Behind the camera, John Griber has shot video for some of the largest companies in the world, but he’s still just a freelancer.
“It’s really hard to know sometimes where the next project is going to come,” he told the News&Guide on a recent Wednesday between assignments.
The contract work comes with perks: Griber can fly home and spend time with his son, who recently graduated from Jackson Hole High School, during off weeks. But those flights are typically red-eyes, leaving from remote corners of the world, regions where “getting the shot” can cost you your life.
That risk evaluation has always been part of the gig, Griber said. When he was a North Face-sponsored athlete alongside videographer Jimmy Chin, the pair knew the uncertainty of arctic landscapes could be their demise.
A week before Griber was set to film a particularly daring descent from Mount Everest, more than a dozen Sherpas died in an avalanche. But he keeps returning to those mountains to film.
“Since then I’ve been on, like, 8,000-meter peaks, so the danger really hasn’t let off.”
When he and his wife had their son, Nevin, there was a momentary risk evaluation, Griber said, but they’ve been together for 30 years and adventure has always been part of the arrangement.
Those trips to the Himalayas have also helped the couple pay off their house, Griber said.
Most recently the videographer has been filming up in Alaska as the director of photography for “Life Below Zero,” a National Geographic series documenting the lives of rural Alaskans.
The show is quite dramatic in its edits, and Griber admits the whole “reality TV” genre can be a bit embarrassing.
“They twist the narrative around, and they add drama where there was no drama, or they put a little sound bite in that they picked up somewhere else,” the filmmaker said.
Originally, Griber imagined he’d be shooting documentary work, or maybe wildlife, and he’s still somewhat close to those goals: “It’s not like the Kardashians,” he said.
He also calls many of the show’s stars good friends. When you’re out on dogsled excursions with only a four-person crew, huddling together for warmth, it’s easy to bond.
Past projects include “Dual Survival” and a brief stint filming for “Alaskan Bush People,” which Griber said he got himself fired from because the over-the-top production made him cringe.
Back in his North Face days, Griber and Chin were often the stars and the cameramen.
“As an athlete you’re kind of producing your own shot — I’m going to hop off of this. You sit here. It’s going to be sick — that’s exactly how you gain your eye,” he said.
Griber has a way of flipping through the pages of his life in a way that makes you realize each moment has a story.
Skiing with Doug Coombs in Kyrgyzstan. Watching wolverines traverse frozen lakes in Alaska. Fourteen trips to Nepal.
Now there’s a new chapter in that story, in the form of Nevin, 18, who’s walking to the edge of his own diving board, his own couloir, primed to jump off into the abyss of adulthood.
The first stop is known, thanks to the University of Wyoming, but from there the world is full of uncertainty, and opportunity.
Griber isn’t expecting his son to follow in his footsteps. Instead he hopes he finds something with a bit more security.
Griber said nothing makes him sweat more than not knowing what his next job will be, and if it will come around at all.
That might sound surprising coming from a man who’s worked with some of the largest brands in the country and earned several Emmy awards for his work. But Griber is also painfully aware of the ways the film industry is changing.
On one end of the spectrum, films like “Free Solo” have raised the bar to new storytelling and physical heights. And then there’s TikTok.
“There’s so many up-and-coming shooters,” he said. “It’s hard to sometimes still keep your foot in the door and be current.”
Between the two, Griber finds himself, aging, and perhaps aging out of the industry. Retirement isn’t the solution: At 55 he has no intentions of slowing down.
“This is the lifestyle I’ve chosen,” Griber said, “But with that said, you know, those-red eyes are crushing me a lot harder. I’m not as good as I used to be carrying a pack, and carrying a camera and keeping up with guys your age, it’s a lot tougher ... it’s hard to change.”
Thankfully, it’s worked out so far for him to put one foot in front of the other, stringing together international flights chasing athletes and alpine spectacles. This month Griber leaves for Iceland on one such excursion with NBC.
But even though Griber’s been all over the world, he’s still thrilled to call this stretch of backcountry home.
“I can’t ever get enough Jackson,” the filmmaker said. “That’s the truth. I just appreciate this place so much.”
Nevin leaves for college Sept. 1, and before then, the outdoor duo are hoping to pack in as many more Jackson adventures as they can.