Jimmy Chin pushes the limits of adventure and story telling. In fact, he probably doesn’t even believe in limits.
A sponsored climber and skier for The North Face Athlete Team, Chin has combined a passion for exploring the edges of the earth with expert skill in photography and filmmaking. Throughout his decade-long career, he has documented his journeys through some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery for commercial and editorial clients. He recently banded together with a couple industry friends to create a specialty production house – Camp 4 Collective – and soon he’ll release his first full-length feature film. Chin talked to us about where his career has taken him, how he prepares to shoot for off-the-grid adventures, and where exploration lives in the digital age.
The short “On Assignment”, which you co-directed with Renan Ozturk, was our introduction to your work and was a finalist at this year’s Vimeo Film Festival. Let’s talk about that photo assignment from National Geographic. Were there any events along the way that standout but weren’t included in the film? Did they include you in the editing process of the feature and were there any shots that you were particularly fond of that they didn’t use?
Climbing is such a strange pursuit. It really makes no sense at all. In general, you don’t make any real money doing it, yet people devote their lives to it, companies showcase it to build their brands, and, for some reason, people love seeing pictures of it. So, I pitched the story about Yosemite climbing to National Geographic as a story about one of the most popular national parks in the U.S., but I wanted to show the vertical parts of the park and the sub culture that lived among the walls. This worked well for them because National Park stories have traditionally done very well in their magazine. And, people would get to see an aspect of Yosemite that they wouldn’t normally see.
Yeah, there is always a lot of great footage that doesn’t see the light of day. We call it “killing babies” when we have to take out something we really love because it just doesn’t fit the story. There are always beautiful one-off shots that weren’t really shot for any other reason than the fact that it is a beautiful shot. You try to fit them in but you have to remain disciplined about what you include in films.
For those who are not familiar with the place “Camp 4” and it’s influence on climbing, could you briefly describe its history and what kind of a place it is now?
Camp 4 partially came out of a tradition of shooting expeditions as photographers for companies like The North Face and other adventure projects. Both Tim Kemple and I had been shooting photo campaigns for The North Face for many years.
At the same time, I’d been shooting video for several years, working with mentors like Rick Ridgeway and David Breashears. They taught me a lot about filming and using the medium to tell stories. I shot on several productions with them but stayed focused on photography. As the demand for video increased exponentially, Tim Kemple and I decided to band together with Renan Ozturk and build something together.
We knew it would take a team to do real production. So, we created Camp 4 Collective to be a boutique high-end production house that focused on raw, inspired visuals. Among other things, we wanted to push the limits of expedition filming and story telling. We’re always trying to get the never-before-seen shots and love playing with new technology and gear to make that happen. We produce, shoot and edit branded content for clients like The North Face. We started by building short videos that lived online. Now we are producing and shooting everything from broadcast commercials to longer form TV pieces. We are just finishing our first feature documentary and we’ve learned a lot through that process. It’s definitely different than pumping out 3-5 minute branded content pieces. Our longest film before this one was 25 minutes or so. The current documentary we are working on is 75 minutes.
Anyone who’s tried to film off the grid and exposed to elements, whether they be mountain or ocean, knows how difficult the simplest aspects of production can become. What advice and specific tips would you have for anyone looking to document their adventure?
Besides the obvious challenges of shooting in harsh and remote environments, power and asset management seem to be big issues we are constantly dealing with. I would recommend getting those two things dialed before departure. Different countries and different environments have different challenges in regards to power. Do all your research and figure out what your power limitations are going to be. Then find the right system to deal with it – solar system? is it reliable? Generators, what kind of fuel is available if you use generators, etc.? You should test everything a lot before you leave (in very similar conditions [to where you’re going]) and you should have multiple back-up systems. You can’t shoot without power. You should also have your asset management systems dialed as well so you’re not trying to figure it out in the field.
In this socially digital age, it seems we are all multi-tooling our skill sets. Talk about all the different hats you wear to make a living. How do you balance these?
I primarily juggle three different careers/areas of work – being a professional athlete/brand ambassador, a photographer, and director/dp. It’s a constant juggling act, but they all seem to work together well. I am often balancing all three of these things on one expedition or shoot. Sometimes it works out perfectly and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a rare luxury to only have to focus on one of these areas. The jobs I get usually involve a combination of at least two of these areas of work. All you can do is do your best. It certainly keeps things interesting.
You guys at Camp 4 Collective are mainly a web-based company supported by North Face. Talk about the trials and advantages of producing web-based content. Where do you think the future of web production is headed?
In the past, we were primarily producing web based branded content and short films. We had a few pieces that were picked up in the adventure film festival circuits and some for broadcast distribution. Our work and our client list has all been growing organically. This year, we have been shooting broadcast commercial spots as well as producing a feature length documentary. I think web production and the online space is a great place to build community, establish a following, [and to] build your skills and client base. I think it is ok to stay purely in the online space, but personally, I would like to continue growing in that space as well as outside of it.