Behind the Scenes: Honnold Weighs In on Wild ‘Soloist VR’ Experiential Film

Right from the start, it was clear that Alex Honnold’s ‘The Soloist VR’ would be a one-of-a-kind experience for anyone who watched it. Turns out the same thing was true for the camera crew making it.

Filming and photographing a rock climb traditionally is hard work for reasons you can probably imagine.

If a film crew doesn’t opt for a drone, they have to somehow physically position themselves above, behind, and just about every position around the climber(s) with the right equipment to do the job. The process is often gear-intensive, demands a high level of rope skill, and calls on strategy, creativity, and experience.

Renan Ozturk is a specialist in the trade, with decades of filming under his belt. Still, making “The Soloist VR” was such a singular challenge that it turned into a production in and of itself.

“Making the Soloist VR” premieres today on Red Bull TV. Its three episodes get up close to the substantial roadblocks Ozturk, Alex Honnold, and Jonathan Griffith faced, then highlights the problem-solving approach they used to produce the film.

The Making of ‘Making the Soloist VR’: Problem Solving in 3D

Alex Honnold, Jonathan Griffith, and Renan Ozturk; (photo/Renan Ozturk, Red Bull)
Alex Honnold, Jonathan Griffith, and Renan Ozturk; (photo/Renan Ozturk, Red Bull)

Ozturk gets down to brass tacks right away in episode one.

“I’m happy to be here with friends, but I’m pretty skeptical we’re going to pull this one off,” he says against the snowy backdrop of the Alps. He describes the crew’s task as “putting a beast of a camera in some ridiculous alpine locations to film climbing without a rope.”

Then he pulls back and considers the big picture. “Is this the future of storytelling? Or just a dangerous boondoggle?”

Great question. As is typical with Ozturk’s films, watching the characters work their way through it has an intimate, candid feel. VR specialist Jonathan Griffith doesn’t shy away from honesty.

“It’s as much about capturing some stuff as it is [working together] as a team,” he explains while hiking in on day one, “without everyone going totally crazy and hating each other on the first day. So we’ll see.”

3D recording equipment use to film The Soloist VR (phota Renan Ozturk RBCP)
Some of the 3D recording equipment used to film “The Soloist VR”; (photo/Renan Ozturk, Red Bull)

The camera itself is absurd considering the context of mountain equipment. It’s essentially a plastic and metal soccer ball covered with lenses, sort of like one of those black spherical droids that hover around inside the Death Star. The camera, however, doesn’t hover. It looks equally heavy, fragile, expensive, and about as comfortable to rappel with as a watermelon.

Marry head-scratching logistics with flares of professional frustration and, of course, palm-tingling free solo climbing, and you have “Making the Soloist VR.”

Travel with the team from the Alps to the Dolomites to the American West — and back — in this three-part series. All episodes are now live on Red Bull TV.

Runtime: 10 minutes

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.

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