An Interview with Ellis Emmett on his New Show, "Over the Horizon"
It's no secret that I've been a fan of the Departures and Descending series of travel programming for quite some time. That perhaps became all the more obvious after I released my interview with one of the key players in those shows, Scott Wilson. I genuinely enjoyed catching up with Scott and talking about his thoughts on what he had created in the past, and also what he was up to in the present. When I was speaking to Scott, he alluded to the fact that, excitingly enough, Ellis Emmett and Andre Dupuis were still chomping at the bit, and creating some new, otherworldly content on their own terms. For those who don't know, Andre has really been the man behind the camera over the years, capturing incredible footage, while Ellis was Scott's partner in crime diving the seas in Descending all those years back, as well as making a cameo on Departures.
Enter 2017, and Outside TV Feature's new show Over the Horizon. It's Andre taking his camera work to new levels, and Ellis challenging himself in new and intriguing ways. Basically, Ellis, a guy with no sailing experience, decides he's going to sail around the world, and the first season is the beginning of that journey - starting from New Zealand (and learning to sail), as he moves towards the South Pacific Islands. I've seen the footage, and it's astonishing, but catching up with Ellis, and having Andre chime in as well, was a real pleasure. In truth, both of these guys truly inspire me to set new goals and boundaries for myself in relation to what I can accomplish on this planet. I learned that, in part, that's really part of their mission - in inspire by example.
Without further adieu, here's my conversation with Ellis Emmett on Over the Horizon, with Andre Dupuis politely chiming in on what it took to put it all together behind the lens, and his own feelings about how everything has unfolded. Please stay tuned until the end, where I'll give you information on how you can watch the show, check out some free previews, and get your hands on the free app.
"We all live in this incredible world…to not go out and experience all of what is out there, to me, is not really living. I believe Over The Horizon epitomizes this philosophy."
CM: So, firstly, how'd you come upon the name "Over the Horizon?" Do you think that name encapsulates what the whole experience was all about?
EE: I believe there is a deep desire within all of us to find out what is ‘over there’. So, the title is meant to epitomize that universal human need to explore. Seeing what lays just ‘Over the Horizon’ is how we populated every corner of the planet, and I think this series encapsulates that spirit.
CM: It definitely sounds that way. So then, how did Over the Horizon come together and get off the ground? Do you see it as a continuation of projects like Descending or is this a new thing altogether?
EE: It has been my dream to discover the world by sail since I was a boy. As we were nearing the end of filming of the previous series, Descending, we started talking about what we might film next and I pitched this idea to Andre. It’s a stand-alone project, but it definitely is a continuation of our real personal interest in exploring the world. It took over four years to pull together. Learning to sail a yacht, which would be required to become our home, our office, a basic editing suite, our transportation and our self sufficient lifeline, and then sailing it to remote and sometimes inhospitable destinations, cut off from the rest of the world, all the while filming and producing a television series was a huge undertaking that neither Andre or I had faced before.
CM: I've got to admit, that sounds like an intense and beautiful journey. I think, generally speaking, I've got a bit of a reputation for my penchant for the daring and adventurous, but if I'm to understand correctly, and as you briefly alluded to, you literally didn't know how to sail before Over the Horizon! Is that really true?! And, if yes, can you take about what the preparation was like both mentally and physically?
EE: Yes, that's true! I had been on a few short sailing trips before, but there's a big difference between being a passenger and sailing your own vessel. There was so much for us to learn and very little time to do it in if we were to hit our ideal sailing window in the Pacific. We spent the better part of a year training, obtaining the various qualifications needed to take this journey, and finding a suitable yacht. It was tough, mentally and physically, but no part of this project has come easy. Bear in mind, after sailing around 8,000 nautical miles (around 15,000kms) in Season One, I still consider myself very much a novice sailor and it is important to note that I did not undertake this journey on my own. I could not have done it without the on-board team (there were 5 people in total on board).
"Once you cross that line of comfort to discomfort, this is where the real learning begins. Everything worthwhile I have ever achieved in my life I was afraid to start."
CM: By the sounds of it, It looks like this 6 part series covers some pretty incredible experiences. I'm curious, is there one day in particular that really stands above the rest?
EE: On a remote island, in the Lau group of Fiji, we met a man named Tai. After a traditional ceremony with the Chief of the village at which he granted us access to explore the island, Tai led me up a steep hill face behind the village and showed me the entrance to a cave at the bottom of a cliff. We tentatively ventured inside and on the floor of the cave were several human skeletons. Tai explained that these were the bones of Tongan warriors who had sailed their dugout canoes all the way from the Kingdom of Tonga to raid and overtake the Fijians and their land. Tai's ancestors had killed them and put their bodies inside the cave to decompose. That was a very powerful experience for me.
- You can watch a two minute short clip of exactly what Ellis is talking about right here. Trust me, it's well worth the glimpse. -
CM: Wow. That's must have been a surreal experience, though I'm sure it was only one of many. Speaking of that, I was a huge fan of your previous show Descending, and I know that once again you're heading below the surface. Can you talk about the roll of diving in Over the Horizon, and maybe speak to the roll that diving plays in your life as well?
EE: To travel by water does not make sense to me if you're not going to see and discover what's beneath the surface. Every part of our ocean holds amazing history and discoveries. It was a top priority early on for Andre and I to make sure we had a dive compressor and all our own dive gear on board, as many of the remote places we were going have no diving facilities.
Some of the most amazing dives we did were on the wrecks of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. These wrecks were sunk during nuclear bomb testing in the Marshalls following WWII. We dove planes, a submarine, as well as several famous vessels from both the US and Japanese fleets. I love exploring wrecks that have amazing history like these. But, they are very deep and because of their location you are very exposed.
CM: Was there ever a time where you felt like you were in over your head, or did you feel like you were pretty comfortable looking out over the bow of your ship?
EE: There were plenty of challenging moments, but not from big seas. We were never hit by any major storms. We were lucky, but also very careful. Sure, a storm may have made for great TV, but not at the cost of safety. Watching the weather reports, good route planning, and a great crew ensured a smooth journey.
Early on in the journey, as we departed New Zealand, we knew we were in for a bit of a challenge because it was very late in the sailing season. In the South Pacific, about half of the year is made up of the cyclone season when huge storms can rip through the region. So, right from the start we knew we only had a short window to get into the Central Pacific, closer to the equator, where the cyclones don't track and it’s safer. As we had so much filming and last minute preparations to complete before departing NZ, by the time we reached the Kingdom of Tonga we were on a very tight time schedule. Several times we would have to film during the day and then sail overnight in order to get to the next island destination, then film again during the day, and then sail through the night again to the next location. And of course sailing at night increases the risks. And, to complicate things further, one of our crew members got dangerously sick during this period and we were close to having to abandon the filming and sail back to the mainland to get to a hospital. Luckily, we were able to keep going.
Nausea, mechanical issues, tight quarters, hot weather, not to mention the normal stresses of filming (plus the challenging stresses of filming in remote locations such as trying to find WiFi to stay in touch with the team back in Canada, or trying to locate a courier in order to ship our backup footage hard drives)…there were many days we all felt in over our head.
But, there were also those nights when everything would be working properly, and I would have the helm to myself under perfect conditions - a full moon, wind at my back – and I would look out over the ocean, days away from any land, and just be in awe of where I was.
"I learn from everyone I meet in these amazing places; how and why they live the way they do."
CM: There's always a bit of give and take in a journey like this I'm sure. I'm happy to hear your mate was alright in the end, and you got to keep on sailing. Speaking of your boat, I understand she's named "The Rory Mhor." What's the story behind that?
EE: Rory Mhor is our vessel’s name! She came to us with that name, and they say it’s bad luck to rename a boat. She’s as much a character in the series as I am; she has great strength and spirit, and when you do something wrong she lets you know straight away! Haha!
CM: You can tell her she looks great on camera as well from what I've seen thus far, you can tell her I said that! Anyway, It looks like you've again teamed up with Andre Dupuis who you would have worked with prior on one my favourite shows, Departures, as well as Descending. He's truly a talent, and I hear you guys shot this whole journey in 6K! How was working with Andre again? Are you guys pleased with the finished product and how Over the Horizon looks?
EE: Yes, Andre is a magician with a camera! But - I think I’m the wrong person to ask about how the show “looks”! From a cinematic point of view, it’s great! But, I hate watching myself. I do this sort of thing because I love adventure, travel and discovery. I put up with seeing my face on screen in order to live my dreams.
AD: This was certainly a passion project and we put everything into making it look as good as possible. I mean, we could have been way easier on ourselves and shot the series with smaller / lighter cameras. But I felt an obligation to do my best work, and bring the best cameras the production could afford. So, we shot our primary material with the Red Dragon in 6k. It was a great motivation knowing that we may be the only film crew to photograph some of these places for a long time. And, personally, I knew that with some of these places it would be the first and last time I would ever set foot on them in my life. You are standing on a wild place you won’t see again; you have only a few days, sometimes just a few hours to do your best work before it’s time to go. It felt like meaningful work. I loved it. I loved it so much that I even took on much of the colour correction myself. I was physically there in those places, so I knew how things SHOULD look or feel. I wanted to make sure I was conveying the emotion of the places we visited to the audience. I wanted to put them there with Ellis, as best as I could through that flat screen you’re watching the series on.
CM: That definitely answers my question, and it also explains how the show manages to look so good, and so crisp. I remember watching Departures and Descending and thinking that things couldn't possibly look any better from a film perspective, but it appears it can be done, and with an entirely new adventure. It seems, like me, that you're always living for that next adventure, and you've mentioned in the past that "life without adventure is a life without flavour." Can you talk about that philosophy a bit, and how it relates to Over the Horizon?
EE: We all live in this incredible world…to not go out and experience all of what is out there, to me, is not really living. I believe Over The Horizon epitomizes this philosophy.
"I have a real passion for discovering untouched places on this earth and love to inspire and remind others that these places exist."
CM: I think you're right in it being a show that carries that spirit, your spirit, as well as Andre's. On the island of Wallis and Futuna, I understand you dove into a lake that was, according to local legend, just teeming with mysteries and monsters. Do you think that was, in some way, a metaphor for the show and experience at large?
EE: Lake Lalolalo is an extinct volcanic caldera. It is a circular hole in the earth that is surrounded by 30 meter high cliffs. The water was as black as ink and there is a legend that a monster in the form of an eel lives there. A man supposedly drowned while trying to lure the monster to the surface. Of course I couldn’t resist a dive there!
It was very challenging to get down to the lake itself and we had to use many ropes to get down the vertical rock sections, making several trips to get all of dive gear/tanks and filming equipment to the bottom.
Once we sunk down to about 2 meters below the surface it was as dark as night. We used our torches, but still visibility was very low. There was a tangle of trees all along the steep sloping walls of the lake that had fallen from the cliffs above. It was certainly a spooky place to dive and every now and then a huge blind eel would materialize out of the gloom to scare the crap out of me. We dropped down to about 45 meters; the water was clearer down there but the taste of sulphur (remnant of the lake’s volcanic past) was unmistakable through our regulators. Closer to the surface, we found WWll munitions that had been dumped off the cliffs above following the end of the war.
CM: Over the Horizon seems to be about more than just sharing your story, but also the story of the people on the islands that you met along the way. What did you learn from their stories, and what do you hope that viewers will learn?
EE: The series is all about the people we meet and places we visit. I think of it as going to the places 'in between'. We can all jump on a jet and fly to the Pacific Islands, but as tourists we are usually only able to visit a small handful of islands. Yet, in many cases there are hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of islands that most outsiders never get to. These are the places that most inspire me. I learn from everyone I meet in these amazing places; how and why they live the way they do. I hope viewers will learn something new about these remote and, in many cases, fragile places, and see that these people and their cultures are a hugely important part of the diversity of our planet.
CM: In a sense, with this show you're risking it all for the sake of adventure and exploration. Yet, it seems like you believe that there's more to lose by not setting out on the journey in the first place. Can you speak a little bit to that notion?
EE: Yes. I was risking it all. I believe in life most of us are afraid of stepping into the unknown and when we are afraid we stop moving forward. I have made it a conscious choice not to let fear hold me back from tackling the things I want to achieve. This does not mean I don’t feel fear…because I do, greatly! But I personally refuse to give in to it. Once you cross that line of comfort to discomfort, this is where the real learning begins. Everything worthwhile I have ever achieved in my life I was afraid to start.
"The series is all about the people we meet and places we visit. I think of it as going to the places 'in between'."
CM: If that didn't give my readers goosebumps, I'm not sure what will! Branching off of that a bit, who's the one person you met through this experience that you're sure you'll never forget?
EE: I won’t forget any of them. So many amazing and inspiring individuals living challenging lives. One person that stands out is an old man we meet in Episode 4, Atelemo Lie, living on the island of Alofi, a sub island of Futuna. He has lived there mostly alone for 21 years. He was 71 years old. He lived primarily on what he could catch from the sea and what he could grow in his garden. His garden was a 45-minute walk up on a high terrace in the rainforest. He had no power, no refrigeration, and no running water. He was one of the happiest, most welcoming people I have ever met.
If you'd like to take two minutes to meet this man as well, head here.
CM: That's amazing. You've captured some moments and met some people that few others have. So, generally, what space or void do you feel like this show aims to fill?
EE: Un-sensationalized real adventure.
AD: I never thought the work we do would have any impact when I co-created the travel series Departures. The response from people who were inspired from the series was incredible and totally unexpected. People were going out there to see the world because they were inspired by the show we created. Now I’m acutely aware that what we create may inspire others to go out there and see things and that’s a huge motivation for me. When we created Descending I wanted people to learn how to dive and explore the oceans, to become interested in the other 71% of their planet, maybe even become inspired to help preserve it. With Over the Horizon I want people to be inspired that there’s so much more to see on this planet then they maybe realize. I would love to hear one day that someone has gone out and sailed to some of these places to see it for themselves. Go to Hunga Tonga, stand on the crater rim and send me a photo, I love seeing this stuff. Yes, I want people to be entertained and to learn something from watching the series, but most of all I want people to go out and see it for themselves.
CM: In that sense, do you feel like Over the Horizon was an attempt to chase the real and the authentic?
EE: That's exactly the point of going to these remote destinations that you can only access by having your own vessel. I have a real passion for discovering untouched places on this earth and love to inspire and remind others that these places exist. We are facing many difficult environmental issues here on Earth and if people don’t understand the true diversity and beauty of the planet we share…and what we stand to lose…I’m worried they won’t work to help solve these issues.
CM: That's a hugely important point. Overall, when you look at Over the Horizon as a whole, what are you most proud of?
EE: I am most proud of the small team of dedicated people who have come together on this project, and how tirelessly and passionately they have worked to pull this series together. I cannot speak more highly of the team that I have around me.
CM: From what I've seen of the show, I couldn't be more intrigued. But how can my readers get access to the show?
EE: Viewers can watch Over the Horizon on Outside TV Features!
"I have made it a conscious choice not to let fear hold me back from tackling the things I want to achieve."
For those interested in watching this show (and, frankly, I'd be confused as to why you wouldn't), you can start by downloading the free app, and watching some of the free shorts of the show! You can also find Outside TV on all your favourite social media channels.
Readers, this is something I wanted to share and be a part of because I genuinely believe in what they're doing, and I can assure you this isn't some deal where I'm being paid sums behind the scenes in an facet whatsoever. What I am doing is watching the scenes these guys are putting together, and taking time to appreciate a travel show doing things the right way, once again.