Climbing Magazine called it “Must watch”, Reel Rock Film Tour said “It’s pretty epic!”, and Youtube user rocaybeta exclaimed “excellent!!! I literally cried”.
A few weeks ago I put together a short, humorous video I titled Reel Rock Deleted Scene – La Dura Comida. If you haven’t seen it, it’s essentially a mash up of Chris Sharma climbing sounds with a raccoon scaling a “raccoon-proof” outdoor cat feeder.
I had been talking to my mom earlier and she was complaining about how the raccoons always eat the outdoor cat food (she feeds strays), so I naturally turned to the Internet in search of solutions. I stumbled across the raccoon proof feeder FAIL video, a silent surveillance style video of a raccoon scaling this feeder. As a climber I immediately admired this raccoon’s skilled ascent: heel hook, pull the roof, and done. I laughed and shared it with friends who also got a laugh.
I kept thinking that video would be so much funnier with some stereotypical climbing video stuff, particularly the “Venga! Vamos!” shouts and climbing grunts that accompany many sport climbing videos.
I’ve been working on learning Adobe Premiere on my own for a little bit, and thought it’d be a fun little project. The first step was to find some suitable Chris Sharma footage (there’s a plethora of clips on YouTube), namely a video of him grunting his way up a climb with people shouting “Venga! Vamos!” without background music ruining the audio. As well as finding a video of him waxing philosophical about the nature of climbing to intersperse.
I shared it a couple times on my personal Facebook profile and the D2D page as well as on Twitter, that was it. It then grew on its own into a semi viral climbing video. In the weeks since it has amassed over 50k views from more than 130 countries. While those numbers may be paltry compared to Charlie Bit My Finger, Again (590 million) or David After Dentist (120 million), those are quite large numbers within the climbing niche–compare it to Top Rope Tough Guys, for instance, at 85k views, the infamous Boogie Til You Poop video at 105k, or even the official Reel Rock 8 trailer with 200k views.
I’m just coming off of my visit to the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival where I caught tons of extremely compelling adventure movies. The best of the best for the year, so this genre is fresh in mind. But let’s face it: most climbing videos online suck.
Climbing is fun… to DO, but not really to watch. If you post some boring sport climbing video you’d probably be hard pressed to even get your belayer to watch it–unless someone’s taking scary whippers. And bouldering videos? Don’t get me started…
So what can we do to create more compelling, viewable, and sharable adventure sports videos?
Three Elements to Make Better Climbing Videos
1. Soundtrack – Music is an extremely important element of a film or movie and something that quite often goes unheralded and unnoticed by the viewer. It is a subtle way of heightening emotions tied to the action on screen. Beyond editing the film into its necessary parts, it may just be the most important element of post production. Music in and of itself can change a scene from serious to comical or vice versa. Think Benny Hill theme music over fender benders or when film trailers are recut to turn it into a completely different genre.
Thankfully, even most YouTube filmmakers include some decent jams with their productions, and as said, it’s an important element that can be put to great use. But just pumping any old song over some pretty scenery can only do so much–think of those still frame climbing video slideshows on YouTube with cool music. The best part is usually the music.
2. Humor – People like to laugh. Simple, right? All the best climbing films out there incorporate some sort of humor–slapstick, self-deprecating or otherwise. Even within serious, deadly expeditions there is often an element of humor or that one team mate that lightens the mood and keeps spirits up beat with his laughter or attitude (think Jimmy Chin in Meru, or even the elements of humor within serious Hollywood films like 127 Hours or Touching the Void). Humorous videos are more likely to be shared online as well.
But more broadly speaking your video needs to have emotion. You’ve got to make your audience feel SOMETHING. Fear, anger, laughter, awe, etc. And humor is something that is often universal and can bridge language and culture.
But pure video footage of the action will only take you so far (read: not very), so…
3. Tell a Story – Have you ever watched some action sports or adventure video that just features cool footage with good music, but nothing else? It still gets kind of boring… You’ve got to include some sort of story in there either with interviews or just voice over. Talk about what’s going on inside your (or your subject’s) head, how you got there, the struggle, the pain, the something. A compelling story can turn decent footage into a great flick, while the lack thereof can turn astounding footage into a forgettable one. Climbing has so much to do with the internal voice and thoughts.
So those are just a few ideas on how to turn your footage into something a little more compelling, something that people might actually want to watch, and then might actually pass along to their friends. Ultimately, people watching videos online (or elsewhere) are looking to get something out of what they are watching, whether that’s purely information, entertainment, inspiration, or just distraction. Ask yourself “why would someone want to spend X minutes watching this?”
Attention spans are short and it’s pretty easy to click away to something better.
I’m no expert of course and these are just my opinions based on what I like after having watched tons and tons of climbing movies, both professional and amateur, and other actions sports (surfing and skiing primarily) and adventure films over the years. The elements listed above are common and necessary aspects across genres.
What Do You Think?
What elements do you see in adventure or adventure sports media that makes it truly stick out in your mind? What do you think makes a film or clip great versus one that is mediocre and barely memorable? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this subject and any examples you might share in the comments below!
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I saw the title to your post and quickly identified my experience with yours. I posted a climbing video to YouTube called Vertical Limit Guide to Climbing. People outside the United States can still view it. You probably viewed it. It got over 500,000 hits before Sony challenged it as a copyright infringement. In my video I took the most insane scenes from the movie Vertical Limit and merely commented on the impossibly inane climbing scenarios. I pondered how to best store nitroglycerin on an assent of K2. How can mutiple bolts pop on a leader fall? How do you keep a wood camp fires and BBQ roasts going at 18,000 ft. Wouldn’t you want to know the answers?
Music wasn’t the key, but my attempt at humor certainly contributed to its success. The movie opened itself up as the target of such ridicule. I previewed my Buchwalter’s climbers chili party in Yellow Springs Ohio about five years ago. I could tell immediately that it would be a hit.
I created a second video, Cliffhanger Guide to Climbing Gear that study’s the value of carrying trad gear while free soloing. Another opportunity for great humor at the expense of Hollywood. That video experienced and even shorter life on YouTube before being yanked due to a Sony challenge. Moral of the story? Make sure all your material, including the sound track is original.
Tim in Dayton
Hey Tim, thanks for popping in and leaving a comment. Man, I loved that Vertical Limit Guide to Climbing! So hilarious. I actually looked it up again as I was putting this post together and was disappointed that it had disappeared. I kind of figured it might have been a copyright claims issue. In reality, I somewhat expect this video to be struck down by Youtube at some point since it technically includes no original material. In my mind at least, videos like yours or mine should be allowed under fair use and parody–in reality the major corporations and copyright holders can quickly have even fair use items removed.
I at least saw Big Up Productions comment (about my video) that while they normally have videos removed that infringe on their copyrights, they did think it was a funny fan made video. Hopefully these climbing folks have a better sense of humor than the big wig lawyers at Sony. Of course, Radical Face (the band) could still have my video taken down, but as I understand it any Google ad revenue goes to them, so who knows?
In any case, it was a fun little experiment, and one that hopefully made some people laugh–much like your video!
You need to do a series of these. I’m serious. That raccoon video was hilarious.
I’m sure there are hundreds of videos of animals climbing up things that you could mash up Ondras growls or Sharmas roars to.
Haha, but I wonder if there are any other that feature such an awesome heel hook?! 🙂
The heel hook was off the charts! Best I’ve seen yet!