The making of Finding Traction



The making of Finding Traction.
A good friend of mine from film school, Rick Smith, met Nikki in an airport, and she mentioned her plans to spend four and a half days attempting to break a speed record on America’s oldest hiking trail, the 273-mile Long Trail in Vermont. We heard about this and thought, ‘what an incredible feat that she is going after.’ There is something really captivating about someone who has the drive to go after something that many people might consider to be absolutely impossible.
Words by director Jaime Jacobsen | Photos © Partnership Productions.
Not long after, in early 2011, I met Nikki myself and my interest in her quest – and the possibility of making a film about her story – piqued to a whole new level. One of my own passions is to inspire and empower women around the globe through the stories I tell as a film maker. Nikki shares that same desire for women to go after their dreams and to achieve their goals. It made me want to share her story. I’m also fascinated with the sport of ultra-running, something I didn’t know anything about before starting this project. It’s is own niche little world. That’s another thing I love about documentary film making, is it give me the opportunity to explore realities that I would normally never encounter.
Finding Traction, at its core, explores the limits of the human body and spirit, and we found that during filming there were many times when the boundaries between sanity and insanity, pleasure and pain, and dreams and reality became blurred. We often asked ourselves, “How far is too far? Should we tell her to stop? Or, encourage her to carry on?”
On a personal level, I was surprised by how hard it was for me to see the pain and anguish Nikki was going through on the trail. I feel I grew very close to her while working on this project, so it was difficult for me to cope with seeing her suffer and dealing with some of the emotional lows and physical pain she faced during the expedition. I also felt like I had to be strong for her in order to help keep her spirits up and encourage her to reach this incredible goal. I didn’t anticipate how challenging the filming would be on an emotional level.
The logistics of filming Nikki’s Long Trail expedition also posed a great challenge to us. Trying to figure out how to film a moving target over nearly 300 miles (
440 km) with a small crew on a very modest budget, especially with so many variables at play in the field, including the weather and the terrain, was extremely difficult. There were times where we were in the wrong place and missed Nikki coming into an aid station. There was a night when I was downloading footage at 3 or 4 in the morning and ended up losing a number of rushes from the trail. It’s never going to be perfect, that’s the reality of documentary film making, and you just have to do the very best you can given the constraints you face and the resources you have.
We used everything from GoPro cameras mounted on a stick, which Nikki’s pacers filmed with while they ran in order to capture intimate moments on the trail, to DSLRs which we used to capture Nikki’s training and racing in the Rocky Mountains leading up to her Long Trail record attempt, to the Phantom Flex, which we used to capture the super slow motion footage. I really love how the Phantom footage turned out in particular. We wanted to capture the motion of the body through space, and to find a way for the audience to inhabit the running “dream world,” as Nikki calls it, that she inhabits on the trail. I think this is as close as we could get to allowing the audience to experience the exquisite pain she feels during an ultra and the sacred beauty that she finds in wild places from the confines of a seat in a movie theater.
Watch the trailer here.
what we do.
The Ledlenser Trails In Motion Film Festival is an annual international film tour that brings a collection of the finest trail and ultra running films to passionate audiences around the world. Join like-minded trail runners and adventure sports enthusiasts at film festival-styled events in almost 30 countries as they come together to celebrate the culture and the community of the sport.

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