Reporter: Liam Bartlett
Producers: Stephen Rice, Howard Sacre
They've revolutionised the way we see our world and created a new breed of film makers who are as crazy as they are daring.
GoPro cameras are tiny; small enough to be attached to a bird, strapped to a base jumper's helmet or swallowed by a shark.
The video they produce is, quite simply, extraordinary.
You feel like you're right there in the middle of the action.
As you'll see it's one wild ride but a ride you can safely enjoy from the comfort of your own sofa.
Brook Silvester: professional sports and surf cameraman.
Harley Ingleby of Solitary Islands Surf School.
GoPro Bomb Squad.
STORY – LIAM BARTLETT: Ever wondered what it would be like to jump off a cliff and fly – maybe even bring along some mates? Or, to catch that once-in-a-lifetime wave? To go into battle against the Taliban? Or, to go along for the ride with a pod of dolphins? It’s all possible now, thanks to a tiny new video camera which takes you places you’ve never been - and some you’d never want to.
BROOK: These cameras, mate, they’ve changed the world. I mean they’ve changed the way we film it, they’ve changed the way we see it, and, ah, they’ve definitely changed the way we capture, um, everything.
LIAM BARTLETT: They’re called GoPros, because they let us amateurs become professionals. And they’ve transformed the way professionals, like sports cameraman Brook Silvester, capture everything from sky-diving to surfing.
BROOK: You try to explain that to your mum and dad - your whole life of why you surf - and now you can actually show em the footage, and then, everyone can go, right, okay.
LIAM BARTLETT: We understand!
BROOK: We understand, yeah.
LIAM BARTLETT: Today, Brook is teaming up with Longboard champion Harley Ingleby on the New South Wales North Coast – using these impossibly small cameras to capture the big waves.
HARLEY: You know, looking out of the barrel, it’s - yeah, it’s the best feeling in the world.
LIAM BARTLETT: We can share some of your adrenaline?
HARLEY: Yeah, that’s it. It’s pretty good.
LIAM BARTLETT: It’s not until you get out here that you really get a feel for the impact these go-anywhere cameras are having, by taking you off the beach and giving you an armchair ride into the middle of the action. They’re changing the way we view sport forever. Everything is up close and personal. And who can resist an epic fail? These cameras were born in the Australian surf - one of those oh-so-simple ideas you wish you’d had, and one that’s made Californian Nick Woodman a multi-millionaire.
NICK: The big challenge was, ah, how do we capture ourselves surfing while we’re surfing?
LIAM BARTLETT: Ten years ago, Nick was on a surfing holiday in Australia when inspiration struck.
NICK: We were camped out in the middle of nowhere on the, ah, on the south and west coasts of Australia, and I’m there tinkering with my wrist strap and developing what was the first GoPro camera.
LIAM BARTLETT: Well the Australian surf, then, can claim some inspirational copyright?
NICK: Oh, absolutely!
LIAM BARTLETT: Nick Woodman went home to America and started the world’s first wearable camera company from his dad’s garage. And so began the revolution, that started in sport, but hasn’t stopped since.
NICK: My mum gave me her sewing machine and loaned me a little bit of money. And then, as then as the business started to grow, my dad loaned me money to buy more inventory – to kind of get it going. And then, from there, we’ve just scaled the business.
LIAM BARTLETT: That’s probably the most successful surf trip in the history of the world?
NICK: It’s definitely my most successful surf trip.
LIAM BARTLETT: From small beginnings, these new miniature cameras have come to document big things. For the first time, taking us into the actual battle in Afghanistan, in which our most recent Victoria Cross winner earned his medal. And on ‘60 Minutes,’ we’ve used them to shoot everything from cranky crocs to super hornets. We’ve hidden them in hotel room stings, and mounted them in drones when we weren’t allowed to film in asylum seeker detention camps. And as for Nick Woodman himself, well, nothing’s off-limits. You put a GoPro on your head to film the birth of your first baby.
LIAM BARTLETT: Didn’t your wife say, “Hang on a minute, Nick, put away the camera!”
NICK: At first she was a little hesitant, but then when I reminded her we’re gonna be able to come back and watch this over, you know, over the years, crack a bottle of wine and enjoy the birth of our children, ah, she - she allowed it.
LIAM BARTLETT: Today, Nick Woodman has got plenty to celebrate. GoPro is a $250 million a year business, with sales increasing 300% every year. So is this just another boy toy for you? And Nick is free to plough bucket-loads of money into – well, he calls it Research and Development.
NICK: This is legitimate corporate spending! This is – this is R&D. And then it was at the track that I realised, wow, this - I can mount this camera anywhere and capture anything that I’m passionate about.
LIAM BARTLETT: And not just one camera - 15 today. This is where you get to unleash the inner 12-year-old?
NICK: Oh yeah, this is the best part of being GoPro CEO.
LIAM BARTLETT: And it’s one happy boss who doesn’t need to spend a cent on advertising.
NICK: A big part of GoPro’s success is that our customers are creating so much cool content with their GoPros. And then they’re sharing it online on Facebook and on YouTube.
LIAM BARTLETT: Your company essentially gets free marketing on YouTube, doesn’t it?
NICK: Ah, every couple of minutes, at least, there’s a GoPro being uploaded to YouTube or Facebook.
LIAM BARTLETT: Somewhere in the world?
NICK: Somewhere in the world.
LIAM BARTLETT: Accidents, wipe-outs - YouTube loves GoPro, it’s a marriage made in heaven. And sponsors love it.
BROOK: If they do something that’s outrageous, and they filmed it, then the world gets to see it. They’re a lot more inviting to a sponsor than someone who’s not.
LIAM BARTLETT: Enter the GoPro Bomb Squad - three unassuming blokes who owe their career, as it is, to these mini-cameras. Today, they’re speed-riding – it’s part-skiing, part-parachuting, part-madness - a sport which is only seven years old but has already killed 29 people. But Neil Amonson wouldn’t be anywhere else.
NEIL: Yeah, I’m here with Liam on top of a mountain in Alaska. There’s bears, there’s avalanches. There’s helicopters. There’s all kinds of things that can go wrong. We’re pretty excited about it.
LIAM BARTLETT: What’s the – what’s the degree of difficulty here, Neil?
NEIL: If you do it right, very low.
LIAM BARTLETT: Yeah right.
NEIL: If you do it wrong, very high.
LIAM BARTLETT: We’ve just landed on a snow and ice-covered ridge.
NEIL: See, in terms of the perch we’re on, with the helicopter’s tail hanging off the cliff – I mean, we could go without that, but, we could work with it.
LIAM BARTLETT: It’s not good!
NEIL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
LIAM BARTLETT: It’s just another day at the office for Neil. He’s an ex-special forces combat veteran who got bored back in civilian life and teamed up with his pals, Marshall Miller and Jesse Hall, to do just about anything that involves making your hair stand on end. Pretty soon they discovered that if they filmed it, they could make a living out of it.
NEIL: I used to call it the Ego Cam, because it’s really - it’s, like, about showing off what you do and how you do it, and if there’s one way to sell a product it’s to show off yourself and I think it’s working pretty good.
LIAM BARTLETT: It’s the ultimate ego camera for maniacs like you guys.
NEIL: Yeah. Yep!
LIAM BARTLETT: The challenge today is to make sure their parachutes fill with air quickly. Otherwise -
NEIL: There’s a 5,000 foot cliff that goes off this side on the spine.
LIAM BARTLETT: You’re going over it?
NEIL: We’re going to go over that, yeah.
LIAM BARTLETT: You guys are mad.
NEIL: This’ll, ah - this’ll be a lot - a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
LIAM BARTLETT: And with that, they’re off - with all of us on board.
NEIL: It’s like you’re looking through your own eyes. Whatever you’re watching the footage through, people, they start to sweat, they get goose bumps, they get nervous, they feel all the emotions we do.
LIAM BARTLETT: But as the risks increase for these guys, so do the potential consequences for the man who invented the cameras they’re wearing.
NICK: They’re more or less full time GoPro athletes, travelling the world and getting radical.
LIAM BARTLETT: But do you ever worry about waking up one morning and finding that they’ve, you know, injured themselves, or worse?
NICK: Hurt themselves or worse, yeah. Definitely. But, they’re trained athletes, this is what they do professionally now. And they’re not doing what they do, just to be crazy. This is what they’re passionate about. We’re just there to help support them live as big a life as they want to live, and, um...
LIAM BARTLETT: They’re on the edge.
NICK: They’re on the edge.
LIAM BARTLETT: More than ever, amazing footage, an incredible image, can make a career. Longboard champ Harley Ingelby discovered this when he became a surfing pin-up boy - thanks to GoPro.
HARLEY: The very first time I ever used it, and the very first wave I ever got, and um, that ended up on a billboard in Times Square for an entire summer.
LIAM BARTLETT: So the very first time you strapped it on, you were famous?
HARLEY: Yep. From, you know, from Coffs Harbour to there - Times Square!
LIAM BARTLETT: For most of us, these little cameras are simply about filming what we love doing, like training for the Avon descent, just outside Perth. Strapping a few on my mate’s surf-ski - and a couple of helmet cams for good measure - we thought we'd road-test the theory that, with the help of these things, anyone can go professional. Ok, maybe not.
LIAM BARTLETT: Has GoPro ever filmed a death?
NICK: We’ve seen some close calls. There was the fellow in South Africa that was mountain biking, and got hit by what looked like a wildebeest or an antelope or something like that. Um, saw a fellow fall off the back of a mountain. He climbed up to a very high peak, and as he was clicking into his skis, he slid off the back of the mountain. I mean, it was incredible that he lived, and it also taught you what not to do when you’re standing up on top of the mountain. But, um, no, thankfully we’ve never seen anybody die.
LIAM BARTLETT: At least, not yet. When Nick Woodman offers to take you for a spin in the company car, he means it. If they’re not a blur as you go past. Are you allowed to do this in California, are you?
NICK: We don’t talk about that.
LIAM BARTLETT: This is one CEO who’s leaving the competition for dead.
NICK: Fun way to end the day, huh?
LIAM BARTLETT: And he reckons the established camera companies - the Nikons and the Canons and the Sonys - had better watch out.
NICK: I mean, a GoPro is US$300, and you can shoot a ‘60 Minutes’ episode with it. How does - how does a camera company that’s built its business selling cameras that cost thousands of dollars change its model to compete with that?
BROOK: This is the, uh – this is kind of like a bit of a museum in here these days.
LIAM BARTLETT: This is - these have become relics, have they?
BROOK: Yeah, that’s right, they have.
LIAM BARTLETT: For many professional cameramen, like Brook Silvester, the GoPro revolution has been bittersweet. He’s now left with a cupboard full of obsolete equipment, much of it his own invention.
BROOK: It’s like, put it back in there, and –
LIAM BARTLETT: Put it away, lock it up! See ya later!
BROOK: It’s no more! It’s no more! And the only problem is, this is about $50,000 worth of my hard work, and everything gone into all this equipment over the last decade, or longer.
LIAM BARTLETT: So the inventors of this have buggered up your superannuation really, haven’t they?
BROOK: Yeah. I’ve made- Yeah, I’ll jump on and join em! You won’t beat that army. That’s - that’s the future right there.
LIAM BARTLETT: Like Brook, it seems we’re all catching the GoPro wave. And, however hairy it gets, there’s no turning back. So there’s no limit to it?
BROOK: There’s no limit to it. Everyone is going to be walking around with something like this, and they’ll be having a day-by-day recollection of their real life.
LIAM BARTLETT: ‘Big Brother’ meets ‘The Truman Show?’
BROOK: Crazy. There's no limit. There's no limit.