Storytellers: Peter Mortimer & Nick Rosen of Sender Films
Climbing rocks is a bizarre and obscure passion. We fall in love with a piece of stone, suffer incredible physical pain and psychological torment, and risk our hearts and lives for the beauty and purity of the rock, the environment, the moment, and ourselves. It’s not an easy task to translate that deep visceral experience. Through in-depth documentary films, riveting television series and cutting-edge commercials, the Boulder-based production company Sender Films has managed to capture the heart and soul of climbing and made dirt-bags heroes in the eyes of a broad general audience.
Over the last decade, Sender Films has directed, produced, filmed and/or edited several feature films, television episodes for National Geographic Channels International, 60 Minutes, NBC Sports, The Weather Channel, Outside Television, and ad campaigns for Clif Bar, Mountain Hardwear, Rainforest Alliance, and recently the CitiBank Commercial featuring Katie Brown and Alex Honnold. In collaboration with many great shooters and field producers like Renan Ozturk, Rob Frost and Josh and Brett Lowell, Sender Films crafts compelling stories that dive deep into the character’s darkest realms, lace drama with absurd comedy, and hold the tension until their most intimate crowning moment.
They are currently working on a feature-length documentary called Valley Uprising about the counter-cultural history of Yosemite climbing and the 2012 REEL ROCK Film Tour with Big UP Productions, which travels to all seven continents and is being developed into an annual 6-part TV series.
Here, Sender Films’ founder Peter Mortimer and his partner, writer and producer Nick Rosen share their approach to filmmaking.
Abbey Smith: How do you choose what people to follow and stories to tell?
Peter: We are looking for something unusual: the first ascent, the wildest location, the craziest idea, the most unlikely team. To find these stories, we are talking with climbers and other folks in the community, putting out feelers of what people’s goals are, or what expeditions are happening, and, when the match is right for both the climbers and us, we jump on board and start figuring out how to document the story.
Nick: Yeah I would say there is no rule of thumb for what makes a good story; it’s just whatever is going to bring up tension, drama, humor and inspiration. For the REEL ROCK Tour, the audiences expect to see the “raddest” things that have been done that year, but they also want a taste of climbing culture, and above all they want to be entertained with good stories. I think behind every great climbing achievement there is a climber laying awake at night obsessing, putting it on the line, sacrificing everything—and that makes a good story.
Abbey: What does it take to capture those rare first ascent moments—like when Alex Honnold free soloed Half Dome?
Pete: With Honnold on Half Dome we actually went back and shot him on the climb after he achieved the first solo ascent. When he did the climb we were not even aware it would happen. With soloing, we always honor the soloist in that if they want us there for the actual ascent we are happy to tag along, but if they prefer to do the climb on their own time and then choose to go back to recreate the ascent for the camera we are okay with that as well. For other climbs, when there is not such an intense headspace, we prefer to be there for the actual ascent to capture the drama of the moment.
Abbey: What is your favorite camera to use in the backcountry?
Pete: That’s a good question—there is so much shifting technology now I’m not sure what is the best for the backcountry. We’ve been using 5Ds from Canon because we like the look, but they’re not the best cameras for all conditions as they are tough to handhold.
Abbey: What is the most challenging part of your work?
Pete: I think its the culmination of capturing all the different parts of a story and then editing it into a cohesive film that is pithy and entertaining. It’s really hard to make a good film, and to get all the ingredients.
Abbey: What has been your most gratifying moment in filmmaking?
Pete: I think completing the First Ascent Series. We went through so many epics, and we lost our good friends Jonny [Copp] and Micah [Dash] as well as our young producer Wade Johnson, all of whom we loved and we miss everyday. It was just such a difficult time, but when we put the whole series together we felt the work was good and we honored our friends.
Nick: Ditto. Pretty much everything we have done since then has been to honor those guys.
Abbey: What valuable lesson have you learned along the way that you can share with aspiring filmmakers?
Pete: When you start a film make sure its a great story that you are passionate about because you will end up spending way more time than you ever imagined in creating that film, and your job is so much easier if the underlying material is compelling.
Nick: Also, solicit lots of honest feedback from smart people, and don’t be afraid to cut parts you are personally in love with. Seems like a lot of things I see from beginning filmmakers are just a little too long.
Abbey: What can we expect at this year’s REEL ROCK tour?
Pete: An expose on cutting edge of sport climbing with Sharma, Ondra, DiGiulian. A zany romp through the world of offwidth climbing, including footage from the “wide boys” expedition, a special cut of House of Cards — Renan Ozturk, Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker’s epic and beautifully filmed journey to climb the Shark’s Fin in the Himalaya, and a rather poetic look at Honnold and his latest achievements.
Comments are closed.