Oregon is wild, beautiful, diverse, and breathtaking, and one Oregon man is on a mission to share it's captivating beauty with the world through video. Matt Cook makes outdoor exploration videos featuring places to hike, wildlife refuges, difficult mountain climbing expeditions, and historical sites like old mining towns. "I like to cover a little something for everyone," said Matt, "Oregon never fails to have a new place to explore."
Expression Through Video - Oregon Films With A Purpose
A native Oregonian, Matt Cook grew up enjoying the outdoors. His parents took him camping in the wilderness before he could walk. Matt started making videos at a young age featuring things he was interested in at the time, such as snowboarding, comedy shows, and class projects. He says creating videos has given him confidence and helped him express himself. "There's a fear of saying something embarrassing or that no one cares to listen," Matt said.
He said quiet people are often afraid to express themselves. "I confronted my fears by putting these videos out to the public. Hearing your own voice can be appalling at first [but] after sticking with it I became more confident and my fears vanished." Matt said he'd like to encourage others to help them get over their fears and said the first attempt doesn't have to be perfect. "If you have the itch to express yourself, go for it. Nothing is really stopping you."
Matt started making videos about Oregon after speaking with coworkers who wanted to know more about his outdoor adventures. "I got an action camera to document some of my outdoor sports," Matt said. Matt worked at a software company where he said stories of his typical weekend left his coworkers in awe. "It was as if I had just got back from sleeping with the wolves and wrestling angry bears. They encouraged me to explore places and bring back footage."
One thing Matt noticed when researching new places was a lack of videos with information. "You can really learn a lot about a new area by seeing footage. Random nature footage without a purpose wasn’t enough for me," said Matt. "I wanted to create a show with information, beautiful views, and my own style." He was inspired by documentary media such as OPB, National Geographic and even YouTube creators.
Matt said his first Oregon video was rough but had a lot of good things in it. "It was a slow start [but] I kept with the format to refine it into a quality program." He describes his video style as slow and detailed. Viewers like his calming voice and style and say they like the educational approach his videos often take. "I don’t do videos showing people very often or even feature myself that much. The videos are about Oregon's natural wonders rather than people," said Matt.
Adventures Big And Small
Matt generally goes on his adventures with his wife and dog Ahsoka. "My wife is very helpful with videos," Matt said, "If you see any footage where I am not behind the camera, [it's] her work." Matt's continued exploration of Oregon and wild lands have led him to some incredible places, including an antelope refuge, which is something families can go explore, to mountain climbs that take a lot of preparation and commitment. Because Matt has such a variety of videos, viewers can experience places they might not normally be able to get to through film, including hard to reach locations such as Devil's Staircase.
"[I'm] most proud of my North Sister summit video," Matt said. "I grew up backpacking the Three Sisters area, so it is a very special place to me. This mountain also seemed like an impossible task for so long." Matt said extreme sport junkies may seem insane from the outside, but they put a surprising amount of time into practice and preparation.
"I climbed so many mountains before even thinking about [North Sister]. I went up the other two Sister mountains 15 years before, and many times after that. I went through a climbing school the previous year to learn and meet other climbers. I found a crew willing to take me in, and we met in August 2019." Matt said filming his journey up North Sister was the easy part. He had a GoPro attached to his chest during the climb as there was no time to set up a tripod or other camera equipment and no room in his bag which was filled with climbing gear.
"The climb was tough, technical, and dangerous," Matt said, "We used ropes for three different obstacles near the top. I feel the video does a great job showing all parts of what [it's] like getting to the summit. This is my proudest moment as a climber, and I love how the video turned out." After making his North Sister summit video Matt had a full trilogy of videos for summiting The Three Sisters. Take a look at the incredible video below.
Making A Real Connection
Through making videos Matt has had a chance to connect with family, Oregon's history, nature and viewers. He says he wants to encourage positive moments that help our natural lands. He recently made a video for #TrashTag. The goal of #TrashTag videos is to encourage others to go out and remove trash from natural places.
Matt also says he wants to continue improving his show and up the educational value. "That can be difficult when covering a variety of topics. One video [I'm] talking about mountain climbing, then gold mining history, then science." One thing Matt enjoys is the artistic freedom making videos allows him, because there's no one telling him what he has to make a video about or how to do it. "This is something I do to relax. I think people really appreciate that when viewing. I get so many positive comments from people I never would have been able to reach otherwise."
With one of his videos Matt was able to make a connection with Oregon's history and his father, Tom Cook, who wrote a book about the historic Cornucopia gold mine and ghost town. The ruins of this mine sit at the Southern end of the Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon. The short film went in depth into the history of the gold mining town and followed Matt's father who gave a talk and tour of the town. "I used my time at Cornucopia to tell my dad's story on video," Matt said. "I had all the history laid out in front of me and only needed to get footage of the area. There were a couple shots where I could accurately transition from a historic photo to what it looks like today."
Matt said he learned first hand how hard it can be to research history without having it all done for you. "History can get lost over time and you may find conflicting stories," he said.
Matt has also been able to make a connection with Oregon nature and wildlife through his short films. He says he and his wife were gathering sunstones in Eastern Oregon and saw antelope, which inspired them to research the area when they got home. "Hart Mountain is refuge to [a lot] of rare wildlife," Matt said. "[There's] an 8,000 foot peak, campground and hot spring." Matt chose to go back to Hart Mountain as a birthday trip destination and filmed a video about the Pronghorn antelope that call Hart Mountain home. "The whole trip was a wildlife safari," he said. On his birthday he summited Warner Peak, even though the day was hot and his dog Ahsoka had given up halfway to the summit and took refuge from the sun under a bush. Matt ended up finishing the hike alone. "It was a cool experience to be up there alone," he said. The video ended up having a fantastical sort of feel to it while it showed the raw nature and beauty of the area and wildlife. "[It's] one of the only videos that I didn't feel a voice over was necessary," Matt said.
Time and Dedication To Making Amazing Oregon Videos
Making exploration films about Oregon's wilderness takes a lot of time and dedication. "[When] I started out I would casually capture things during a day hike, and throw it together within a week," Matt said, "[but] when I started Matt Cook Oregon videos, I wanted to make standalone short films. I knew it would require more than simply pulling out a phone to catch each big viewpoint."
Matt says his best videos are all a result of multiple trips to a location. His video about the Bohemia Mountain gold mine was the result of five trips to the location over summer and fall. "There was so much to cover, different mines, trails, old buildings, and history. I really wanted the video to be an extensive story of Bohemia. Even with over 100 hours spent it didn’t feel like work. I got to explore gold mines with my dad, who is an absolute mining history enthusiast."
Post production of the footage can be time consuming as well. "I have hours of footage to be edited down to around 10 minutes," Matt said. In addition to editing and filming there's also hours spent researching, recording the voice over, and rewatching the video to be sure he's happy with the final product. "Sometimes after almost being [done], I feel the need to revisit a place for more filming."
When Matt's done with an Oregon film, he's ready for his next adventure and educational video. "After completing each video I want to take even more time perfecting the next one," he said.