Running films tend to focus on the how-to, the loneliness of the dedicated runner, or a runner’s preparation for a particular competition. Director, writer, and lifelong runner, Joel Wolpert took his inspiration for In the High Country from surfing films and chose to capture the beauty and artistry of a figure moving through a landscape, the whys rather than the hows of running, and the romance of a life dedicated to self-propulsion and exploration.
To begin, Wolpert collaborated with professional, mountain runner Anton Krupicka for four weeks. They traveled, ran, and lived together in Colorado’s Front Range while Wolpert captured everything on his Canon 5D Mark III. When Wolpert returned home to West Virginia with what he thought was all the footage for the final film, he realized that this was only the beginning. “Looking at the footage from a distance let me realize I wanted to explore a few ideas from that trip in more depth,” he said. With this realization, the film took a sharp turn away from documentary toward what he finally called, “a visual essay.”
Over the next nine months, Wolpert made several more trips to Colorado to work with Krupicka, and he visited the Krupicka homestead in northeastern Nebraska twice. The journey through this film and across the landscape was arduous. Camera in tow, Wolpert made winter ascents of Longs’ Peak and chased the professional athlete to the highest point in Colorado (14,440′).
Krupicka is well-known in the running community as a minimalist runner. In the summer, he’ll run all day with nothing more than his shoes, shorts, and a small water bottle. Keeping his load light, Krupicka, runs, climbs, and scrambles up huge peaks to then turn around and nimbly dance his way back down to the trailhead. A filmmaker who takes on a subject such as this must take on a minimalist approach to film as well. Despite his efforts to downsize, Wolpert was weighed down by a small backpack loaded neatly with his DSLR, steadicam, and an extra lens. For the winter adventures, Wolpert modified an ice axe to double as a monopod.
Suffering through ‘a lot of slogging’ as he put it, Wolpert followed Krupicka’s lead including his sleep routines. Krupicka frequently drove to the trailhead the night before, slept in his car, and began his trek before dawn the next day. Even though it meant less sleep, Wolpert managed to capture several beautiful night time-lapses that are seen throughout the film.
Along with depicting the artistry of a figure moving across a landscape, In the High Country explores the concept of home. The film’s visuals and sparse narration lead the viewer on an exploration of what home really means. It begins at Krupicka’s home-place in rural Nebraska where we meet his father and the landscape where Krupicka grew up. Next, Krupicka shares his home in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with us. A home with no address, the film shows Krupicka living out of his truck, bathing in melted ice streams high in the mountains, and checking email at the closest coffee shop.
In the post-production phase of completing In the High Country, Wolpert approached Coat of Arms as he edited the trailer. Wolpert wanted the film “to have a more distinct look.” Coat of Arms’ Jonathan Lacocque executed color correction and Ryan Butterworth reworked the titles to give the piece a professional, but not overproduced, feel.
To establish a look for the film’s trailer, Lacocque and Wolpert sat down together to experiment. They decided to take a painterly approach to the color correction, as Wolpert wanted a unique and vibrant look. Lacocque began by balancing the highlights and adjusting the contrast in each frame. Next, he keyed rust colors into the dirt and bumped up the greens, blues, and yellows to enhance the trees, sky, and sun-drenched rocks. In addition to the color correction, Lacocque performed some minor compositing to remove competing logos in a few shots.
The film opens with several time lapses, including a stunning star sweep time lapse. In his original creative brief, Wolpert requested 3D/2D titles that look like glass and reflect the light from the backgrounds. In addition, Wolpert wanted the titles to “track” to elements within each frame. For example, at one point Krupicka runs down a mountain range and the title, “A New Perspective on Running” displays. The titles casts shadows on the rocks as Krupicka runs by it in 3D space.
To create the titles, Ryan Butterworth used Cinema 4D and finished them in After Effects. Wolpert’s temporary titles were set in Old Claude Font. After reviewing the footage, Butterworth chose typeface DIN as it looked better against the glassy, black water and felt more refined, strong, and modern.
Upon choosing a font, Butterworth played with reflection on the text and with the angles to display each title without obstructing the footage. The texture of the titles was inspired by water and ice.
Butterworth tracked the footage of the stars during which sponsors’ logos display. He noted, “I tried tracking the footage in Mocha; however, it never produced a solid track. In the end, I used the 3D camera tracker in CS6 and it worked great.” Below is a video depicting the CS6 3D camera tracker:
To view the In the High Country and to support independent filmmaker Joel Wolpert, visit www.thewolpertinger.com to purchase or rent.
Along with the titles for In the High Country, Coat of Arms created titles for the Matisyahu documentary, Run + Return, the Midwest Independent Film Festival 2013 and 2014, Whatever Happened to Hip Hop, From Jack to Juke, Confessions, and A Perfect Solider. A blog for the 2014 Midwest Independent Film Festival titles is coming soon, but in the meantime you can view the Festival’s titles here.
This article written by Katie Wolpert & Clara Lehmann