“Why?” That question still rings in my ear, as one of my client told his boss: “Pascal is going to Afghanistan, to film a documentary.”
Since late 2011, I still get that a lot. To be perfectly honest, those who ask “Why?” aren’t that far off – I mean what business does a commercial photographer from Miami have in the mountains of Afghanistan? After all I live at sea level for crying out loud. On top of that I’ve never made a documentary before, come to think of it, I’ve only been producing videos for my clients for six months at that point. Why on earth would I want to do this?
Why? Well, because I believe I have a gift. No, I’m not special, you do to. We all have and I’m not just talking about photographers. Accountants have a gift for numbers, teachers have a gift for teaching, nurses have a gift for caring. I’m talking about an ability your born with, a God-given gift, that innate talent you did not earn, acquire, purchase, but that you’re just good at. In my case that gift is the ability to communicate visually. Now I’ve honed that skill, trained my eye, learned my craft, but that underlying something is still there and I believe that something requires us to give back.
Please understand, I do that for my kids PTA, my church, local community groups with Pro Bono work, but in the summer of 2011 I had this little voice in my head that told me I should do more with my videos, than just make money – like helping my college buddy let others experience what he does for a living. The only catch: Daniel flies relief work in Afghanistan. For the past 14 years.
Anyway, I hear this little voice say: Do more and immediately I think ‘That’s too dangerous.’ About a week later, same little voice: Do more, like helping Daniel let others experience what he does for a living.
‘Yeah right. I’ve never done something like that before, it’s gonna be to complicated.’ Next week. Same voice. Do more … I’m thinking ‘Too expensive.’ Following week, same voice. Do more. And I think of another excuse, why I should not do this. You get the picture. This literally goes on for a month and a half ‘They don’t need a movie.’ ‘I don’t know how.’ '25 below zero – are you serious?’ ‘Don’t think my equipment can handle that.’ Always that same voice: Do more.
Finally I write an email to Daniel “I have this crazy idea …” (Seriously that’s what I titled the email) fully expecting at the very best a fully qualified maybe as an answer. ‘Maybe, but too dangerous, too complicated, too expensive, too unnecessary, too inexperienced, too cold.’ What I got was “Sure, we’d love to have you. It would be fun. Actually we need a movie, one of our major sponsors requires us to produce videos, so sure. Go ahead put together some numbers and let’s talk.” As I receive Daniel’s answer and read it, I’m thinking more along the lines of “What did I get myself into?” and then I remember: Do More. (Full disclosure they paid for my expenses, my time – that’s the two weeks filming and the year editing the video was pro bono.)
There’s also a second reason I’m thinking of going. First of all I wanted to tell Daniel’s story. Those guys do some amazing work and it deserves to be told. Secondly I see this as a great opportunity for me to learn a new skill. I don’t know about you, but I learn best and fastest under pressure.
And filming in a country like Afghanistan, with it’s impenetrable terrain, extreme weather conditions, with a culture I don’t know and a language I don’t speak; creating a movie that is not scripted or storyboarded, but where you have to find the story as you go, flying around that country in small planes recording air to air from a chase plane, getting dropped off in remote (as in 40 day hike remote) landing strips in the Wakhan corridor and watching your ride take off and disappearing from sight, while you get ready to film take off and landings, kinda qualifies for pressure. Don’t you think?
To make a long story short, six months after that email, I found myself kneeling on a snow covered runway filming a small plane buzzing four feet over my head in Lal, Afghanistan, situated at 9,200 feet elevation. The temperature was about -25ºC. That was by far my favorite day at work.
Why did I go? To do more. To help others. To learn. To hone my craft. To learn a new skill. Was it worth it? What do you think? How far have you gone to do more? What risk have you taken to honor your gift?