Beyond the Trees: Behind the Scenes | ETF Trends

By Tom Butcher
Director of ESG

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the documentary “Beyond the Trees” from Contributing Producer Tom Butcher.

Soon to hit the big screens at a number of film festivals will be a great new documentary, Beyond the Trees. The film tells the story of the van Eck Forests in northern California and Oregon. It follows a determined team of climate champions—environmentalists, scientists, and investors—fighting to restore our native forests by pioneering a unique management model that blends conservation with finance, developed by the Pacific Forest Trust.

Laura Jones, Head of Content Strategy, VP here at VanEck, and I had the honor of spearheading the project for VanEck and seeing it through to its recent completion. (So many films, even those with great concepts and stories behind them, die before ever reaching the screen.)

I believe the true genesis of the inspiration for the film can be traced back to the piece My Visit to a Sustainable Redwood Forest that Jan van Eck, our CEO, wrote in September 2019 about his visit with his family to the van Eck Forests in northern California. An additional event of significance was a VanEck board meeting in June 2021 that included a visit to the same forests.

Fast forward to the summer of 2022, Laura and I found ourselves with brief and budget in hand scoping out film production companies. This was something neither she nor I had ever done before (but hope may do so again!).

As the year progressed, we decided on the LA production company, Imaginary Forces* (IF). Laura became immersed in the details of film production, and I, along with Jan, Laurie Wayburn (Co-founder and President of Pacific Forest Trust*) and other colleagues began discussing what the film would actually be about. The van Eck Forests, yes. But what to say about them? And how to “say” it? We had to figure out how to help IF showcase the forests’ compelling story.

Film production, we all learned, is far from a simple process. Not least when it comes to the budgeting. When filming in the middle of the forest, film and sound crews need to be fed under union rules, and, of course, there needs to be transport to and from locations. And accommodations. And the schlepping of bulky cases of camera and sound equipment subject to airline excess baggage fees—often not insignificant. Finally, since you really cannot take everything with you to each location, at one stage we had to go to the local Home Depot to buy some plastic chairs to take into the forest with us … Yes, you have to budget for just about everything!

When it was time to scout and film, Laura got to see the Oregon forests and I got to see those in California. For my two visits West, the excitement began on arrival in CA with a delicious lunch at IF’s office on South Sepulveda Boulevard. At the suggestion of IF, I stayed at the Culver Hotel: a 1924 landmark in downtown Culver City. It was right next to the famous Culver Studios where Gone with the Wind (you may recognize the façade), Citizen Kane and E.T., among others, were filmed. And, indeed, the Culver Hotel was where the Munchkins stayed during the filming of the Wizard of Oz, done at another studio down the road!

The Culver Studios, Culver City, California

The Culver Studios, Culver City, California

© 2023 Tom Butcher.

Whether scouting suitable locations or filming, the days always started early. On each trip, I was up around 5:30 a.m. every day we went out.

Early Morning in the Forest in Northern California

Early Morning in the Forest in Northern California

© 2023 Tom Butcher.

I had huge fun being on set and watching how all the moving parts “mesh” together. It was made all the more enjoyable as I was surrounded by such pleasant company – even when being told off for making unnecessary noise when the cameras were rolling, it couldn’t have been done more courteously!

We were often awed by the silence in the forests—making it that much easier to record on-site interviews and dialogue. Laura and I were also amazed by the dexterity with which the film crews flew their drones and the stunning shots they were able to capture. (Watch for that footage in particular when you see the film.) Being able to mount a high-quality camera on such a fragile-looking bit of kit was incredible. Years ago, if it had even been possible at all, it would have been a helicopter. And hideously expensive.

What not many people realize is how much setup, preparation time and plain hard work is needed before each and every shot when making a professional film (and that’s not even including what comes afterwards). If you are doing things properly, this is not confined just to the filming and sound. Every single aspect of a film needs to be carefully considered, from the color palette used to the fonts selected, from the crucially important narrative (not only content, but also pace, cadence, and tone) to the film score, and from the animations to the interviews.

The magic was how Anthony Gibbs, the director, was able to control and orchestrate all of the film’s moving parts and create for us a half-hour film out of hours of footage and audio recordings. That said, others are always vital to a film’s creation: its editors. In our instance, it was the incomparable Lexi Gunvaldson and Rachel Brewster. I can’t leave out the trusty Merlin, Lexi’s Australian shepherd, border collie, standard poodle mix! It was always a pleasure to see not only Merlin on many of our Zoom calls but also all the other canine and feline friends who made cameo appearances. Often it was like ‘show and tell’ time! I know Laura had to shoo away Bella (her cat) a number of times as she made uncalled appearances.

And, of course, there was Roshi Givechi who developed the film’s story. Roshi tirelessly helped massage the narrative and guide us in sorting out just what was important to feature. She was also key to the interviews amongst the redwood trees, conducting them all consummately well.

It has been such an honor and joy to have been involved in the making of Beyond the Trees. There are so many people to thank at Imaginary Forces. Whilst I should like to thank everybody there for their kindness (which was universal), I do have special thanks for Ren’e Robson, our producer at IF, without whom the film could not have been made and the co-founders and co-owners of the company: Chip Houghton and Peter Frankfurt. You have a great “shop” and a fine, fine crew. My real thanks go to Jan van Eck, for making it all possible, and Laurie, for managing the forests as you do.

I believe Beyond the Trees achieves everything we set out to accomplish. And more.

See what you think. I trust you, too, will enjoy it.

The trailer of Beyond the Trees can be found here.

Originally published by VanEck on April 20, 2023.

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