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.


Anonymous said...

Original interview in French and english has been done by Not TheLowDown who only published it with the agreement of!

Peter Beal said...

Good point. I will add the link.

Peter Beal said...

Couldn't find the English version at the Kairn site. Feel free to forward the URL if you know it.

Anonymous said...

"...people like BigUp are changing it with much higher production values."

Actually the HV20 that Keith shoots with is a newer camera than the HVX200's BigUp uses, with about the same resolution. The HVX does a better job with motion, but since Keith's camera never moves, the image quality is about the same. As far as production values goes, both are shooting with hand held cameras with natural light only, so the "much higher production values" comment is a little mysterious...

Justin said...

Why are you anonymous?

Peter Beal said...

By production values, Keith might be referring to camera crew, editing resources, corporate sponsorship, etc. I have read that the HV20 is a very powerful camera for its price.