Storytelling through film & hiking through life

Elina Osborne

November 26, 2019

Elina and I met through a mutual friend of ours. We haven’t spoken much but after following her on social for a while, I fell in love with her storytelling: Elina’s films about the community she grew up in, her travels and recently, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (4,270km trail from Mexico to Canada, I know right!?). You uncover so many heart-warming stories and moments when you just look around and talk to the people you know. It doesn’t have to be a person from a magazine cover to inspire you (and usually it isn’t), it could be a friend who you share your first name with 😊

Elina, what did you study at university?

I studied Communications at Auckland University of Technology and majored in Video Production, with a minor in Digital Media.

Funnily enough, I started at Auckland University in a double-degree situation studying Sport Science and Media. Talk about being unsure of myself. I was quickly reminded why I’d dropped science in high school and realised if I was ever going to touch a camera at AU, it wouldn’t be until my third year at the earliest.

That’s when I looked at what was happening across the road at AUT and knew I needed to switch over. They offered exactly what I was looking for - a dynamic and immersive course that balanced both practical and theoretical sides of the media sphere. I gained hands-on experience in a team environment with cameras, sound equipment, editing suites and the realisation that my passion lay in visual storytelling.


What was your journey like after university?

After university I knew I wanted to travel. But I also realised I had no money and a student loan to pay back. I saw an ad within weeks of my graduation for a company looking for someone to edit their videos - so I walked into the interview and was asked to start right then and there for the emerging start-up, Crimson Education.

It’s pretty incredible to see the company’s growth since my first days there, crammed into a tiny office space on Queen Street sometimes elbow to elbow with my similarly-aged, mostly younger co-workers. Breaking onto the edu-tech scene, the company was looking to create more video content that was US-based so I put myself and the idea forward that I could move over there on a J-1 visa for a year and work remotely.

They said I’d have to move to New York City. I happily obliged.

Elina on Coney Island, NYC in winter
Elina on Coney Island, NYC in winter

13 months based over there, I think I took 37 flights (not including connecting), and visited 20 different states. I was initially based in New York for 6 months, then chose to work more remotely, and eventually moved to Denver, Colorado for the rest of my time.

It was non-stop and I absolutely loved it. I came to realise how much I thrive when I’m flying by the seat of my pants. Filming and editing the video content that would build the basis for what their YouTube channel is today, I further developed my own skill set and really, just lived a lot of life.

Coming back to New Zealand at the beginning of 2018, I started work with the New Zealand Police. The role was somewhat similar, and had been newly created which gave me some creative freedom and input. Launching their YouTube channel Auckland Police TV, (now the New Zealand Police channel), my role was a mixed bag, but essentially revolved around the ideation, creation and delivery of video content for this platform, other social media channels, and internally.

I left this job to go hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019.

Now that I’m back in New Zealand, I’m figuring out what this next chapter holds for me. I know I can slip into finding a similar job, but I think I’m at a point where I want to do something against the grain of the regular 9-5. I’ve come to appreciate that our lives come in chapters, so as long as I’m steering in the right direction I’ll be happy. But if I’m being truly honest, the dream is to become a documentary filmmaker.

You have recently completed Pacific Crest Trail! What were the biggest highlights and challenges that you didn’t expect?

Yes! I have!

I completed it September 8th, and came home a month after that. It was the most incredible experience of my life, and it’s such a difficult thing to explain in limited paragraphs hence the decision to make a film about it.

I don’t think my words will ever capture the essence of it, and the video I made is simply a snippet but to me, probably the closest I will get to portraying the feeling of being out there.

I think with highlights and challenges I didn’t expect - like I refer to in my film, were “the people.” Hearing stories from others who had completed the trail, you hear how beautiful and generous the trail community is but you don’t ever truly grasp that until you experience it.

I met strangers for a day, or an hour, or over a meal on trail and instantly felt a connection to them that I’ll forever hold onto. But with that also comes the other side. I knew going in that it was going to be a massive physical challenge, but I didn’t really think about the challenges from an interpersonal perspective. You do feel so connected to people out there, but it was through one harrowing experience with a person I’d come to trust that I realised I didn’t actually know this person. But - this is the exception, not the rule (and also a very long, terrifying story for a rainy day).

Elina conquering Mount Whitney during PCT
Elina conquering Mount Whitney during PCT

The inspiration behind it all?

Well, the thought briefly entered my mind some 7 or 8 years ago when I read the book that made the trail famous, Wild. But I never truly considered it an option in my lifetime. For one, from an external standpoint I assumed that people were going out on the trail to “find” themselves. And that’s what deterred me from wanting to do it in the first place. The stigma that I needed “finding” and the idea that I didn’t know myself. But the idea popped back into the forefront of my mind in late 2018, and this time I couldn’t shake it. No matter how I envisioned my future, there was this big triangular PCT emblem obstructing my view.

There were, of course, factors that lead me there - my mum got sick with blood cancer in 2018 and that opened up a whole wave of realisation to how precious our time and what we do with it is. I’d ended a relationship with someone who completely blindsided me, leaving me questioning trust and my own worthiness. I got to a point where I knew that I needed to go do the thing that terrified me the most, that pulled me out of my comfort zone completely. I knew that this was how I’d continue to grow in confidence in my mind and my body, to go out and create a life I could look back on and be proud of.

It is definitely the biggest physical challenge I’ve ever done, but it is so much bigger than a long hike. The way I look at challenges now is completely different. How I view material things, societal ideas of success have all been completely reset. It’s a special feeling out there and difficult to express, but all I know is that there’s nowhere else that I’ve experienced the sense of feeling so connected to who I am, the beauty around me, and the people who I can now call family.

There are endless hilarious stories and experiences, but one that I’ll leave here just as a PSA for anyone who likes hiking and loves peanut butter as much as I do… It is not a good idea to eat a kilogram of peanut butter in five days. Not a good idea. Your bowels will thank me for that one.

Elina with her trail family at the finish line of the PCT
Elina with her trail family at the finish line of the PCT

What are some of the guiding principles / values that you have now? What direction do you want to head in, rather than what "job or career" you want to have?

I’m at a crossroads at the moment; at a point where I’m looking for something that I’m truly passionate about and can up skill in the areas that are beneficial to me. I’ve found myself in an area that is constantly growing, with more companies looking for people like me (who can write, film, edit) - but where I put my focus is what I’m trying to figure out next.

The direction I want to head would ideally be more self-directed. I experienced an unrivalled sense of freedom and autonomy from walking on the PCT, completely disconnected from societal expectations that had once governed my life. Now that I’ve had a taste of that, it’s difficult to imagine going back to the regular 9-5.

I’ve come to understand the value of an audience when you’re trying to create art, so for now I’m dedicating time to building my YouTube channel. Having created video content for other companies since graduating University, I figured it was my turn. I just want to be able to connect with, and hopefully inspire others to get out in nature and experience what we’re very very lucky to have. If I can’t tell my own story, how am I going to be able to tell the stories of others?

Elina hiking through a desert on PCT

We tend to assume a lot of things when reading and seeing peoples’ lives online. We forget that we are all humans going through this tough life journey figuring things out. Would you mind sharing some of your personal challenges that you experienced whether it is through your career or purpose searching journey?

I feel like I have an existential crisis at least every other week.

I feel like I’m on the right path, but it’s so easy to question yourself and have doubts when there is no clearing ahead. I’m also finally waking up to being comfortable having my voice heard, but I’ve come a very long way.

Having grown up in a very sheltered environment, I always believed in the idea of being “good” and doing what would make myself be most liked or appreciated. I grew up in a movement known as the Unification Church, also known as a cult - the “Moonies.”

I think from this, I grew up to view things as very “black and white,” “good or bad” and often shut myself off from experiences that would have helped me grow and learn from a younger age. I also only ever told one friend “outside” the church about it from fear of being judged for what it stood for.

It’s another long story, but essentially my parents each joined in their early 20s and were married in a mass wedding ceremony in Madison Square Garden with 2075 other couples. They’d only met the day before and had no shared language. I would grow up to eventually marry within, to a “second generation” member whose parents had also done the same so I could continue this “pure blood lineage.”

All very cult-y. Of course, something you don’t recognise when you’re younger. You can watch the short doc I made at University about it, here.

As I got to University, I realised it wasn’t for me at all. I was ready to become my own person and build my identity outside the idea that I had to fit into this box and fill the prescribed life that lay ahead for me.

So I made that short doc and started going out and doing things I never thought I’d have the courage to do. I went on my first date and had my first kiss at age 22. I moved to New York alone, I travelled through South America, Europe and went solo through Mexico and Rome. I compromised on my dreams for the sake of love. I got my heart broken. I picked myself up, bought a motorbike, then went and walked 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.

I’m still unsure about my dream career, but I have a feeling that I have to be the one to create it.

Finding purpose is one of those things that we’ll always be on the hunt for, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by it all. So for now, my focus is to simply have direction, bring contribution and build on community.

Elina looking into her camera

And finally, whose story would you want to read about on here?

I have a couple! These are some people I follow who are relentlessly pursuing their passions while utilising their voice and platform:

@nassreads

@wildginaa

@thuc.creative

@jera.bean

@pattiegonia

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