Thursday, June 7, 2012

An Interview with Alex Savage

An interview with Alex Savage

As usual I try to get a bit more behind-the-scenes with the climbing films I review. Alex sent along some responses to emailed questions about his film Western Gold.

How did Western Gold get started?
Western Gold was born out of the overwhelming, positive feedback I received from the community about my bouldering short Swanky Swizzy from a trip I took to Ticino, Switzerland. It went viral, reaching over 30,000 viewers all over the world. Its success convinced me to take my filmmaking to the next level in terms of production value and cinematography.  With that in mind I set off on a road trip to find the hidden gems of the west and share them with the greater climbing community.

How does your own climbing style and philosophy come into play in making this film?
When I'm climbing I'm inspired by the natural setting that I'm in, which is why Western Gold really attempts to provide the viewer with a full insight into the experience of bouldering - from the great people you meet to the gorgeous natural landscapes. On a purely climbing level, the film has an obvious bias towards highballs. I like big, tall, committing and aesthetic lines and seek them out wherever I'm climbing. These tend to be more dangerous, so they don't get climbed as often, so I thought it was important to feature them in the film.

What camera and video editor did you use?
I've been filming with the Panasonic GH2 and editing with Final Cut Pro.

What other equipment did you use?
My favorite tool for filmmaking is my slider from KesslerCrane.  It's super small and easy to carry and extremely versatile in the types of shots you can create with it.  I also have a 12 foot crane that I use when I need more depth than the slider can provide.
What was it like filming Green in the Face? (This was a problem Alex climbed and filmed alone)It was quite challenging.  I setup two cameras for each attempt.  I had one mounted in a tree and the other one I had to crawl under a rock and scramble up a boulder to reach- it was a pretty involved process.  When you're going to a lot of effort to capture a climb that is at your limit, and you're out there doing it - hiking out all of the gear, filming, climbing, even spotting yourself! - on your own, it takes a lot of motivation to not give up. I became a bit obsessed with that problem - but luckily, I sent it, and the section turned out great.

Were there any epic scenes that didn't make the final cut that you can tell us about?
There is an improbable and dangerous highball in Squamish, BC called The Broom that didn't make the cut, and many other great climbs from other areas that didn't make it because I wasn't happy with the lighting. When you are filming climbing you are at the mercy of the weather and the climbers' physical abilities that day. Often after hiking out and getting set up the lighting isn't ideal, it starts raining, or a climber is simply having an off day. I really wanted each shot in the film to be crystal clear, and each section to have good lighting for viewing consistency. This meant that some great climbs hit the cutting room floor unfortunately.  
In addition there is a whole section I filmed in Joe's Valley that didn't make it into the film which I will be releasing online soon.

The film has a very non-commercial vibe to it. Why did you take this approach?
The biggest reason is that I'm a terrible salesman and I hate the idea of pitching something to a company. I was fortunate enough to have some savings from my previous job that I could finance the whole project myself and create something from start to finish by myself. I setup each and every shot in the film and did all of the editing myself. The only outside help I contracted out was the design work for the DVD menu and DVD cover. I really wanted the project to be different from the mainstream climbing films and an authentic representation of my experience and interpretation of climbing.

What do you like and not like about climbing video currently?
Climbing films have come a long way since the early Dosage era. Overall, they are more visually interesting and emotionally compelling - they tell stories now. However, I think that there is more to climbing than crushing V15 in the most popular climbing destinations in the world. Main stream climbing films currently seem to focus only on these sorts of climbs and areas. Those climbs do have great importance, but many of those videos lack the full experience of climbing - being outside in nature, hanging out with your friends, really working on something at your limit and accomplishing personal goals. I hope that Western Gold provides an insight into the climbing experience, whether that be V5 or V13, and inspires others to get outside and seek out these beautiful lessor-known areas.

Which climbing filmmakers impress you the most and why?
Renan Ozturk has been creating some gorgeous short films for years now. I'm inspired by his unique artistic style. 

What's your next project?
I am back in Squamish for the season and am hoping to get into filming other outdoor adventure sports like mountain biking in addition to climbing.  I'm always looking for new areas to visit, climb, and film so I'm sure there will be more traveling ahead for me.

I strongly recommend buying this film and supporting independent climbing film-makers like Alex! 

No comments: