Sunday, November 29, 2009

Alan Watts Interview

There is a great interview at Planet Mountain with Alan Watts, the pioneer of sport-climbing in America. His attitude about the past is frank, straightforward,and real. Remember when "hangdogging" was a sin? You're lucky if you don't. A refreshing voice.

Here's another interview.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Andre DiFelice on Trice

Andre DiFelice Trice V12 from peter beal on Vimeo.

Since every website needs video of Trice on Flagstaff, here's mine. A few days later he did it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Disciples of Gill: A Film by Pat Ament

Pat Ament under King Conquerer Crack at Flagstaff Mountain, November 2009

Yesterday was a beautiful day, cold but clear and dry. The snow was stubbornly hanging in there from the last snow in shady spots but the boulders up on Flagstaff were mostly dry and warm. I put in a long afternoon up there, logging around 40 problems from VB to V8 moving from the Crown Rock area up the First Overhang Ridge. Towards the end of the afternoon, as I was climbing in the Upper Y area, I ran into Bob D'Antonio who mentioned that Pat Ament was coming up the trail. I had not seen him in many years so I felt it was an auspicious coincidence. He was in town to premiere his latest film, "The Disciples of Gill."

I chatted with Pat briefly and headed down to the Red Wall for a final set of problems, doing the Moffat Direct (V8) quickly and the standard V4 on the right. This last took a couple of tries as I had forgotten a crucial foot placement and reminded me of how solid these problems from the 60s can be, especially at the end of a long session. This put me in a ruminative mood and my remarks about the film which I watched, albeit in a somewhat truncated way, are influenced by this.

Climbing, it has been remarked, is an art but it has a singular characteristic that makes it difficult to compare with say painting or even music. That is the aspect of performance. The climb itself is not like a painting, that is to say the climber does not write upon a blank canvas. It is more like dance where the climber writes upon a surface that will be once again what it was before the dance. A few patches of chalk linger but little else remains to record the performance.

Pat was among the earliest to recognize this need to preserve not just a "record" of the climbs but also the attitude, the grace, the style of the climber In John Gill, he had the perfect subject as Gill quite literally became the embodiment of ease on rock when he was climbing.

The short clips that Pat took of Gill in Pueblo form much of the heart of the film as well as a few sequences of Jim Holloway at Cloudshadow on Flagstaff. Here the idea of movement is clearly visible. The climbers, moving silently in ghostly black and white are like presences from another place and time. Yet the distance is complex to measure or even describe. The player in all of this is time, a topic too vast to touch upon here.

There is a moving opening sequence of Pat belaying his young daughter on the cliffs near his home in Fruita as he explains to her what changed in climbing in the sixties. There is a great deal of material consisting of interviews with important figures from that era as well. I missed much of this as my 3-year old daughter decided it was time to do something else. And to be honest, I think that part of the film needs to be reconsidered and reconfigured. I know I would like to see a bit more in the way of contemporary voices assessing the idea of bouldering and the legacy of the sixties and seventies in this age.

There is something about moving over rock that talking about it can never recapture, something young and vital, that isn't self-conscious or reflective. It is one of the sorrows of climbing that so much that matters is lost so entirely. This film is a tribute to that truth. Pat is to be commended for singly taking up a task that should be embraced and sponsored by the climbing community as a whole; that is the preservation of an era that founded climbing as we know it in America. It is sobering to realize that its leading figures will soon be gone.

I understand that the film is still a work in progress and I anticipate the "final" version eagerly. History is written in many ways and its essence, with regard to the act of climbing, is and always will be elusive. Any gesture to rescue it from oblivion is a gesture of bravery and generosity.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Between the Trees Part 2: Questions for Keith and Ty

Here's a follow-up for readers interested in the film I reviewed in the previous post, Between the Trees. There is another good interview at the Low Down. This was first published in French at the site along with a very favorable review, again in French.

Questions for Keith

How did you get into hard bouldering?

I'd been bitten by the climbing bug very hard, and I started going to the climbing wall as many times a week as I could. Soon time spent climbing outweighed time spent at university, and I made possibly one of the worst decisions of my life. I decided to drop out of university in 2003 and move to Sheffield, simply based on the fact that that's where climbers live and I could move there and go pro. How naive I was. It's truly incredible how naive I really was. I found a room in Sheffield, packed all my stuff, and just moved there. I didn't know a single person but I was psyched and that's all that mattered. Soon I met more and more people, and one day I finally got invited to go up to the school - the mythical training venue of Ben and Jerry!!! This was an eye opening moment for me, and perhaps a crystalline moment in my climbing career. I went in there and saw very, very strong climbers. They were another level to anything I'd seen before and this was all the fuel I needed. I began training harder, and soon got a membership to the school which was where I began to truly learn about climbing power. It was an amazing apprenticeship and I was lucky enough to always be climbing with strong climbers up there, so my psyche levels never really dropped below maximum. As time passed I got stronger and stronger, and eventually reached a point whereby I was regarded as the strongest climber who'd done the least climbing! I then decided I need to rectify this imbalance and began climbing on the rocks more often. This is when I started to also fall in love with Fontainebleau. My first ever trip to Fontainebleau I went expecting to climb an 8A and after one day realised I needed to set my sights on a 7A first. After 6 days of flailing I finally did one and I remember just how amazing it felt! From there the goal was pushed to 7A+, then 7B, and eventually up to 8A. That was a great moment when I did my first 8A in font but the goal just got shifted again. That's who I am too. Somebody who never stops pushing. Nothing is impossible. I firmly believe that. So from that point on I just climbed more and more, working and playing poker to earn some money, but all my energy really went into climbing. This was my focus. Then reaching 8B was the next big goal and I really felt like I'd validated my climbing in some way then that happened. It might sound ridiculous, but I felt like this was a very different level from 8A or 8A+. Now I'm chasing 8B+ and once again feel like is a completely different level to 8B. Maybe it's just because it takes so much more work to reach the next grade in the higher levels, but then again, the feeling of success also take on deeper satisfaction. Nothing good ever came easily.

What moved you to decide to make films instead of just climbing?

A couple of years ago, I was going to amazing places around the world and I suddenly realised I just wanted to have some memories of these trips, and what better way to do this than recording it all on film. I did a bunch of research and bought the best I could afford, which has turned out to be a great investment. I really wanted to capture these moments because I put so much energy into climbing and these moments are what I do it all for. Those moments of overcoming all odds and getting to the top are amazing, and bring me some feeling of inner satisfaction when I watch them back. Hopefully one day my children will see it and say that I'm a crazy old man!

What story are you trying to tell through your films?

This is a good question. I'm not trying (not yet anyway) to bring climbing to the masses. I definitely view my films as more of a representation of how I live. L'√Čtranger was literally a video documentary of my days in the forest, a view that the birds or boars of the forest may have witnessed. Between The Trees was a little different, because I tried to tell the story of how Tyler and I live our lives. We spent a few months in Switzerland last year and I didn't really dedicate any time to capturing footage, so when I looked back I felt like I'd missed an opportunity. Tyler is a world class boulderer and also a good friend of mine. We have a lot of fun when we go climbing but he also does a lot of crushing, so I wanted to try and get both of these things captured and shared. We go climbing because it's just what we love to do. We don't go climbing to film it, or to prove something to anyone else, we just go out and do it because we love it. If the climbing world stopped turning and there was no scene, nothing would change for us. We'd still go out and go climbing. This is a trait I've seen in plenty of other climbers and I think it actually binds together a whole lot of climbers, which is nice.

If you could make the ultimate climbing film, what would it look like?

The ultimate climbing film... wow. I think the ultimate climbing could be truly amazing. I would invest so much time in building amazing gizmo's, have multiple cameras on wire all remote controlled, and be able to capture the life of the greatest climbers. However, as visually stunning as I would like to make it, I'd like to make it follow the life of a climber, showing more than just the routes or boulder problems. I'd like to convey the life behind climbing, the reason we go climbing, the love we have for it. After all, there is no reward in climbing apart from the climbing itself. No one is rich, no one is famous, no one really gets anything from climbing (when you consider it in comparison to Snowboarding, Mountain Biking, BMX'ing, Skating, etc) so I'd like to just show the love for climbing. I'd love to have access to some amazing cameras (like the RED) as I think the visual beauty of what you can make it somewhat determined by what you film with. Basically, I'd like a fully professional setup and with that I genuinely feel I could make something really amazing. Of course, this would require a big budget, but I do think the time will come when big companies will get behind endeavours like this. It's already happened in snowboarding with films like That's it, That's all and they definitely set the bar a notch higher. If anybody wants to fund such a project, I promise you something amazing, so get in touch! ha ha.

There was an article at UK Climbing recently about the issue of making a reasonable return on climbing video. You experimented with donations with The Outsider. What does the future look like in your view? For example will we see the end of "free" content on the Web?

. L'√Čtranger was an experiment for me in a number of ways. I wanted to see if people would even enjoy it, and further if they did enjoy it, would they voluntarily give up some money for it (AFTER they'd seen it). I didn't expect or need donations, I'd made the film and I just wanted to share my slice of Fontainebleau with anyone who was interested. Over 5000 people watched the film (in the first month - I stopped counting after that), and I got about 20 donations. It wasn't disappointing because I didn't expect anything, but it was very interesting. I'd wanted to release Between The Trees a little differently, but it turned out that the climbing world probably wasn't ready for such a release so I fell back onto the DVD and HD download options. I do think that climbing is inevitably going to follow other sports like biking and snowboarding, especially in terms of the media, but people like BigUp are changing it with much higher production values. I think that when the bigger companies start to get behind some film makers, we'll see some incredible things getting released.

In my opinion, free content on the web will not end. Far from it in fact; I expect it to increase as more and more people turn from consumers to producers. However, as the tail increases in length (ref; The Long Tail) giving us more and more "home-made" media, we will also see the top production companies putting out absolutely incredible films. That will be what we're paying for, but it might not come from the people we expect it to come from, or in the traditional delivery formats. The internet is changing everything, giving people new opportunities, and opening up new ways to get products to people.
I'm interested to see how sales go with Between The Trees, because I honestly have no idea how it will pan out. I don't really know what to expect as this is my first endeavor into sellign a film, but ff you want an update in a couple of months feel free to get in touch! Will I make enough money to convince me to try and make another film? I don't know. I'm not looking for another film to make, but I'm very open to any ideas that may fall into place. I think life has a way of presenting opportunities at the right moments, so we'll see what it brings in the next few months.

Where did the quote at the beginning, “I was a eagle, and I flew down and I was a fish swimming” come from?

The quote at the beginning... Well, My original idea for the name of the film was "The Snake and The Worm". I favoured this name for a lot of reasons as it had connotations throughout the film, throughout climbing, and direct reference to Tyler and I. I view his climbing style as the snake style. It's hard to explain but when you see him climb it's the first thing that comes to mind. Similarly, a couple of years ago I was in font and a certain person commented that I wormed my way up a problem. When I started climbing a lot of Tyler I saw the contrast. The snake and the worm aren't a million miles apart, but what they achieve is very different. I like all that, so I wanted to call the film The Snake and The Worm. I doubt anyone would have understood the title, but in the end it was vetoed by Tyler. He didn't like the way it sounded. Perhaps climbing wasn't ready for the title! It seems like all climbing films have to use a 1 word adjective/noun. We nearly went with Consternation, but then I realised it's a word which is out of use and everyone just asked me what it meant, so that was ousted.

Perhaps the quote at the beginning was a remnant of the previous title. I don't know to be 100% honest. Tyler is a bright kid, and without a doubt he (or I) take things that are completely farcical and move them into a more serious world. Perhaps serious isn't the right word, but you know what I mean. Meaning has so much to do with context, so putting the same thing in a different box it appears to have changed it radically. When I was going through all the footage, choosing what to keep and what to cut, I heard that quote and immediately (perhaps subconsciously), put it at the very beginning of the timeline. I don't normally do that, but this just felt like it had to go there. All the space and meteor parody stuff came afterwards. The quote was the beginning for me. I guess I went with a feeling on this, rather than a strict recourse to rationality (a VERY strange move if you know me). (Editor's note: Ty claims the quote was derived from the Kevin Nealon character in a movie called Grandma's Boy. If you search for its likely source, you may be surprised at what was made out of it!)

Any technical notes?

In terms of set up, it was all pretty low budget. I only had one camera (a Canon HV20), one Tripod (a Velbon DV7000), one mic (Rode videomic), and a wide angle lens (Raynox HD6600). You could probably buy this whole set up for $700, but it's a lot more powerful that people realise. For a start, the HV20 has a huge sensor for it's body size, and it also shoots 24p. That's something I value quite a lot actually. It's a feature not found in any other cameras under a few thousand dollars... Most shots were set up organically. I'd wander around a bit, decide what I thought looked good, and plonked it there. We didn't go back to film stuff after I viewed the footage, for better or for worse. As I said before, this was primarily a climbing trip, so given the option between refilming and going climbing, it was obvious that climbing came first. Plus, I know Tyler well enough to know he doesn't want to refilm stuff from many angles, do hold close ups on everything, etc. He just wants to go climbing. That is his motivation for climbing. He loves to do it. We chased good conditions on the rock, not good conditions for filming, and if they happened to align it was just extra great. I did build a boom, but didn't end up including any of the footage as I wasn't happy with it. I've got more ideas that need realising in terms of building more equipment... maybe next year...

Tyler Landman, one of the strongest and most gifted boulderers I have seen in recent years, was the focus of much of the film. I caught up with him and he added some remarks for the interview.

Some words from Tyler Landman

Ty, how did the project get started?

I had done some filming with Keith a couple months prior, when we were both in Switzerland. I've never been a fan of filming things in a such a way that you are expected to perform, or are put on the spot. And I certainly have no urge to be made a super star of any sorts. Keith asked if I minded him filming my ascents and I obviously said that I had nothing against it, so long as I had some sort of say in what we would do with the footage etc. I knew what he had intended but also knew that he would not use it in any way or for anything I was not down with.

What was it like making the film?

We didn't really work on 'the film' until the last five days of the trip. Until then he would just film me climbing. I've always thought a good photographer or filmer is one who can produce amazing results, without you even knowing they are there. I'd never have to repeat problems or do ridiculous things that he asked me to, just for the sake of footage. Towards the end of the trip, realizing how much amazing footage we had, we decided we could make a film out of it. In that case, we needed to film an introduction, some interviews, and filler basically so that we could make something more than just ascents. So we conjured up some ideas and basically got to work on the quicktime. It was pretty hilarious coming up with the ideas and even funnier trying to film them.

How do you feel about the results?

If we had been serious about it, there is a lot more we could have done. Given the freestyle nature and home grown style I think it turned out very well. Those two characteristics are what make it stand out from mainstream films. It depends what you like. Some people like the mainstream over produced style, and others like the understated natural free flow style. I prefer the latter which is why I had no issue being a part of the film.

Thanks to both Keith and Ty for their contributions. Make sure to visit for more info. As I stated in my review, this is one of the most interesting climbing films you will ever see, for me the best in years. From an aesthetic standpoint, it is truly innovative.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Between the Trees: A Review

Looking at the world of climbing video, it is clear that the trend is towards the Big Up style of video. We see big names in amazing locales, the latest testpieces filmed using high-tech equipment, and a generally professional polish put on the whole thing. Yet often we are left wondering in the end about what it is exactly that is being captured. Yes there is a big show and we are left amazed but not much else.

In the very beginning of Keith Bradbury's latest film, between the trees, we hear the voice of Tyler Landman, one of the most gifted boulderers of his generation, utter these words, "I was a eagle, and I flew down, and I was a fish swimming." These lines indicate right from the start that something very interesting is going on here. This is not going to be your typical climbing movie. The introduction merges parody and comedy set in the evocative ambience of grainfields and forest. Credits roll, so minimal as to pass almost unnoticed, and we are off to Fontainebleau.

The first scene is the forest in winter as Keith walks into a dark snowy forest to try a problem called Gecko, a problem that will figure prominently elsewhere in the film. Here as in many other places in the film, atmosphere, mood and ambience play the leading role. The footage is minimally edited and the movement is natural and uncontrived. In other words what is interesting about Between the Trees is what is left out, what is left unsaid.

A gorgeous panning shot across the rise of land at Cuisinere Franchard that holds Karma leads seamlessly into Ty leaping onto the starting holds. As he completes the problem, a frozen image of Ty remains at the top while another Ty runs back down to the base. This kind of camera work could go all wrong, seem pretentious and “arty” but here it just works. Ty comments on the problem while the boulder just looms there in the background like a kind of sculpture, framed by three pines.

The setting sun shimmers on the horizon across the valley at Cuisiniere Crete as Ty finishes Duel. The light filtering through the trees provides a striking backdrop as he ruminates on the complexity of the problem. The gray-green textures of the magnificent Partage are as fascinating as the problem itself. Keith’s orange shirt is a striking accent point in a maze of crossed tree branches, mossy green walls, and the stubbly texture of fallen leaves. The problem itself is almost an afterthought.

You might say that it’s inevitable that Fontainebleau would shape the film and to a certain extent I would agree. However this emphasis on environment emerges time and again, too often to be merely coincidence. It is a trait I noticed also in Keith’s other films, a tendency to seek out subtle, understated visual environments that frame both climber and problem in the realm of the natural world in all its mystery and complexity. By way of contrast, one might refer to the old-school classic, The Real Thing, with Ben Moon and Jerry Moffat, which often literally rides roughshod over the same terrain. I wonder if Ben is performing an act of expiation by sponsoring Keith’s efforts to film Fontainebleau. It would be an appropriate gesture. Keith has truly got the real thing here.

The less artistic among you may appreciate other aspects including the sheer diversity and number of problems depicted. An eclectic soundtrack keeps things lively and unpredictable. Ty reflecting on the nature of climbing in the forest brings us back to the dual natures of Font climbing, how it is cerebral and athletic at the same time. Seated in a wheatfield, or a deserted picnic area, he reminds us of the uniquely meditative aspects of climbing. If I have one issue with the film, it’s this: Keith tie your shoelaces already!

Perhaps it is the time of year that gives this film a valedictory feel, an elegiac tone. The colors are somber, the skies mostly gray and subdued. The photographer constantly seems to reach beneath the surface to what is buried rather than what apparently meets the eye. This to me is the essence of art and what makes this film special. It is beautifully realized in the sequence featuring Elephunk, where the problem is immaculately captured at close range and then the view is lengthened to reveal piles of stacked piles of logs, dead objects in front of the living forest, the climber caught between these two states of being. This is an extraordinary moment in climbing film, in my view, and one that deserves real recognition.

The film closes on an ambivalent note for both climbers. Keith faces down failure on the sit-start to Gecko, a situation any serious climber can recognize. He can clearly do the problem but for whatever reason, cannot actually finish it. An intensity of emotion emerges here, not one rooted in success but in frustration. It feels like a doomed relationship and indeed in some footage not included in the film itself (I wish it had been; it is in the Extras) Keith really goes, as he put it, “close to the bone.” Ty finishes on a high note climbing-wise but followers of this immensely talented climber have seen him retire from the world of high-end bouldering. He decided not long after the filming, that at least for now, climbing full-time is not for him, and went to college instead. So for both, there is a sense of incompleteness, again understated and implied; a redemption postponed for Keith, a quest in different directions for Ty.

Keith tried asking for donations with his last film and apparently got 20 of them out of 1000+ downloads of the L’Etranger video. This film deserves much more support and recognition than that. It is quite literally the best climbing film I have seen in years and Keith should be rewarded for taking the genre in new and important directions. So go to his website and find out how you can purchase this work and support authentic climbing films.

I will be posting an interview with Keith later this week, including some words from Tyler as well.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dear Deadpoint Magazine

Dear Deadpoint Magazine,
This is to say I am not so upset you defriended me on Facebook the other night. Apparently my response to the “Suburban Wankster”, a new entry in the admittedly difficult-to-appraise genre of climbing parody, offended some member of your thin-skinned editorial staff. I received a note via Facebook to this effect:

“Peter, I don't watch Fox news or Dancing with the Stars. It isn't my style. I would go crazy hating on both shows if I subjected myself to them. If DPM is so deplorable to you, don't visit our site or pick up the publication. You will be a happier man. It isn't geared towards your demographic anyway."

Well, here is the deal DPM. My demographic is that of a climber who thinks that sexism, sensationalism, homophobia and malicious insults are not only bad form but injurious to the sport. My role as I see it is occasionally to point out when the climbing media appear to foster values that degrade climbing and the unique species of humans that pursue it. This isn’t just about style; it’s about what you stand for.

What I have heard from you so far and what I have seen in a number of examples is a “do whatever it takes” approach to get attention. In climbing, this is called cheating and it doesn’t matter if it’s the latest boulder problem at Hueco or a free ascent of El Cap. Cheaters get a bad reputation and they get called on it.

The shame of it is that when you were called on it, you apparently didn’t feel comfortable about it, like someone adding bolts to a route or chipping a hold. You got whiny and called me a “hater.” But it isn’t you I hate, DPM. It’s seeing my friends insulted, it’s seeing videos of people getting hurt being posted on your site for profit, it’s hearing me dismissed (because of age,as far as I can tell) as belonging to a demographic that you aren’t interested in listening to. And that’s just a start.

DPM, the world of climbing media is littered with the graves of upstarts who thought they could make a splash and soon enough faded away to extinction. The ones that have endured fostered genuine values that build community, celebrate excellence, and document the many facets of the amazing world of climbing. Sure there were lapses in taste or judgment and they got criticized. But they learned to deal with it and moved on and got better. My advice is to do the same.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Some Home Video

The Basement Tapes Part 1 from peter beal on Vimeo.

A few problems I have set on our home wall.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Director Commentary from Andrew Kornylak

As previously promised,here are the comments from Andrew Kornylak about two of his Beta films. Anyone interested in making video should find these comments useful and even inspiring.

The Beta - Six Feet Under from Andrew Kornylak on Vimeo.

"Six Feet Under: We partnered with another Triple Crown sponsor, FiveTen, who also sponsors Brion Voges, to see if we could shoot both a Beta video and an advertisement for FiveTen's new "Team" shoe at the same time. It was really last minute. Andy is super mellow and mostly focused on climbing (he's a pro after all) so we all had fun trying to squeeze something else out of him for the interview. I think that came out in in the video. The Six Feet Under cave had some amazing light, but only for a little bit. At one point Brion was chalking up and these shafts of light appeared. Luckily I squeezed in a couple clips, because the light all disappeared about 20 seconds later, no matter how much chalk cloud we made. I shot the climbing footage on this one entirely as stillmotion footage from a Nikon D3 camera on a steadicam. The camera does not shoot video, instead I used a high frame rate to capture short sequences of images, edited in Photoshop and rendered as video in Final Cut. This stillmotion footage ranges from 2-4 times the resolution of HD video. The FiveTen ad in the magazines are directly pulled from the video, which is one cool thing about this approach. The interview footage and voiceover was recorded on a Nikon D5000, which does shoot regular HD video."

The Beta - Super Mario from Andrew Kornylak on Vimeo.

"Super Mario: Andy Wellman is a transplant from Boulder who has done a ton of climbing of all kinds, bouldering, sport, trad, and big wall. Rifle full-timer... He is the classic well-rounded strong type of climber you run into traveling out west, and as the video tells, he moved to Chattanooga after some "work" visits to Horse Pens 40 to work on a guide with Adam Henry. Adam deserves a video all his own, and I wish I could have done one for this series before the HP40 comp. He is a giant of southern climbing - literally - he is like 8 feet tall. He can be intimidating at first, but he is a really nice guy and cares a lot about the traditions and stewardship of the south. I think it's great he basically told Andy he had to live there if he wanted to make a guidebook, and that's exactly what happened. This was mostly shot on a Sony PMW-EX1 HD camera, and the Nikon D5000 with a wide angle lens. There is some footage from Horse Pens and scenic and still footage that Josh Fowler and I shot while making Heart of Stone."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Five Questions for Andrew Kornylak

I first learned about Andrew Kornylak's work through viewing the now-classic Heart of Stone, a short film about climbing and community in the South. I was struck by the richness of the imagery and the sensitivity of the narrative. It stood out in bold relief from the typical mode of climbing film-making. Andrew has a new project, The Beta, a series of short clips about classic problems in the South. Today I will post an interview with this thoughtful and innovative photographer. Tomorrow I will post his comments on two of the films he has up on Vimeo. Be sure to check out his blog as well.

1. Who is Andrew Kornylak?

Im a photographer from Atlanta. I grew up in Ohio, spent some time out West. I've been climbing since '93. I have a degree in mathematics, and worked as a software developer for about 10 years while I transitioned to photography. My roots are in climbing photography. I've lived off and on in Atlanta for about 8 years now.

It's funny you should ask that way. Someone had just emailed me with advice about becoming a photographer, and I told him, among other things, that he needed to think about who he was as a person and then express that through his photography. I was thinking about how your work starts telling your story for you, more than a bunch of stats.

2. What is the Beta series all about?

I've been involved with the Triple Crown and the climbing organizations like the Southeastern Climbers Coalition for a long time, especially through my photography and video work, which I think can be a powerful tool to get people motivated to get involved with stewardship of their climbing areas. So this year, I partnered as a Gold Sponsor with the Triple Crown to produce media specifically with this goal in mind: to keep the interest level high leading up to the competition, and to keep people coming back to the website. The other sponsors also benefit from content for their website. I thought a series of videos where a local gives you the beta on classic boulder problems would be cool, and something easy to riff on. Short and sweet. I don't think it will ever get old as long as you have interesting people and cool problems. There's an infinite supply of both of those down here. Technically speaking, a video series was an opportunity to experiment. I used different cameras and techniques in each episode.

3. What does making a climbing video mean to you?

The first real climbing video I produced was Heart of Stone, which was shot mostly by Josh Fowler, and it really didn't have all that much climbing in it. I'm obviously really psyched on climbing, and I love watching great climbing, but I think only climbing nerds really like to sit and just watch someone climb. You owe it to everyone else to tell a story. That's what I'm psyched on with climbing videos, its a way to tell a story with more dimension than a photograph. The climbing part is just the hook though, there has to be something else interesting there, in my opinion.

4. Who are other filmmakers you admire and why?

Actually shooting climbing is a separate pleasure. It's so challenging and to have the kind of skills, access, and time to do it well is rare. Guys like Eric Perlman, Peter Mortimer, Josh and Brett Lowell along with Cooper Roberts, David Breashears - those guys have that juice in the climbing niche. Outside of the climbing world, there are so many great filmmakers, but with bigger productions its hard to pin down really who is responsible for what you like. I'm more interested in documentary filmmaking. Anything with David Attenborough in it is gold. I've always admired the IMAX filmmakers, Greg MacGillivray and (the late) Jim Freeman. Sean Fine, who directed War/Dance is amazing. I'm a fan of the Coen Brothers.

5. Where is the future of climbing video headed?

Video is heading in a lot of directions at once right now. On the technical side you have an explosion of technology from still cameras that shoot HD video, and video cameras that shoot at extreme resolutions, with the modularity and operability of still cameras. The web is a sandbox for experimentation, because you can easily display and distribute any format, resolution, or frame rate digitally. Production software that used to cost millions you can now run on your laptop for a few hundred bucks. For the climbing world, it means you are going to have to wade through a lot of bad video! But these are mainly tools that benefit documentary filmmaking, so it means that if you are interested in telling a story beyond sick climbing action, you have more opportunity. that's where the future is.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Two videos I plan on not watching

This entry is about two climbing videos that I plan on never seeing. This may sound strange but I think it's worth exploring what I mean. The first will be video of the Right Graham Arete in Boulder Canyon, a cool little granite egg buried in the trees adjacent to Boulder Creek. Except that there are a few less trees than there used to be. Jackie Hueftle, climber, writer and route-setter, sent me some photos of the destruction of several small but sizeable trees near the boulder, an act that appeared motivated primarily by the desire to have a better view of the boulder. I hope I'm wrong but this shot of Chris Schulte holding up the chopped-down tree leads me to that conclusion. So if you killed a tree to get a better video of this problem, make sure that is noted in the credits.

The other is currently posted on Deapoint Magazine and has a somewhat convoluted history. Not long ago a talented young climber named Max Zolotukhin decided to try to solo a short and very bouldery 14b called Supernova in Rumney. The attempt did not go well resulting in a very serious ankle injury. Max blogged about it in a very serious and thoughtful way, mentioning in passing the lure of media coverage of a hard free-solo. Soon a video was up of the accident on Vimeo, which spread rapidly to a number of sites, before it mysteriously disappeared. Then it resurfaced at (agghhh, not again!) Deadpoint Magazine where I believe it currently resides. And no I will not link it. If you want to do the climb, check out this video instead:

Supernova: Dave Wetmore from David Wetmore on Vimeo.

Jamie Emerson has written on the topic of media attention given to hazardous climbs and there is little I would add to his thoughts. I think that viewers of climbing media should seriously consider what they support when they view scenes of potentially lethal climbing, let alone actual disaster in action. While I am aware that climbing is by its very nature potentially lethal, there seems to be a line somewhere that gets crossed when danger, rather than the skill and courage required to get past it, becomes the selling-point. So to videos that cross that line, or trash the natural surroundings to get the shot, no thanks.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Andrew Bisharat's Sport Climbing Book: A Review

Andrew Bisharat, an editor at Rock and Ice, recently sent me a copy of his new book published by The Mountaineers. I promised I would take a good look at it, not least because I am an admirer of his straightforward writing for R&I but also because in an interview with Splitter Choss, he described his view that difficulty is very much a matter of perception. In that interview, he said, "However, I honestly believe that it is realistic for an average person to do 5.13+ or 5.14." This is a great attitude to promote.

So the question might be posed; can this book help the average person do 5.13+ or 5.14? Well yes and/or maybe. The book's ambition is to provide a thorough introduction to and explanation of many sport-climbing specific techniques that help a climber get to the essence of sport-climbing's main challenge, solving hard moves and linking sections of routes. Thus he offers a detailed description of stick-clipping, "boinking," etc., all basically modes of aid climbing that help an aspirant climber get acquainted with the features and movements on the route. Not so long ago, these methods were considered to be cheating(?) by many sport climbers. Rightly Bisharat considers those attitudes, which he surveys in a good chapter on the history of the sport, as self-limiting and elitist. Do what it takes is his approach and one I agree with completely. The bolts are there to pull on and fall on and how you choose to do that is up to you.

However, the biggest problem with the book for me is the relative lack of attention paid to physical aspects of the sport. There is quite a good chapter, though briefer than it ought to be, titled "What is 'good' technique?". There is relatively little on the physiology of climbing and next to nothing on injury prevention or diet (it's not even in the index). This to me is a mistake as the climber ultimately depends not on stick-clipping or other techniques but on physical strength and ability combined with a keen mental focus. The aspiring "average" climber needs to be able to understand at some point what's under the hood or a lot of wasted time may be spent trying strategies that do not work. I am surprised that Andrew twice characterizes bouldering as "crushing every hold" and less complex than sport climbing since numerous boulder problems rely on many of the same strategies as sport climbing. In fact a significant opportunity is missed here to emphasize continuities and commonalities instead of differences. Bouldering is simply the easiest way to build the technical prowess and physical strength to succeed on hard sport climbs. I have been able to maintain the stamina to easily onsight mid-to-hard 5.12 in the gym through a steady diet of bouldering, mostly on short boulder problems, the only accessible form of training I have available right now.

So is the book good? Absolutely yes. There are far too many good things in the book to begin to list here. The chapters on falling and belaying well are very helpful for example. Even its price is reasonable. Is it a complete guide to success at sport climbing? No, because you will want at some point to explore more deeply the physical and mental sides to the sport that affect movement and technical proficiency. I still have not seen the book that really combines both well.

Which leads to another question. Has the era of climbing instruction books begun to wane? Have climbing videos and internet-based information begun to replace not only guidebooks but also climbing instruction books? As a climber who read avidly classics like Royal Robbins' Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft, I wonder if something is changing here.

Bisharat's contribution is to lay out clearly the technical foundation for getting on harder sport routes, laying out in concrete form the knowledge that you could only obtain previously by hanging out in the Skull Cave or the Arsenal at Rifle (ugh!) along with the other spraylords. I haven't been to Rifle in years but thanks to Andrew, for way less than the cost of a tank of gas, now I can brush up on the beta I need to link up one of the many steep polished monsters that lurk in that dark canyon.