Behind The Lens River


Last year we started our documentary film project, WATER CYCLE. Our first installment, River featured the stunning lens work of Dominic Gill. For a week Dom followed Blackburn Ranger Brian Ohlen as he rode along the Pacific Coast while bikefishing for steelhead. Though we’ve been working with Dom for years, it had been a while since we caught up with him. We sat down with him over the holidays to learn a little more about what he’s been up to and what is next.

Where are you from? Where are you living now?

I’m from the U.K. though people say 8 years in L.A. makes me sound a little like I’m an Australian trying to sound like an Englishman. I’ve started elocution lessons again…

How/when did you get into A) Making movies and B) Bicycles?

In 2003 I was an Environmental Consultant in Manchester taking way too much unpaid leave to climb, ride bikes and take photos. After winning a tiny adventure film competition with a very amateur film about ‘buildering’ – the art of bouldering on buildings – I decided adventure and making films was my calling. So, I did what every sensible person would do in this situation; I quite my job. I did odd jobs for a couple of years and climbed a lot, then bought a tandem bicycle and travelled up to Prudhoe Bay Alaska. For the next two years, I pedaled south inviting random strangers to join me on the back seat of “Achilles”. The book and TV show “Take A Seat” that emerged from this journey were what ultimately set me on the path to starting Encompass Films and making friends with the likes of Blackburn!

What hair products do you use to make your hair so flowy?

None, actually. I attribute its glossiness to a night near the end of that first tandem bike journey in 2008. I was cycling through a Patagonian winter and crept into an isolated barn to sleep. When I switched my headlamp on I found out I was surrounded by sheep carcasses hanging from the rafters. Ever since that night my hair felt fantastic. 

Who is the biggest influence on your work?

Visually, we have so much to choose from these days when it comes to outstanding photography and cinematography. I’m inspired to push my filmmaking further by a lot of artists in the adventure space, Renan Ozturk and the folks at Felt Soul Media, to name a few. However, in terms of the art of storytelling I look further afield, sometimes drawing off people like Wes Anderson (particularly in some of the Blackburn Ranger videos) or authors like Antoine de Saint Exupery (the Little Prince etc) who encourage me to try and see the world forever through the eyes of a child, curious about everything and taking nothing for granted.    

Some folks that follow along with Blackburn are probably familiar with some of our previous collaborations like Comes With Baggage and the really great video you made of Sam And Kurt. How did you come to originally work with Blackburn?

It was a lucky break when my wife, Nadia, (who I met in Bolivia on that ‘Take a Seat’ journey) and I founded Encompass Films together in 2011. As a self-proclaimed bookworm, Nadia braved the unfamiliar world of the Interbike tradeshow to see if we could garner some clients in need of video content. There she found our first ever client, Blackburn Designs, through Robin Sansom. We had no idea back then that it would be a lasting (and loving?) relationship that would have us sharing pie and supping bourbon with Robin and Blackburn’s many rangers over campfires from Canada to Cambodia – well, the Mexican border anyway….

Is your hair as soft as it looks?

Please. This is making me extremely uncomfortable. Ask Chris McNally.

When you are thinking about a project, what interests or motivates you?

Earlier in my career the first thing that would pique my interest was the project location – the more mountainous the better. That still motivates me. Now though, above all, its the depth of character of the film’s subject. A general rule with a good story is if its told well it can become fascinating, no matter the subject. So these days, while still attracted by the wilderness, I try and remain open to what I make films about – it kind of comes back to having a childlike curiosity, being interested in everything.

Tell us more about Coming To My Senses? It looks amazing!

Well, it’s our first ever feature length documentary (anything over about 70 minutes) which means it has been a monster to make – a process that started back in 2014. It’s about a chap called Aaron Baker who broke his neck in a motocross accident, leaving him completely paralyzed from the neck down. Despite doctor’s grim prognosis over the next 16 years, Aaron decided not to listen to those who said ‘he had a million-to-one odds of ever feeding himself again’ and instead  endeavored to regain as much mobility as possible. This journey through the unknown took him from the depths of depression to the joys of cross country road tripping via tandem bicycle with his mother and friends, and finally, culminated in his opening a socially conscious low cost gym focused on increasing mobility for the disabled. Tying the story together in a kind of reflective and extremely challenging ‘vision quest’, Aaron attempted what for him should be impossible; to cross a 20 mile tract of Death Valley unsupported on foot. So, there’s a lot of overlap in subject with nearly all the films we make, which address in some way not succumbing to the status quo, and grabbing life by the balls.

What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on to date?

Ooof, really? thats an impossible question to answer! Watching someone fight paralysis is fascinating (as with Coming to My Senses), but so is filming McNally breaking a canoe paddle trying to dig a poop hole (as with ‘Roll with It’). I have very special memories from nearly every project we work on! Technically I suppose the project I got most absorbed in was as the Director of Photography on ‘Riders of Destiny’ (still being edited) about 5 year old jockeys racing horses on an far flung island in Indonesia. Harrowing but fascinating getting so close to that subject.

How do you keep your hair so soft looking under a helmet?

Gaaah!!!! This again?? I sandwich a thin fillet of raw mutton between my helmet and my hair…  

What are you working on now?

Well, I’ve just got back from a fascinating trip to Puerto Rico. We followed a small group of climbers who, immediately following Hurricane Maria, formed a ‘brigade’ to help those around them with skills largely learned through climbing. It was fascinating seeing small groups of people come together after such a life changing event and get on with life, everyone bringing to the table different skills and tools to get their community on its feet again. Look out for the content on Outside TV or Black Diamond’s website in the next month or so.

What is your dream project/subject?

Hmmm, I often think about this and never come up with the perfect answer. I always come back to a love of working with children or older people. These groups have the most wisdom it seems and I love having the opportunity to record that wisdom. The call of the wild is strong, too, which leads me to believe a story about a very old Man and his great granddaughter in the depths of the Pamir mountains in China where they harvest alpine moss for medicinal purposes from exposed rock high above glaciers… that might be a nice combination of my interests….I made that up but I think you get the picture…