The Great Ranges Fellowship: Member Profile – 6 Questions for Film Producer & Climber Steve Schwartz
Steve Schwartz is president of Chockstone Pictures, a production company he started with his wife, Paula Mae. He is a producer on such films as Killing Them Softly starring Brad Pitt; Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen; and the upcoming Ridley Scott film, The Counselor. Steve served as a director on the AAC Board. He was an early advocate for promoting the Club and providing the necessary benefits for all climbers of all climbing styles. We recently caught up with Steve to get some insights on life as a film producer, rock climber, and AAC member.
AAC: How did you get into climbing?
Steve: As a teenager and into my early twenties, I was an armchair mountaineer. I read a lot of climbing literature. I was really hooked on that. Everything from Herzog to you name it, I read it. I was also a hiker in those days. And over the course of my marriage to Paula Mae, I have managed to schlepp her on dozens of treks. So we’ve done a lot of long-distance hiking as husband and wife. And I always had an interest in climbing, but it wasn’t until I met Mark Richey…this is a pretty wild story but I actually won a raffle to have dinner with Mark decades ago. Our dinner was an epiphany for me. He set me up with Maury McKinney, a great guy, who was a climbing instructor in the White Mountains at the time, and that’s how I got started.
AAC: What attracts you to climbing?
Steve: There’s so much. I guess the singularity of purpose, the purity of it. I remember I started climbing during a period when Paula Mae and I were building our first company. And it was a period of enormous stress. And with climbing, I had to just focus on the rock and being in the moment. I hate to use these Zen clichés, but while I was climbing, I couldn’t be thinking about anything else. It was a very helpful and cleansing experience. Whenever I was climbing, I wasn’t having monkey-mind about the business. And of course, it was also very satisfying being outdoors. I love being in the outdoors. That’s been a lifelong passion.
AAC: What’s your favorite climb or trip that stands out?
Steve: I would say the prettiest area I’ve ever climbed is where I climbed last summer, the Dolomites. That was just awe inspiring. But it’s a conga line in the summer, as you can imagine.
AAC: What climbers inspire you, who are your heroes?
Steve: Mark Richey for one. He’s been able to do this juggling act, to start and develop a significant business while being a really serious climber. Also high on my list would be Jim Donini: still pushing it at 70! And Messner is a hero. I’ve never met him but I would say he was the most out there and had the vision to do things that had never been done before, and the daring to actually do it. I’m also a fan of his lyrical writing.
AAC: Have you thought of doing any climbing movies?
Steve: I have two climbing movies in development now. One of them, HIDDEN MOUNTAIN, is fairly far along. I’ve been working with Pete Takeda on HIDDEN MOUNTAIN for several years. Renan Ozturk will be our climbing director of photography. The other film involving climbing I’ve just started, with John Long and Jeff Jackson. This is a film that John has been thinking about for years. Both are very exciting projects; I think they have the juice to get made.
AAC: You’ve had a pretty adventurous career, if you got a second run at life, would you ever consider a career somehow related to the outdoors?
Steve: I do think about that from time-to-time. I look back and think it’s been an interesting life. I was Jack Welch’s speechwriter when I was a very young man, and that was exciting and challenging. I was on the original management team of a first-generation software company that got to go public. Then my wife and I started a marketing agency that was on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing private companies. And now the film business for the past decade. So all of this has been engaging. But I think it would have been an interesting life to do mountain exploration and to have written about it. I doubt that even if I had started young enough that I would have been able to develop that level of talent. But it would have been fun to try.
AAC: Any words of wisdom for those considering climbing?
Steve: Climbing is wonderful as an end in itself. But it’s also a great learning experience. You learn a lot about life in the mountains. You learn a lot about yourself. You get to do things you never thought you could do. There’s the whole notion that you have to imagine yourself at the top before your body can get there. Your mind has to get there first. There are so many of these pieces of homiletic wisdom that become real from the experience of climbing. It is a way of focusing your mind, of learning to defeat monkey-mind. And, of course, there is the pure pleasure in it. Any activity that gives you pleasure that isn’t hurting other people is in-and-of-itself a good thing. Also, I find that once I’m back on the approach trail and can reflect on what I’ve done, I often get flashes. It’s like my mind’s been cleared of all the baloney and all this interesting stuff is coming into it.
I love being on the route, but it is so much more than that. It’s the anticipation beforehand and the recollection for years after that are almost as fun.
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