Alright, fair warning, the first few minutes of this free-soloing film will almost certainly induce a panic attack. But that’s kind of the point. Good filmmaking reels you in with a hook and nothing is sharper than “hey, this guy might possibly die when he tries this.” With that, climber Alex Honnold takes off on a very ambitious 2,500-foot climb and Camp 4 Collective is there to capture it all, for The North Face. Watch the video and then get the inside details on how the film was made, with our interview with director and fellow climber Renan Ozturk.
When starting on a collaborative project like this, does the brand usually come to you with the subject matter and you’re then tasked with shooting it? Or do you have a lot of creative input in the process?
We have worked with the The North Face for quite a long time and have had an open conversation as far as subject matter. I’m actually an athlete for The North Face as well as a filmmaker for them which helps in the level of trust for authentic stories. Camp 4 Collective ends up having a lot of creative input and control over the stories which is pretty unique for such a big client. As far as this story, Alex [Honnold] is an old friend and we knew it was going to be epic if he went for this solo-climb, so I rallied the powers that be at The North Face to give us the opportunity to document it.
Those aerials up the face of the mountain are incredible! Did you use a drone? Or a helicopter?
Thanks! They are actually done with an RC helicopter, octocopter, drone or whatever you want to call it… We enlisted the talents of SkySight who is one of the only crews that can fly the RED EPIC camera on one of these rigs with a custom-built ship. It’s a pretty low percentage operation and there is a lot that can go wrong in the heavy winds. Obviously, the stakes are high with Alex on the wall without a rope but we stayed within a certain safe zone.
Are you actually climbing up with Alex in order to get those POV shots and close-ups of his hands and the grip holes?
Yes, we had to climb up the wall with him to get those shots. Those kinds of shots are only possible with a high level of trust between close friends. Cedar Wright (the high angle camera op) and I were dangling on ropes in close proximity to Alex as he was executing highly technically moves. We held our breath at a few points even though we know Alex is in control. It’s always a bit nerve wracking.
What kind of gear did you use?
For filming, we mostly use the RED EPIC camera. Also, for some the time-lapse shots we used the Kessler ‘cinedrive’ motion control system that allows us to do very ‘3-D’ movements in space. The RC heli was a custom rig built by SkySight with different part from around the world. As far as climbing, we used ‘static’ ropes that don’t stretch to give us more control when dangling above Alex.
The pacing of this short is really great. I felt like I was having a panic attack in the first few minutes, with all the talk of potential death. But then when he’s actually climbing there’s this serene calm that falls over the film. Obviously that was intentional, but did you have that in mind going into the shoot or did the people and the situations reveal things you hadn’t necessarily considered before getting started?
These are great observations… Yes, most of the time we can’t script adventure and have to let the situations present themselves and just do our best to tell the story as it happens. However, with free-soloing, this type of arc of emotion is often the case: The stress is all beforehand in the decision to do it and walk up the base of the climb, but when you leave the ground all of that falls away and you enter a flow stage of joy and bliss.
What are some of the parameters you had going into it? Does that help or hurt the creative process?
Our main parameter was to keep it chill for Alex and not put any pressure on him. We wanted to keep it a ‘soul’ trip with the main purpose to support our friend in accomplishing his amazing goal. These types of parameters certainly could hurt the end result and make it so that we wouldn’t get any footage at all…but with a certain amount of patience and luck this is often what produces the best results for an authentic end result.
For more from Camp 4 Collective, find them here:
*Photos by Renan Ozturk for Camp 4 Collective