While I’ve been piecing together the first episodes for the third series of Factor Two I’ve been asking myself what it’s really about.
It sounds silly to be asking that at this stage, but I realised I’d lost sight of some of the things I wanted to achieve with it. The more I pondered on this question the harder I found it to answer, but it has eventually come together in my mind. It’s not a totally simple picture, I’ve felt that I had a good sense of the kind of stories I wanted to tell even if I couldn’t quite put into words why I wanted those stories in particular.
The first thing I wanted to do was to tell classic climbing stories in a new style. The climbing world is well served with straight interview podcasts (Jam Crack and The Enormocast being the stand out examples that UK climbers listen to) and I didn’t think I would be able to add to this landscape in a meaningful way.
I was told by another podcaster some time ago that “we’re not making cinema here!” I was surprised at their attitude - definitely, most podcasters aren’t making cinema and don’t want to, but I bloody well am making cinema. That’s exactly how I see it, and exactly the experience I want listeners to have. I think of each episode as a three-act play, I look for the key action in the story, the denouement, and the pathos. I literally draw out this structure as I’m writing the episodes. There is probably a lot more structuring and design that goes into an episode of Factor Two than you might think. For instance, Dave Thomas’s episode More Than a Dream runs to half an hour, drawn from more than 5 hours of interviews.
I want Factor Two episodes to follow a narrative arc in this way. We’re so familiar with it that it brings a little element of the expected to the story, which makes the unexpected more exciting. I want them to follow a classic narrative style but give a particular framework to a story so that you might see it a little differently; Contrasting Jerry and Caff’s experiences on Master’s Wall, seeing a small part of Duncan Critchley’s ascent of the Nose through the eyes of valley legends or Rick Allen’s single-mindedness in pursuing Himalayan goals as part of a mismatched but somehow perfect team.
The one-word answer to the question “What is Factor Two about?” is motivation. The more complex answer, I’ve come to realise, is “Authentic Desire”, a topic which started to come through more clearly in the second series.
Climbers can be puritanical when espousing the rules of the game. At its heart is always this undertone, is their motivation really pure? It’s difficult to pin down exactly what this means, but it surely excludes being motivated by ego or money. The idea is that an authentic desire would be an intrinsic one, uncorrupted. It’s the more modern version of Mallory’s “because it’s there” argument for climbing Everest. It’s also a lazy byword for what is really a much more complex picture. There are very few people who could genuinely claim this as a motivation for climbing. That’s not to say that all climbers are egotistical, but our underlying motivations aren’t always clear to us and even when it really feels that a desire is intrinsic there will be a whole host of external factors that led to this position. This was the final conclusion in Dave Thomas’s story - that some motivating factors can become so deeply embedded that they are effectively intrinsic.
What I hope you can look forward to in the future with Factor Two episodes:
More great stories.
Stories told from more than one perspective.
Stories that constantly pick away at the seams of climbing culture and motivations. Why do we do what we do? Why do we do it in the way that we do? What made us the climbers we are?
Stories which can challenge our standard concept of climbing narratives. This is a big ask, but I think an important one with the changing face of the climbing world.