David Finlay Breashears (December 20, 1955 – March 14, 2024)

We were terribly saddened to hear of the passing of the renowned climber, mountaineer and filmmaker, David Breashears.

As director and expedition leader high on the mountain, David played a crucial role in the success of the 1996 production of the record-breaking IMAX film, Everest.  His determination, courage, intelligence, experience, and sheer talent helped lead the expedition through the tragic events on the mountain that year, when a major storm that slammed into the mountain cost eight climbers their lives. Despite this tragedy, the first-ever IMAX images David brought back from Everest’s summit mesmerized the world, by revealing the epic scale of the mountain the climbers braved.

For Greg MacGillivray, producing Everest was a watershed event: “It was a huge financial gamble for our company. We were basically ‘betting the farm.’ But I had complete confidence in David and trusted him to pull off this incredibly difficult task.”  Of course, this turned out to be a very good hunch. Everything David brought with him – his previous Everest experience, his respect for the mountain, his filmmaking skill and artistry, his courage and good judgement – all came together to make a nearly impossible task possible.

To lead an expedition up Mount Everest, you need tons of self-confidence, and David had that. But he also had the common sense to know what he didn’t know. In a preliminary shoot to beta-test the revolutionary sub-zero Imax camera (developed for this movie) David found that most of what he did for television documentaries simply did not work for the giant screen. He sat with Greg for hours analyzing dailies, shot by shot. Then, in the spring of 1996, David went to Nepal with a small team to help him. Brad Ohlund was along to teach him the ropes on IMAX cinematography, and Steve Judson was there to mentor David on the odd nuances of directing giant screen films. What seems at first blush like a snap is anything but, and David got that. He threw himself into the challenge of soaking up all he could. By the time our team reached Base Camp, there was no doubt – David had truly mastered the IMAX format in record time and was ready for the monumental challenge ahead.

David had filmed on Mount Everest before, and that experience was a great asset. In planning each part of the climb, he already knew exactly where he had to put the camera to get the most iconic shot. He also understood that Imax is not about getting lots of pretty good shots. It’s about getting a few great shots. He dedicated himself to that goal fiercely and succeeded mightily.

And when storm clouds began to form, while other teams raced for the summit, David and his fellow expedition leader, Ed Viesturs, waited patiently for a window of better weather. Their restraint and wisdom kept our expedition members safe, while others died. Then they risked their own lives to rescue other climbers. It’s especially sad to lose David, remembering his heroism in saving others.  The MacGillivray Freeman filmmaking family as well as the Giant Screen Film community will miss him.