The Challenge

Black Diamond is one of the most well-known climbing, skiing, hiking, and outdoor brands. They are known for their quality products and technological approach to design and manufacturing. When Black Diamond approached us in March of 2017, they were looking for a chance to break away from their traditional messaging and keep their audience engaged. Our task was to produce a 3-4 minute film and coinciding still images for their latest and greatest product, The HonnSolo 11. Inspired by BD Athlete, Alex Honnold, The HonnSolo is the world's first free soloing airbag pack designed to save ropeless climbers from falling off the rock from less than 50 feet. The twist is that the HonnSolo, Black Diamond's newest and proudest accomplishment, doesn't actually exist. With April fools just around the corner we were tasked to pull off this epic project just in knick of time to celebrate the holiday.

The Objective

Our aim was to produce a state-of-the-art product video that would help to elevate Black Diamond's reputation as producers of the finest quality, highest technical outdoor gear on earth. By interspersing moments of tongue-in-cheek humor with Alex Honnold's personality and combining them with a more serious, process-focused story, we aimed for the content to feel fun, genuine and believable. After viewing this product video, we wanted our audience to walk away from it unsure if the product actually exists or not–questioning the innovational and mathematical probability behind the idea.

The Process

We saw the project from pre- through post-production, managing everything from script development, shot-listing, video/photo production and post-production. We worked alongside our friends at Camp4 Collective and Black Diamond to reign in the idea and execute with a clear vision in mind. By understanding Alex Honnold’s quirky sense of humor, we made sure to stray away from anything that was outside his skillset, specifically having him act. After all, he’s the world’s best free solo climber, not an Oscar-winning actor.

The main challenge with this process was a hyper-accelerated timeline of two weeks from ideation through completion. We were given two days for creative conception / preparation and one day to execute the entire production. Black Diamond flew Alex in the morning of the production for the day while our team was tasked with filming from sunrise to sunset. We captured everything from interviews with BD employees and Alex, b-roll of manufacturing, design, and testing processes, and free solo climbing with Alex Honnold in Little Cottonwood Canyon.


The Director's Take

The Locals Project believes that the power of story can manifest itself in a multitude of ways, through different mediums and applications. It’s at the core of what we do and is ultimately what we are most passionate about. So when Black Diamond approached us with a story-driven April Fools idea that they hoped would set the precedent for their future product videos, we were stoked! Expedited timelines, although stressful, have become somewhat of a norm for us. They provide a fun challenge and exercise in creativity, planning and execution. After being contacted, we essentially had a couple days to concept, plan and refine the idea to be produced in one day. When we were looped into the HonnSolo project, Black Diamond’s main goal was to create a strong sense of believability. We felt the best way to achieve this was by including a lot of process-oriented shots and substance. You know, design sketches, bullshit scientific jargon, manufacturing and product testing shots. Shoot day was a bit of a cluster. Staying on schedule was a task as we knocked out the long shot list. Our day was so crammed that we bypassed eating lunch until our 15 minute drive to the crag at 5pm. For better or worse, the run-and-gun approach has become sort of a staple for The Locals Project’s capabilities. It has proved to be a great lesson in adaptability, fast-thinking, and teamwork. As always, there were unforeseen challenges throughout the day but if it weren’t for the incredibly talented and hardworking crew made up of Tim Kemple from Camp4 Collective, The Locals Project, Black Diamond, our buddy Alex Igidbashian, and of course Alex Honnold, none of this would have turned out as successful as it did. And a special shoutout goes to Tommy Pittenger, the other Locals Project filmmaker, for acting quickly and staying true to the vision despite being located in Seattle. We shipped off the footage for him to begin the assembly edit while Will, Scott, and I charged 14 hours to Fernie, B.C. and began a 5-day shoot. By the time we returned home, the story structure had been accurately built, ensuring that the remainder of the edit was as painless as possible–another testament to the power of collaboration and the ubiquity of The Locals Project’s approach to storytelling.


The Photographers View

Growing up as a climber myself, Alex Honnold was (and still is) a legend in my eyes. It was an amazing opportunity to not only meet Alex, but to photograph him. He really is just how you think he would be in person–calm, quiet, quirky, and always smiling. He is a comfortable person to be around and work with. This particular shoot was a bit chaotic but, then again, I think every shoot feels like chaos. Alex flew in around 9:30 AM and drove to the Black Diamond headquarters to begin shooting. This was a one day shoot and Alex’s return flight was scheduled at 8:30pm the same day. Upon his arrival, we began ticking our shots off the shot list–interviews, touring the BD facilities, manufacturing, and product testing. After that, we raced our way up to the Coffin crack in Little Cottonwood Canyon for our final shots of the climbing scene! Once we scrambled our way up to the climbing spot, we realized we were losing light on the wall extremely quickly. And, on top of that, our drone failed to work. As a creative, you learn to get over issues like this quickly and move on to the next order of business. Once Alex got on the wall, though, everything felt calm. He was in his domain. Alex climbed, we captured his majestic movement and that was that. Watching someone free solo can be a bit nerve-wracking. But this is Alex Honnold, the guy I have been watching do his thing on TV and short films for a majority of my life. This is where he loves to be. And then there was I, on the edge of a cliff, photographing Alex. This is where I love to be.



A Word From The Runner

As one of the only non-content producers at The Locals Project, my role widely varies from making logos, designing websites and pitch decks, and climbing mountains in order to retrieve misplaced gear. This shoot in particular presented itself with an exceedingly chaotic set of challenges for my new role as production assistant. With little to no time to spare, I found myself scrambling around Salt Lake City purchasing hard drives, bartering for extra RED batteries, and capturing behind-the-scenes content for our social channels. After three trips between Camp4 Collective‘s studio and Black Diamond Headquarters it was time to shuttle our crew up the canyon so that they could capture the final climbing sequence of the video. It was a race against the sunlight and we barely made it up the trail in time for the last flicker of light on the rock. Our drone man’s micro SD card was corrupt, disallowing us to record from the air. I proceeded to sprint down and back up the trail (twice) in order to locate a new micro SD card…to no avail. After dusk, we returned home and began dumping footage. I ran out to grab the team some dinner while mentally preparing myself for the 14-hour drive that lay ahead. We left SLC later evening at 12am and arrived in Fernie, BC the next day at 5pm, just in time for our next shoot. 


The Editor's Cut

The Honnsolo video was hands down one of the funnier edits I’ve ever worked on. The amount of dedication and commitment on Black Diamond’s end in terms of actually creating a new piece of technology–just for a joke–was insane. For them to wrangle in one of the most well-known climbers–one who literally made history a few months later by freesoling El Cap–just to showcase a prank product, was hilarious. The shoot itself was fairly last minute. I couldn’t make it out to Salt Lake City but fortunately Will, Jacob and Scott were there to hold things down. We had to make the March 31st deadline, so the whole process was ridiculously expedited. The Salt Lake City crew wrapped production, dumped footage to an external drive and mailed it to me in Seattle in less than 24 hours. This was nuts considering they had to immediately leave for a week-long shoot in Canada. Our collaboration with Black Diamond and Camp4 Collective ensured that we had most of the Honnsolo edit planned out and scripted. This made sure that the actual assembly editing wasn’t too painful. In fact, it was pretty damn fun. I edited the assembly edit like I would any other edit–thoroughly, thoughtfully and seriously. The goal was for viewers to believe that Black Diamond actually created this product which I feel that we accomplished. There were certainly a few tedious sections like rotoscoping the background from Alex as he demonstrated the inflation of the HonnSolo, adding sound design to key moments and creating a social cut. But, again, we had to make this as believable as possible. Once Jacob returned from the shoot in Canada, we polished everything up and finished just in time for our deadline. The reception was incredible and people actually believed that The Honnsolo was real, so I think it’s safe to say job well done. Thanks to Black Diamond for following through with a great idea!

The Results

As a direct result of our efforts we generated 450,000+ video views and 190,000+ video teaser views on Instagram in a matter of 3 days. In the same period of time, Black Diamond generated 1.5 million impressions on Facebook alone. Viewers frantically voiced their opinions around the new product. The content generated over 1,000 comments on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. These comments ranged from a simple “job well done” to disgruntled users explaining the errors in scientific probability and computation. Our work quickly made its rounds through the outdoor industry and was featured by a number of renowned media outlets including Climbing Magazine & Outside Magazine. Some outlets went as far to say that “Black Diamond won April Fools Day."

Full Length Video