This past Tuesday, a film called “35” went up on Vimeo — it’s 5 minutes and 17 seconds, including a ton of beautiful footage of a guy named Derek Craig climbing 35 pitches in Indian Creek on his 35th birthday. It was more than a year in the making, starting on Derek’s 35th birthday in March 2012. I’ve never met Derek Craig, but I was lucky to get the opportunity to do the voiceover for the film.
When I got involved in the project, my friend Fitz and I were about halfway up the West Slabs of Mount Olympus, a 1,000-foot, 5.5 rock climb east of Salt Lake City, and common free solo for many folks. Fitz and I climbed within a few feet of each other, carrying on a conversation up the mostly solid rock, stopping every few feet to talk about life and work and art and insomnia as the sun dropped over the Oquirrh Mountains west of the city, each of us on his own set of handholds and footholds.
I have this essay in my head, I said, About little things that I see that make me thankful and inspired, things like blind people crossing the street by themselves, elderly ladies who go out for ice cream by themselves and don’t get sad, and three-legged dogs who run and don’t care that they only have three legs.
A few days later, Fitz sent me an e-mail titled “Old Women and Ice Cream,” demanding, “Send me your poem/script for celebrating life!” I took it out of my head and wrote it, e-mailing it to him 30 hours later. He called me a few days after, saying it was eerily similar to something he had written for a film project, and would I like to help out and narrate the film. Of the many figurative bones Fitz has thrown me in my short writing career, this was my favorite.
There is another story about the film, that you won’t see or hear when watching it: It was one of Nasa Koski’s first paid film shoots, and with no film background or prior experience, Fitz had hired her to shoot climbing footage of Derek Craig in Indian Creek with Austin Siadak and Matt Van Biene. Nasa was in her 15th year of satisfying work at Microsoft after starting there at age 17, working her way to managing a 20-person team and a $7 million budget — but itching a little bit, wondering if there was something for her in the mountains. She had plenty of time off work and showed up in Indian Creek to co-shoot and co-direct with Matt and Austin.
A few weeks after the Indian Creek shoot, Nasa said goodbye to her Microsoft career, taking a leap to follow her passion.
“Coming into my mid thirties and spending almost half my life there, I could almost tell you exactly what my life would be like with another 15 years at Microsoft,” she says. “Leave? I couldn’t tell you what tomorrow would be like. That’s when I realized, my choice was clear.”
In September, Fitz texted to let me know that he, Nasa and Austin were in Seattle filming additional shots to illustrate script lines about making pretty girls laugh and rocking out in the car. They had, despite several attempts, been unable to convince a woman to eat ice cream by herself on film.
In October, Austin and I met in Boulder to record the film script. We first soloed the Third Flatiron in 45-degree air inside a cloud, sharing a rappel device for the three raps off the back, and afterward, drove my van up to the quiet NCAR parking lot on Table Mesa. We rolled a sleeping bag up in one of the windows to deaden the echo and recorded a few takes. Then we re-wrote a bunch of it, together coming up with a handful of new lines together. “I don’t like what Fitz did with this part,” Austin would say. The balls on this 25-year-old kid, I said to myself. We gave it half a dozen new endings, hoping to pick the best one later.
In November, Austin quoted a line from the script on Facebook:
Wow, I thought.
In January, back in Salt Lake City, Fitz and I recorded the script for the final time. I need you to nail this, he said, and I had zero confidence in my scratchy voice and ability to read with perfect timing as I watched — for the first time — a rough cut of the film. I wondered why Fitz, a natural, didn’t just read the script himself. Come on, he said, That paragraph about dreams resonated with everybody who worked on this. Austin said yes to the trip of a lifetime because of this script. So I tried hard to read the words with some strength, hunched over a laptop in a condo in Salt Lake.
Austin went to Patagonia, while Nasa edited the final cut of the film. Austin did not go to Patagonia to goof off — he and Cheyne Lempe sent the Care Bear Traverse, a massive 3-day linkup with 6,400 feet of technical climbing, including the summit of Fitz Roy. Holy SHIT, I thought. Talk about talking the talk and walking the walk.
On February 15, a few days after Austin got back from Patagonia, I watched the final cut of the film. At about 2:54, as the words “I know something happens when you see a place you’ve seen on postcards and wall calendars your whole life,” Austin popped on the screen with his friend Matt Van Biene in front of the Fitz Roy massif, holding a postcard. I couldn’t see Austin’s face, but I could tell it was him, and I started laughing and pumping my fist like a crazy man in a coffee shop in Springdale, Utah, at this young guy’s dream that didn’t get put in a drawer labeled “Someday.”
The film will be shown on a big screen for the first time on April 28th at the 5Point Film Festival. I’ll be 34, and Fitz will be 34, going on 35 later this year. My favorite part: The day after the film shows at 5Point, Nasa turns 35, and is almost exactly one year into following her dream.