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Filming climbers on Devils Tower in Wyoming
MacGillivray Freeman Films
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Rappelling down Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
MacGillivray Freeman Films
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Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
MacGillivray Freeman Films
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Devils Tower stands out above the northeastern Wyoming grasslands that surround it.

Movie fans may recognize its iconic shape: It served as an alien landing site in the 1977 sci-fi film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But climbing fanatics are drawn to the 386-meter-high igneous rock peak in the Black Hills for a different reason.

Climbing Devils Tower, Wyoming


So says Shaun MacGillivray, producer of MacGillivray Freeman Films’ new movie America Wild: National Parks Adventure: Presented by Expedia and Subaru. “It’s flat, then there is this naturally made skyscraper rising dramatically above everything. That’s part of what makes it such a fantastic climb.”

Only a very small number of visitors to Devils Tower National Monument actually make the climb. In 2014, famous climber Conrad Anker, his son, Max Lowe, and their family friend Rachel Pohl made the ascent during filming for America Wild: National Parks Adventure. Perhaps even more impressive, so did the camera crew filming their ascent.

“Fortunately, we had a great team, including Michael Brown, who knows how to get amazing footage in difficult places — including Mount Everest,” said MacGillivray, referring to the filmmaking veteran who has made multiple treks to the summit of the world’s highest mountain.

Such experience came in handy, considering the logistics required to capture shots halfway up and at the top of Devils Tower. Filming in a giant format not only requires hauling heavy camera equipment, but also reloading film repeatedly to capture three minutes of footage at a time — no easy feat on the side of a rock face. Then there’s the syncing of wireless recording devices to catch the climbers’ every breath and joyful yell.

“It takes upwards of 15 people — on and off the mountain — and a lot of coordination to get these shots,” MacGillivray said. “But if we can capture the ‘wow’ moment of climbers hanging off a thousand-foot cliff in this sacred space, it’s all worth it.”

This scene will appear in the film America Wild: National Parks Adventure, which will be in theaters around the world in 2016.