Fitz Cahall is perhaps best known as the voice behind “The Dirtbag Diaries,” the podcast he started in 2007, and today has been downloaded 3 million times. He’s parlayed that success into building a digital storytelling agency, Duct Tape Then Beer, which has produced award-winning films like The Road From Karakol (Best in Fest Award, 5 Point Film Festival and Best Mountain Adventure Film, Kendal Mountain Film Festival) and 35 (Best Short Film, 2013 Banff Film Festival).
Cahall’s storytelling perspective comes from deep experience: He’s splitboarded the Fuhrer Finger on Mt. Rainier and put up first ascents on desert towers, in the Cascades, and in the Sierras. He’s climbed 5.13, onsighted 5.12 trad climbs, and climbed The Nose in a day. None of which he ever talks about, and he says “Class II whitewater is terrifying.”
Creating films and stories isn’t something Cahall and crew do from the sidelines, or the easy way, for that matter. For Duct Tape Then Beer’s 2012 film The Gimp Monkeys, he, videographer Mikey Schaefer and film editor Austin Siadak put together a plan to collect footage of the first all-disabled ascent of El Capitan by a team of three amputee climbers: They’d just climb the route, the 16-pitch 5.7 A2 Zodiac, ahead of the team of climbers, and set up shots from above.
“Austin and I would lead and clean pitches so that Mikey could concentrate on filming,” Cahall says. “While he was filming, we would haul all the climbing and camera gear. We spent six days on the wall just 150 feet above them, filming most of the time and building out the story as we climbed. Every night on the portaledge, we would review footage and discuss what needed to happen on the next day.”
The filming team was not short on climbing chops: Siadak would take his first trip to Patagonia in 2013 and send the mega Care Bear Traverse, and Schaefer is one of climbing’s best-known photographers and has spent dozens of seasons climbing in Yosemite Valley and Patagonia.
“It’s a unique skill set,” Cahall says. “Every project is a little different, but I think the coolest projects and the most incredible story telling is when you stop dictating the finished product and go along for the adventure.”
Duct Tape Then Beer’s films have focused on story over big production cost, as seen in The Road From Karakol, a 25-minute film made entirely of footage shot by the narrator, alpinist Kyle Dempster, on his two-month wandering bicycle journey in Kyrgyztan. No Red cameras, no helicopters, and a small budget. The result took home the Best in Fest award at the 2013 5Point Film Festival. The point of all of it, Cahall says, is to get viewers and listeners out there.
“I’m trying to get you off of your butt, doing the things you love and spending time in the outdoors with the people who make you happy,” Cahall says. “We need more people to care about the natural world. Caring requires a personal connection. I can’t do that for you, but our team can sure try to be the swift kick in the ass that gets you out of bed at 5 a.m. to get that trail run in or the entertainment on the radio as you navigate Friday night traffic to get out for the weekend.”
Duct Tape Then Beer’s biggest project for 2014 is “Force,”a film set in Patagonia that Cahall says is less about climbing and more about finding your calling in life. Watch the trailer:
Photos by James Q Martin