The Stories Behind 5 Incredible Climbing Films

EpicTV's inaugral BoooomFest filmmaking compettion has just wrapped up and the response from the climbing community has been fantastic. One of the most impressive things about the festival was the diversity of the entries we received with films shot on everything from mobile phones to celluloid about subjects ranging from big wall climbing to making a cup of tea in the wild. We picked five of the most creative entries and got in touch with the filmmakers behind the projects to find out how they pulled them off.

5. A Rough And Rugged Desert Shoot

Like a cross between Dosage and Valley Uprising, 'Rock Crazed Dirtbags,' (the handiwork of Brandon Fox and Matthew Davies), feels like it was shot in the early 60's and only recently discovered in an old film archive or abandoned drive-in theatre. In fact, it was shot far more recently in the winter of 2010 and its old fashioned look is the result of being shot on a 16mm Bolex and Super 8 Nizo camera; both of which use celluloid.

Shooting on celluloid can be a challenge at the best of times, doing so during winter in the desert makes things harder still as Brandon explained.

"First, you have to hand-crank the Bolex. You wind it up and get about a 30-second take max, which poses obvious difficulties for filming climbing. Each roll of film gives you around 3-5 minutes of footage, so you have to be really selective with what you shoot."

But the short takes weren't the only challenge:

"Another issue was the cold temperatures. A few of the days we went out it was really cold, which caused the Bolex to run a little slower - like 16-18 frames/second instead of 24. That's why some of the footage has that fast-motion look. I'd be huddling the camera inside my jacket between takes to try and keep it warm. And every time you need to change a roll of film, you have to be really careful to try and not expose it to any light, i.e. more huddling under blankets. But if a little extra light hits the film, that's how you get those flashes of colour that are so indicative of the old film look."

However, the footage alone would not have been enough to give this film its feeling of rugged Americana and the final touches came with Brandon's voice-over.

"I knew I wanted the VO to sound kind of like one of those documentaries on the 60's, voiced from an outsider's perspective, but I didn't really know what the tone would be like. When I hit record, it just kind of came out like that. I think after editing all the footage, my mind was in this gritty, Texas cowboy place..."

4. A Climbing Tribute To A Kayak Film

After seeing Skip Armstrong's atmospheric kayak film 'The Shapeshifter,' Paul Diffley was inspired to try and recreate the feel of the piece in a climbing setting. He wasn't entirely sure how he'd go about pulling it off but after speaking to Skip at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and being given the sage advice 'just give it a go,' he deciced that he'd do just that and 'Smoke And Mirrors' was born.

To create the look he was after, Paul was very aware that location would be key. 

"The routes in The Tube at Newtyle have always had a very futuristic feel, so I thought they would be perfect. Also with it being a cave I figured if I got a smoke machine going there the smoke wouldn't just blow away."

However, as Paul goes on to explain, the smoke blowing away turned out to be the least of their concerns. With all of the lights, generators and indeed the smoke machine in tow, the usual walk-in was transformed into something of a slog.

"We used a wheelbarrow to carry them up the first part of the track, but we had to carry them by hand up the steep scree slope leading to the cave." The challenge didn't end there however and with the rain coming down, the team had to build a shelter to protect the electrics from getting fried. As Paul says, "It was a lot of effort for 45 secs of video!

3. Tight Drone Flights In The Czech Republic

Filming with a drone doesn't always pay off in climbing and often you're left unable to see much of what's going on. Fakehouse productions planned out their shoot for 'Czech Up' incredibly carefully to make sure that they got the best use out of shooting with a drone. 

"...we chose to use the Tsunami route for the shooting with the drone. Its open space position and an extra advantage of the cliff edge, allowed us to shoot a greater variety of shots than on a vertical wall" says Standa Hruban "We’re very familiar with this route, so we knew beforehand in which areas the climber is right on the edge and we timed the take offs of the drone accordingly."


Czech Up Shoot

The location of Teplice Rocks, while offering some spectacular scenery for the shoot also offered its own unique challenges.

"We took 4 km of tourist trail with some narrow passages considering we were carrying the 1.5 m diameter drone with us. Adam’s schedule was tight, so we had to do all the shooting in just 4 hours total, 3 in the evening and 1 hour in the morning. Therefore we had to shoot all the shots at the first attempt. The fly-by through the narrow canyon was the most demanding and also dangerous for the drone. Moreover, we had to shoot these shots early in the morning, before the tourists arrived."

2. Bullet Time Bouldering On The Bügeleisen Sit Start

It's not uncommon to watch a climbing film and wonder: 'How the hell did they do that?' Usually however, you're asking that question of an ultra-strong climber who's just pulled off an outrageous move rather than the filmmaker. In the case of Frisch Luft's A Perfect Moment, you're asking it of both the athlete and the filmmaker.

We got in touch with the film's director David Schickengruber to find out how he pulled off those incredible still shots of Jakob.

"We built a DIY scaffold out of three ladders and a plank and had Jakob sit on it and hold very still in mid move. On a fourth ladder we stood with the camera on a Gimbal and performed the camera movement with our hands. The Gimbal and filming in Super Slow Motion made for the "bullet time" look we were aiming for. Jakob was very enthusiastic and of course patient with us and also Elias Holzknecht (the spotter in the video)."

With such an original style, we were also intrigued to learn where the idea for this edit came from. 

"The concept derives from the notion that bouldering is a discipline which focuses on movement in a very detailed way, so we wanted to stretch the timeline and have a look at a single, very hard move of a boulder and explore the rock, the athlete and the surroundings at one specific moment."

1. Two Dynos, One Shot

It's no secret that climbers love their uncut send footage, but the BoooomFest entry from Sparkshop takes this style to a whole new level. Shot in one continous take, Dino's Dyno recreates Michael O'Rourke's first ascent of this wild double dyno. We grabbed a word with Sparkshop's Kyle Berkompas to find out how the guys pulled it off:

"Max Krimmer was the brains behind this shot and envisioned a single boulder problem done using the Movi M10 and our RED Epic camera.  After a bit of location scouting and Internet research, we reached out to Michael O’Rourke to see if we could capture one of his new FA’s 'Dino Dyno'. Michael was psyched but the weather was hot.  We weren’t sure if he’d be able to stick the first move with temperatures in the mid 70’s!"


Michael managing the ascent again for the cameras would certainly be a challenge, but so was getting the shot itself!

"We arrived an hour and a half before Mike so we could start doing some test runs and figure out what the camera movement was going to look like.  After a bit of trial and error we found a good flow and decided to do a hand-off of the entire Movi unit at the very end of the shot so we could lift up the camera as high as possible.  The hand-off was no easy task so we practiced it probably a dozen times before finding the right movement to make it look seamless in the edit.  Samuel Crossley held the backpack containing the RED battery and wrangled the cable behind me as I operated the Movi unit. This kept the power cable from interfering with the unit during the shot and the handoff. "

Even with a lot of practice runs, the shot didn't come off first go but luckily Michael was on form even in spite of the heat:

"O’Rourke went into beast-mode and did the entire boulder seven times before we finally nailed the timing and composition."

Check out the behind the scenes of the shoot above to find out how it all came together. (And to see that rarest of things, a camera man receiving more encouragement than the climber he's filming!)

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