#175: Bridging the Gaps Between Skiing, Climbing & Filmmaking with Jimmy Chin
Speaker 1: Before we get to the show, did you know you can get more insights just like the ones you're listening to right here on Seeking Wisdom delivered right to your inbox. Sign up to get my weekly newsletter. It's called The One Thing at drift. com/ dc. Boom. And we're back for never seen before, never released episode of Seeking Wisdom. Now we're going to go back and dig in the crates all the way back to 2018 HYPERGROWTH conference, where I got the privilege to interview Jimmy Chin. Now, if you don't know Jimmy Chin, Jimmy Chin is a rock climber, an adventurer, an Academy Award- winning filmmaker. Now, if you haven't seen his movie for which he won the Academy Award, Free Solo, go out today and watch that movie. It is mind- blowing. So in this episode, we get to dig in the crates with Jimmy Chin. Talk about living in New York. Talk about what it takes from a growth mindset standpoint to create an Academy Award- winning film and how he mixes all the different things that he does in life together to create something special. And don't forget, this is a six star only, the universe's only certified podcast. Boom. And here we go. Thank you for joining us.
Jimmy Chin: Yeah. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 1: You grew up in Wyoming?
Jimmy Chin: No, actually I grew up in Minnesota.
Speaker 1: Minnesota.
Jimmy Chin: But I've been living in Wyoming for 20 years.
Speaker 1: Yeah, for a long time. Where in Minnesota are you from?
Jimmy Chin: Mankato. That's like a little-
Speaker 1: How was that?
Jimmy Chin: It was fine. I mean, for me, I was the only-
Speaker 1: Anything?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah. Anything in Mankato.
Speaker 1: Anything other-
Jimmy Chin: Yeah, anything in Mankato. Yeah. And my parents were librarians at the university there, and I was very active as a kid. Yeah. And my parents had me doing all kinds of stuff.
Speaker 1: So they pushed that or was that just-
Jimmy Chin: No, they pushed me a lot. They were like typical, stereotypical Chinese parents who wanted their children to achieve great things.
Speaker 1: And was that in all areas, sports and academics?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah. Both, yeah. And music.
Speaker 1: And music?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
Speaker 1: You take piano lessons?
Jimmy Chin: No, I played the violin since I was three.
Speaker 1: Jeez!
Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
Speaker 1: Wow. Totally everything and more.
Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
Speaker 1: That's crazy. I can't imagine growing up in that, in Minnesota like that. I grew up in Queens, but I grew up in a part of Queens where I was like the only other, entirely Jewish crosstalk.
Jimmy Chin: Right, right, right.
Speaker 1: And then I moved to Boston and I was a other again, so I've been the other for a long time, but Minnesota's another level.
Jimmy Chin: Yeah, it is another level. It's like totally Scandinavian, Lutheran. And so, it was an interesting upbringing because I was kind of bridging two worlds-
Speaker 1: Two worlds, yeah.
Jimmy Chin: ...and it was all I ever knew. It was all I ever was trying to do is to kind of bridge these worlds, yeah.
Speaker 1: These two worlds. Same thing. Same exact thing. So it's funny how that shapes everything for you.
Jimmy Chin: And then I ended up a lot of my life is like bridging different worlds.
Speaker 1: Different worlds. The whole thing. That's where I think it's interesting because I think it doesn't end, right? Like you pull this narrative through your whole life, and at some point you look back and you're like,"Oh, it's an obvious one."
Jimmy Chin: Yeah. But you also... It's just something I've known-
Speaker 1: That you have always tried to overcome this crosstalk.
Jimmy Chin: Yeah. Oh, always kind of building bridges kind of thing.
Speaker 1: Totally. So how did you get from Minnesota to Jackson Hole then?
Jimmy Chin: I was, really fell in love with climbing in college. I'd always loved skiing, and I always knew that I loved being outside. I always knew I wanted to be exploring the world. I loved adventures. I needed things that made me feel alive. And so I moved West after school and climbed and skied around the country, and then eventually ended up in Jackson.
Speaker 1: And how did you fall in love with Jackson? Is that why you crosstalk-
Jimmy Chin: I fell in love with Jackson because of the mountains and because of the skiing there and kind of the culture, the mountain culture there. People are very driven in that world. And I looked up to a lot of people who spent time there. I was inspired by people who were there. It seemed limitless for me in terms of kind of my development as like a all around mountain athlete.
Speaker 1: It's crazy. How long ago was that?
Jimmy Chin: I probably... I first visited in probably like 1995 or something. I ended up visiting quite a bit more in the late'90s, and then semi- permanent based there since 1999. But I was always on the road. It just means that I stored my stuff there.
Speaker 1: You had a spot?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
Speaker 1: But then it's like, Jackson seems inaccessible now. Back then when you were going, was it hard... Seems to me you always... I'm coming from the East, so the East, is there a hard place to get to, like you got to work to get there?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah, yeah. It doesn't have a big airport and that's why I always liked it.
Speaker 1: That's why you liked it.
Jimmy Chin: It's certainly gotten much more attention in the last five, 10 years, but it's still Wyoming, and there's still a real town there, and there's still real like community and not just tourists and visitors.
Speaker 1: When I mention you to people who were talking about setting this up, it's interesting to me that people will know you for one dimension, but not the other. Like,"How do you guys know him?"" I saw those movies. I love his movies." And then somehow it'll come into climbing, whatever, and I'm like," No, he's an amazing skier and he's a climber," right? But they're like,"I didn't know he climbed." I'm like," What? inaudible." They knew only one aspect, right?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah. I'll talk a little bit about that today.
Speaker 1: Yeah, like having one dimension that you crosstalk-
Jimmy Chin: And it was, it was that I do focus on single dimensions, and then that brings up that idea of bridging these gaps because I see where the bridge lies and I see how you can parlay one with the other and cross- pollinate to create hopefully something new and different.
Speaker 1: So the skiing, and the skiing and climbing makes sense. Where did the filmmaking come from?
Jimmy Chin: Came from photography first, just kind of like visual, creative storytelling, visual storytelling. And I always had a kind of a sense, natural sense for compositions. And I was always... At the heart of what I did was inspired by what was happening that I was witnessing, and so that really drove a lot of my work. And then, as I started really solidifying my photography career, I started dabbling in filmmaking. Shooting at first, but then more into the storytelling. And photography and filmmaking all have different strengths in a way, but filmmaking certainly has been a focus for the last 10 years.
Speaker 1: And how did you first learn about storytelling? Because I've become obsessed about storytelling. I'm originally an engineer, and so I'm the exact opposite of storytelling. And I, because of this world of creating companies, now I'm in this world of like, well, everything's storytelling. It's blowing my mind. Now I see crosstalk-
Jimmy Chin: It's all about the narrative.
Speaker 1: The narrative, and a punch list of camera work, and this, the hero's journey, and everything's insane.
Jimmy Chin: Yeah, it's how you differentiate. And it's also the source of your inspiration which separates what you do from what other people do because everybody has different motivations and inspirations. But storytelling came along kind of organically because I was witnessing all these different expeditions or going on all these expeditions and hanging out with all these really incredible climbers and skiers and personalities. And really the storytelling was brought to me by a lot of mentors, some great storytellers, some of the best storytellers of our kind of genre, and I took a lot from that and tried to bring it to my generation.
Speaker 1: You mentioned mentors. When do you feel like you first started to have mentors? When did you even notice that you had mentors?
Jimmy Chin: I mean, I've had mentors throughout my life, but I mean, in terms of being a climber, photographer, and filmmaker, it started happening probably in the late, late'90s I started meeting people. I actually started to seek them out and then some of them happened to kind of take me on.
Speaker 1: Take you under the wing.
Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
Speaker 1: They saw something in you?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
Speaker 1: inaudible?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
Speaker 1: That's great. Did you start storytelling also with photography or was it a full transition?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah, it was. I started this, understand that it wasn't just about taking single beautiful images and that you could build in narrative, even through like changing up your focal length. It's like, what did you focus on? That alone? Building like a photo essay, building like a scene, building like a narrative, all that was very helpful for filmmaking because that's the foundation of filmmaking, different shots that tell a story and create a scene. And then you use scenes to fill an act. And then you fill three acts with these scenes.
Speaker 1: Do you have virtual mentors when it comes to filmmaking? Like you look at their work and like-
Jimmy Chin: I mean, I've looked at a lot of people's work. I mean, I'm influenced by everybody from... Yeah, the greats.
Speaker 1: Totally other genre.
Jimmy Chin: Yeah. The greats. You know, Spielberg to Michael Mann to-
Speaker 1: I love Michael Mann. crosstalk just the-
Jimmy Chin: Mike Nichols to... I mean, there's just so many. Peter Berg's a friend of mine. I mean, Tarantino. Those are the more-
Speaker 1: I've never heard someone reference Mann and I'm obsessed with just the light, the way he uses light crosstalk.
Jimmy Chin: I think it's probably just because I've been toying with a film idea and I watched Heat recently-
Speaker 1: Oh my God.
Jimmy Chin: ...and it was just like... Which I've seen before, but I mean, I saw it before I was a filmmaker, and to watch that film unfold now as a filmmaker, I'm like, that was really outrageous. But there's so many great, great filmmakers that I respect.
Speaker 1: It's funny. I had watched that movie a ton of times, and more recently I've watched it now that I've become obsessed with the narrative and storytelling. Any video, a lot of video stuff, I've kind of watched it kind of like... I don't want to say passively, but like outside, just like analyzing it, and I was just like, wow, this is incredible. The way it shot the scenes, the width. crosstalk It's just amazing to me. So I totally keep having to... It's interesting how you can see whatever the work is, like you can consume it as a viewer, and then when you stop, when you analyze it, you can see-
Jimmy Chin: I know. I know. That's one of the hard things about becoming a filmmaker is like suspending not just disbelief, but suspending your instinct to kind of examine.
Speaker 1: Yeah, constantly.
Jimmy Chin: But great films, even if you're a filmmaker, it's irresistible. They draw you in and you're in it. And that's the sign of a great film and a great filmmaker, when there's nothing you can do but just get sucked into it and be in it and be present in the moment. And obviously that's something that I aspire to.
Speaker 1: Do you create things at this point in your life that you were ever satisfied with?
Jimmy Chin: It's very rare, but in filmmaking, if you're given enough time... Everybody says you don't ever finish a film; you abandon it. But I find that I'm only abandoning it at the 99.999999 nth degree, which makes me feel satisfied. I look at Meru or I look at Free Solo and I feel like they're 99. 999% to where I wanted it. There might've been... I could have cut out maybe like 30 seconds and a couple words here, but fundamentally, like structurally and how it's built, I'm pretty happy with it. And I can't take all the credit for it, but it gets to these places because we have brilliant people working on the film, everybody from our mixers to our composer, Marco Beltrami, our mixer, Tommy Fleischman. I mean, he does all of Scorsese's films that he's won an Oscar for mixing our audio design. Marco Beltrami is just an incredible composer. Our editor is brilliant. My wife is brilliant. Everybody on my team that has devoted their lives to this film for the last three, four years are amazing. World- class climbers, world- class cinematographers. I mean, really takes everybody who's at the top of their game bringing all of their game. That's how you make a film shine. And then you polish, polish, polish, polish until the thing is just like gleaming.
Speaker 1: Blinding. One of my favorite parts of Free Solo to me was actually those little minutes where you were discussing shots with your crew like that, and that kind of tension of whether to shoot or not to shoot, or like how you would shoot it and stuff to me, I don't know why, but that part was like... I just loved that part.
Jimmy Chin: I am glad you... Actually, you're one of the first people that's really pointed that one out, which I-
Speaker 1: It wouldn't be the same movie to me without those shots.
Jimmy Chin: I really appreciate that. I mean, every moment of that, every breath of that film is considered, and that was also, for me, that was a huge part of the process, and part of the process that I enjoy, sometimes the part of the process that I hate, but those are the things that kind of like move you.
Speaker 1: I think to me as a viewer from the narrative sense, like if I were, to me, if I saw that movie and that film and you didn't have those parts in there, then it would just be like a climbing movie, obviously amazing and tons of intrigue, but it would just be more closer to that genre than it would be a film that you created. So that's incredible.
Jimmy Chin: Cool.
Speaker 1: Thank you for that.
Jimmy Chin: You're welcome.
Speaker 1: Last question, since you grew up in the country, as I would consider it growing up in New York City, now that you live in New York, is it surreal to you?
Jimmy Chin: Yeah. It's a little surreal. I mean, I've lived in a lot of, and traveled in a lot of surreal places, everywhere from like Chad, Africa to spending a lot of time in Katmandu, Antarctica. I mean, they're all surreal. New York is its own entity. And there are aspects of it that are incredible, that are only in New York, you know? So it's special. I like that it's special, that it has something that is intangible that no other place has, but not seeing the horizon line is really hard for me. And some of the draw of the city is also what repulses me from the city, which is that incredible energy and vibration of drive and ambition. And it's incredible. And you know that there are only certain things that can get done in that realm, but it can be a little bit overbearing and it can be a bit much. So like all good things, or all things, there are always two sides to it. So I dive in and then I run away.
Speaker 1: Run away.
Jimmy Chin: And then I dive in and I run away.
Speaker 1: I think that's, to me, I always think that's like the necessary part of just like, look, every superpower is also the super weakness. It's that same thing.
Jimmy Chin: It's the same thing.
Speaker 1: And I asked that question because I grew up in this tiny apartment in New York, and now that I live in other places, I'm like, they seem almost like movies to me because I was like, oh, we saw this on TV or in movies.
Jimmy Chin: Oh, I know.
Speaker 1: It's so weird to me.
Jimmy Chin: Like the idea that I live in basically like an apartment.
Speaker 1: Yeah, an apartment. crosstalk.
Jimmy Chin: It's crazy.
Speaker 1: It's crazy.
Jimmy Chin: Have a doorman and all that stuff.
Speaker 1: You're true to your inaudible. Thank you, Jimmy.
Jimmy Chin: Yeah.
Speaker 1: Let me know what you thought of this episode by texting me at 1- 212- 380- 1036. Again, 1- 212- 380- 1036. Now, if you're looking for more leadership insights, sign up for my weekly newsletter The One Thing at drift. com/ dc. Every week, I'll share a habit, tool, or mental model that's helping me reach my goals. Hope to see you there. Text me. Hit me up.
What do skiing, rock climbing, and photography have in common? They can all become part of one story – if you seek the parallels.
For this episode we went back into the crates to bring you an exclusive episode with the one and only Jimmy Chin. Jimmy, who is a professional climber, photographer, and Academy-Award winning film director, talks with DC about what it was like to grow up as the “other.” He shares how his early understanding for different worlds helps him to draw parallels between seemingly strikingly different things today. But Jimmy would not be the success story he is without the help of his mentors, so in this episode DC and Jimmy geek out on storytelling and mentorship.