REEL LIFE / FILM & VIDEO FILE : Filmmaker Rick Ridgeway’s Stock Climbs : The Ventura mountaineer’s exploits have given rise to a career making adventure documentaries.
It’s easy to forget that filmmaker Rick Ridgeway uses a sophisticated computer database to keep track of the 100,000 pictures and 100 hours of film in archives at the stock photo agency he runs in Ventura.
His personal archive--everything from his elementary school diploma to a 1979 magazine article on notable Americans under the age of 35 in which he appears next to Arkansas’ newly elected governor, a little-known whiz kid named Bill Clinton--is stored not on a disc but in a cardboard box.
Ridgeway, a mountaineer of international reputation, earned the placement next to Clinton by topping K2, the world’s second-highest peak. But these days you’re more likely to see him in the credits of adventure films. He just finished work on an ESPN special about gliders and he directed the Alpine scenes on Africa’s 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya for a film titled “The Ascent,” which debuts Sept. 15 at the Toronto Film Festival.
Ridgeway explained how he made the transition from climbing bum to photographer and filmmaker.
“I had this flash when I was on the American Bicentennial expedition on Everest. I was helping an NBC cameraman set up his camera at 20,000 feet and this light bulb went off in my head. The two of us were doing the same thing, only he was getting paid for it.”
Since then he’s filmed or directed several segments for ESPN and network television.
“I think storytelling is important. I was a writer before I was a filmmaker (he’s written three books including “Seven Summits” with late Disney executive Frank Wells) and I try to bring that sense of narrative to the film projects I’m involved in.”
Once when shooting a special for ABC in the Venezuelan jungle, he intentionally let the expedition run short on rations. They were climbing a 2,500-foot-tall granite spire in an unpopulated section of the jungle where the nearest inhabitants, the Yanomami Indians, are so primitive their counting system consists of “one, two, many.”
“I knew the Yanomami wouldn’t be able to carry enough food for us, but I just thought that would contribute to the drama. You know a one-hour television show has eight acts in it, so I’m always thinking how to divide the documentary into acts for dramatic purposes.”
Ridgeway said that by the end of the five-day climb, their daily ration was down to one-half a Power Bar and a handful of granola each.
“When we got back down to the camp after the climb, it was dark. The Yanomami had picked these fruits for us to eat. We didn’t know what they were, but they were delicious. I turned on my lantern to see how many were left in the basket and discovered they were crawling with maggots. My partner looked at me, said, ‘Turn off that light,’ and we kept eating.”
Ridgeway and team made it back to civilization. Since then, Adventure Photo, the stock agency he started in 1988, has taken off, growing more than 40% since January, he said. Now that the business is starting to function on its own, Ridgeway is going to devote more of his time to writing.
Good thing, too. Word about his filming expeditions travels fast.
“These guys on the Venezuela expedition were some of the toughest climbers in the world,” Ridgeway said, “and after it was over they were telling other people never to go out with me.”