Buildering: 1994, the birth of the film

Times Square: one hundred meters off the ground, in front of my Arriflex, Alain is climbing on the Calico Building clock: one of the most exciting scenes of the film.

Buildering is probably the film which satisfied me most from a creative point of view. We had just received confirmation by the firm “Sector sport watches” which had agreed to produce our idea for a tv series called “No limits”. The producer De Benedetti wanted a series of film having a strong concept and showing at the same time a world record or something similar. I remember opening the drawer where I kept the ideas and projects that could be done only with a high budget. It was a drawer full of dreams. Most of the projects it contained were labeled “expensive” or “very expensive”. I had browsed dozens of pages of texts, sketches and photographs with notes stitched to them, when I extracted from the heap of the ”beautiful images” the photograph of a model on the top page of the magazine Vogue, wearing only leggings (pantacollants in the eighties) and a T-shirt with strass. Around the waist she had a climbing rope from which hung some carabineers and pitons. The girl pretended to climb the mirror wall of a New York skyscraper. The most interesting thing of the picture was that both the back of the girl and the front reflected in the mirror were visible. All around, the skyline of New York was reflected and framed by the square lines of the skyscraper’s windows, like a Mondrian’s picture of extreme sports!
Probably the girl was at one meter high on a terrace but the whole image screamed that it was a fantastic idea. A wonderful, mythical, urban photograph. The chance to see for once both the back of the climber and the face tense in the effort. The chance to film in a town with no approach at all. In short: a wonder.
We called all the climbers we knew and we got the same answer: No. Of course, the no was masked as “I am not interested”, “I only climb multipitch routes”, “I don’t like free solo climbing” “ Bullshit” and so on.
After two weeks the idea didn’t seem so good and I had resigned myself to look for a new one, when I got a call from the producer, claiming that he had found the climber: Alain Robert. I had never heard of him, for me he was a total stranger. The producer told me that Alain was the first climber in the world to have climbed an 8b (in 1987!) unroped…
I said Ok, let’s see him.
Only a few days after we were on a plane heading for Dallas, the paradise of skyscrapers (in the nineties!). From the Fountain place by Pei & partners, an arrow of green glass, to the Bank One by Philip Johnson, every one of these steel and glass monsters, more than 200 meters high, could have been our pick.

A total blank. All the lawyers of the big companies that manage these enormous properties told us that, even if we had a million dollars insurance, they would never give us the permit. Every just graduated lawyer could have got to their client more money that we could think of, in the case of an accident that even remotely had involved one of their insured (as in the case of a fall of Alain or a stroke of a passerby from seeing someone walking out of the window at 200 meters high..) .

We got back to Paris.
My daughter, whom I had informed of my fiasco, had found in Paris a skyscraper in the neighborhood of the Defense, which had a “crack” 3 cm wide, exactly the width asked for by Alain. The cracks are the rails of the window washers trolleys, which travel all along the walls of all the skyscrapers of the world.

(picture dida) The Elf skyscraper at the Defense.
Alain climbing on the right while the workmen are washing another side of the facade: they notice nothing!!

A Friday later we were rattled by a telephone call: Alain, without having signed a contract with the client Sector, had decided to climb the ELF skyscraper at the Defense the next Wednesday. . .
We had to organize a troupe in few days, get a room in the hotel just in front of the ELF skyscraper, look for an helicopter which would pretend to pass there by chance exactly when Alain would have been in the middle of the climb… a total nightmare.
Alain had decided to start at 11a.m., but only fifteen minutes before he had dropped the white coat which covered his climbing attire and the climbing belt with one or two cliffhanger (just in case…), had taken off the galoshes which protected his climbing shoes from the dust (steel is a little bit less adherent than granite…) and had started. The Television reporters from all the main French networks were there to film the birth of a man who is now called The French Spiderman.
The rest is history. After a few weeks we got a call from Alain asking us to find a good American lawyer. He said to be willing to spend a few days in jail after every climb, in exchange for a worldwide fame.

My planning was ready and comprised the Chicago Citycorp as first, because we would shoot two films at the same time: “Buildering” and “BASE jump in the USA”.
Chicago is the birth town of Spiderman and the film text underline the resemblances between Alain and the comics. For New York, Alain Robert had disappeared: The French Spiderman was born.
The film was shot among huge difficulties and risks (more for him who was at the beginning of his career than for us who where insured, even if we run the risk of having seized our sixteen millimeters cameras worth 70/90.000 US dollars!)

Everything was fine and the film was a huge success, also because of the crew’s efforts, of the film and audio editing and of a text and a soundtrack up to it.

The film has won many golden awards in the most important film festival in the USA and throughout the world.
(you can see some clips of the film down below.)