Video: Renan Ozturk on Making the Nepal Vision Quest Scene in Into the Mind

The multifaceted Renan Ozturk, one of our previous Adventurers of the Year, has many stories to share—even more than we realized. We first came to know Renan years ago when he was a new North Face-sponsored climber who liked to paint and animate mountainscapes while on expeditions. That love of visuals and storytelling led him to hone his skills behind the camera. He was an integral part of the team on this year’s award-winning Sherpas Cinema film Into the Mind, which examines why adventurers take extreme risks. Last week he released Mission Antarctic, a film where Xavier De Le Rue and Lucas Debari snowboard new lines (among penguins) at the bottom of the world. Renan and climber/writer Freddie Wilkinson have been obsessively pursuing a film about legendary mountaineer/photographer/cartographer Bradford Washburn and the Alaska Range (we’ve seen a preview and the visuals are stunning). And Meru, the story of the first ascent made by Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan, who had just barely recovered from a near-fatal accident, will be released in 2014. He was also part of the Oman climbing story in the January issue of National Geographic magazine.

This behind-the-scenes gem shares other unknown aspects of Renan. He also answers some questions below—including the iPhone photo apps that help him crush it on Instagram.

Adventure: When was your first trip to Nepal? How did you come to learn Nepalese?
Renan Ozturk: My first trip to Nepal was part of a language study program. I had a feeling that I wanted to spend a lot of time exploring the mountains and culture of Nepal, so I wanted to be able to communicate and understand the people. The program was really intense. I lived with a family in Kathmandu that didn’t speak English and spent eight hours a day in language class in the heart of the city. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, living in the polluted city and being locked inside so much. However, looking back it was an important step that opened up the doors to many amazing adventures and experiences thereafter.

A: How did you meet Karma Tsering?
RO: I met Karma the first time I taught at the Khumbu Climbing Center, the school in Phorste that teaches Nepalis climbing skills each winter. His traditional Sherpa home was attached to the lodge where I was staying, and I would often go and hang out with him in my free time. I’ve known him for about five years now.

A: Do you feel a spiritual connection with Nepal?
RO: I do feel a spiritual connection to Nepal, yet not in a religious sense. The combination of climbing adventures and cultural experiences I’ve had over years continues to deepen my bond. Each time I come back to Nepal, it feels like home and its mountains and people feel like family.

A: The connection you and Rory Bushfield share with head injuries is pretty interesting. Were you able to relate on a different level? Do you think you are fully recovered?
RO: Yeah, I had the same injury that his wife died from. This connection with Rory was ever-present, yet unstated. He was in a grieving process that I can’t even begin to imagine, yet at the same time able to transcend it and brought a heightened level of joy to our journey. In the video this juxtaposition of emotions was intentional, and I hope it doesn’t downplay the respect we all have for Rory and the situation with Sarah. I had such a close shave with death and being around Rory really made me appreciate how lucky I got. I lost half the blood supply to my brain in my accident so I don’t think I’ll ever “fully recover,” but for the most part I’m back up to speed.

A: How bad is your FOMAS? What was the hardest shot you had to chase down in Into the Mind?
RO: I guess my FOMAS (Fear Of Missing A Shot) is pretty bad all the time. I often have to pull over the car and get distracted even when I’m not on a shoot because I see something I want to capture. My iPhone is always out of memory because I shoot so many frames. The hardest shot we had to chase down was certainly the Into the Mind time-lapse we talked about in the end of the video!

A: How do you plan out high-concept shots?
RO: Mostly these shots are planned out in how the story is written. A lot of times “high-concept” shots are just shots that relate to the story in a really powerful way. Sometimes this can mean the shot is complicated in terms of the technical setup and equipment, but mostly it is because it is the perfect shot for a certain aspect of the story. As far as Into the Mind a lot of the higher-concept shots we needed related to big forces, like the water cycle and aspects of the struggle of humanity, topics that kept the FOMAS running rampant.

A: As you have developed as a filmmaker, have you become less interested in being infront of the camera?
RO: Being on both sides of the lens is a way of life for me at this point. I don’t think I’ve ever been that interested in “being in front of the camera,” but rather being part of stories that I find meaningful. If the story calls for me to be in front of the lens to convey an idea then I’m all for it. This is often the case on remote The North Face expeditions where I’m one of the members of a small team of individuals.

A: What the most surprising piece of gear you always bring into the field when you are shooting?
RO: Hmmm…. probably The North Face ETIP gloves. They are super lightweight and work on all the touch screens of the RED EPIC cameras and iPhones.

A: Do you use iPhone photo apps much? Which are your favorites?
RO: Yeah, I use them all the time. Apps like Helios and SunSeeker allow you to calculate the position of the sun and moon to get the best light which can help a lot when you are chasing the good light or specific sunset/sunrise times.

A: What are you up to in 2014?
RO: I’ve got a lot of things I’m excited about, like the release of the MERU film we have been working on for so long. Also I’m looking forward to a spring Everest expedition for a film that will be the first of its kind—telling the story of Everest from the Sherpas perspective. This is a meaningful story that needs to be told especially in the wake of all the recent drama on the mountain.