Launching as a filmmaker in 2020

Breaking Into The Travel Industry As A Filmmaker

by Mathilda de Villiers

Today, the industry of videography has many players. The competition is fierce. The creativity and quality levels are at an all-time high. So if you’re wanting to start a career in filmmaking, whether it’s commercial work or a dedicated YouTube channel, how do you make sure that you stand out? How do you make your mark? Do you cower away and run? Or do you step up to the challenge?

Ten years ago, if you yearned to learn about filmmaking, video editing or anything related, you probably chose to attend a college or course. Today, all you have to do is click on the search bar in Google or YouTube. There isn’t much that you can’t learn online anymore. This, of course, has its pros and it has its cons. Sitting next to another human being is sometimes a better way of learning a new skill. Getting critical feedback is crucial to developing as an artist. But if you don’t have the funds to invest in years of studying, the gift of YouTube can take you very far. In the end, it really does boil down to personal preference, where your life has landed you and most of all – whether you have the true drive behind what you’re aiming to achieve.

I sat down with two highly successful filmmakers based out of Cape Town, South Africa, to hear their stories and what they had to say about starting a fresh career today compared to when they first started. In the last decade the game has changed, the gear being used is far beyond the scope of average and the creators out there are operating at a very high skill level. But don’t let this demotivate you – there is still a lot of space for new players in this world. There are just a few key things that will be needed to make you into a successful contender. Bryn and Naude share their knowledge and their insights into what will make you stand out.

Bryn North, originally from Zimbabwe, started his career roughly seven years ago. He has been living in Cape Town for roughly a decade and even though his work usually takes him over international waters, he still keeps Southern Africa as his base. Through his tangible passion for his craft, he made his mark as an incredibly talented filmmaker and has traveled and worked with other creatives such as Sam Kolder. But it didn’t always look so clear and simple for him. It took a life event where he injured his ankle to catapult him into learning how to become a multi-talented filmmaker through teaching himself through the vast expanse of YouTube. And back when he clicked, searched and watched, the world of YouTube hardly looked as full-bodied as it does today.

Naude Heunis’ career has taken him to many locations around the globe, but his work has mostly been focused on Africa, and he has worked for large corporations and brands as a filmmaker and photographer, including Rhino Africa, PolarPro and National Geographic. He has spent many years learning how to navigate the African wild and recently co-founded Behind The Scenes of Nature(*LINK), an organization dedicated to telling the stories that might otherwise get missed through dedicating time and resources into less-established communities affected by the global climate crisis.
Bryn never went to film school. Naude attended a film school in Cape Town. Today, they are friends and they have also worked together on projects with one another. They are both highly passionate about what they do as individuals, which is the first key to making it a success in this day age, according to Bryn – no matter how you learned your craft.

Be passionate

“If you’re passionate about something then you don’t mind the hard work. The hard work will come naturally. When things feel hard and you give up then you’re not truly passionate about it,” Bryn says.
Otherwise, you’ll never want to put in the work required to make a mark in this industry. It takes hours upon hours working on his videos and on projects for clients. And it’s not always easy, he says. It might not always be easy work, but if you’re enjoying what you’re doing and you’re passionate about it, the time you spend won’t ever feel like a lot of work in any case.

Passion projects

These are what keeps those fires burning – the passion that ignites the work. Sometimes when a passion becomes a job, you can get caught up in the end game and let the journey of creating slip away. For Bryn, passion projects are a big part of what he does because it allows him to at times take his own path, step out of the norm and show off his skills in the exact way that he chooses to.

Don’t let social media calculate your worth

“Starting out…if your video or your post on Instagram doesn’t do well, it doesn’t mean it’s not good. So look past that,” Bryn says.
You have to remember that you’re starting now. No matter who else you’re looking at on social media, know that it probably took them about 4 to 5 years to master their craft. It doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s so hard to not get defeated because we have access to everyone and everyone’s lives. But only the good,” Bryn says. No one is showing you the horrible side of things. So it’s so easy to compare yourself when everyone is putting up these amazing things when no one showing you how hard it is or the hours that they’ve put in.

Master your craft

This doesn’t mean just enjoying what you do and doing it well. Choose a part of your medium and do it really, really well. This, according to Naude, will set you apart and will make people notice you.
When Naude first started out as a filmmaker, he was at the forefront when drones first came out. He picked one up, knew that there weren’t a lot of people out there doing it and he decided to run with it. He became really good at flying and shooting with a drone that bigger clients started noticing him.
In the same breath, however, he said that it’s equally as important to understand every part of your medium and how it works. For instance, if you want to become a cinematographer, you need to know how to not only be behind the camera, but also how to direct, how to produce and how to edit.
For instance, if you don’t know how editing works, while you’re out there shooting, you might miss many shots that you’ll need once the editing process begins.
“[It’s] not necessary [to] be good at all those things but dabble in it so that you know what it takes to do all those things,” Naude says.

Take risks and get uncomfortable

Naude and Bryn’s paths might be paved differently, but the way they lay their foundations is clear. They weren’t scared to risk it in order to make it. They weren’t afraid of the unknown – they allowed their ignited passions to guide their way forward.
There’s a saying that goes, “you’ll never know unless you try.” After speaking to both of them, I noticed that there was a common thread. They are both rooted in what they do. They have passion and they know their own self-worth.

Find your unique style

It’s easy to look towards others and do as they do. It’s another thing to look, learn and make that style your own. This is just as important, according to Naude. He says that he learned a lot from his mentor over the years, but eventually he took the knowledge he gained and turned it into his own unique style.
And that’s what allows you to stand out above the rest – the value that your work will give to your clients. And whatever you do for or with clients, make sure that you do it to the absolute best of your ability. Because if you impress a client once, chances are they’ll dial your number again for future jobs.

Through all the hard work, the failures and the successes, these two creatives have found their footing in the industry and they have made it their own. To do so, one thing rang true – if it’s a true passion, everything else will follow.
So if you’re sitting there, still wanting to take this world on, you should be filled with hope and not despair. It’s easy to get demotivated and intimidated, but it’s important to put all of that aside and run with what truly ignites the fire inside. Yes, the industry might be saturated. Yes, the talent pool is large and the players are strong. But this doesn’t mean that the work that you put out isn’t good. It doesn’t mean that there is no space for new talent.
This world of filmmaking is exciting, it’s more alive than ever and it’s an incredible feeling to break into something as rich as digital storytelling. Let the passion come alive and allow that fuel to carry you through to your goals.

Bryn North

Naude Heunis

Restoring our coral reefs

Did you know that 70 per cent of the world’s oxygen comes from the ocean? Yes, you read that correctly. A whopping 70 per cent.

by Mathilda de Villiers

I grew up running along and playing on white sandy beaches on the shores of Southern Africa, body surfing the waves for hours on end. My dad was in the National Sea Rescue Institute, so I spent a lot of time on the water and he taught me a ton about the ocean and safety around it. I was dubbed “water baby” early on in life. Even though I haven’t spent much time underwater in the past ten years, I still have a very strong connection to the ocean and a broad knowledge about it. Or so I thought.

There’s a saying, “out of sight, out of mind”. And when I was sitting on the grass with Amir Zakeri (@amirzakeri) and Justin Kalani Burbage (@justinkalaniburbage) at the TripLit conference earlier this summer, this kept popping into my mind. Because the fact is, when we look out over the ocean, we see beauty and serenity. But if you’ve never immersed yourself under the surface of it and seen first-hand what is happening beneath the surface, you might never know the damage. You might never realize the dire state that our coral reefs, known as the rainforest of the seas, are in.

Amir has spent a lot of his time underneath the waves and has, over the years, become incredibly passionate about its state and the damage that we as humans are doing to it. He was diving in Hawaii after he moved there from his hometown in Kansas when he realized what was going on with the corals and he asked himself, “why is no one talking about this?”

Shortly thereafter, Save The Reef was born, and the inception of their film ‘50 Minutes To Save The World’ started forming traction in Amir’s mind. Justin grew up in Hawaii and has always had a passion for the outdoors and the ocean. The two of them connected and they began the journey to create this powerful documentary that has reached over 4 million views on YouTube alone.

But there is hope

Coral Gardeners is a coral reef restoration and conservation program located in Tahiti, French Polynesia. They run programs where people from anywhere in the world can support them by adopting a coral, proceeds of which go towards research and restoration. They upload a photo and GPS coordinates of the coral that you adopt, making you a part of the process no matter where you are.

Chelsea Yamase (@chelseakauai) is one of their ambassadors and she recently spent a day with them planting corals and adopted her fourth coral. Chelsea has been passionate about sustainability and the oceans for years. Originally from Kauai, Hawaii, she has grown up with the ocean in her backyard and has continued to invest much of her career into being an advocate for the sea and to spreading awareness through her own social media channels.

Where does the oxygen come from?

So exactly how does this mass of mysterious water around us produce the thing that keeps us breathing? It’s all about the phytoplanktons and their fellow plants that live in the ocean. Oxygen is produced by the ocean through kelp, algal plankton and phytoplankton. These plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis, where carbon dioxide and sunlight is converted into sugars that the organism can use for energy. More importantly, this is linked to an ever bigger ecosystem relationship. The corals feed the little fish, who in turn are food for the bigger fish, so on and so forth.

Prochlorococcus, one type of phytoplankton, is probably the most abundant photosynthetic organism on earth. It releases countless tons of oxygen into the atmosphere, so small that millions can fit in a single drop of water. Prochlorococcus provides the oxygen one in every five breaths we take, according to National Geographic explorer Dr. Sylvia A. Earle.

The real impact

Meeting and speaking with Amir, I saw how tangible and powerful his passion is and it was a conversation that became imbedded in my mind when I carried on with my own daily life after leaving the conference. Personally, I’ve become a lot more aware over the past five years of living sustainably and being mindful of what I use that will eventually end up in the ocean or a landfill. What I do is not yet perfect and there are still many ways I can improve, but watching a documentary where their message comes through in such a tangible and applicable way, it stuck around at the back of my mind and I have already started making even bigger changes to the way I consume and live.

Maybe it’s because my hometown, Cape Town, was featured. Maybe it was because I got to listen and speak with Amir and Justin in person. But maybe, more so, it’s because their message is just so important and the way they tell it comes across so passionately and clearly. Either way, it made a massive impact on me and it really opened up my eyes, beyond what I was already aware of.

So what’s next?

What can we do? Well, I’m glad you asked. There is always something we can do as individuals. So what are a few things that we, as consumers, can do to reduce the harm we’re causing?

Use social media and tools readily available:
TruBeach is a free app you can download that allows you to report on the state of the beach every time you visit it. You take a photo, report ‘clean or ‘dirty’, and add in a review. It has also become a mobile platform for beach cleanup organizations and the general public to share their work.

Three R’s:
Always remember the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. This is for when you’re at home or the beach. What these principles do is help cut down on our waste and promotes a more sustainable way of living. Also, remember to go to the proper recycling centres and make yourself aware of the things that are easily recyclable and what is not. It really becomes as simple as taking your own reusable bags to the grocery store or not buying coffee unless you have your own mug.

The little things that you think might not have a big impact, are usually the ones with the biggest damage-causing properties. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that 32% of all the trash collected from the oceans represents cigarette butts. Marine animals mistake the butts for food, and because of the plastic components in them, they cannot properly digest them and die. The chemicals found in the butts leach into the water and cause a toxic ripple effect with long-lasting harm to the marine environment.

Use reef-safe sunscreen:
Yes, that’s correct – sunscreen can harm coral reefs. Some sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone (BP-3), butylparaben, and octinoxate can severely harm the world’s corals. For instance, oxybenzone is so disruptive that it hampers coral reproduction and damages the tiny animals’ DNA. Unfortunately, this ingredient is found in more than 3,000 sun protection products worldwide. Non-eco-friendly sunscreen can harm coral organisms, in non-so-obvious ways if they contain plastic microbeads or nanoparticles, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

You can protect corals by not using any products that contain the ingredients proven to harm corals and switching to reef-friendly products, like mineral based sunscreens. What’s more, keep in mind that the ‘Reef Friendly’ and ‘Reef Safe’ claims on labels can be misleading as the issue has not been regulated yet. So, research the ingredients on the labels yourself if you want to make a truly informed decision.

Ditch the fertilizers:
Having a lush, green lawn that will cause envy from your neighbours might be something you strive for, but it does come with a cost. Most fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus, two ingredients that are extremely toxic to corals. But how would your fertilizer harm the corals even though you don’t live anywhere near the ocean, you might ask? Well, those harmful chemicals will eventually get into waterways and from there they lead into the ocean.

Small acts can create a ripple effect
Even if it seems like a small act or task, it matters. Every little thing we can do to help contribute towards a healthier ocean, a healthier land and in turn healthier air to breathe, will help that cause. So all we really have to do is look, pick up, be aware and spread the word as best as we can. If we all do our part, in as little or big ways as possible, it will make a difference.

I had a conversation with Emmett earlier this month and something he said stuck in my head. We were talking about Amir and Emmett said, “it’s a hard thing to be so passionate about because every single day you’ll see people doing things that go completely against [it]. Like just throwing plastic stuff in the garbage or using sunscreen that’s not reef safe.”

But Amir’s actions and others who spread the word about the state of the oceans are starting to make ripples in the public’s awareness. Amir uses social media as a strong conveyor for his message and continues to do work with organizations around the world.

If enough of us speak up, do our part and stop supporting companies who don’t align their values with sustainability, those big, positive changes can happen and actually are already happening. All it takes is that one small step. That one person to begin a movement. It all began with us and it can end with us turning it around.

Ideas to reduce waste this Christmas

Guess what. It’s December. Holiday season!

By Islabella de Goeij

A time of celebration, reflection, and giving. The holidays are commemorated in a variety of unique ways all around the world. I grew up in a household that celebrates Christmas and many people I know consider this one of the best times of the year. But for our planet, it’s the opposite.

Imagine this: It’s 6 AM on December 25, 2006. 10-year-old Isabella and her three younger siblings are wide awake, examining the shape and weight of the exquisitely wrapped presents underneath the Christmas tree. There’s counting involved. Who received the most presents? Who got the heaviest one? The biggest one? Yet there was a catch – we weren’t allowed to open the presents until our father finished the morning milking shift on the dairy farm. So, while the snow fell softly outside through the dark and chilly Alberta air, we would sit and wait on the living room floor quietly laughing, arguing and excitedly whispering under the dim glow of the lights on the tree.

Around 10 AM my dad would come in, my parents would tell us to eat breakfast first (I’m pretty sure they just enjoyed watching us squirm), and then finally it would be time to open those presents. Back to the living room floor we would go. Growing with each unwrapped gift was a pile of wrapping paper and ribbon, which was thereafter joined by the cardboard and plastic packaging that further encased the gift. As a child on Christmas morning, I didn’t really think about that pile. All my attention was garnered by the fun new toys in front of me.

I failed to truly notice and think about the waste produced during the holiday season year after year until I had grown older. That big garbage bag full of wrapping paper, ribbons, cardboard boxes and plastic wrapping wasn’t only showing up in my house. This was happening all over the place. The amount of garbage and food waste we humans produce, which increases significantly during the holiday season, is an important global issue that I am now conscious of.

I’d even say that my family is on the conservative side of being wasteful.

Approximately 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and gift bags are thrown out in Canada, while the United States sees about 4 million tonnes of these items end up in landfills each year. The amount of ribbon thrown away in North America equates to 38,000 miles – enough to wrap around the planet.

My mother saves and reuses practically everything, from elastic bands and Ziploc bags to cutting tubes of toothpaste in half so that we can scrape out every last bit. To this day, she tells us to unwrap presents carefully and slowly peel the tape off so that she can reuse the wrapping paper. But even so, we usually end up with a decently large heap of waste on the living room floor.

So, starting this holiday season I want to see if I can decrease the amount of garbage my family and I throw away. How am I going to do this? Well, I’m glad you asked. I did some digging and found some useful tips on reducing this type of waste during the holiday season.

1. Think about how you wrap presents

Make your own wrapping paper, use more eco-friendly materials, or forget about wrapping paper completely. The majority of wrapping paper isn’t even recyclable. If it contains materials such as foil, wax, sparkles or glitter it will be sent straight to the landfill. Ribbon and tinsel are also generally sent to landfills because of the materials they are made of and the complications they can cause in sorting machines while being recycled.

While wrapping paper can add flair to any gift, is it really worth purchasing just to be used once and then ripped off again? There are many alternatives to wrapping paper that can still enable you to wrap a gift without placing strain on the environment.

  • Use recycled brown wrapping paper or newspaper. You can make it look more festive by adding a sprig of evergreen, a slice of dehydrated orange, a stick of cinnamon, or even drawing on the paper.
  • Wrap the gift in a tea towel or scarf, making the cloth an additional element to the present. You could even make a set of cloth bags with drawstrings that can be used year after year, making the wrapping process quick and easy.
  • Reuse the ribbons and bows that you purchase. We reuse Christmas tree ornaments, why not reuse these items as well!

2. Give eco-friendly gifts

For those that celebrate Christmas, think about the presents you may have received that were enjoyable for a little while and then lost their novelty, only to end up in the trash. Many of us constantly feel pressure that we have to buy stuff for everyone but there is a way to give presents and not create near as much waste!

  • Give the gift of experience. Take someone to a concert, plan an outdoor experience, or partake in a cooking or dancing class together. By doing this you are showing affection to the people in your life by spending quality time together without having to buy more stuff.
  • Homemade gifts. There are so many items you could make from home that mean so much more than going out and buying the same thing. Consider making some ornaments, picture frames, candles, or even just some classic baked goods.
  • Locally made gifts. Seek out some sustainable products in your community and support your local economy all while benefiting the environment.
  • If you do buy something, try to make it an investment. An item that will benefit the receiver for a long time or be useful to them in some aspect of their life. For example, a new camera lens or a high quality suitcase that the person can enjoy for years to come.
  • Donate to a charity! Many charities will provide you with a certificate of your donation which you can then present as a gift. This year TripLit is supporting Room to Read!

3. Reduce food waste

Food! Another key part of the holiday season. But did you know that wasting food is an enormous contribution to our greenhouse gas emissions? Not to mention the millions of people that do not have access to a sufficient amount of food. Yet worldwide we waste about 1.3 billion tonnes of food each year. The amount of brussel sprouts thrown away in the UK alone could power a home for three years! However, simply taking care to not waste food can be one of the easiest ways to address climate change. To reduce the amount of food waste you create this holiday season you could:

  • Use the “ugly” fruits and vegetables. Just because one apple looks more pristine than another apple doesn’t necessarily mean that it will taste better. It’s dark inside your stomach anyways!
  • Cook only as much as you need. This may require more diligent planning and cooking only for the approximate number of people that are coming instead of going all out and overboard.
  • Share your leftovers with family, friends, and strangers! As long as the food is still good, you do not have to throw it away.

4. Offset holiday travel

If you are someone who travels a lot throughout the holiday season whether it be going on vacation or going home to be with family, consider offsetting the fossil fuel pollution generated regardless of your method of travel. These are some websites I found where either you as an individual or as a business can donate to offset your carbon emissions:

5. Dispose of trees wisely

By the time New Years Day rolls around, a lot of people who celebrated Christmas will already have taken down or thought about taking down their Christmas tree. Depending on whether or not your tree is real or artificial will determine the most eco-friendly way of its disposal. If you use an artificial tree, try to get as many years out of it as you can. If you use a real tree, here are some ways you can get rid of them without contributing to the tree pile in the landfills.

  • Recycle your tree. Many cities have a curbside recycling program where they will collect trees at certain times during the weeks following Christmas. Or, just bring your tree to a recycling center that accepts them.
  • Make firewood or mulch from the tree so that it can be used to fuel your fireplace or improve the soil conditions in your yard.
  • Be creative and make wood coasters by cutting up the tree trunk.

There you have it. Five practical suggestions that I am personally going to use during the holidays this year to see if I can make a difference in the amount of waste I produce.

Now, I’d like to challenge you. I propose that you think about not only the festivities this season, but also the waste. If you utilize some of these tips, you could make a difference in your own life, and perhaps even influence a change in the consumption habits of your family. Even the smallest of efforts can lead to beneficial changes. What are you waiting for?

The race to save Africa's wildlife

I was lucky to be charged by an elephant. Future generations may never get the chance.

By Mathilda de Villiers

There’s something about being mock charged by an elephant while you’re on foot in the wilderness, that just sits with you.

But how on earth, you may ask, did I get myself into that situation? I was working second-camera on a pilot episode for a documentary we were filming on one of the many trips to the Umbabat Game Reserve, bordering the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

On this particular day, roughly six years ago, I was following a game ranger on foot, filming him walking with his puppy around two bull elephants, when the charge came out of nowhere.
Once we were charged, we were trapped. Between these giants, situated in a river bed, and separated from the safety of the compound we had just trekked from. All I remember was my friend telling me to turn my camera off. We sneaked behind the bushes around the elephants and at one point he turned around to me and said, “when I run, you just keep up.” We made it back to safety after an exhilarating sprint past the elephants over the dried-out river bed. What ensued were hugs from my brother who had watched the whole situation play out.

And yes, I still have the footage. Somewhere on a hard drive.

On the next trip, I followed that same game ranger, and friend, into the bush tracking a leopard on foot. He saw some fresh tracks of a leopard who had recently chased its lunch across the road we were driving on. When he turned around and asked, “ok who’s coming with me to go check this out?” I was the only one who said yes.

I have no footage of this experience. Only a very vivid memory of walking through the thick bush, silently creeping along looking for those unique black spots. We never found the leopard but it was a thrilling experience, to say the very, very least.

Wild, raw and unadulterated

I was privileged enough to grow up in Southern Africa, frequenting the bush as I grew up and well into my twenties. I have many more stories of pretty insane wildlife encounters, including a leopard coming right up to our house one evening, a crazy honey badger eating our dinner and me almost becoming a hyena’s dinner. Oh, and I can’t leave out that one time a hippo almost toppled over my father’s canoe as we were cruising down the Zambezi River. That was one for the books.

I had a raw, unadulterated, upbringing in the bush that I know is pretty rare. Each memory is incredibly special and I have a natural comfort level in the wilderness, surrounded by these wild creatures. Being able to follow wild dogs, or painted dogs, as they are hunting is something that not a lot of people these days can bear witness to. I consider myself very lucky, as even seeing one in the wild is so rare today, because they are one of the most endangered species in the whole of Africa.

Since I’ve moved to Canada, however, I haven’t been to the bush, or on the so-called ‘safari’, in over three years. I miss it dearly. I know that, even in my lifetime, I will see a massive decline in the incredible wild creatures I have bared witness to in the Southern African wilderness.

The truth behind that dream safari

With this upbringing comes many memories, but also a sense of responsibility. Behind the scenes of the amazing landscapes and these animals, it isn’t as glamorous as it may seem.
If we’re talking about the current population of wildlife in the whole of Africa, there is just no comparison to what it was 100 years ago.

Imagine for a moment – hundreds of thousands of rhinos and lions and millions of elephants wandering across nearly every region of the continent. That was then.

Today, only a fraction of them remain.

The immense number of wild animals that used to roam our earth has been dropping ever since by massive proportions because of habitat loss, hunting and poaching. We, as humans, are responsible for the loss of a whopping 60 percent of our world’s mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since the 1970’s.

That’s only 39 years. Read that again. Let it sink in for a second.

But even in the darkest truths, there is hope. In the same breath, humanity can be responsible for the rescue of a dying species. One example is the mountain gorilla. In 2010, their population was dwindling with approximately 786 individuals left due to entanglement in hunting snares, disease transfer from humans and habitat loss. However, conservation efforts have been paying off and the population is slowly increasing with the most recent count seeing the total number of wild mountain gorillas reach above 1000 individuals.

Now let that sink in. We can, collectively, make a significant change.

Real talk

But, sadly, this incredible conservation success story is not the case for all animals. Many are facing extinction within the next few decades if conservation does not win. Whether it wins is up to us. Up to us mere humans. To do our part and to assist those who are doing their part to combat this rapid decline of wonderful animals on our earth.

As humans, we’ll pay the ‘big bucks’ to go and see these animals up close, live in their quarters and get up at the crack of dawn to watch the sun spill over the African plain towards us. But what happens when there are no more elephants to track? No more lions to drive up to while they are basking in the sun? Will we wake up then? When it’s too late?

Luckily, there are already many organizations doing their part towards conservation and raising awareness around what needs to be done to keep our animal population alive and well.

Conservation itself is a complicated issue with many factors. Having spoken to some of the people who spearhead a lot of projects in the bush in South Africa, I won’t be diving into those deeper issues and projects. There is a lot to say about it and there are a lot of opinions out there. I can only speak to what I have witnessed, and I’m choosing to highlight a few efforts out there. There are many, but we don’t have time to write or read an entire book-worth of content.

Fighting off poachers with drones

Today, the world of practical use of new technology is booming. It has pushed many people and organizations to the next level in their own work to keep up with the digital world. One way this has translated over into rhino conservation is using drones to fight off poachers across Africa.

If you’ve been living in the twenty-first century and have been following even a fraction of the news with half an eye, you would know about the speedy decline of rhinos because of poaching. But, this practice is nothing new. It dates back to 1970.

Today, it’s a massive market of almost $70 billion per year, with over 1,200 African rhinos killed by poachers in a single year, averaging roughly three per day.

Let’s be clear. This is a criminal activity that has gotten out of hand and it is difficult to keep track of and control over poachers that they have even started dehorning projects to protect the animals. Basically, this means that they remove their horns in a humane way so that the rhinos still survive, equally not becoming a target anymore. It’s radical, but that’s what it has come to.

And let’s be equally clear about why this madness even started. Rhino horn, primarily made out of keratin, is used in traditional Chinese medicine, but is also increasingly used to display a facade of wealth and success. There are theories, myths and opinions out there on this. But the basics of it boils down to – it’s being used for purposes that aren’t even proven to work.

There are programs in place where rangers on the ground are trained to fight against rhino poachers. It’s not for the faint of heart and it is not something that you come back from with the same mindset as you went in.

I have known people who have gone into that line of work and still, even with their efforts, haven’t made enough of a difference to ward off enough poachers. They still sneak into areas to hunt and kill for a prized possession so tainted.

Drones equipped with infrared cameras, GPS and thermal imaging, alongside the use of military-style computer analytics can help rhino conservation. These special drones allow rangers to be one step ahead of the poacher and get deployed to those specific areas to ward off any oncoming attacks that might occur.

Another way that drones can help is that they can help deter the animals from a certain area where the poaching risks are high. You can learn more about this in this article.

There are drawbacks, however. With the use of drones increasing across many different fields, many national parks have banned the use of drones. It’s also not a cheap feat to have drones with such extensive equipment on board as you also have to have a highly-skilled and trained pilot behind the controls.

All of this also costs money.

So is there really hope then? Yes. I have seen and I know of many people and organizations out there who spend their time and effort protecting and fighting for these animals. They can’t do it without the help of countless on-the-ground volunteers, donations and government funding. They can’t do it without a pure love for the animal they are rescuing.

Organizations working tirelessly on the frontlines include:

  • Save The Rhino
  • African Wildlife Foundation
  • Wildlife Act
  • World Wildlife Fund
  • Painted Dog Conservation

We can all do our part. And do be aware that the animals I have spoken about here are not the only ones that need our attention – there are many. In the end, a happier planet equals happier species that inhabit it. An end to a ridiculous ‘medicine’ trade, ends the rhino poaching war zone.

Triplit conference 2019

One of the most magical experiences, ever.

by Mathilda de Villiers

About a month ago, I packed my bags and set off to Bowen Island for a conference, hosted by some of the leading content creators in the travel industry. I first heard about it and TripLit through Emmett Sparling’s Instagram stories. It was close to my home in Vancouver, Canada. I was intrigued, so I decided that it was something I wanted to attend in order to further my career and to meet those in the industry that have inspired me for so many years. I applied for a bursary and when I didn’t receive one I made peace with the fact that I possibly wasn’t going to be able to be there. A few days later, however, I received an email that inevitably changed the course of my future for good. Tiffanee Scorer, co-founder of TripLit, asked me whether I could do an exchange. She offered me an extra bursary if I could write a few articles for news publications because of my background in journalism. I was back on board and I immediately agreed.

It was a sunny afternoon when I arrived at the lodge on the peaceful island located near the city. I was greeted with an unexpected electric energy and was surrounded by friendly faces who had literally just travelled from all over the world to be there. The first day was used to settle in and meet the other participants and leaders. Over 50 people came together from 14 different countries. I don’t think that anyone there had any idea what was about to happen next. The collection of strangers being welcomed by TripLit and Bowen Island Lodge would leave there with a long-lasting, deep-rooted community just days later.

Five days of workshops and activities turned into one of the most powerful environments I have ever experienced, where creatives shared their stories, talents and witnessed each other thrive in their own personal growth. I had previously interviewed Emmett (@emmett_sparling) and Tiffanee for an article I wrote prior to the conference, so I already knew a bit about his journey. Meeting him and Tiffanee in person, however, instilled a sense of awe in me and I knew that I was in exactly the place that I needed to be. Something in me started switching on and I knew that for the next few days I would be witnessing and experiencing something remarkable.

While Emmett was travelling and working around the world, he reached a point in his career where he asked himself how he and his network of content creator friends could use their influence on social media to generate and promote positive influence alongside creating high quality content. He began asking his community what their thoughts were. The response strengthened his feelings towards creating an online environment dedicated to a bigger sense of purpose. Co-founded by Tiffanee and Emmett, TripLit was born, with the purpose of inspiring positive change in the world by becoming actively involved in purpose-driven projects and charities. TripLit will not only specialize in creating high-quality content for brands and clients, but also design learning, networking and mentoring opportunities for creatives. TripLit is growing a highly engaged, global community of content creators who want to make a meaningful difference.

Hearing Emmett and the rest of the leaders talk about focusing on the purpose behind their work instead of purely focusing on how fast their following was growing, was nothing short of inspiring. Behind the phone and behind the incredible content that millions around the world look up to, each leader is a real and genuine human dedicated to making the world around them a better place. I had never been around such authentic, well-known creatives before. It made me realize that finding my own purpose and direction with my own work was all that mattered at the beginning. The rest would follow.

Emmett was joined by Chelsea Yamase (@chelseakauai), Renee and Matthew Hahnel (@reneeroaming and @matthewhahnel), who together combined their unique qualities and talents to teach and run workshops throughout the five days on Bowen. Not only did the leaders teach us incredible skills, but they spent time with us outside of those workshops and built relationships with many of the participants.

Three evenings hosted world-class presentations by internationally known, influential and inspiring leaders. Timothy Sykes, Amir Zakeri and Justin Kalani Burbage from Karmagawa and Save The Reef presented their highly successful documentary ’50 Minutes To Save The World’ about the dire state of the world’s coral reefs. This movie really pulled on my heartstrings as my home, Cape Town, was featured. It also opened up my eyes to so many things I wasn’t aware of even though I grew up around and practically in the ocean. It spreads an important message and is told in an impactful way. It was a privilege to meet and talk to the people who made that happen.

Sam Kolder (@samkolder) spent an engaging evening sharing personal insights into his life, stories behind his career and his latest video. “I don’t do much public speaking but it was definitely a comfortable environment to talk [in] and a really cool group of people. [It] felt very welcoming,” Sam said. His latest film, ‘Hey Tim’, caught a lot of traction around the world and he spoke in depth about it on Bowen, which was a truly special moment.

He was vulnerable in sharing his story about a personal loss and how he turned that pain into inspiration that eventually got him to a place where he now tells the impactful stories that he is most passionate about through his awe-inspiring films. He remains a huge inspiration to me and for many others who are in the creative world.

Kalen Emsley, co-founder and head of marketing for tentree, gave valuable insider tips and techniques for successfully working with brands. Personally, it was a true inspiration to listen to Kalen as I have been following tentree’s journey since before I moved to Vancouver three years ago. His passion for what he does came through in a captivating way when he spoke about the values of his company.

Two of the people I was really excited to meet were Sam and Chelsea. I had been following them for a few years already and Sam’s work has always stood out to me. It was inspirational to sit and talk with him and learn about how he works. He told me that he does some of his best work in times of extreme isolation. “I want to spend time learning about myself and learning about what I like artistically. Not from other sources but from inside,” he added.

On day two, Chelsea and I sat down on the grass together, talking for about forty minutes about her story and how she was experiencing the conference. It was a pleasure spending that time with her, one of the most authentic human beings I have ever met. Originally from Kauai, she has been a free diver for roughly seven years and started to gain traction on Instagram by posting diving content when the platform was still in its infancy. Today, she has over 800k followers, engaged in her message of adventure, sustainability and authenticity.

The conference was her first experience teaching at and attending one. “I think there’s a reason that these types of conferences are so popular because there is a real aspect of community building, [even] if it’s just making small connections,” she said. Through experiences in her own life, she said, she sees a lot of value in people coming together in that way because no one truly knows what may come out of it.

I had not been as familiar with Renee and Matt’s work prior to the conference, but after meeting them I instantly found comfort in being around them. They are exactly who they portray to be and their insights on business, relationships and life in general was soaked up by everyone who listened to them. “You really just have to put the effort in and the time to find out who you are and find some sort of unique way to tell that story,” Matt said.

Both of them made an effort each day to spend time with those around them, giving them their undivided attention and being attentive to what people were asking. “More and more it’s not about how many instagram followers you [have]. People want realness, they want real stories and they want high quality,” Renee said.

Matt recognized how many talented people there were attending the conference. “Hopefully some of what they learn here will help just push them that little bit more than they need to get that start or just get over that little hump they might feel they’re at,” Matt added.

After everything that we were given access to at the conference: the delicious food; the leaders; workshops and activities, there was one thing that was clear from the beginning. None of it could have happened without the incredible driving force behind it all, the team who made it a reality. Caitlin Frost, a renowned coach who facilitates international workshops, worked alongside Tiffanee and Emmett to help them bring their ideas to life long before and during the event to make it into the massive success it was. It became evident that they had put a lot of hours into making their own passion and vision into one of the most remarkable events I have ever attended.

Sharon Davis and Christina Labarca, owners of Giving Well, opened up with the first presentation of the first day, sharing their knowledge and insights on what it means to be a true philanthropist. Galen Scorer spoke in depth about his successful career as a filmmaker and art director, and gave valuable information on effective storytelling.

Benjamin Prescott (@itsbigben) and Brendon Purdy came through for a day to lead activity-driven photography workshops alongside the other leaders. I was put into Ben’s workshop in the morning, where we headed out to a lake and he showed us some of his techniques for shooting. His energy is contagious and it was hard not to have a great time learning from him. In the afternoon I attended Matt’s editing workshop where he led us through techniques, which was highly valuable to me as it was the area in my own work that I really wanted to improve on.

Many of the attendees stepped out of their comfort zones and traveled across oceans to a new country in order to further their own creative skills or just to meet a new community of like-minded individuals. Alicia Scott, 20 years old, flew from Australia by herself, embarking on her first big overseas trip.

“Sometimes you just have to take a chance and step out of your comfort zone,” she said. She returned home with a new sense of purpose and a strong set of goals. She valued the community that she was able to build on Bowen Island and said that she knows she will see those friends again in the future.

Deanne Ziadie, originally from Jamaica, currently lives in Florida. She came to the conference not knowing exactly what to expect. She had found out about it through Chelsea’s Instagram and taken the chance to immerse herself in a new space on the West Coast. Back home, she helps brands build and find their presence creatively and through marketing, in order to reach the audience that they want. When she works on projects, however, she said that she embodies the other person’s purpose and tends to put her own “to sleep” for some time.

“I never really allowed the artistic expression that I have inside to come out. After [Sam’s] talk and after speaking to several people I discovered that, yes, it’s OK to be an artist,” she said. While talking to Deanne, I could see such a powerful energy starting to glow within her. The time on the island clearly changed her perspective and gave her a fresh vision going forward.

On the final evening, we all enjoyed a beautifully cooked meal together outside on the patio of the lodge. Many stood and expressed gratitude towards everyone there. In Emmett’s words, it was a privilege to be around such a “switched on” group of people and he said the conference exceeded his own expectations. Today, he’s planning trips with some of us with whom he has made friends. I saw those friendships between him and others flourish and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Isaiah English, a local music producer from Vancouver, made the dance floor come alive after dinner, getting everyone involved in connecting with one another on yet another level – through music.

The global community that was built during the conference, as well as the relationships that extended into our lives afterwards, are both aspects that made it that much more special. There was a unique atmosphere that happened with this group of like-minded individuals who came together and all shared similar passions, feeding off of one another’s positive energy. It elevated the experience of everyone who attended and the dates are already set for next year’s event.

I have never walked away from a conference with such a tangible change within me. The hype and the motivation that was built during that time stayed activated well into life back in Vancouver.

One month later and I have already reached a true dream goal and within that I am grateful to be a part of a company whose values line up with mine. I get to do the work I am most passionate about in a way that I have always dreamed of doing. I am also now surrounded by a solid network of creatives and driven people, something I didn’t even realize that I was missing. My life has switched gears and those five days will be forever etched into my memory as it was a true turning point in my life.