We reached out to our Jackson Wild Media Awards filmmakers to ask them five questions about the experience of making their films.
What inspired this story?
Director and Producer E. Chai Vasarhelyi & Director, Producer and Director of Photography Jimmy Chin: The story was really inspired by Alex. We were fascinated by Alex as a person, this shy, awkward kid who was a bit of a loner, who started free soloing because it was scarier for him to reach out and ask someone to be his climbing partner than it was to climb without a rope. At its core, the film is really about fear: it’s about the things Alex is afraid of, from his romantic relationship with Sanni to free soloing El Capitan, and the ways he challenges himself and conquers those fears.
Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film/program.
ECV & JC: Physically, it was a very challenging film to make. El Capitan is a 3,000-foot wall. We’re carrying all our camera equipment, we’re building our cameras on the wall — it was a pretty significant physical task. It took a tremendous amount of planning and choreography. Over the course of the two years Alex was practicing, we were essentially also practicing how we were going to shoot it in preparation for the big day.
It was also a very emotionally and intellectually challenging. Not a day went by where we didn’t think about the worst happening. We spent a lot of time thinking long and hard about what the observer effect could be. Would our presence would make it more dangerous for Alex? Would the pressure of the production push him to do something he wouldn’t normally do? Those questions never really went away.
What impact do you hope this film/program will have?
ECV & JC: We hope that seeing Alex accomplish his goals, from teaching himself how to hug and how to speak to strangers, to free soloing El Cap, just resonates with people who are wrestling with challenges and dreams of their own. Alex’s story really shows that through hard work, and living life with intention, you can really push through your fears, and make the impossible possible, and that’s what we hope people take away from the film.