SCARPA-sponsored climber and accomplished filmmaker Chuck Fryberger can often be seen through the lens—from both sides. Striking a balance between climbing and art has been his bag for over a decade. And he does it well.
Climbing and filming have taken him around the world in search of stone and story. He’s produced several full-length climbing films, twice been the cover boy for Climbing, and rounds out the experience with musical documentaries and commercial film work.
We tracked him down during a film shoot to find out how Chuck keeps things in focus.
Q – What came first, the climbing bug or the filming bug? At what point did they meet?
CF – Climbing came first. I started climbing when I was in my early teens, and actually my first experience into the media side of the sport came shortly after I began. My friends and I started a magazine called Le Merde, which was a free ’zine we published about the sport climbing and bouldering scene in Colorado. I bought my first video camera when I was 18, and even though my focus was still on music and audio, I started crafting short films to have something to compose music for. I went to school at CU Denver for music technology, and during that time I was making an individual study of directing and cinematography.
Of course all this time I was travelling a lot and bouldering and sport climbing as often as possible. I didn’t really take climbing videos seriously until I discovered there was a small market for the footage I was gathering. As I write this I’m on a shoot with Sender Films for the Reel Rock Tour—they brought me on as a hired gun for some shooting in the Moab area. So for me, climbing and filming are quite intertwined. I have a good appreciation for the culture of the sport, and I love the chance to document the people and places that make up our unique place in the world.
Q – How do you balance climbing professionally and filming professionally? Do they compete for your attention or compliment each other?
CF – I don’t really consider myself a professional climber. There was a short time where I was actively trying to become pro and make my living by seeking media, and trying to do difficult achievements, but I’m afraid it’s not for me. I admire the top level climbers and I enjoy documenting their achievements and celebrating their hard work, but ultimately I’m okay with climbing a bit below their level and also being able to run my company and progress creatively and artistically. There are so many things about climbing that I love that have little to do with being the best.
As for whether the two pursuits compete or compliment—I guess they do both. It’s tough to maintain a healthy training and climbing schedule when you’re always going out on shoots for 10 days or a month at a time. And climbing videos are sort of a big deal now, so it’s not very responsible of me to just go out and mess around like I used to. I’m slowly getting things under control though, and my dream is to work on fewer, better, more well-funded projects so that I can once again have time to take week long or month-long climbing trips. It hasn’t happened yet but we’re making progress.
Q – Does commercial work help you fund climbing trips and films? Is it a necessary evil or is it something you enjoy?
CF – I love doing commercial work. Someday I hope to be working on car commercials, beer commercials—things like that. I enjoy travelling and working hard to get climbing footage, but I also enjoy having a home life and sleeping in my own bed. This won’t come as any surprise, but commercials pay a lot more than working in the climbing industry. So it’s part of the equation.
Q – What projects are you currently working on? What goals have you set you for yourself in the coming year?
CF – I’m currently working on no less than five films, two music documentaries, one in post-production, one in pre-production. Our next climbing film “The Scene” which we’re premiering at the OR show this August. We have another climbing film called “The Network” that we’re doing with Red Bull this year. And as I write this I’m shooting a segment for the Reel Rock Tour, which launches this Fall.
My goal is to get my work to chill out a little, and start focusing on fewer, better projects. Then get my attention back to the rock.
Q – Do you ever see your climbing and/or filming grow independently from one another?
CF – Yeah, for sure. Climbing films are extremely arduous, physically, to make. I can probably hack it out for some time, but it’s not something you want to bank on being able to do for the rest of your life. I just acquired an 1100-square-foot production and post-production studio in downtown Denver, so I’m really looking forward to basing out of there for some projects, and then actually being able to take a climbing trip without needing to produce a film at the same time.
Q – What SCARPA products are you keen on these days, and why?
CF – I’m really enjoying the Instinct S. I climb a lot on plastic and steep bouldering, so these things are simply the best steep shoes going. My favorite shoes for anything edgy are the Boosters. The support they offer for small edges is really awesome. I like using really small feet that are in the exact correct position, instead of the big feet that are the most obvious, so having a lot of power directed right at the toe is a great way to press on those tiny pebbles and smears.
Thanks, Chuck. Good luck with it all…
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Chuck in action, circa 2007 (sorry, Chuck…best we could find)