How To Become An Adventure Filmmaker: Q+A With Reel Rock Film Tour’s Josh Lowell
I knew I was in the right place when I saw the lean and muscular people milling about outside Boulder Theater — hair dreaded and Patagonia-clad. They had that relaxed, slightly stoned look that comes only after hours of swinging from rocks — and just maybe from some extracurricular chemical activity too. But these Boulderites were actually rock climbers who had come to see the REEL ROCK Film Tour in Boulder, Colorado — the agreed upon Mecca of climbing in the U.S.
Having the good fortune of obtaining a coveted ticket to the show, and an enthusiastic (although quite incompetent) climber myself, I was thrilled to see the premier of the tour. Comprised of six separate stories, the films featured exceptional athletes such as Andy Lewis, a slack-liner commonly referred to as “Sketchy Andy”, who apart from BASE-jumping in the nude, is depicted “free-lining”— slack-lining sans harness — over a canyon. A 9-year-old climbing prodigy, ice, and speed climbing is also highlighted, among others.
Never heard of the tour? You’re in the minority. REEL ROCK has a huge, international following among both the rock-climbing community as well as outdoor enthusiasts alike — and rightly so. The films are justly outstanding. They are masterfully shot, and capture not only the physical, hardcore aspect of climbing, but the true ethos behind the sport as well: Documenting the expansion of both mental and physical human limits.
After a bit of coaxing, I was able to coerce filmmaker Josh Lowell, co-founder of Big Up Productions, to sit still long enough to talk about the 2011 REEL ROCK Film Tour, and adventure filmmaking in general.
The Expeditioner: How did you get started making rock-climbing videos?
Josh: I’ve been climbing for 23 years. After college I spent three years traveling and climbing full time, working as a guide in Aspen in the summers, at a climbing gym on the east coast in the winters, and traveling in the spring and fall. In the spring of ‘97 I was in New York doing a lot of bouldering in the Shawangunk Ridge (also known as “the gunks” in climbing speak) when I injured my finger pretty badly and couldn’t climb.
I decided to bring a video camera out and film my friends instead. I spent a few weeks editing the footage and had a little party for the local climbers and showed the video. People were so blown away by the result of this just-for-fun project that I started to wonder what I might be able to do if I obtained a better camera and took it seriously. Since then I’ve made over a dozen climbing films.
The Expeditioner: So what exactly is the REEL ROCK Film Tour, and how was it formed?
Josh: The REEL ROCK Film Tour is an annual screening tour that brings the year’s most exciting climbing and adventure films to audiences around the world. I founded it six years ago with my college buddy, Peter Mortimer from Sender Films, which is based in Boulder. We both ended up filming climbing, so we decided to band together to create the tour.
REEL ROCK events are high-energy celebrations of the shared passion for climbing, adventure and the outdoors, including appearances by featured athletes, gear giveaways, and fundraising for local and national non-profits.
The Expeditioner: What’s the aim of the festival?
Josh: Our goal is to entertain and inspire. We want people to laugh, cheer, sweat, think and walk out of the theater ready to tackle their own adventure, whether it’s a big climb, or any personal goal. We think climbing is an amazing metaphor for life, and that any person watching it can relate to the stories, from experienced hard-core climbers to an average Joe.
The Expeditioner: What advice do you have for young people who are looking to break into the adventure film industry?
Josh: Make a film. Right now. Filmmaking has never been more accessible than it is today. You can get incredible quality out of affordable gear, and you can have your work seen by millions on YouTube if it’s good or unique enough. Make something short, put it out there and see what people think. Think out of the box and try to create something different to get it noticed. This will be a test to see if you have the vision and creativity to potentially become a force in the game.
Also, get involved with industry leaders. Whether or not you’re a creative visionary, many people are involved in all levels of adventure film production. Intern for an established production company — the best route is through editing. If you have expertise in Final Cut Pro or other editing/post-production software you could get in the mix in a very hands-on, valuable way.
Jenna Blumenfeld, (Jenna Ogden Blumenfeld when she’s in really big trouble) hails from the wee state of Connecticut. Although her childhood dream of becoming a bug doctor — with a specialization in ladybugs — has gone unfulfilled, she is content writing about travel, cuisine and culture. A vegetarian, she currently resides in the food hub of Boulder, Colorado. Read more of her food-centric writing at NewHope360.com.
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