Sébastien Montaz-Rosset is an award-winning filmmaker based in the sublime setting of Chamonix, his work has seen him capture the gravity defying antics of some of the world’s most talented extreme sports athletes, including recently recording his friend and extreme sports star Kilian Jornet’s record breaking roundtrip on Denali (Mount McKinley), in Alaska. Here Montaz-Rosset shares the highs and lows of working in such a high-octane environment and tells us about some of the friends he has made along the way.
You started life as a mountain guide in Chamonix – how did you get into filmmaking?
I started by filming my clients when I was working as a guide. Then I started doing a series of ‘snow reports’, filming ski and snowboard days out with friends, and turning them into small reports on local snow conditions. From there I got contacted to do my first commercial jobs.
You work with some fascinating people who do extraordinary things with their lives. How do you choose what to film?
Most of the people I film with I have gotten to know them as friends as well. I got asked to do some filming with Kilian Jornet, and we got on really well. Kilian liked my way of filming as most athletes say they don’t even know I’m there. We started filming more and more things together, and he soon realised I could film his projects without disrupting what he was trying to do.
Vivian Bruchez (skier) got in touch and asked me to film him skiing some routes one day on the north face of the Midi in Chamonix. Again, we got on really well and I really liked his character and way of doing things. He now works as a second cameraman on a lot of the films I make, and we released our steep skiing film last November, in which Vivian is the main protagonist.
Do you consider yourself a BASE jumper, sky runner and slackline walker too?
I don’t BASE jump or do any air-based sports. I’m more of a mountaineer, rock climber, runner and skier. I also used to do race snowboarding when I was much younger. But I love all mountain sports.
Your films are beautiful – how do you get so many challenging shots?
I spend a lot of time trying different things and testing filming techniques in the mountains by myself, especially before a filming trip. Over the years I have developed some bits of kit and techniques that work well in tricky situations. I always try to be as light as possible, so I avoid taking big heavy equipment out with me. With Kilian, we normally have to leave ahead of him to be in the right place to get the shots I want. I also think a lot about the lighting, the types of shots I want to get, and the time of day it should be to achieve the perfect light. With extreme sports, you can’t plan ahead too much, you have to react quickly and think on your feet.
What photographic equipment do you use?
I mainly film on Canon DSLR cameras, and use GoPro POV cameras for the action stuff. On commercial shoots I use more lenses. On the latest expedition with Kilian we decided to film everything on GoPro and iPhones in order to be super light. We’ll see how that turns out when we come to editing the film together!
What has been the most difficult scene to film and how did you manage to pull it off?
There are difficult moments in the mountains, even if you’re not filming. With extreme sports, and some of Kilian’s projects, it’s more about what you end up missing because it all happens so quickly. I would say the hardest thing is on a commercial shoot, when clients have a very clear idea of what they want and it doesn’t fit with the conditions you have to film in – for example bad weather or changing conditions.
You must put yourself in some difficult positions – hanging out from a balloon to film the skyliners – do you ever frighten yourself?
Sometimes when I watch the footage back it’s a bit scary. At the time I’m concentrating so much I don’t think about being scared. But it’s also pretty calculated in terms of the risks. We plan a lot when it comes to filming with different athletes, and none of the people I film with take unnecessary risks. It’s hard to tell the difference from the outside, but these athletes aren’t adrenaline junkies just trying to do crazy things. Vivian, for example, is very level headed and safety conscious.
What has been your favourite project so far?
It is always the most recent one! But I love them all! I love the creativity and originality of the Skyliners team. I also love that Kilian seems to be unstoppable in what he wants to do, and is so talented. The steep skiing film was very close to my heart as it’s one of my favourite disciplines and is part of our local history. I also like the challenge of commercial projects, and delivering something that will make amaze my clients.
You filmed the 2013 Paul Smith campaign using slackliners. How did that come about and how was it received?
One of the directors at Paul Smith is a big Chamonix fan, and had seen my first film with the flying Frenchies. Their marketing team thought it would be a fun idea to feature their underwear by using the highliners. We worked with them to come up with a situation that would surprise people, but wouldn’t look like an ad.
People seemed to really like the results, and it seemed to cause quite a stir in fashion circles.
Lots of new things are coming up over the next few months. I’m experimenting with new ways of filming and new cameras at the moment. We’re doing a couple of commercial projects, plus Kilian’s project Summits of My Life will continue.
Are you familiar with any of Sébastien Montaz-Rosset’s work? What are your favourite films from his back catalogue? Tell us know in the comments section below.