75 Never Too Old: An Interview with film director Aled Llyr

We catch up with the climbing film-maker.

Photo: Aled Llŷr/Steepedge.com
Photo: Aled Llŷr/Steepedge.com

The stunning 75 Never Too Old is a unique sort of climbing film that follows a couple of 75 years old Welsh amateur climbers as they head off to the USA to fulfil their climbing ambitions. It’s a great watch and goes to show that you’re never too old to stop achieving.

 

We caught up with director Aled Llŷr, to see just how the project came about.

 

Q How did the project come about?

Slam Media work closely with North Wales based company Cread cyf – developing various projects and ideas for both TV and Radio programmes in Welsh and English. Stephen Edwards of Cread had been developing a series idea with Eric Jones who was celebrating his 75th year by doing some crazy things with his friend Jeremy Trumper – like climbing, motor biking and parachuting.

We pitched the idea of these two old guys ticking off their bucket list to the Welsh language broadcaster S4C. While they were supportive of the original idea, their commissioners felt that as they’d already done several programmes featuring Eric, that they preferred the Jeremy angle and it was a good fit for an episode within a new short series on growing old.

So the Welsh version that was shown on S4C and which won the Best Climbing Film Silver Award at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival is told from Jeremy’s perspective.  It’s filmed around where Jeremy lives and farms – hence the first part is about Eric and Jeremy going back to do the famous Cemetery Gates climb in Llanberis.    

The original S4C commission did not include the American leg of their adventure, but I was so blown away by the experience of filming with them in North Wales that I took a punt on organizing a local American crew to film Eric and Jeremy’s trip to climb the Devils Tower in Wyoming.

Through our contacts, Stephen and myself tracked down a specialist American climbing cameramen – Rob Frost – and we shot the climb back to back – in English and in Welsh. The camera work on the rock face was fantastic and when we cut a short sequence – S4C were keen to include this new material within their half hour documentary.

As proud as I am of the Welsh language version, I always felt a sense of frustration that the Devils Tower footage had more mileage in it and that Eric and Jeremy’s epic story deserved to be introduced to a wider audience. Winning the award at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival was a fantastic boost and was the trigger to cut a brand new English language version.

This version goes back to the original bucket list concept and I think has a far stronger narrative.  The fact that we had an American camera crew in the States also meant a lot of the banter on the rock was in English whereas Jeremy and Eric would usually talk in Welsh. That meant I knew I was sitting on a strong English language film.

Cardiff based multi award winning editor John Gillanders is a good friend of mine and I managed to persuade him to work on a new English version. The result is stunning and we’re both very excited to get the film shown to the wider audience it deserves.

 

Photo: Aled Llŷr/Steepedge.com
Photo: Aled Llŷr/Steepedge.com

Q That brings me to my next question.  This isn’t really a climbing film is it?  It’s more a celebration of age and friendship and show that being old doesn’t stop you having amazing adventures…

That’s right. Though it’s a climbing film, really it’s a documentary about two friends growing old together and their wise old philosophies on life. The setting is dramatic, the uniqueness of the rock and the breathtaking climbing photography creates it’s own drama – but, yes essentially it’s a story about two old men “fighting against the dying of the light`!

I was blown away by their whole zest for life.  My parents are the same age and are fantastically active cyclists and walkers who’ve cycled round New Zealand and they’ve been a big inspiration to me. 

Eric and Jeremy are both so articulate and have this fantastic bond.  They are very different characters. Eric is more impulsive and Jeremy is more reserved and quiet.  Eric is a famous adventurer whereas Jeremy is a farmer and a family man with four kids and ten or twelve grandchildren.  For most of his life he was tied to his land and family business and had little free time to pursue his dreams of adventure and danger. In his 40’s – inspired by his new friend Eric Jones – he started an annual pilgrimage to the Alps and only in semi retirement and past his 70th year did he find time to seek new adventures.

They are two old guys who’ve always had this passion for adventure and love for speed.  The audience perceives the climbing as so incredibly dangerous – and it is exciting and breath-taking. The risk factor though is relative.   The motor biking is more dangerous really. In fact, Jeremy emailed me the other day to say he’d got a new 1,000cc bike and Eric had just taken it for a spin at 110mph!  

Their story is a celebration of life.  Eric has an artificial knee and frostbitten toes so The Devils Tower was the worst sort of painful climbing for him but the message is ‘Whatever age you are, keep going on to your next adventure and your next dream’.    

I just loved their bond – it was beautiful to see.  Eric is a lovely man and has done all of these magical things over his career yet he’s not one to boast. He has this aura about him which I find mesmerizing and Jeremy is quiet and measured but has real depth – a man of real substance.

 

Q That’s interesting that you should say that.  The film originally caught the eye of Sheffield Adventure Film Festival Director Matt Heason because Eric lives close to their family home in Wales and Matt’s brother Ben did his first climbing with Eric.  Matt says that, in his book, Eric is one of the most understated heroes of British mountaineering and doesn’t get recognition he deserves because he is so modest.

Absolutely.  As a climber, Eric would I’m sure tell you that even in his heyday, he wasn’t one of the elite in the technical sense.  He’s never been one of the strongest or most supple climbers but he has this incredible mental control and an aura about him. That composure makes it’s magic to be in his company. I’m quite understated in my approach myself and I think it’s a very Welsh trait and a quality which we Welshmen value!  Eric and Jeremy are really special guys – but they go about what they do in a quiet way and just love each other’s company. 

John Gillanders the editor who cut the English language film was so inspired by the two of them that when he finished, he said that the film should be shown on a loop in every doctor’s surgery in the country to inspire people to get off their arse and go and do something with their lives no matter how old they are!  

 

Q So do you have plans to film more adventures with Eric and Jeremy?

Yes.  I wanted to do the English version because ultimately my ambition is to do a short series with them about each of their bucket list ideas. 

Slam Media is a relatively small company – it’s just me and Geraint Lewis [Insert link: http://slam-media.co.uk/?page_id=848] and in the past we’ve mainly produced big sporting events and major sports such as rugby, football, boxing, snooker, darts and bowls (Climbers may not consider some of those to be real sports!)  We have a proven track record of producing documentaries but this was our first ever climbing film.  We’ve invested a lot of our own time, money and resources in this project and the reality is that it is easier to watch in English without subtitles and it’s been really beautifully cut.  If you liked the Welsh version you’re going to be blown away by the English version.

We need to get backing for the bucket list idea pretty quickly though because they are 77 years old and they aren’t going to be around forever.  I think it’s got great sponsorship appeal as it sends out such a positive message about growing old and staying active.

 

Q You’ve been in the business for more than 25 years now.  What are your favourite adventure sports films?

You’re asking the wrong guy – I’m not a big TV watcher – I wish I had time. I’m not a climber.  I’m a cyclist and a runner and in a past life a golfer! I’ve always loved the outdoor and was brought up in the Snowdonia mountains with two younger brothers and super fit parents with a zest for life to rival Eric and Jeremy! From a film or documentary perspective, I love anything with a good story.  I cover a lot of sports events and when a film is done well it’s good story telling with emotion that hooks you in as a viewer. I’ve worked across all different genres and it’s portraits and documentaries about people that I enjoy. I just love meeting interesting people.

BBC Wales did some lovely programmes with Eric when he was younger like ‘The Man Who Jumped to Earth’ (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0449065/) as he attempts a BASE jump off Angel Falls in Venezuela. 

 

Q Who are your adventure sports heroes?

Eric Jones!  That’s final!! And Jeremy of course!

Photo: Aled Llŷr/Steepedge.com
Photo: Aled Llŷr/Steepedge.com

Q Looking back with your experience, what would your advice be to aspiring filmmakers?  

I’ve got three kids and I’m telling them all to get a proper job!  I got into TV & media totally by accident.  I was a golfer as a youngster.  I did some commentating and accidentally ended up working in the industry.  

I enjoy making programmes that show people at their best.  I wouldn’t be happy digging up dirt and doing news.  For example next week I’ll be out filming for the Welsh version of Countryfile telling simple stories of people in the farming community.  So I’ve got no industry heroes and there aren’t any films I watch religiously  or styles I emulate.  

I just like working with good cameramen and editors, finding good stories and enjoying the process.  

Welsh is my first language too, and I’m passionate about making Welsh language programming. I like finding big stories in small places, and I honestly believe that Eric and Jeremy’s story is a big story with global appeal. Whatever the language, I think people anywhere in the world, whatever their age, would be inspired by these two old Welsh men pursuing their dreams. 

 

75 Never Too Old is available to rent and buy from SteepEdge.com.

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