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A year ago I got a message from Ash asking for some rope. Knowing Ash’s budget doesn’t amount to much, and only slightly concerned on its purpose, I rescued a 20 metre length of retired gym rope from neglect.

 

My last encounter with Ash involved a swinging on a rope alongside the Thames in central London, and I suspected this rope might be put to similar use.

I caught up up with Ash Holland (holder of rope) and Claudiu Voicu (holder of camera) to ask them a few questions about their latest project.

 

Hi guys. How did this film come about?

Claudiu:    Um… we just wanted to get some cool photos and videos for the ‘Gram. And then it somehow turned into a very unplanned film, which we continued to craft as the months went on… and on… and on…

Ash:    This film started out as a simple photoshoot. Claudiu and I tend to come up with random ideas that we like to photograph, just out of curiosity rather than any other reason. The pictures of the swing came out so well that we had to go back and see if video would capture the same scene. They did, and then suddenly we couldn’t stop visualizing new anchor points for the rope all round the city.

Ash, you’ve got a spider tattooed on your back so I’m guessing the original inspiration comes from…

Claudiu:    …his weird brain.

Ash:    I would be lying if I said there was no inspiration from Spider-man in this. Its not overly subtle. I sprayed a spider logo onto my shirt!

But the inspiration really comes from the idea of an artist mixing together physical performance in an environment where it doesn’t seem to belong. Like Philippe Petit walking a wire between the Twin Towers, Alain Robert climbing a skyscraper, David Bowie wearing women’s clothing on a rock and roll album cover…maybe that last one isn’t a good example, but the point is that you cant picture those scenarios until someone does it for the first time and that’s what makes it stunning.

Where does the artistic feel of the video come from?

Claudiu:    I just want to film cool stuff, and also to not make it look like it was shot on a potato. There is a lot of POV / shaky-cam footage all over the internet of people climbing buildings, cranes, etc, and that conveys the idea that it’s just a bunch of kids risking their lives for a quick thrill. I hope that by shooting this fairly nicely it gives credibility to the stunts and urbex in general, and dispels the ideas of carelessness and stupidity which people may hold about this kinda stuff.

I wanted to show the physical and mental preparation Ash goes through before carrying out one of his ideas, and that it’s not always just a spur of the moment stunt. A lot of consideration and training goes into what he does.

Ash:    See this is why I love working with Claudiu more than anyone – cos he’s an artist! The attention to the story in a film makes a big difference. As mentioned, I chose a rope swing because you never see it in a city. It’s always in a forest area, under a bridge or by a lake with topless Americans. I wanted to achieve a sense of surrealism and rope swinging in a city ticked all the boxes.

Did you ever worry about the rope breaking?

Ash:    No. We put a lot of prep work into the stunts. We did not just tie the rope up and jump off – there were many weeks between each swing to test the safety.

Claudiu:    I only hoped the rope WOULD break. Andy, you let me down.

 

You mention in the Behind the Scenes vid that a lot of preparation goes into this.

Ash:    Prep work involves photographing the location from all angles and physically checking the anchor points to see if they are strong and that there are no sharp edges that the rope could run across.

Before each swing I check the rope inch by inch- looking for damaged areas.  If the rope is good, I wrap a thick canvas fabric around the area that attaches to the building to protect from friction.

Did anyone spot you swinging and ask what you were doing?

Claudiu:    The police saw us when we were filming the final silhouette shot, but they were very cool and professional with us.  I guess when they saw the kit we were using they assumed we weren’t complete noobs!

Ash:    I can only remember one other swing that had an audience, at the car-park just off Oxford Circus. The sight of a business man stopping in his tracks to take a picture on his phone was pretty funny.

The police let you off with just a warning?

Ash:    It was strange. I remember an uncomfortable silence and expected a very negative response, but they were OK about the whole thing. One of the officers even asked for my YouTube account so he could see the video.

Claudiu:    We were looking at each other, wondering what to say and who would speak first. One of the officers just said “well, you all look like professionals so there’s not much to do here.” It was all very anti-climatic. We barely got a warning — more of a friendly chat about freerunning and filming. We’re usually quite cool with the police, and in return they’re very friendly with us too.

Ash’s physique might’ve been an influence.

Claudiu:    Well it was a lady cop. Ash’s triceps might’ve had something to do with it.

Ash:    The truth comes out.

The shot from the train is incredible. How many attempts did that take?

Claudiu:    Four — which is better than we expected. We got the timing right three times out of the four but the sun got in the way for the best clip we captured. We couldn’t be bothered to go back and forth on the train any longer and we were coming into rush hour so we had to make do.

In total the film took about nine months, but it was very on and off due to jobs, waiting for rare London sunny days, and re-shooting bits we weren’t happy with. There were less than 10 shoot days in total over that entire period, and sometimes we just went out to shoot one or two clips only.

What’s next?

Ash:    There are a few ideas floating around. All I can say is that there will be much more height involved. 😛

Claudiu:    We must go higher. Ropeswing to Mars.

Big shout outs to Arch Climbing Wall for unwittingly providing a testing ground, Marwan Elgamal for doing stuff, along with Alex Potts, Bobby Gordon-Smith, Magda Sieczkarek, Aisha Al-Saif, Sarah John, Yassin Yassin, Fabrice Brovelli. And of course you, Andy, for providing the rope.

 

Andy Day, aka Kiell, is a regular contributor to buildering.net and has access to well-worn climbing ropes.