This week, the star-studded Everest is released in Cineworld cinemas across the UK. We talk to David Breashears, the 136th person to reach the summit of Everest, and director Baltasar Kormákur about bringing this true-life tale to the big screen.
“It is always fascinating to have a true story to work with,” is the opening gambit from director Baltasar Kormákur on his latest feature, Everest, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke and Keira Knightley.
This dramatic true-life survival tale follows the doomed 1996 expedition led by veteran mountaineer Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), who ran a commercial company that took climbers up the perilous journey to the summit of Mount Everest, only to be hit by a sudden snow storm.
Aiming to stick to the facts and honour those who lost their lives on the mountain, Kormákur wanted to make an “authentic film”. He said, “I wanted to make [the characters] real, to let them play out their mistakes, while letting audiences judge the action and events for themselves.”
To craft the story, Kormákur drew on the years of experience of climber David Breashears, who was the 136th person to reach the summit of Everest, and who was on the mountain in 1996. One of the key elements of Everest is how it pulls the audience into the mind-set of the men and women who climbed the mountain. Breashears recalls how he came on board the project: “The film’s producer, Tim Bevan at Working Title, got in contact with me at the development stage. They wanted to know what the mountain experience was all about from beginning to end. They wanted to know every detail, from buying your equipment back home, to what you talk about at night up on the mountain.” Breashears knew many of the people who are featured in the film, including Scott Fisher (played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film), with whom he first climbed when he was 18, and Rob Hall who he saw at Basecamp in 1996.
As well as having Breashears’ valuable advice, Kormákur also had access to a recording of a phone call that Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) made to his wife, Jan (Kiera Knightley) that hadn’t been heard for 18 years when he was 18000ft up the mountain. All this research and archive material was used by Kormákur to “humanise” the characters, a point that the direct felt incredibly strongly about, explaining that the last thing that he wanted to do was “make a film that was an obituary, I wanted to make a real human drama.” This was also true of his selection of cast, where he wanted to find actors that “completely capture the essence of the characters that they are playing.”
This sentiment was echoed by Breashears, who felt that, “Tim Bevan and Kormákur set the tone of this movie from the start, stating that they were always going to make this film as authentic as possible and rely on the strength of the story, knowing that it didn’t need embellishment.
Crafting a visually epic film like Everest brought with it many challenges, including having to film on the foothills of the Nepal at 16000ft. Kormákur recalls the shoot: “There were challenges, but I like a challenge. What I learned was that after a while of having to deal with altitude sickness and working in freezing conditions, accompanied by avalanche warnings every day, was that we became like those climbers on the mountain. The entire crew were in it together at the mercy of nature. Every day, we would step out of the door and ask, “What is the mountain going to do to us today?” Ultimately, Kormákur realised that the situation was like banging your head against a wall, “You aren’t going to break the wall; you are going to break your head. So in that sense you can get frustrated you can be ready to shift your plans.”
When asked if Breashears had any hopes for what audiences would take away from Everest, he stated, “I hope that Everest will show people what climbing the mountain is. For me, climbing the mountain isn’t about standing on the summit; it about friendships, relationships, human frailty and human aspirations. This film shows the good in people – we all set out on quests, and we are by our very natures dreamers, and sometimes our dreams can get us into situations that are way over our heads, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop.”
Everest is released in Cineworld Cinemas and available in IMAX and 3D across the UK on 18th September 2015.