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27th July 2022
Sky’s the Limit
Title of film: Funny Farm
Director: Atawhai Charteris
Production Company: BURN
Five years ago when Atawhai Charteris was 17 he walked the length of New Zealand recording his adventure in a short film of entertaining highs and lows. Now the self-taught filmmaker has taken his craft to new heights with this look into the beautiful, heart stopping art of bodyflying.


Hands up, we didn’t know a thing about bodyflight so at first viewing it’s easy to think some of this exhilarating film might have been computer generated. Was it? 

That depends if you believe this reality is a simulation.  

For the naive like us, how would you sum up bodyflying?

If you haven’t skydived before… forget everything you think it would be like.

There is no falling sensation, just a feeling of floating upon a bed of malleable energy. You steer your body like an aircraft through minute movements to manipulate your angle of attack and direction while gliding around the sky surrounded by your closest friends. You look around at them and at that moment you know you are where you are supposed to be.


So… you are flying through the airflow as a group and filming at the same time – what are the main challenges of producing good footage? Or is everything happening so fast you just leave it to chance? 

The camera is mounted to the top of your helmet and you have a ring sight (small lens with target in the middle that is lined up with the camera’s focal point) over your eye to frame the shot. 

You have to be a good enough flyer that the highly complex body movements are engrained enough into your muscle memory that you don’t need to dedicate any attention to them. This is so that your mind can focus on the line (the 3D curving path you choose to take around the group of skydivers) and the framing of the shot (including lighting, distance from group, which flyer you want to focus on etc).  Oh and not to forget to make sure there is no one in your path that you could potentially collide with. 

You have to keep your head still as not to move the camera, but you have to look around with your eyes in order to be aware of your surroundings and other flyers.  

It’s the most complex challenge I’ve ever found. And that’s why I like it.

What cameras do you use? 

Sony a7 iii. Soon upgrading to a7s iii. The cameras are taped up to the max as not to have pieces fall off them due to the wind.


You edited the film as well as being one of the three cameramen. Was the editing a difficult process of having to leave out really good footage or did the film come together fluidly? 

I made this film in one day on the final day of a skydiving event that I was the videographer for. Skydiving events have what’s called a day tape at the end of the day to show what went down in the sky and bring everybody together. Usually these vids are just a few clips bodged together on iMovie by a guy who has never edited before. I thought that they could be so much more if some cinematographer took the job really seriously. 

The days are hectic – I land my parachute, sprint to the editing room, do 20 mins of frantic editing and then get on another plane. From 6am to 8pm usually. It’s a real challenge, but when you get to see the audience’s reaction to an artwork like this –  when they are so connected and invested in the footage because it is of them – that’s the moment I live for. This film was the grand finale on the last night of a seven-day event, the vid contained footage of all the previous six days highlight which I was up until 3am the night before editing. Then to get up at 6 again to shoot the final day as well. I must love it haha.

At first we thought it was a music video for Steve Angello’s Rejoice (featuring TD Jakes) – great choice for the soundtrack. Was there a lot of debate about the music choices? 

My teammates and I were waiting to use this song for two years. We had done plenty of other events but none that we felt had the visuals to match the caliber and energy of the track.

Funny farm was the event which the flying level, camera work, and everything else were deserving of this song.


Who are you and your teammates?  

Dave is the main man behind the camera, he is the best flyer in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the best in the world. I love to work with him because he understands the level that we are trying to hit and he is really critical of his own work.  He treats it all as a science and I really look up to him in the realms of flying and camera work. He’s an amazing person.

Tommy is the man who gets things moving. He’s great with people, not to mention that he’s a shredder with a camera, and he’s been jumping for 10 years longer than the rest of us. Tommy also got both Dave and I into the wind tunnel game which we use as a training tool for flying.


And tell us something about yourself…

I’m Atawhai Charteris, I’m 22 years old. Been making films since I was 7. Some interesting stuff about me….

Walked the length of New Zealand when I was 17.

I have dabbled in a lot of sports but mostly I love to fly and love to surf.

I’ve lived out of vans for two years of my life so far.

I came up with the idea for BURN (a company to push skydiving cinema to a new level when I was 19).

How did you learn your filmmaking skills? Do you come from a particularly creative background?

Self taught, started making films about birds in my backyard as a kid, then to films about my friends going on adventures around home. I’m constantly creating and I think that I was naturally drawn to film as it’s the most potent form of communication we have. It’s the only way I can express myself the way I truly want.


Do you think you’ll pursue making more “sports” films – what would be your dream filmmaking project?

I will certainly keep making flying films for events as I like the challenge and atmosphere. But in a commercial sense, I don’t believe I’m likely to chase any industry in particular.

My interests lie in the domains where I have full creative freedom over visions. My dream project and the concept I’m currently refining is a film that combines all my passions into one channel (e.g writing, adventure, surfing, flying, drawing, beauty, niche humour). 

The plan I have is to make a film every single day just like I do at skydiving events, but the films will be in the style of a journal/novel that follows my adventures around the world in my homemade 4×4 campervan. It will be loosely based on reality but with freedom to sculpt the narrative through voiceover in a way that keeps you intrigued and the imagination alive. 

I’m currently refining the screenplay for the introductory episode which will start in a months’ time when I return to Australia and my Camper. 

This will keep me extremely busy and focus my attention on finding beauty in every day 🙂

The goal is to make enough income from this venture and art to cover the minuscule overheads of living in a van and keep the wheels turning perpetually, around this planet.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I hope that this carefully calculated combination of light and vibration has opened your eyes not only to a new geographical world but also into a world of thought and philosophies on what it means to experience the blessing which is life.

Can you imagine yourself in that group of humans falling through the atmosphere?

How does the thought make you feel?

If you’re interested in the film series I mentioned earlier, it will be shared on my YouTube here

Welcome to my world.