Josh Lowell: What I’ve Learned
39, Filmmaker, Pound Ridge, New York.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 205 (October 2012).
Finding a niche is a valuable gift. I stumbled into making climbing films 15 years ago. At the time the niche seemed small and random and it was hard to imagine making a career of it. But the passionate little tribe of climbers noticed my work. As the tribe has grown, my work has improved, and doors have opened.
Collaboration is key. My first film projects were epic solo missions, finished only when I collapsed from exhaustion. But that’s a dead-end road. Working with my brother, Brett, and other creators like Mike Call and Corey Rich helped keep the energy high. Pete Mortimer of Sender Films and I could’ve become fierce competitors, but instead we pooled our resources and launched the Reel Rock Film Tour in 2006. Film production, and really all media, has changed drastically. As technology has gotten better and cheaper, now just about anyone can make a semi-decent video and distribute it on the internet.
When we put out Dosage Volume 1, in 2001, I ordered the same number of VHS tapes as I had with our previous release, Rampage. But that year everyone switched to DVD, and I ended up with thousands of worthless VHS tapes. Since then I’ve tried to stay more forward-looking. If you can’t keep up with the rapidly shifting worlds of technology and media, you will not survive.
Family gives it all meaning. When I was younger, I would sometimes get into a swirling, destructive head space, wondering what was the point of all this stress. Shouldn’t I be doing something huge and important, or maybe partying and having fun? Now I have an amazing, successful and supportive wife, and two young kids, and it all makes sense. My ego is kept in check by their love. I know why I’m working hard now, and I’m proud of it.
Climbing is essential. It’s not easy to get out often anymore, but I MUST keep climbing. I don’t need as much of it these days; just one session a week and I’m good. When I get that shot of pure physical joy and mental exhilaration I’m a happier person, a better dad, and a more inspired, productive filmmaker. If I’ve recently gotten pumped and felt scared, I’ll do a better job of conveying those core climbing sensations on film.
I can still improve. It’s inspiring seeing the old dudes cranking lately. Wills Young throws laps on The Mandala! I’m turning 40 this year; it would be badass to do my first V12.
There’s no “right” way. Having worked with the best climbers, followed their routines during shoots, pored over footage of their greatest accomplishments and biggest failures, I find it amazing how varied their approaches are. The tweaky obsessiveness of Dave Graham, the laid-back spontaneity of Chris Sharma, the methodical dedication of Tommy Caldwell—all get the job done.
Vision has more impact than performance. The most memorable things we’ve filmed are climbs that bring something new to the table, rather than purely the hardest ones. Sharma’s deep-water solo Es Pontas, for instance, was something nobody had imagined before and it blew minds. This applies to the actual filmmaking as well: Nobody is too concerned about the technical details of our work. People want to see a new vision rather than perfect execution.