How did the filmmakers shoot the up-close footage of two climbers suspended on a rock wall thousands of feet off the ground?
The film’s co-director Josh Lowell and its primary videographer, his brother Brett Lowell, were with the project almost from the beginning. Brett spent months, spread over the course of years, hanging from a 3,000 ft. fixed rope to record Caldwell and Jorgeson trying to work out the most difficult pitches. And falling a lot. When the final push began in late December 2015, Brett essentially lived on the wall, sharing a portaledge (collapsible sleeping platform) with Caldwell. Jorgeson, who liked his personal space, had the portaledge next door.
Caldwell was the driving force behind the climb. Why did the media’s attention shift to his partner, Kevin Jorgeson?
Jorgeson had the bad fortune to get stuck on one of the climb’s two crux (hardest) pitches, halfway up the wall, just as the world was tuning in. New York Times correspondent John Branch wrote a front-page story on the climb-in-progress, matched with an arresting photo of the two guys plastered on the face. That, in turn, set off a global media feeding frenzy with, by climb’s end, no less than 15 TV trucks parked on the El Cap meadow. And Jorgeson couldn’t repeat Caldwell’s delicately choreographed 300 ft. traverse over barely visible irregularities in the rock (calling them “holds” would be too generous) which linked up the two major sections of the climb. Over seven days, he failed several times, a number of them excruciatingly captured on film. This was a story the non-climbing media could sink its teeth into: Was Tommy going to have to abandon Kevin at pitch 15 to realize his own Dawn Wall dreams? As Jorgeson says in the film, “I was still going to have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done for this to end well.” Spoiler alert: He did.