Adventure Filmmaker. Wilderness Explorer. Risk Embracer.
A decade ago Bryan Smith bought his first camera at Walmart and started calling himself a filmmaker. Armed with a $500 handycam, he embarked on a kayaking expedition to the far reaches of Arunachal Pradesh, India. While his imagery barely cracked amateur status on that first expedition, his passion and persistence would carry him through the ranks of the industry in the span of just 10 years.
His first film, 49 Megawatts, documented a community’s struggle with a hydroelectric project on British Columbia’s Ashlu River and eventually led him to the hallways of National Geographic Society, where he would receive an Expedition Council grant to lead a team of kayakers into the wilds of the Kamchatka Peninsula, in Russia. After several more expeditions and assignments, Bryan went on to direct The Man Who Can Fly, about Dean Potter, the late basejumper and the first person to free solo the South Wall of El Capitan for the National Geographic Channel. After several years as Nat Geo’s go-to cinematographer for extreme adventure, Bryan founded Reel Water Productions—a film production company based in Squamish, British Columbia whose mantra is “Imagine. Create. Overdeliver.”—specializing in documentary, expedition, and commercial content. Here, Bryan leads a team of like-minded creatives in the pursuit of authentic storytelling. Their award-winning films have graced festival circuits, television networks, and garnered a healthy amount of business for their clients, including RedBull, BBC, Patagonia, National Geographic and Discovery. Bryan looks for projects that pass his 60/40 rule—an anticipated 60% success and 40% failure rate—because he believes that a healthy chance of failure produces the tension, emotion and breakthroughs necessary for a gripping and transformative story.
Onstage, he talks about calculated risk, 360-degree leadership, and what it takes to get everyone on the team to perform at their highest potential, in pursuit of a shared vision.
Navigating the Edge of Failure
Bryan Smith takes us on a journey into some of the most remote places on the planet, with his signature willingness to fail, curiosity for the unknown, and passion for bringing it all back to his audience. From the jungles of Papua New Guinea to the highest mountains in North America, his imagery transports us into landscapes few see. But it is the human stories in these environments where Bryan finds humor and emotion, weaving a mesmerizing, unforgettable story arc. While risk taking is commonly viewed as thrill seeking, Bryan shows us how those who take calculated risks have the greatest chance of pushing all of us forward. Riding a thin line between success and failure, Bryan brings audiences to the edge of their seats while motivating us all to explore the world and embrace projects with uncertain outcomes.
Photos: courtesy Bryan Smith