Anand Mehrotra, a modern Indian
yogi and guru, asks his student Adam to join him on a motorcycle expedition through the highest passes of the Indian Himalayas. At over 18,000 feet, these are some of the most treacherous roads in the world. Adam has only learned to ride a motorcycle just two weeks before the trip and Anand, himself, bears the burden of a Vedic
prophecy predicting his death in an accident in his late twenties.
Anand, now 27, and Adam manage to assemble a team of seven motorcycle riders to share in a 21 day journey of a lifetime towards the highest motorable road on earth. This road on the sheer, icy edges of the Himalayan cliffs leads to isolated mountain lakes, ancient monasteries, a mystic oracle and ultimately a deeper understanding of themselves.
We had the opportunity to ask Adam Schomer (writer/rider) and Jon Fitzgerald (director) some questions about their inspiring new documentary film.
YT: Adam, how long have you been practicing yoga? What was it about Anand Mehrotra that made you want to be his student?
I have been practicing yoga for 18 years. I knew early on that Anand had an amazing ability to guide me to the highest frequency that the place or moment had to offer. He trusted me as a student by offering me the most sacred gift one could ask for in this lifetime; wisdom. He really gave and gives so much and always asks me to go beyond my capabilities; yet, it’s always my choice, as in the choice to go on The Highest Pass.
YT: What did you think when Anand first told you about his idea of riding motorcycles over an 18,000 ft. pass in the Himalayas?
I thought, ‘Oh, shit! No way, Adam! You are going to die.’ Then I thought, ‘Himalayas, Ladakh, with my guru… just say yes, just say yes….’ Meanwhile, my body was really fighting me, I had to willingly move those lips to say ‘YES.’ Seriously, you should have seen me on a moped just a year before that, not very encouraging.
YT: Jon, when and how did you become involved to direct the filming of this journey?
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Adam through a mutual friend, our eventual Sound Mixer, Andy Hay. He knew we were looking for socially relevant and inspirational stories to tell and knew Adam had this journey and documentary planned. When Adam came in to pitch the idea, I was really intrigued by the thought of going to India and filming this adventure. Once we agreed on a road map for the story, we agreed to do the film together. With Adam putting much of the actual motorcycle tour together and dealing with rider logistics – and being a rider himself - it made the most sense for me to focus on the direction and visuals. With Adam and Anand working closely as student and guru, and really making the most of the motorcycle and spiritual journey, I paid more attention to story, visuals and structural ideas. But from the prep to the production and throughout the entire editorial stages, it was truly a collaborative process.
YT: How did you collect this band of riders who ultimately took the journey?
AS: It was all very divine in its coming together. No one was sought-after and everyone paid for their own journey as it was a journey first and a film second. In general, friends of friends heard about it and each has their own story. For example, about 4 weeks before the trip is when Mike Owen (stuntman) signed on. I was visiting a friend who is a hairdresser and a biker. I was telling him about the trip and the lady he was working on heard it all and said she knew a guy who would love it. Three days later Mike said, like in the movie, ‘Himalayas. 18,000 ft. I am in.’ He had also been dealing with a lot of death, in his personal life, and knew he needed to shift his perspective, so I have so much respect that he took action. He knew he needed something, so he took a leap of faith.
Originally we didn’t have space for Paul Greene, but he said he was coming to India anyway. I said, ‘well, then perhaps there is space after all.’ And then his visa fell through. And then it came through. And eventually we had Paul - and so thankful we did - he is a joyous dude.
YT: Adam, you had only had 4 weeks experience on a bike. What were you most afraid of before deciding to take this journey?
Two things: Serious injury/death and having been foolish enough to die in such a way. Kind of like, sorry Mom I shouldn’t have been so stupid. It always made me sad to think of the pain my mother would have felt, but as Eric so beautifully speaks about in the film, at some point you can’t let love hold you back.
YT: If fear was holding you back, what was the emotion compelling you to say, “Yes!” You said in the movie, “I wanted to be with Anand.” How much did his prophecy weigh on your mind?
A deeper desire for truth, a desire for freedom. This desire is stronger than fear, thankfully, but it also takes practice, like any skill. We hear enough of the foolish thoughts of the mind in our daily life. I’ll spare you the extreme dramas mine went through with in regards to prophecies. After all, I am a writer and came up with many a story line. But in reality, at the moment of choice, it did not weigh on me at all. In fact, the way Anand lives inspired me.
YT: Because this was a motorcycle journey, the majority of the time was spent with everyone on their individual bikes. How did that aspect affect the interpersonal relationships of the riders?
AS: It made our bond stronger, I would say, because there really is time to have your individual journey and then come back to the ‘family.’ Plus, on motos you really do keep an eye out for each other and are incredibly connected as you ride in silence.
YT: A bike mechanic was brought along in the support car because there were several accidents which were anticipated along the journey. Were there many repairs needed on cameras as well?
JF: With the rugged terrain, the cameras were certainly put through the ringer. We had an amazing DP with Dean Mitchell who really had a handle on how to maximize the cinematography. We had a few obstacles with cameras and occasionally had issues with go-pro cameras anchored to bikes and helmets. We were blessed to have a terrific combination of styles to add to the mix.
YT: What were some of the other challenges to filming this movie?
JF: Being in vans, it was hard to always keep up with the motorcycles. We would often have to plan shots ahead of time and send one van ahead and have one camera tracking action from a starting point. We shot a lot of footage with many cameras, giving us plenty of shots to consider in post. We also had to always be aware that in addition to this being a motorcycle journey, that all of the riders were put on the edge of cliffs and in dangerous conditions. While we wanted the best shots for the good of the film, we wanted to respect the fact that these riders were there to make the journey and not necessarily worry about the camera getting the best shots. We really had to try to balance the shots with the constant danger and elements of fear. Not just for the riders, but for us as the crew as well.
We had intended on getting interviews and points of view from the riders at the end of each day or night, but they were often physically and emotionally spent at the end a long day’s journey, so we had to be creative about how to maintain contact and feedback from the riders as fresh as possible, while giving them a chance to focus on the ride, on their own personal journeys. While the riders were facing fear and danger in various stages, the crew was often put in dangerous positions as well, always trying to get the best footage, in challenging terrain, altitudes and weather conditions.
YT: Anand made many risky choices along the journey including the routes taken, not waiting for a pass to be cleared before forging ahead, etc. Did you ever feel he was taking unnecessary risks or that his choices were endangering lives?
AS: I had feelings of anger and blame at situations we were in, as you can see and hear in the film. To your question however, you must ask what is endangering and what is expanding one’s life, and that depends on your perspective and how big a scope or eye piece you are willing to see through. So for me, without a doubt, he was never endangering anyone’s life… but at the same time, he was completely endangering the flimsy foundation of life that we people hold on to as real. If that is risky is the very question the film asks.
YT: Adam, it was very important for you to make it to Leh and to see the oracle there. One of the things she tells you is to “go deeper.” What did that mean to you?
I don’t like to put too many words to that experience. Just know that I am smiling, I feel more myself, more open as you remind me of that moment. Thank you.
YT: What were your thoughts on the plane ride back? Which moments stood out most in your minds? Any regrets or wishes?
AS: The wild horses. Oh, those horses! 15,000 feet in the middle of the Himalayas
. I had dreamt of that, had heard the tales, and then there they were just 10 feet from me. Pure magic. Regrets: I shouldn’t have wasted so much time being afraid.
JF: I have a family and was happy to get on the plane heading home to see them, knowing that we had just been through a transformational experience. While each rider had their own shift and experience, we too as filmmakers were able to share their journeys through constant observation, and of course, we had had grown through the process. I remember a shift I had to personally make to stop thinking about the cliffs, the trucks and the dangerous roads. A great exercise in learning to let go of fear in my own way.
YT: Anand said, “Fear keeps you from learning your capacity. Challenges reveal who we really are.” What did you learn about your capacities and who you really are?
AS: I used to want to be good enough. I used to need. I now have faith. I learned that we create a capacity in order to keep ourselves safe. It doesn’t matter who I really am, sometimes people get stuck in thinking there is some “idea” of “knowing who they really are,” That too can be fear based can keep you from your true capacity, thinking you should know better who you are.
JF: I learned how to overcome some of my own fears, as well as look deeper into myself as a person, which is I know what Adam and Anand wanted for all of us.
YT: Have any of the other riders seen the film? What are their thoughts about the movie? Are there plans for a reunion?
AS: Yes, they have all seen it and I know for some the experience of seeing it actually brought their personal journey
into greater focus. We will reunite on Friday April 27th
at the Laemmle Theater in Santa Monica for the opening of The Highest Pass. Join us.