Nathan Bancroft: Film Visionary

posted by dpm on 01/28/2011

Many people do not know Nathan Bancroft, but after REACH, they will. Nathan’s first full-length feature has been getting a lot of commentary and traffic, especially for a somewhat “unknown” filmmaker. However, if you caught a glimpse of the Timy Fairfield piece featured during the Reel Rock Tour several years back then you know he is capable of creating striking imagery (even in the middle of the night). We should expect nothing less than quality from him, yes; this is a lot of pressure but the few clips floating around show that he is up for the challenge. DPM caught up with Nathan between trips to the editing room to ask him about his filming experience and his first full-length feature film REACH.

DPM: What is the concept behind reach?

Nathan: The goal from the beginning with Reach was to show climbing in a unique way. I have been heavily influenced by snowboarding and skating films, so I tried to take that aesthetic and evolve it into something that would work with climbing. I have been bored with a lot of the recent climbing releases and as a group we felt that there was always something missing, something that initially attracted all of us to the sport that wasn’t being conveyed in any climbing films. My goal was to produce something that excited my friends and me and that we could show to non-climbers in order for them to understand the sport better.

DPM: How long did it take you to film it and where did you travel to grab scenes?

Nathan: The filming itself was not too long a process. Much more time was spent on logistics and travel. I think we ended up filming about 25 days or so. The bulk of that was done during the trip to Brazil that lasted ten days. Reach was shot on location in New Mexico, Wolverine Land and Rocky Mountain National Park (CO), Flagstaff (AZ), as well as throughout Brazil (Ubatuba, Sao Bento, and Belo Horizonte were the main locations).

DPM: Who was the most interesting person to film and why?

Nathan: I think all of the climbers in Reach bring something unique to the table and it would be impossible to say who was the most interesting. Everyone has their own style both personally and on the wall, so that was a great thing to try to capture. It made shooting complicated because climbers are all different and everyone gets excited and motivated in different ways, so I tried to create an atmosphere that allowed the climbers as much freedom as possible. In that regard I think Reach was a great success because by the end of it the climbers were as engaged with my filming as I was with their climbing and we were able to collaborate in a really interesting way.

DPM: What was the most interesting problem and why? Good or bad?

Nathan: I think Felipe’s ascent of “Into the Wild” (V14) was one of the more exciting moments we captured. I certainly didn’t have any expectations when we were there but Felipe was on a mission. It was really motivating to see and it couldn’t have happened in a better situation- the sun was setting, the waves were huge, and there was this shaft of light coming under the boulder that lit up the main rest in the problem. Everything came together in that moment and I think we came off of that with a lot of motivation for the rest of the trip.

DPM: As a filmmaker you grabbed some big names, how did you coordinate that?

Nathan: I have been around the climbing world for a while, so most of the people in the film I either grew up climbing with (Jon and I were on the same junior climbing team and were training partners for a long time) or were friends of friends. Felipe came on board during his trip to Colorado. Word of mouth spread that I was shooting and I got the chance to show him some of the stuff we were doing and he got really excited. Zach and I used to compete together years ago and we have climbed together a bit recently. When I approached him about doing a part he was excited by the idea. Dave let me crash at his house before I even knew him and once I started showing him some of my footage he got on board as well. Jon was a huge help because he knows a lot of people in the industry and he was one of the biggest supporters of my vision from the start. For me, coordinating schedules and making sure the climbers were happy with the filming situation was far more difficult than getting the “big names” interested in working with me.

DPM: With everyone shooting with new DSLRs what are you using? Has the influx of online vids been good or bad for the industry?

Nathan: I used a Sony EX1 to shoot Reach. In regard to DSLR’s, they are just another tool for people to use. It’s great that they have brought the price point down to an attainable level for a lot of people, which gives new life and a renewed vigor to the video industry and it gives people a voice that might otherwise not have had one. It makes ideas flow in a new way and it opens my eyes to a lot of ways of shooting that I might not have otherwise considered. On the other hand, I think a lot of people have become enamored with the gear rather than ideas as a result of the rise in popularity of DSLRs. Ultimately any camera is just a tool to convey an emotion or a thought. If a camera creates an image that supports the vision then it is a successful use of the technology, whether it be a flip cam, iPhone, camcorder, DSLR, digital 35mm, or 35mm film. It’s like asking a painter what brush is best; they will answer that there isn’t one. With Reach I hope people are more engaged with the experience of the film than anything else; if the audience comes away from Reach wondering what I shot it on, then I think they will have missed the intention.

The influx of online videos has been, again, both good and bad. It’s great that there are people all over the world climbing and shooting and having fun with it. It makes our world more interesting now that we can watch a video from anywhere made by anyone. On the other hand, I think online video has caused a lot of people to just want everything for free. It’s not cheap making a feature film and when people complain about how much downloads cost and how DVDs are too expensive, it makes me concerned for our industry.

Climbers are willing to spend $120 on a pair of shoes and $50 a month for a climbing gym membership, but if you are asking $15 for a download, people balk. They may not understand why it is worth that much. But for that $15 you are getting a lot more than an hour of entertainment. I hope you’re getting a film that will inspire, include, and connect people.

DPM: Do you plan on launching this vid as a DVD or are you going for a direct download?

Nathan: Reach is going to be released as an HD download as well as a DVD. Both are going to be available starting around mid-February.

DPM: You filmed a segment for the Reel Rock Tour a year or so back, what did you learn in the process?

Nathan: I think the most important thing I learned from doing the Reel Rock Tour short was that it was possible for me to create something that motivated and inspired people. It gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities and desire to make a feature-length motion picture. I think it was a great starting point for me in that it clarified my approach to climbing as a subject.

DPM:  What shot are you most proud of that people either won't notice or won’t necessarily fixate on?

Nathan: I think it would have to be split between a couple of different shots. Jon stretching below the Cabron Arête in Brazil was one of my favorite shots from that trip. Dave’s section on The Mote in God’s Eye came together in an interesting way that I really like, and Jon’s slow-motion shot on the crux of Evil Backwards gets me really excited every time I see it.  I’m also really happy with a couple of the crane shots of Zach at night in Sedona. So there is a shot or two from every section that I hope people appreciate as much as I do.

DPM: Did all the climbers in fact climb these problems from start to finish? What are your thoughts on uncut footage and its relevance?

Nathan: Yes, every problem was completed by the climbers.

Let me preface my answer about uncut footage by saying that all video and photographs lie. They are selectively shot from a certain point of view and perspective and ideally capture what the photographer or cinematographer intends. Fisheye lenses, telephoto lenses, boosting saturation or contrast, Photoshop, digital post production; all of these things make accepting any imagery as “truth” or “proof” impossible. Calling it truth is an assumption that a lot of people make and it is a dangerous one. Footage is always manipulated (either by the camera, the photographer, even the very angle the camera is pointed at a problem will prove controversial because you may not be able to see every hold at any one time) and with high-end digital video editing software becoming more accessible to the average person, accepting imagery as truth is impossible.   A question we have to ask is: Where does it end?

With that in mind, I think this debate is far less interesting than the forces that have created it. I see this discussion as having been triggered by the major climbing media platforms that have begun defining themselves directly though competition and the search for which climber is the ‘best’. By focusing on these aspects that, at their most basic level, divide the climbing world, the public image of rock climbing has lost its biggest asset: the ability to inspire. The negative aspects of the sport have become more important than the positive, and that is going to hinder the growth of our sport.

DPM: Worst day filming and why?

Nathan: Honestly, I don’t think we really had a bad day filming. If anything, traveling was the hardest part. There was a lot of sitting in airports, squeezing into tiny cars, driving, and general craziness you have to just deal with. Hiking 60 pounds of gear out of Wolverine Land every day in the dark was probably the most unpleasant aspect of the entire shoot.

DPM:  Who are your backers in the film? Any sponsors?

Nathan: The film was completed with a great deal of support from The Island, Adrena Esporte e Aventura, and Singing Rock.

DPM: Thank you for your time.  We look forward to your flick!