The HBO/Teton Gravity Research docuseries Edge of the Earth has its first episode of four premiere Tuesday night (9 ET/PT on HBO, also available to stream on HBO Max). It’s a series featuring outdoor sports athletes in skiing/snowboarding, kayaking, mountain climbing, and surfing exploring some of the world’s most remote and most spectacular locations; as AA’s Michael Grant wrote in our review, “This is as extreme as extreme sports get.” Ahead of the series’ HBO premiere, producer Drew Holt of TGR spoke to AA about it, and said the series stands out by showing a wide variety of incredible locations, and these athletes’ interactions with nature in those locations.
“Ultimately at the core center of this series is this idea of these incredible humans, these elite athletes going and doing things you can’t imagine, things most humans wouldn’t even necessarily want to do. But they go and do it, and it’s really important, really impactful to them. And in doing that, it’s incredibly inspiring and motivating. I think across the board there is a standard throughline with the places they go to, the connection with Mother Nature. We always say that Mother Nature is another character in the series.”
“But in terms of the variety of sport, I think it’s refreshing. You don’t often see these types of things together. And that is pretty cool. And each of the episodes in this series too really kind of stands on its own as its own film, really. We kind of think about it as a film series in that sense. There’s an end-to-end storyline, there’s different groups of athletes, different objectives, and the variation of sport is very natural in that context, the different types of things these athletes are doing and bringing these elite athletes together.”
Holt said TGR initially pitched HBO on this several years ago, following their partnership for Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season.
“The company I work for, Teton Gravity Research, has been in the game since 1996. Steve and Todd Jones, the directors on the project [and TGR’s co-founders], have been doing this for quite a while now. A couple years ago, we did the documentary Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season for HBO, so our relationship with HBO kind of started there.”
“And then Steve, Todd, and myself went into HBO, because we had a really good relationship there with the producers and executives, so we went in and pitched them a handful of ideas. Edge of the Earth was one of them, and it was a bit of a culmination of everything TGR has done over its history and just a good blend and combination of all our expertise, doing a series that brings different groups of athletes out from different sports to go out and accomplish incredible feats.”
But while the pitch was well-received, actually getting this made was difficult, especially once COVID-19 began to impact production. Holt said the four locations they wound up with weren’t even the ones initially considered.
“There was quite a bit of evolution. The reason why it took so long to make the series was many people were impacted by COVID over the years, still even today. And we pitched it with a very different grouping of expeditions and objectives. We changed them multiple times as we were figuring out where we could send athletes and when. We were just constantly evolving and changing based on where we could go.”
He said those changes weren’t just about governmental regulations, but also about the filmmakers’ desire to be responsible and not spread COVID.
“It was always really important to us that we were never going somewhere where we could potentially be bringing any COVID impacts. We didn’t want to be in a situation where we were causing any stress to a healthcare system or anything along those lines. We were always very careful as we stepped through that. None of the trips we ended up doing were our original objectives; it changed quite a bit throughout the process.”
The series also repeatedly touches on climate change’s impact on these locations. Holt said that was initially an idea as a sub-theme, but it wound up being more prominent thanks to the athletes naturally experiencing those effects on their journeys.
“It’s living in the outdoor space, living and breathing that, for both these athletes and ourselves as filmmakers who primarily focus on the outdoor space, who are really at the frontlines of seeing climate change and the impact of climate change. And the interesting part about this series is we always had as a sub-idea, kind of a sub-plotline, that it would be good to touch on this as it’s so important to us, but the reality is that in each one of these episodes, there was a very natural occurrence or something that happened, something our athletes came across along their journey that we were not expecting that exemplified those issues.”
“It is very important to highlight that climate change issue, but it also comes through very naturally, just through the experience of our athletes out there. They saw some pretty crazy things that are going on that most humans don’t see and don’t come face to face with right now. So it is just this aspect of being on the front lines of that change that is very real. It’s not just a colloquial ‘Oh, there are climate change issues, and we’re concerned about them.’ Literally, they came face-to-face in every single location, to varying degrees, very unintentionally, with the issues, and it impacted their journeys.”
While HBO has been doing a lot of extreme/outdoor sports projects lately, Holt said some of that came concurrently with or after this series, given its long journey from conception to airing. But he said they’ve been a supportive partner throughout this process, and one quite understanding of the challenges in shooting an outdoor sports series in incredibly remote locations.
“We pitched this project to them almost three years ago, and they’ve done a lot more in the space after and along the journey of making this series, with [projects like] 100 Foot Wave and Dear Rider. That stuff kind of matured and was realized around the same time as this. But there’s comfort with the folks on their side; I think they know what they don’t know and embrace that, they definitely allow us to be the experts in the space and don’t try to force anything upon us in that context. There’s no Hollywood horror story here of being told to do something that we’re not comfortable with doing. And that’s been really good. And then we embrace and appreciate all they bring to the table, their expertise in storytelling and that craft. It’s a very comfortable and inspiring place to be creating with their support.”
And Holt said HBO is a dream destination for their company’s projects.
“TGR’s been at the forefront of outdoor media and outdoor filmmaking for some time now, and we definitely pride ourselves on that and put a lot of energy into that. But on the flip side, HBO is kind of the Shangri-La of filmmaking and content creation. They’ve been at the forefront of meaningful stories and storytelling formats for decades now. And I think as creatives and filmmakers, that HBO click-on (intro graphic/sound) is meaningful. It means something when it’s an HBO original. And we’re incredibly excited to be a part of that now through and through with this series. It definitely means something. If you put it into perspective like being an artist, it’s like being put into one of the most elite art museums in the world.”
Edge of the Earth premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. Subsequent episodes will follow on the next three Tuesdays at that time. The series will also be available to stream on HBO Max.