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Pembroke filmmaker climbing uncharted territory

By Celina Ip

Travis Wood, a former Bishop Smith Catholic High School student, is making big waves within the Canadian film industry.


Wood, who graduated from Bishop Smith in 2004 and now works for Bell Media in Toronto, independently directed and produced a television special that aired on Bell Media’s Discovery Channel on Nov. 26.

The hour-long eight-episode documentary, titled ‘Unclimbed: Reaching The Summit’, follows the true story of three Canadian mountain climbers and friends – Gabriel Filippi, one of Canada’s foremost mountaineers; Elia Saikaly, Canadian high-altitude videographer; and Pasang Kaji Sherpa, Nepalese mountain guide and climbing partner – who ambitiously take on the challenge of tackling two never-before-scaled peaks in Nepal.

To film the documentary, Wood joined the three men in Nepal and filmed their intense training, planning and backstory right up until the moment that they began the daring trek up the mountains.

“I couldn’t go on the mountain with them because it was too dangerous and our lawyers wouldn’t allow it. It would’ve been like your work sending you to the top of Everest – super dangerous and no one is going to cover it insurance-wise,” said Wood. “So instead, I covered their crazy backstory and the training leading up to the climb. We leave the viewers basically with them looking at the mountain ready to ascend it. And for those wondering how the actual climb went, Elia has filmed the adventure of what happened and it's pretty crazy. I wont say anything to spoil it, but if you’re really curious you can look on social media because they’ve been pretty vocal about what's happened.”

Throughout the film, Wood interviews the three friends and gives viewers an intimate and in depth look into every gruelling training process that the three men endure in order to prepare for the never-before-attempted task.

The climbers performed altitude tests in Peru and snow rescue tests in Whistler, B.C. among other practice mountaineering missions.

“They had crazy things happen to them leading up to this – very inspirational things. And their training regime included all of these crazy funky things that they do to prepare for mountaineering that was so bizarre and intense,” Wood. “It's an interesting world to be in that not a lot of people know about and I didn’t know about until I started interviewing them. I really dove headfirst into the world of extreme and professional mountaineering.”

It took Wood six months, from February until July 2016, to complete the whole process of interviewing the three friends and then putting together the whole film package by directing, producing, shooting and editing all the pieces.

While Wood has directed and produced many commercials and online videos for Bell Media over the years of his career, he said that nothing compares to the magnitude of this documentary.

“I’ve done stuff that has gone on air before but for me this was the most control I’ve had over a project,” said Wood. “I was very much a part of this thing from the get-go – I directed it, produced it, filmed it and edited it. This was very much my baby in every way.”

Wood said that once the first episode was complete and he receive heaps of positive feedback, he breathed a sigh of joyful relief.

“My favourite moment was when that first episode came together and from the reaction I was getting from everyone watching – the guys, the crew, the producers – it was then that I knew we had something that was quite compelling,” said Wood. “I was really happy with how it all turned out and I’m really proud of it.”

Bishop Smith teacher Cory Bennett, who taught Wood in media arts from 2000 to 2004 and remains a close friend, spoke highly of his former student and expressed his pride and admiration of Wood’s success.

“I have had phenomenal students, but never one quite like him,” said Bennett.

According to Bennett, Wood had always displayed an impressive amount of passion and skill in the area of photography and filmography while he was in high school.

Bennett said that since the moment he first taught Wood in his Grade 9 media arts class, he knew the former student had a lot of potential and a bright future ahead of him.

“He was in all of my media arts classes, so we did a lot of video and photography work together. In Grade 12, he shot a whole film that was absolutely mind-blowing and we showed it to the whole school body. It was called 'Drawings' and he got staff involved doing little acting things and it was basically about a kid who finds these drawings in the basement of the school and they could foresee the future," said Bennett.  "He ended up submitting it to a couple of film festivals and he won one of them. Later on, I even saw it broadcasted on TVO.”

Bennett continued to detail his former student’s journey of filmography success from high school to present day.

“After graduating from Niagara College at 21, he was immediately hired by CTV and by 24 years old he became their youngest producer. Over the years, he's done stuff for Discovery Channel, Fashion Network and lots of commercials,” said Bennett. “But I’d say that this one-hour documentary being aired on the Discovery Channel is his biggest break. It was supposed to be an eight-part series for the Discovery website, but they thought it was so awesome that they decided to put it on air.”

Being one of Bennett’s former media arts students from Grade 9 to 12, Wood credited his time spent at Bishop Smith and his former teacher with helping him to realize his passion in filmography and kick-start his career.

“It was through that media arts class that I really fell in love with photography, journalism, film and design. Eventually I began doing the school’s assembly videos which was the very first time that I made something and had it shown in front of hundreds of my colleagues and teachers – and that was my first case of 'hey this is maybe something that I want to do',” said Wood. “Cory was actually the most instrumental teacher I had at Bishop and that’s why I’m still friends with him today. He holds a very dear spot in my heart because of how supportive he was and continues to be.”

‘Unclimbed: Reaching The Summit’ can be viewed online through Discovery Canada’s YouTube channel. 

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