What a whirlwind! Recently, my passion project ‘Lock Down Rock Up’ won ‘Best Short Film’ at Kendal Mountain Film Festival and by the end of the week, the film has been featured in at least 20 national newspapers, 3 radio interviews and a BBC North TV appearance! Then to top it all up two months later it won People’s Choice Award at the festival too. I can’t quite believe it.

I’ve worked in TV for 7 years and have been lucky to enjoy and participate in a range of outdoor and adventure sports for most of my life. My work goal has always been to combine these two passions. I had started by learning rope access and experimenting with rock climbing photos but ‘Lock Down Rock Up’ was my first bash to see what I could achieve in film.

The film follows Jerome Mowat as he takes us through the challenges he faced as a front-line paramedic during the global pandemic and how he used rock climbing as an escape. It illustrates the power of the outdoors and how it can be the best medicine for mental health.  

Lock down rock up a film by Nico Hambleton
Lock down rock up a film by Nico Hambleton

UK lockdown granted me the opportunity of time; a lot of my regular TV work dried up so, for the first time, I could dedicate myself to a personal project. September was looking quiet, so that’s when I arranged with Jerome to shoot. Despite my best predictions, the month became horrendously busy with work again which made shooting, editing and submitting to Kendal Mountain Festival a real challenge! But that’s filmmaking for you: un-predictable deadlines and massive workloads. I worked solidly juggling projects, 15+ hours a day for about 3-4 weeks!

Lock down rock up a film by Nico Hambleton

I shot with my new Canon C500 Mark II. It’s an amazing camera and was perfect for this project. Shooting full frame was beautiful and I used the 24mm prime regularly; it was a great experience having a shallow depth of field on a wide shot. The other really useful feature is how the new design is modular, enabling me to use V-Locks with the expansion pack for long day usage but also quickly strip it down when shooting on the ropes.

Filming and meeting Jerome was a blast. He’s such a nice chap with an infectious smile, he even bloody smiles when he climbs! It made shooting so much easier being able to work with someone who is laid-back. That said, he did my head in when filming his interview! Throughout my questions about his experience, his selfless nature meant he kept talking about his team. An admirable trait, but it made editing the film really hard as I needed him to talk about himself for once!

As a camera op, I’ve worked on a few documentaries and programmes, but one thing you can always guarantee is that you never stop learning and to succeed it’s imperative you take away lessons from your own shoots and suck up information from others. Making ‘Lock Down Rock Up’ was a massive learning curve. It may have won, but for me it’s no way near perfect and there are things I would do completely differently next time I shoot a climbing film. One of those things is managing the amount of kit to take; I learnt the hard way walking to crags carrying 30+kgs of kit! Jerome and his legendary flat mate, John, helped carry the rest of the kit stuffing it between their bouldering pads.

It’s been a hard year for everyone. For me, my enthusiasm for filming was dwindling as demand dropped and my climbing trips had diminished. So, making this film played a vital part in my own mental health; it brought back the spark to two things I love. As a result, I’m already brainstorming for the next films and planning my climbing trips next year. It’s really important to find a hobby or interest that you can enjoy and escape to when needed, to talk to people and keep your spirits up. I hope this message resonates in the film and viewers enjoy Jerome’s story. 

The film is now available to watch on Amazon.

Nico Hambleton | Lighting Cameraman & DOP

This article was first published in Zerb Magazine