but most of the footage was captured from the first person point of view. With the final shots captured, its was just time to wrap the shoot with a film sequence with the car – a Subaru Outback before heading home for tea and medals (well, fish and chips and cake!)

By Tom Hatt



Lights, Camera, Action! Filming our Subaru Advert – Pt.2

A few of months ago we were asked to source a location, a climber and riggers to film a Subaru advert. The day went well and the shoot was completed. The media company BJL were extremely pleased with the advert, however they wanted to make a more dramatic fall at the end of the sequence and shoot it from more angles, so they asked us to head back to Portland to spend the day not climbing, but falling!! This time we decided to head to Neddyfileds on the East Cost as this was similar in aspect and scenery to the Cuttings where we’d previously shot, but this was more overhanging for our fall shots and allowed for a great vista in the background.

Upon arrival we were slightly worry about the amount of ‘group’ ropes already in situ, however we found the area we were planning was empty and the groups were far enough around the corner that they wouldn’t be in shot. Portland climbing.

Stunning view climbing in Portland

Setting up the film crew safety ropes.

We got straight on with the action, first rigging an ascent line for the camera man (Tom) and while this was going on Henning got warmed up and started working on the moves to the drop point. When everyone was in position and the GoPro’s were up and running, it was time for the first fall. After this was out of the way, we increased the drop size and marked the ropes to ensure similar drop heights each time. We filmed a wide range of angles and all in all Henning must have made about 10 drops.

Below hear from Henning about the fear of falling: Once we got there, chose a route for the shoot and started setting up, I started feeling a bit nervous about the big falls I was about to take. In climbing you gradually build up a relationship of trust between you and person you climb with regularly and on this occasion I wasn’t being belayed by someone I had climbed with loads before. However, Kyle was on belay for the shoot and although he had only ever belayed me on one occasion, (the day of the previous shoot) I knew I could trust him but I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous. TV and Film safety rigging in Portland.

Ready to hold a climbing fall

Kyle ready for Henning’s leader fall.

Once we got going and I took a couple of falls I was getting more comfortable and I could relax a bit more. I take big falls indoors on a regular basis and don’t mind it much, but taking big falls outdoors is always much more exhilarating. After a few big drops I was now properly rushing on adrenaline and enjoying the experience more and more.

With Tom hanging on a rigged rope next to me, we were shooting from lots of different angles and heights to get the perfect shot for the advert. After getting a few good shots of the falling, the director wanted a shot of a climber being lowered down quickly and stopping a couple of meters off the ground.

We decided to put a knot in the dead rope to make sure I didn’t end up on the ground when I was lowered down that fast. We were all set to go. I climbed back up and on cue, Kyle tried lowering me down fast as he could and as calculated, I stopped a couple of meters off the ground. The director was not happy with the speed at which I was coming down so our only option was for Kyle to completely let go of the rope so I could drop down faster and stop when the knot jams in the belay device. This is something I have never done before so needless to say, I was quite nervous.

We re-calculated to make sure the knot was tied at the right height so I would not end up on the ground. So up I climbed again, reassuring myself that we had checked and calculated everything correctly and that I would not end up hitting the deck. The countdown started and on cue I let go and dropped down stopping two meters off the ground as calculated. I sighed with relief and looked at the director for approval. Instead of a nod of approval, he asked whether there was any way to speed up the drop as it still was not fast enough. Sport lead climbing in Portland, Dorset.

Chiiling out between takes

Henning dangling from the rope after taking another fall.

After a bit of thought, we decided to put a pulley up at the top for the rope to run through, reducing the friction and ultimately dropping me at a faster speed. With everything in place, and once again a slightly nervous me waiting at the top, Tom counted and I dropped down. This time much faster than ever before! The first couple of drops were scary and exhilarating but then I could start enjoying the buzz again until we finally got the ‘OK’ from the director to say he was satisfied and got the shot he wanted. Abseiling at Neddyfields in Portland.

Abseilng practice at the end of the dayAl the director taking his first ever abseil with Carlos providing safety cover.

After all the exciting shots, falling off more times than I normally do in a month, we only had a few easy ground based shots left to do to wrap up the day. We quickly got these out of the way and had a bit of time to spare in the afternoon. We even managed to convince the director to have a go at climbing and abseiling before we packed up and headed back to Brighton.

The Finished Subaru Advert


By Tom Hatt and Henning Muller