Missouri-based artist-climber-filmmaker Jeremy Collins is expressive, artistic, and intuitive—and his new film The Equation is all of those things. In the end, it’s an allegory about how to pursue a life well lived. In the process, it’s a piece of art mimicking the thoughts and ideals of another time. Soak it in and find your own equation.
Adventure: What came first, the idea for the equation or the idea of Dr. Julian Desvaux’s physical journey?
Jeremy Collins: What came first was an article about a doctor in southern California who had found the mathematical equation for the perfect face based on the golden mean of balance. He then opened a plastic surgery business which offered to manipulate your face to meet that perfect balance. Without judgement I think this is a sign of a plaguing mentality that perfection can #1 be obtained with money; and #2 that it is worth purchasing. I responded with some sketches, some notes, and eventually the idea of the “breathing orchid” bloomed.
A: Is Dr. Julian Desvaux based on you in some ways?
J.C.: Art is always about the artist one way or another, but I do my best to find a universal voice within the narcissism.
A: This is a very different kind of “adventure” film. A very quiet, tender one. Some might say it’s not an adventure film, but those of us who understand adventure inherently seek the equation described at the end. Why did you want to tell this kind of story?
J.C.: Even though my mind is far from mathematical (I flunked algebra 1 twice), I see equations in everything from the subtraction of obligations, to the addition of a conversation with an interesting person that all leads you to where you are going. When I am climbing, math is constantly happening in my head—how far to my next piece? How far to the ledge beneath me? When I should I place more protection? I think a quiet adventure is what many of us are looking for. People think what a climber does is adrenaline driven, but that’s rarely the case. It is a peaceful moving meditation. I wanted to tell this story because I needed to find a way to respond creatively and thoughtfully to the world’s obsession with beauty.
Doctor Julian went seeking the Breathing Orchid to add to his roster of firsts in the world and to enhance who he was as a “World Famous Botanist.” Do World Famous Botanists even exist? Maybe in the 1940s for men who wear goggles and travel via trunk-hot-air-balloons. What he found was an adventure, a loss of his devices—the things we use to enhance our adventures, and a new vision of what beauty is and can be. How many of us carry large loads of baggage that weigh us down? Regret? Doubt? These are things that can shape the way we see reality. Julian sees the world through an equation he tries to control, as do many of us, myself included.
A: Where did you get those wacky devices?
J.C.: Some we made in-house, others we had made for us. My whole team spent two days in a huge four-story antique shop near my studio for much of the props. When we found Julian’s trunk, covered in dust in the corner, we opened it to find a small hand-glued paper flower inside and knew it was the one.
A: The film includes diverse landscapes. Where did you shoot?
J.C.: We shot primarily around wooded areas in our hometown of Kansas City with a lot of clever camera work to hide the low relief. The desert shots were near White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
A: How did you do the shots that appear to be not real life, such as the hot-air balloon rising?
J.C.: Smoke, mirrors, and a little breathing orchid magic pollen dust.
A: How did you accomplish that antiqued look of the film?
J.C.: Every shoot was carefully planned to make sure it was authentic as we had time and energy for. My production manager Kelsey was always catching things I might miss and keeping us focused. The murky edges were achieved by using a used and scratched lens filter with Vaseline around it’s edges. Only the most sophisticated in technology of course!
A: How long did it take to do this film, in total?
J.C.: From concept to final render, five months or so.
A: Having seen just two of your films, it seems you have a message you need to communicate. Something you have to share. What do you think that message is, on a more universal level?
J.C.: I have a friend Tim who has a good take on what I do: “…you are evangelizing a lifestyle, one that is thoughtful, purposeful, and passionate.” Ghandi is quoted for saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I offer an echo with this film: “Be the beauty you wish to share in the world.” Exploring beauty is nothing new. It’s the topic on the cover of every magazine in the checkout line. We talk about it whether it’s about our displeasure or satisfaction of ourselves in the mirror, or the beautiful things we have seen in the outdoors, or the beauty of the rich and famous. I guess then, my message is: pursue things that make you feel beautiful inside, because seeking beauty is the finding of beauty. Is that raising a family? Great, do it passionately, not passively. Is that being in wild places? Then go get it, and don’t let obligations keep you from that passion.
Adventure: What’s next?
J.C.: Fulfilling my own equation. I am packing my bags currently, heading back to the gran sabana jungle in Venezuela. Pat Goodman and I left a climb unfinished last year and we want to get to the top of our new route on Acopan Tepui. We delivered solar power to the village there, and have heard they are in need of repairs and new equipment, so we will be delivering that with GoalZero’s help. Yesterday we found out that all flights into the village have been shut down until further notice due to the rampant illegal gold mining in the jungle. So, we are now packing life vests, sunblock, and flip flops so we can paddle in. This is the last journey in my four-year mission to go in the four cardinal directions, do a first ascent, and make a film from it. Making the films has proven much more effort than reaching the summits themselves.