click here for a full list of locations), finishing in Portland, Oregon on November 17.
Rock and Ice caught up with Pete Mortimer of Sender Films to learn more about this year’s lineup, the art of making climbing films, and a sneak peek at what’s in store for next year.
Q&A with Pete Mortimer
When did you start making climbing films?
I started when I was 24, just out of college. So I’ve been doing it for 16 years now.
How have things changed since then?
Now, it’s completely different. The climbing film industry started as such a small niche. When I was just out of college and told people that I’m making climbing films, they started laughing.
That was when gyms were just starting to boom and Alex Honnold didn’t exist. Now we do 500 shows around the world, and Alex Honnold is famous. People are just so much more aware of climbing now.
So yeah, it has completely changed. It feels like a real thing now, you know? And it didn’t back then. And it keeps feeling more real.
How much time goes into making these films?
Dude, it’s insane how much time—hundreds of hours of work. I’d say it takes a full year of work for each film, between the actual filming, the editing, getting feedback, the tweaks—a full year per film.
When is a film finished?
We’re always fine-tuning these films right up to the last minute.
How do you come up with the ideas?
It’s a lot like a climbing magazine. We’re in the world, we’re friends with all these guys, we’re following their stories—who’s strong, who’s psyched, who’s at their peak. Some people keep popping up. They’re constantly one-upping themselves, setting new standards.
The films start with a kernel of an idea that we build around to create a story. It takes so much time to build up the back-story, the characters, the story line. It takes just so insanely long.
Do you ever stage an event or scene?
No—not generally. We look for the existing story and characters. These guys are already out there doing cool things. But we’ve never staged stuff. We might look for some background on a topic and ask some of the locals if we can go out and shoot them doing what they will already be doing.
Do you ever give up on an idea that’s not working?
Yes, all the time. Like our film with Mike Libecki—after it showed at a film festival and we didn’t like the reaction, we shelved it. But we’ll come back to it.
How does this year’s REEL ROCK differ from last year’s?
Last year we did Valley Uprising, which was a single, feature-length film. It’s definitely challenging to make one giant feature. Once we had the story, we were committed. This year we have five films and they all are so different. 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell is funny; Line Across the Sky is funny, but epic; the Dean Potter tribute is sad and moving; the highball bouldering one, and the one on the Dawn Wall, just get you really psyched to climb hard.
It’s much more fun to be able to work on different style films at the same time—just fun to be making dramatic films dramatic, funny films funny, emotional emotional, and not having to work that all into a single film. It’s a balance.
How has REEL ROCK evolved?
Steady, organic growth. Over 10 years we went from 50 shows to 500, but steady growth, adding shows every year. We don’t try to force it. Basically people reach out wanting to host a show and we help make it happen.
Individual shows have become big events now. Gyms are a big part—some have been hosting films for years and they have grown into communal events, oldtimers hanging out with the young, drinking beer, having fun.
What’s in the pipeline for REEL ROCK 11?
We have four films already in the works: Will Stanhope and his Bugaboos crack project, which he just freed. It looked so cool that we’ve shot some footage over the years. We have a film on Ashima [Shiraishi] and Kai Lightner; one on Renan [Ozturk’s] expeditions; and the Libecki film that we’ve been working on.