getting to the grit:
nature, humans & the places they meet
award-winning documentary filmmaker and force behind as it happens creative - Andy laub
After covering the 2008 presidential election, Andy Laub was burnt out. Having never backpacked a day in his life, he set out solo on the Appalachian trail in the middle of winter. This 2000 mile journey was the start of Andy’s first film and the beginning of As It Happens Creative. Since that hike, he has trekked thousands of miles in search of stories - exploring humans, nature and the places they meet. From nature films to cultural documentaries, his work as an award winning documentary filmmaker has been featured on Discovery Channel, National Geographic and BBC World, to name a few. We spoke with Andy about love letters to the environment, pure journalism and the importance of starting a dialogue about the issues that matter most.
While I was in college, I covered the 2008 presidential election for WEBN. I was 21 and traveling the country to follow one of the most historic campaigns of our generation.
I remember when the results came in and Obama won, I thought to myself ‘I don’t know if it’s going to get better than this.’ At such a young age, I had covered such a huge story and from a personal health perspective was completely burnt out. So, I decided to quit.
I seek stories connected with nature because i want to remove the false layers and get to the grit.
Having never backpacked a day in my life I set out solo on the Appalachian trail in the middle of winter.
I wanted to challenge myself in a different way, and having never backpacked a day in my life, I set out solo on the Appalachian trail in the middle of winter. That hike was 2000 miles. It was the start of my first film, and the beginning of a whole new direction.
After that first hike, I began working for the Discovery Channel. Instead of focusing on politics, the stories I covered were about nature. All that political stuff, the stories that consume our daily news cycle…it’s a lot of hot air. I seek stories connected with nature because I want to remove the false layers, and get to the grit.
There are two paths that I walk in films - pure journalism and love letters.
When I work with David Abel, a Pulitzer Prize Winning Boston Globe journalist, we take a purely journalistic approach. We have created four feature films together in the last four years - The Gladesmen, Lobster Wars, Undaunted and Sacred Cod. Our goal is to deflate the tribalism that happens with media consumption. Most environmental films, as talented as the filmmakers are, tend to lean on one point of view. If you don’t share their perspective, you’ll likely turn it off within the first 5 minutes.
My films are meant to engage people with the issues. as soon as we stop talking that’s when the real problems start.
David and I do our best to cover every side of complex issues. We filmed the “Gladesmen” in Florida during the 2016 Presidential Election, and here comes a journalist and environmental filmmaker from the north east covering an extremely contentious issue. You have the restorationists in one camp, advocating to curb the impact of airboats in the Everglades. In the other camp, you have the Gladesmen, Florida’s airboaters, who have navigated the Everglades for generations and whose way of life is on the cusp of disappearing. You couldn’t have more different political spheres.
We take topics that are controversial and try to make films that not only speak to environmentalists, but also industry supporters who might be against those environmentalists. So, everyone watching the film is hearing both sides, where normally they would just tune out.
I had a conversation with my grandmother after she watched my film “Sacred Cod.” She’s a climate change denier, Fox News consumer, and she said ‘how can you make that kind of film?’ And I said, did you watch the film? Did you see how much scientific proof there is that climate change is happening? Do you think it maybe has a shred of credibility? We engaged in a conversation over it. I probably would have avoided that conversation if she hadn’t watched my film. So, there’s that.
My other mode of film are love letters to the natural environment. I shoot, edit and write my own soundtracks for these films. Over the last several years, I have been filming “The World Beneath the World,” a feature-film capturing a community of Hopi Indians in northern Arizona that are combining ancient building and permaculture techniques with modern technology to not only create the greenest way of life on the planet, but a path to independence.
The film follows a family, and my relationship with them has become very special. I’ve watched their kids grow up. We exchange holiday cards. It’s a breath of fresh air! I flew to Arizona with the intention of forming a relationship with one family based on the Hopi Reservation before I even started rolling the camera. A lot of this work is just a leap of faith, and involves booking a flight and meeting face to face.
My inspiration for this film was “Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness” by Edward Abbey. It is a collection of three seasons in the desert at Moab, Utah and what the writer discovered about the land, over time. With the Hopi Indian film, I went into it with the same idea. I let it unfold over a number of years, because I knew it would take that kind of time to uncover a special story. I try to be a fly on the wall, capturing the story as it happens. That’s why my production house is called As It Happens.
The next film I’m currently in post-production on is a pure love letter film! To capture the footage, I left my wife, son and dog for three months, flew to Glacier National Park, and hiked west on the Pacific Northwest Trail for over 1,200 miles to the Pacific Ocean. This film focuses on the experience of a prolonged immersion within nature, team dynamics while operating in backcountry, the ecology, geology and history of the land traveled, and the lifestyle that is associated with modern, long-distance hiking.
For me, the stories I share hinge between human-based issues connected to our natural world, and inspiring viewers to create their own connection with wilderness. I think, both approaches are equally important.
Above all, my first goal in film is to bring awareness to the big issues. There is no conversation anymore. As soon as someone’s friend posts something on Facebook contrary to their belief, they unfriend them! Sometimes it’s hard to get your voice heard. So my films are really about encouraging dialogue and reducing inherent tribalism. They are meant to engage people with the issues. It’s easy to turn off, but as soon as we stop talking that’s when the real problems start.