Sebastion Montaz-Rosset is producing some of the most inspiring and mind-blowing films to come out in recent years. He follows the lives of various extreme sports athletes as they venture to mountain peaks where they BASE jump off of pendulum swings from the summits; they hop in hot-air balloons and leap out of them while donning wing suits; they convince the owners of urban towers to let them dangle by their toes from a high line hundreds of feet above the ground. We get to watch humans literally take flight. According to Seb, there’s a lesson in all of this: These are just everyday people with normal lives, but they have a passion for life and a commitment to living – rather than just existing – that the rest of us might want try and adopt. We can start any time we want.
Have a gander at the trailer for Seb’s “I Believe I Can Fly” before proceeding to the interview.
Pacsafe: What is your history with mountain sports? You didn’t begin as a filmmaker, correct?
Sebastion Montaz-Rosset: I’m not at all from the film making world. I’d been working as a mountain guide for twelve years. It’s the IFMGM Mountain Guiding – mountaineering and climbing and heli-skiing. I grew up in a ski resort in France and I’d been filming my clients as a guide and I was editing for them for free. The more I did, I got better and better. I turned semi-professional and now it’s a full time job to work as a filmmaker.
Pacsafe: How did you become interested in high lining?
Sebastion: I do high lining… I’m far from being as good as the people I’m filming, but it’s a sport I really appreciate. I think it’s one of the toughest and most underestimated sports. It’s harder than it looks really.
Can you describe the experience for those of us who’ve never tried it?
If you do slack lining, which is not far from the ground, say two feet, it’s a totally different experience because it’s more about balance and physical abilities. When you put this line high up in the sky and you can’t see the ground anymore, it’s a different world. You lose the most important sense, which is the view. Everything is far and you don’t have a fixed point under your feet to watch. It turns into a very mental thing. Some people are very good on the ground, but they can’t walk on the line up in the air. It’s something that there’s no words to describe it. It has to be done at least once. It’s very unique.
From watching the films you get the feeling that these athletes are out there going BASE jumping, highlining and skydiving all the time, just the most exciting, carefree existence – but do they have normal lives and we’re just seeing what they do for fun?
That’s very interesting because they had normal lives. The main two guys from I Believe I Can Fly used to be computer engineers when they were 23. They were really brilliant and they probably earned a lot of money, but they decided it’s not the life they wanted to lead. So they quit their jobs – and they didn’t know each other at the time – and they’re living now in a truck. They set the high lines and they do that just for fun and they get a few jobs here and there.
But they are normal people, and they’re not crazy people. That’s what I’m trying to say in One Step Beyond. [One Step Beyond profiles wing suit flyer Geraldine Fasnacht.] Those people that do extreme sports are like you and me. They have children. They have jobs. They’re not going out in the morning to think they’re going to be killed, they’re going to come back home with a family. But risk is part of their lives and they accept this because it helps them to be better.
Once you know them, you see they’re not any different from other people. They carry the same values as everyone else. They have fears, they have doubts, they have failures, sometimes they have success but that’s everybody’s life. Also, they are very modest people.
Is it because of this why your films have become so popular? They show an approach to life rather than just incredible stunts?
The idea is not show what they can do; it’s to show how they do it and why they do it. I’m not really interested in just a performance. These trailers have gotten 7 million clicks on the Internet and they’ve been copied many times. The success of it is that they’re accessible and people identify their needs to what those people are living. I get ten e-mails a day about how satisfied people are to watch this and it’s not because of the sports side of it. You know, three people have base jumped from a high line, but who cares? It’s the girl crying when she says she meets them and he says that he was afraid before. They’re not super heroes. They’re people. [The films] help people think, ‘What do I want to do in my life?’ We’re not all going to jump from a highline, but it can be anything, build a house, start your own business, whatever, you know?
Do you think they have, and I’m not sure this is phrased right, but do you think they maybe have more appreciation for life than most? Because it’s so easy to become stagnant, and to not take advantage of them time we have…
I think so, yes. Some have had accidents around them or they’ve lost very close people. And maybe like Geraldine, the wing suiter, they’ve decided that life has to be lived to the fullest or not at all. I guess they have a subconscious of ‘Yes, it’s a short time we spend on this planet and let’s enjoy it.’ I think that’s true.
The other thing that strikes me about your films is that with such dangerous activities, I imagine the athletes must have an enormous amount of trust in each other.
Yes. Any sort of mountaineering thing… You know, when I put a client on my rope and we climb to a summit, not only is it me trusting the client not to fall, but he’s putting his life in my hands. It’s the same with high lining or BASE-jumping. When you go for a fiveway, which is five people jumping at the same time, you better trust your friend is not turning left when you’re turning right and hit each other. But we’re all trusting each other in normal life, right?
Recently Jeb Corlis had a terrible, near fatal accident, do you have any thoughts on that?
Uhhh… No. I only met Jeb once last summer. I think he’s a great guy, but every time there is a camera he is making a show, he’s a different person. I don’t really know him enough to comment. He’s a complex personality. He’s not the same in real life. Every time you point a camera at him he makes a show, a spectacle. I don’t think it’s really good for the sport because people might think it’s about being extreme and dark, but it’s not that. BASE jumpers and wing suiters are going out there to have fun, not to hit the ground.
It does highlight the potential for serious danger though. Does that weigh on your mind at all when you’re filming?
No, no. You know the guy doing the solo? [In I Believe I Can Fly, one of the athletes does a high line without being tied in.] I never saw him before and I never saw him again. I saw him two hours of my life. I was shooting that, which is walking that line at 1,000 meters above the ground and it’s very technical and it’s windy, but every time I shoot I’m not in this world anymore. I’m thinking about aperture, shutter speed, and I’m not thinking about the consequences of what I’m filming. I’m not very anxious about this.
In I Believe I Can Fly, the athletes high lined between two skyscrapers, how did you convince the owners of the building to let you set up there? I can’t imagine that happening in the states because of the fear of lawsuit.
Yes, it’s a very big real-estate business in France owning a lot of buildings. They (the athletes) asked the big boss, thinking they wouldn’t get a good answer, but the big boss was really happy with the people and the project. He says, ‘Look, I like you and your lifestyle, so you can do whatever you want on my towers.’
We’re trying to do the same in a very spectacular monument in Belgium, but it’s extremely complicated because of insurances and things. We might have to give up on it.
You’ve now made two films about extreme sports athletes, do you plan on branching out to the other topics and subjects in the future?
Well, I’m shooting commercials, like advertising, mainly in the tourism and mountain environment. I’m also shooting with a trail running athlete named Kilian Jornet who is one of the best runners in the world. It’ll be documentary style: who he is and what he’s going to achieve in the near future, which is amazing. It’s a new sport halfway between alpinism and trail running. It’s something that’s never really been done before. He’s only 23, but he’s just incredible.
Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
I never studied film making, and I don’t really think you need to nowadays because the gear you’re using, it’s affordable and you can have really good quality with this gear.
I’ve been contacted by many young people asking what studies they should do and things like that, and I think if you’re like me and spend a lot of time shooting and trying to edit, you’ll get better. You can really go your own way without having to spend five years in the University.
The thing is, you shouldn’t forget that the whole thing is about a story. I see people with a lot of gear, too much gear, and they’re being slowed down by it and they lose the magic moments. It’s better to have less gear, like a simple set, but a good story.
Thanks so much for the time Seb, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes. If you want to mention my website that would be really nice of you because the only way those athletes are making money is from people buying the films for 4 Euros. So if you could send traffic, that’s great.
You can check out all of Seb’s work at his website http://sebmontaz.com/.
By Bryan Schatz