12 months in 12 days: January

December 20, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Copyright Daan VerhoevenCopyright Daan Verhoeven There was no real solid idea, except for a vague thing gnawing somewhere in the back of my mind. Stig and i had made a few things already in Nemo33, the deep pool in Brussel, and they all did very well on the Red Bull platform, so we knew there was potential. The years before i'd had a pretty clear concept of what i wanted to film - heart rate dropping, deepest lotus - and going in there without anything really defined seemed strange - and oddly liberating. We booked Nemo for 2 sessions, one at night, one the next morning, and during the night session i just kinda played. The session is 2 hours, and the gnawing thing in the back of my head was beginning to make its way forward.

One of the vague ideas i had was to put a shit ton of weight on me, let myself drop down to the bottom while holding the camera above me, and then play it backwards, so it would look like i just jumped up 33 meters. I tried it, and it was quite fun - but i figured it had more potential than to just be fun. The other thing that was tickling me was how the boxy, 10 by 10 by 10 meter part of the pool, could be a visual analogy for feeling boxed in. I had been talking a lot with Stig, how he was feeling trapped by his situation with his insurance company, and i kept having this visual of him standing in that big 10 by 10 by 10 box. By the end of the first session, things came together; in my mind the idea had been about being stuck in a box, getting out through a dark tunnel, and then taking a leap of faith, all being visually represented quite literally by Nemo's architecture, and if i combined that with the idea of the reverse jump, i might have a good ending to the film.

Luckily, Stig was up for it. It would be quite a personal thing, and i knew it would require a voice over, and i knew i was getting dangerously close to sappy, plus i'd have to film him at 33 meters deep - all things that made me nervous. But that good kind of nervous, the kind of nervous you get when you might be on to something. And we only had one session to film it all: 2 hours. And a group of 12 other freedivers around us, all training and playing. Not ideal, but Stig is very good, and i can work quick. We timed it so that it looked like no one else was there, we got special permission to film in the dark tunnel, Stig nailed every take, i managed to get all the shots we needed that day. There were a few shots in there that gave me chills as i was filming them - always a good sign.

Often the most difficult part of a movie is the music. Sound is what makes the pictures coherent. I knew we'd do a voice over, and i knew Stig has a good voice for that, but i did need a good piece of music as well. I knew it would need certain changes in the score, when Stig goes from one place to another, when he jumps down, when he jumps back up. I wasn't sure i could find such a piece, but it didn't really take me that long. I use a site for music called Artlist, and you can use several filters to get to the kind of music you'd like. They have a visual representation of the piece as well, so you can see the calm bits and where beats drop etc, so i was looking for the kind of profile that would roughly fit. I was sifting through the selection when i see a profile that could work, a song called 'Don't leave me' by Philip Logan. I usually skim through a song, see if i like it, and this one seemed good. So the next step is to listen with my eyes closed, to hear if what i see in my head matches with the sound. And i get chills again - it seems perfect. I do a bit of a rough cut, and it lines up; this could work.

That leaves the scary bit, the voice over. Voice overs are scary because of 2 main reasons: the first is that they are sound, and i'm not an expert on sound, nor very good with it, and the second is that they require writing. My dad was a writer, a very good writer - he won the most prestigious price for writing you can win in the Netherlands - and it skewered my perception of what writing should be. I am burdened with just enough knowledge and feel to recognise good writing, but not quite enough skills to reach those standards - i've set the bar too high for myself. So whenever something requires serious writing (which excludes this blog), i shy away from it, and postpone till the problem goes away. But i couldn't with this one - it was obvious from the rough cut that it needed a voice over. So i talked with Stig, sent him the rough cut and asked him to just talk over it, to help me find the words. Of course i knew roughly what i wanted him to say, but i wanted him to say it in his own words. He sent me a few audio files that i listened to, but i kept postponing writing the damn thing until i had a trip in February, an 8 hour flight with nothing to do, and i'd told myself i better have a first draft done by the end of that flight. I'd given myself a deadline. 

It wasn't nearly as dreadful as i'd feared. It never really is, i just have to get over myself and that takes a bit of a run-up. But looking at the images, listening to the music and Stig's voice, i found the words, wrote them down, and had something i was happy enough with. I even did a rough voice over myself on that plane, using the mic of my headphones - it was kind of embarrassing, but i figured why not check? Then i did another voice over in the hotel and sent that to Stig, so he could hear roughly what i had in mind. He liked it and made a version in his voice, and during my spare hours in that hotel and on the flight back, i made the film. When i was putting in the end credits, i had an urge to write 'Screw the box' at the end. I figured i'd probably delete it, but i didn't. Instead, it kept growing on me, and it became the title.

'Screw the box' was published March 1st, 2019, and did well on its first day: 20,000 views, much better than average. I was very glad, as it was such a personal movie for both Stig and me, and a real departure from what i usually did. The next days, the view count teetered off a bit, as you'd expect, and then it teetered some more, but just as i was about to really miss the success and exposure of the Red Bull platform, something strange happened: after 4 days, the view count went up. In 5 days, we'd surpassed 100,000 views. in 6 days, over 300,000. In the first week, over 600,000, then 1.2 million in 8 days, and then it really exploded. I was traveling to Bristol at the time, to photograph a pool comp. When we set off, the video was at 1.2 million views. By the time we'd gotten to Bristol, it was over 2 million. After 2 days of competition and a drive back, the number had climbed to 5 million. It was the first time a video had gone viral like that on my own youtube channel, and it was very exciting. For my channel, it meant a huge boost in subscriptions - to date youtube tells me it has brought me over 50,000 new subscribers. 

The best thing, though, was the response the video got. The comments were lovely, much nicer than what normally happens on youtube, but more so the way people approached me at competitions after, and told me how it touched them. I was hoping that Stig's story was relatable on a more universal level, and apparently it was - we've all faced times where we had to take that leap. That, in turn, helped me make the leap to more story-telling filmmaking.  I still love the occasional cool clip with music underneath it approach to youtube, but now i also feel free to make more personal things, tell more of a story. All thanks to Screw the box - what a great way to start the year.


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