Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Renan Ozturk, a visual storyteller. He is a filmmaker, a photographer, an artist that pushes the limit of what is possible in storytelling, in my opinion, because he goes to remote places. He goes to the craziest places that you can ever think of on earth.
Before Renan was a filmmaker, he spent his days doing landscape painting while climbing.
This episode is going to be awesome because Renan is such a multifacet human being that I can't wait to share with you and we're going to be digging into a bunch of different topics that are going to be around storytelling.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Pierre T. Lambert is a travel & adventure photographer & YouTuber followed by over 600,000 people.
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Gold episode with Renan Ozturk covering storytelling and how he got started as a filmmaker. How to tell better stories even when there is no human subject!
Renan is a story teller traveling to the most challenging places on earth to capture real stories and to push the limits of what is achievable. He has worked on assignments for big companies like Apple but also National Geographic. Any story that can help raise people's awareness of our planet is worth telling. Check some of his work here:
🔥The last Bee Hunter: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/07/honey-hunters-bees-climbing-nepal/
🔥Watch Meru: 👉 Meru – by Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
🔥Renan's website: 👉https://www.renanozturk.com
🔥Check Renan's work on Instagram: 👉 https://www.instagram.com/renan_ozturk/
Hope you learned something out of that episode! Now go crush it out there and remember to be nice with our planet – we only got one!
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This interview was transcribed by Descript.com.
Pierre Lambert: Good morning podcast. Welcome to Pierre T. Lambert Show. I am your host and today I have a super special episode for you, so excited. All right guys. Imagine the highest mountain you can think of right now. Imagine the hardest mountain to ever climb. Imagine having to climb it for maybe 10 days or two weeks and having to carry your climbing gear. your food And on top of that, your camera gear and also add to that, there might be an avalanche while you're there climbing and you're going to have to sleep in a tent hanging thousands of feet above the ground. Now, how do you feel? I don't know about you, but just that thought makes me a little shiver and on top of that, knowing that I would have to operate my camera and capture awesome stories while doing that just seems mind-blowing. Well, I have good news for you because today my guest is Renan Ozturk, and he's achieved that, so it's going to be an amazing episode. Renan is a visual storyteller. He is a filmmaker, a photographer, an artist that pushes the limit of what is possible in storytelling, in my opinion, because he goes to remote places. He goes to the craziest places that you can ever think of on earth. For example, he went to find the last beekeepers and had to be hanging on ropes in the middle of thousands of bees stinging him while still filming those working. I mean, if you were to ask any friend around you, if they would be up for it, they'd probably say no and that is exactly why this episode is going to be awesome because Renan is such a multifacet human being that I can't wait to share with you and we're going to be digging into a bunch of different topics that are going to be around storytelling. You know, like how to tell stories without human elements. How do you overcome creative blocks? Can you live a simple life versus having to always seek for the best, or the highest, or the most difficult? How do you get out of your comfort zone and last but not least, where do you find inspiration? So if you're ready, we're going to get right into it. I'm going to welcome Renan to the podcast, but I wanted to let you know that you can find him on Instagram @renan_ozturk. It's R E N A N underscore O Zed, T U R K, and make sure if you go check out his work, make sure you also check out the movies. Maybe you want to take some time to watch one or two of his movies before you listen to the podcast because it will give you a ton more context into his world. All right. All right. enough said. Let's get started. Let's welcome Renan to the podcast. Welcome to the podcast, Renan.
Renan Ozturk: Thank you. Thank you.
Pierre Lambert: It's a huge pleasure to have you. I want to thank you for your time. If I say photography, what image do you have in mind?
Renan Ozturk: If you say photography, I guess I immediately go to more journalistic national geographic style photos that just show a slice of life of humanity and the planet. Like the planet, we've never seen before.
Pierre Lambert: You have one particular image that just jumps in your mind?
Renan Ozturk: If I had one image that jumps to my mind, it would probably be. there's this national geographic cover. I think it was a Bobby Model photo of a nameless tower. It's this big spike of rock in the middle of the mountains in Pakistan and that was one of the shots that originally inspired me to become a climber and chase after these first ascents in far-off places and explore the world.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome. Do you feel that those shots keep inspiring you? Or is it something that just triggers you at the beginning and after you just evolve into new shots?
Renan Ozturk: No, those kinds of shots that show the world in a different way or a slice of humanity or amplify the voice of a culture that's undergoing hard times or culture loss. Those kinds of images are continually inspiring. It's not a one-and-done scenario. It's an infinite loop of inspiration and it grows and grows and grows as you see more of it everywhere from social media to magazines to the back of people's cameras and phones.
Pierre Lambert: That's something here at, we guys we're at the SUNY candle event, so we've got a bunch of amazing photographers. around And that's something that I realized, especially speaking with the older generation, I'll say. They're so focused on the story and the impact one photo camp has. I think it's a good reminder, especially nowadays, where we're inundated with images. There's been more than ever, can you still get one shot that will make everyone stop? That's why I like to ask because everyone has a different shot that got them where they are, or that inspired them.
Renan Ozturk: Yeah. Absolutely. That's hard to unsee certain images as a lot of people say it's true. It's one image that still does have the power to make a lot of positive change for the people on the planet. In general.
Pierre Lambert: How was your line between photography and videography? Do you think one is more powerful or it's faster to impact one than the other? What's your stand on that? I'm kind of curious,
Renan Ozturk: As far as photography versus video and the impact that it has. I think they're both really important tools. I started in video and, I think the power of combining photography, sound, and picture for an audience in a theater that you have captive and there are a thousand people there and they're laughing and they're crying. No doubt that there's incredibly huge potential there with what you can do and how many people you can reach, but it's also a complex and cumbersome art form that requires, a lot of time and suffering and fundraising to pull off something on that scale whereas you can be like wandering alone in the woods with your camera, or the middle of some natural event or political event and capture a single photo that could have a similar impact in a much simpler way so, they both have their moments. I think it's a matter of recognizing when you want to play that card of really putting your life on the line, so to speak, for a bigger video idea versus knowing that maybe you'll have more impact more quickly, just doing photography.
Pierre Lambert: Speaking of putting your life on the line, I would say you're pretty good at it. No offense. as I mentioned to you guys in the intro, Renan you walked on Meru, the movie, and that was completely extreme. Let's just be honest. I mean, from our perspective, from normal people, I will say, can you give us your origin story? What's volume zero of Renan.
Renan Ozturk: Probably volume zero for me was finishing school with a biology degree and giving away all my belongings and just living on the road in places like the desert in Moab like we were just talking about with you and your wife falling in love with, and I fell in love with it too and I just hitchhike around with friends to different places and national parks, just learning how to climb and doing landscape artwork and that was kind of the basis for all my storytelling and visual love of exploring the planet and the people within it.
Pierre Lambert: What triggered you, especially after your, you said, biology degree, was there something like a trigger?
Renan Ozturk: I think it was just the people in the landscapes I was going to. When you see some of these places, it's hard not to be moved to tears, or you have these experiences you're with a small team going to a place in the Himalaya that no one's been and you're climbing a wall, having these experiences that are very on the edge and you're making life and death decisions sometimes and you see yourself and you see your friends in a really rare condition where you're very vulnerable and honest because there's no room not to be and that brought out a lot of emotion for me to want to share a little bit of that cause it's hard to share that stuff and you can now, when you couldn't before with the size of the cameras getting smaller, you do it with your phone now. Now there are all the A7 cameras that are full-frame and small that you can get up on some of these climbs and to some of these places.
Pierre Lambert: Have you ever felt, especially when you decided to quit and stay in the desert, have you ever felt at one point that you could stay there forever? ‘because obviously you went back at one point and started working more on films and stuff and not just the artwork you were doing and staying in the desert. I always wonder if I would stay there forever or if there is a point where what happened?
Renan Ozturk: I mean, it would be pretty easy to just stay in the climbing life, stay in the desert, so to speak, just live a really simple lifestyle where you're not flying around the world all the time, burning carbon, but for me, at this point, just lucky enough to have the opportunities that I've had so I feel a responsibility to keep going, and telling stories that had a positive impact, whether it's environmentally or culturally and that's what kind of drives me now to keep going, even though, of course, I think about how nice and simple it would be just to continue to climb and, and just pursue that.
Pierre Lambert: Did you get pulled out of the desert or did you decide to do it?
Renan Ozturk: I didn't get pulled out of the desert. I think it was a slow process of you make one film and then it goes to a film festival and then you see the power of that and you have an opportunity to do it again, or go on a different expedition that has an equally as powerful story and then before, you know, it, you're, you're doing all kinds of different work in different parts of the world and juggling different passion projects and then when you're doing that, you need a little bit more of a base and an infrastructure to tell those stories, rather than doing it out of a tent with solar power. You need some real type of professionals to collaborate with and those kinds of resources.
Pierre Lambert: That's why I find your story fascinating and the work you do nowadays. I love meditating and I had very long discussions with friends about if you could stay in meditation the whole time, would that be, there is no bad or good thing, but sometimes if I stayed too long and doing one thing, I feel like I'm not pushing enough in other areas and by you being in the desert for a while, but still doing something different now. I think it just puts stuff into perspective that everything comes in episodes and I'm sharing, it's very me from your story. I love hearing stories about people like you or others who see life as just a series of chapters, so you have the desert chapter, maybe you're filmmaking chapter who knows what comes after, and that was my thing. I just like to put that in perspective because otherwise. You know when you're like, I need to do that. I need to be here or do it.
Renan Ozturk: Absolutely. It's easy to get pigeonholed into a specific mold, especially, this day and age, or you've got to go to school, then you've got to get your job, and then it's a mold, these this day and age, it's also easy to break the mold, but it just takes a little courage at a certain point in time to write a chapter in that wasn't scripted for you by either a society that you live in the country you live in, in your family, other expectations that people put on you and that that's what's cool about storytelling, is I think a lot of people can find opportunity within that and do really meaningful things with their lives cause that's what we're all trying to do, it one way or another is just fine. Find meaning and that's different for everyone, but people don't always get it because they get sidetracked into a single mold and a single chapter maybe for their entire life.
Pierre Lambert: Yeah. You get caught up in what you're supposed to do based on someone else's view of the world. . Speaking of storytelling, would you have any tips, because that's a question that I have from people. How can you tell better stories? And I have that question, especially when it comes down to nature or landscapes or where you don't always have a human element.
Renan Ozturk: The question is, how do you tell a story of a landscape when there's no human element? I mean, a lot is going on in landscapes other than humans, in terms of wildlife and there are very deep stories you can tell there about the behavior and nature of what's happening with the wildlife or the hydrological cycle you can bring in auditory elements that personify a landscape where you can show it as as a living breathing entity when you go to a powerful landscape, it normally changes in character, every five minutes with the weather and everything that's happening, so I think it's just a matter of being aware of those things and weaving that into a story. Every story that we tell, that we pitch, or deliver, the landscape has its character, aside from the people in the story, so we want to create it as its character and makes sure you do it justice the same way you would want to do right by the main character of the film, it's the landscape, is the landscape represented? Is it a standalone character on its own? Right? In a film.
Pierre Lambert: I never thought about it as its character. It's really good. I like that idea. I hope that it will help anyone listening, but it's true. When you think about it, it's behaving on its own. It's evolving. No, that's good.
Renan Ozturk: I'll often, get to a location, I'll set up a time-lapse that'll keep running for days, if not weeks on a location, keep changing batteries over a long period, you've got a multi-day time-lapse that shows the movement and weather, and you can pick and choose pieces of that to give that landscape a voice and a character within a piece and it's a natural extension of where I began, which was painting these landscapes, so it only makes sense try to carry that through, even if it's a bigger story that's not exactly a hundred percent focused on a landscape. It's a character study, but still, the character's connection to the place is important almost always, and then how do you have that place be seen in the film as its entity.
Pierre Lambert: That's cool. I'm gonna be mindful because you have to run to somewhere, but have you ever been in a creative block and if yes, how do you get out of it that,
Renan Ozturk: I'm on a creative block every day, trying to write a silly Instagram caption on this day.
Pierre Lambert: That's what I was doing before talking to you, I didn't finish.
Renan Ozturk: Yeah. I think it's good just to give yourself those little writing assignments and try to work through them, but deadlines and pressure of the modern world sometimes force you to at least come out of it with something and I don't have any like specific techniques other than just to try to interact with more people and bounce your ideas off them and try to absorb other stories that are related, and that's probably the best way to get through. It is just to not stop and maybe you're giving up on trying to write your treatment, but you're refocusing that energy into something that might allow you to come at it from a different perspective.
Pierre Lambert: Got it. Yeah, that's good because I have a lot of people in my audience they're asking me like, my city is boring or I'm always on the same page, I'm not traveling like you, I don't know what to shoot or I'm not inspired and one thing is suggesting, and I'll ask you one after. Imagine you're a tourist in your world. Even just go on Google image and look at tourist stuff, how do people perceive your place as someone who's never been there, and usually that works, at least that works for me in Paris, when I lived there for a while, I was just getting bored. Everyone's like, wow Paris, but when you live there, it just becomes normal.
Renan Ozturk: Exactly. I give the number one piece of advice. I give people when they say, how do you find a powerful story? I tell them to look around you and there's probably something close to you that you have very deep access to. It's probably within your own family. There's a story that you can tell in a deeper emotional way because you have that lifelong access to it that you don't even realize that's there, so don't always try to figure out the craziest place you can go to, or no one's ever been. Take a look at your life and what your closest relationships are, maybe there's a story that's right under your nose. That's going to be more powerful than you develop.
Pierre Lambert: That's true. You don't have to go around the world. You have to go around the world just to come back to realize it was under your eyes.
Renan Ozturk: Yeah. A lot of times it's like that. I can't believe I didn't see that my brother's going through these hard times and this is a really powerful story that anybody can relate to. I could talk about empathy and filmmaking this morning. The same thing, the presenter gave a story about her mother and father dying from cancer. It was a very brave story to tell, but she told it in an emotional, personal way using the camera as a tool to help herself through that difficult experience, and it just takes, starting to recognize those stories, even if they're hard emotionally for yourself. If a story feels hard and you feel a little uncomfortable when you're engaged in it, then normally it's probably something that has power and emotion, rather than just doing stuff that's safe, like going to a far off place and in a destination where you're just pressing the button for the sake of beauty and not deeper story.
Pierre Lambert: That makes sense. We're going to wrap up with just one last question and it's going to be, if you had to summarize your whole career or life, what's the biggest story in your head? What would it be? Either you made a film out of it or you didn't. What was the one thing that impacted you the most?
Renan Ozturk: I think the one thing that impacts me the most in terms of the stories that I'm doing now is just the shift towards doing pieces that amplify the voice of cultures that may be lost with this trend of globalization and modernity. Some of the remote places in the world, like the last honey hunter story that we did and the one we're about to head off for another national geographic assignment to the Mustang, which is a forbidden kingdom on the Tibetan plateau and there's a road that's finally going into this area, that's going to connect it to China and Tibet and it'll change forever, so documenting the culture there before it changes and is lost. Those types of stories are now the ones that stand out to me as the most meaningful that I want to put my time into.
Pierre Lambert: Nice. Renan, thank you so much for your time. Everyone, you can go check out Renan on Instagram and what films should they start watching, if no one knows your work, which ones should they start with?
Renan Ozturk: You can watch Meru for a fun climbing movie, and then, if you want to go a little deeper into cultural stuff, check out the film Sherpa, which is a feature documentary about Everest from the Sherpa perspective, and then the mountain is another one that came out recently about, the history of mountains and the relationship of people to mountains over time, and there's a lot of short films you can just Google around.
Pierre Lambert: All right, guys. You can start with that one on a nice evening and enjoy it. Thank you so much, Renan.
Renan Ozturk: Thanks.
Pierre Lambert: I hope you have enjoyed that episode. I'm so pumped to have shared that one with you and be able to share and get a little bit of insight into his world. If you did get any kind of value, if you love that episode, make sure you share it with your cat, your dog, your fish, the animal world, and the humans around you, because that means the world to me. You can tag me on Instagram, @pierretlambert, or Twitter, and remember, check out Renan's work. It's beautiful. It's deep. There's so much story in it, and I want to recommend one movie, Meru, which is just insane. We talked about it in the podcast, but I will link everything in the show notes, right now and you can just click on it and watch it tonight. Also, the new documentary, The Last BeeKeepers, is something that you need to watch, so with no further ado, guys. Thank you so much for listening. Remember, life is what you make of it, and get out there, go shoot, try something different. Try something new. I'll see you in the next episode, I'll talk to you or whatever. Have an amazing day.
The Pierre T. Lambert Podcast is where Pierre interviews the best creatives in the world to share their tips and stories. Enjoy & spread the word to your friends about this podcast! Pierre T. Lambert is a travel & adventure photographer & YouTuber followed by over 1,000,000 people. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.