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The creators of ‘Free Solo’ on the daily ‘burden’ of their risky project

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: The film "Free Solo," about a rock climber who scales Yosemite Park's most dangerous rock formation without ropes, won best documentary at the Academy Awards this year.

The makers of that film are the focus of this week's "That Moment When." It's NewsHour"'s show on Facebook Watch.

Jimmy Chin: In journalism and photography as well, you hope to kind of disappear. You're really trying to capture the moments as they happen and trying not to influence the moment.

Elizabeth Chai Vasahelyi: It gets to, like, the existential ethical question at the heart of the film, which is, in the act of filming, by filming him, are we in some way going to cause him to fall? Is he more likely to fall if we're filming?

Jimmy Chin: I got the sense that Alex wanted to be filmed, but he didn't want to feel filmed.

Elizabeth Chai Vasahelyi: I think he thought the concept of actually free-soloing El Cap was film-worthy, and that idea of, like, someone doing justice to this incredible athletic feat, actually capturing it in a way that could live on for posterity...

Jimmy Chin: Right.

Elizabeth Chai Vasahelyi: ... was something that was very appealing to him.

The actual experience, what -- and what that was going to entail, I think, was more of discovery process for him.

Jimmy Chin: Being a professional climber and having worked on both sides of the lens, I'm quite sensitive to what it feels like when a camera's introduced to a situation.

And that sensitivity to it, you know, we hoped to apply in how we filmed with him, to make it as easy and nonintrusive as possible.

Man: They're remote cameras, because we want to stay out of Alex's line of sight.

Steve Goldbloom: What risk does the crew take on?

Jimmy Chin: We really tried to mitigate the risk on the very front end by the team that we built. You know, the first criteria to be on the high angle team was that you had to be an elite professional climber.

The second criteria is they had to be, you know, amazing cinematographers as well. So, there's not a very big pool to pull from. I needed people who could climb El Cap casually in a day, and there aren't that many people who can do that.

As Alex was practicing his climb, we were practicing how we were going to shoot it.

Steve Goldbloom: You have said, there wasn't a day in the two years of filming that you didn't think about him falling. Can you describe what it feels like to walk around with that?

Jimmy Chin: I would wake up, I could feel the burden, and then I would remember. I would be like, what am I feeling? And then I would think about what it was that I -- was weighing on me. And my mind would go to the worst-case scenario.

Elizabeth Chai Vasahelyi: I think everybody on the team carried a certain weight. But that was kind of the point. Like, there was also a commitment that came with that weight. We trusted Alex and believed in what he was doing.

Judy Woodruff: It literally takes your breath away.

Well, you can find all episodes of "That Moment When" on Facebook Watch.

And you can join us there on Wednesday at 4:30 Eastern for a special watch party, live with host Steve Goldbloom, as he looks back and he takes your questions about some of his favorite moments from the show thus far.

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