In 2014, Spanish elite ultra-runner, Luis Alberto Hernando, made the decision to pull out of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), a decision he attests to being ashamed of. His shame and frustration was elevated when he awoke after a few hours of sleep to see the second half of the field still struggling forwards to the finish line; determined, exhausted and committed. Inspired by their will to finish, he vowed to himself that he would come back to finish the full 103mi (166km) distance, no matter what.
Nuevos Pasos is a short movie by Francois and Maxime Tornier, and tells the story of Hernando’s second UTMB attempt. It captures what it took for Hernando to finish the 103mile trail race, the struggle of reaching an unknown level of physical and mental exhaustion, and how he overcame it to finish second overall. While filming the UTMB may not be as tough as actually taking part, Francois Tornier, owner of Outdoor-Live.com, discusses his experience of filming Neuvos Pasos, getting around the unpredictability of trail running and the literal new steps he also took to depict this unusual moment in competitive racing.
Tornier begins by explaining why Outdoor-Live.com chooses to document stories of elite athletes in niche sports. The answer is simple, and is because of the caliber of people they get to meet and film. “We tend to focus on smaller sports like trail running because of what champions in those disciplines are made of. They all achieve amazing performances with little support, but with such a strong determination and dedication. Focusing on someone like Luis was a great way to immerse in this culture and focus on a very iconic runner,” said Tornier, who makes mention that Hernando’s fame and popularity is second only to Kilian Jornet in Spain. Being passionate about your subject (for whatever reason) is the very first step to making a successful movie.
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A trail running champion that makes a great character is one thing, but actually getting access to his or her life can be another, and is largely dependent on the athlete. Fortunately, Tornier didn’t run into any issues with this, as Hernando turned out to be incredibly accommodating and open. “Luis was kind enough to let us film at any time before the event (all the way to the last minutes before the start),” he said. But in a bid to tell a more emotive story, Tornier had to apply himself further than simply lucking out and getting an all access pass to Hernando’s life. Relying on catching ‘a’ moment by simply following the protagonist 24 hours a day wouldn’t be enough. He had to learn how to predict moments and behaviors, and to do this he tried something different, something he now encourages all filmmakers to do; he used the all-access pass to also observe Hernando. “In my opinion, the best way to get to know someone is to observe them really well, watching their codes and understanding what they go through and how they react to all types of situations. This method will give you a lot of information about the character, without having to pry. It’s also often information that you might not get from asking direct questions.” Through this new step, Tornier formed a deeper understanding of Hernando and ultimately was able to create a better depiction of him on the camera and predict where to be to capture great footage.
Tornier’s overall aim was to “show how a very competitive athlete approaches a challenge he is uncertain of and what it’s like when they really step outside of their comfort zone,” he said. He achieved this through studying Hernando and understanding his tendencies, and having the foresight to be on the mountain when Hernando left his comfort zone.
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The actual race was difficult for Hernando, and he hit a wall at the half way mark. With 50mi to go, Tornier captures the moment Hernando steps into an unknown world, a world where determination and persistence outweigh physical ability. “He’s a real competitor and he always runs for the win, but we captured the rare occasion where he has to switch his focus from winning to simply completing the race.” It’s a moment when the viewers realize that even the best of the best have their demons and are just normal people. This unusual moment, seldom caught on film, differentiates the movie from others and isn’t simply a result of Tornier following Hernando’s every step. Despite working in an unpredictable environment, Tornier knew his character, what he wanted to capture, and ensured he was with Hernando once he entered the unknown zone to get it on film. He made sure he was in the right moment at the right time, and so can you by trying these methods.
Tying the project together was a result of having a creative partner that could share the workload and aim to convey the emotion, the real-time feel and the reality of ultra-distance running. “The project was a two men effort,” says Tornier. “Maxime is the driving force behind all the artistic approach, setting the right atmosphere, and putting together the right editing that makes it possible to convey those emotions.”
Trail running is an unpredictable subject, from weather, last minute route changes and sickness, to injury and personal issues. Tornier’s experience filming Neuvos Pasos taught him that being aware of what you’re trying to capture, even if it is in an unpredictable environment, is possible by observing the protagonist, understanding their behaviors, goals and fears, and being aware of when to have the camera ready.
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“Outdoor Live started a few years back when we wanted to put in motion some sports we thought deserved more visibility. Most of our work has been done on the endurance scene and our goal is to inspire people to take on their own outdoor challenges by showing that sport is always available to everyone, doesn’t matter the level or location.”
Maxime and Francois are currently working on a new documentary series called ‘Great Lost Places’, which features remote areas not many people know about. “We want to convey what it can be to live there and to experiment remoteness and what such natural environments have to offer. In parallel, we’re also working on commercial projects for our long time partners and innovating with new outdoor companies on storytelling through films.”
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