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By Scott Erickson | Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Director's take: Introducing viewers to Beeple, Everyday Artist

Introducing Beeple

Remember the Star Destroyer blazing across the screen in the opening of Star Wars? Or Indiana Jones running from a giant rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

The opening moments of a film are crucial for capturing your viewers’ attention and getting them invested in your story from the start—especially on the Internet, where that “next thing” is just a click away. When planning our documentaries, we often put more time and resources into that opening scene than anything else.

As a director for the lynda.com Creative Spark documentary series, I’m lucky to profile designers, photographers, and other artists who have cool creative spaces or exciting creative processes and tools.

But Mike Winkelmann—better known online as Beeple—had none of those.

A web designer by trade, Mike launched his Everyday art project in May 2007 to help him improve his drawing skills. He’s continued the series ever since, adopting yearlong focuses in different creative fields that have resulted in over 2,500 unique pieces of art. Mike was an obvious choice for lynda.com to profile because he’s a perfect example of a lifelong learner. However, his work environment was a folding card table and a cheap, old PC in a mostly empty basement. This was going to require some creative production work.

Our initial research yielded plenty of articles online about Mike but no video footage and few pictures. As a filmmaker, this is disconcerting because it could mean the subject isn’t receptive to being on camera. But we soon learned it’s simply because Mike lives in the middle of Wisconsin—and no one had ever bothered to send a camera crew to his house before. Our production date was set for the middle of February, and he warned us about the cold weather and the plainness of his creative space. “No worries,” we told him. “We can make it work.”

In our phone calls with Mike, what stood out most to me was his incredibly humble nature that seemed in contrast to the rich and varied style of his vast body of work; the two just didn’t seem to go together. Suddenly I realized that was the perfect way to introduce him to viewers: to play up his humbleness and his humdrum town, and contrast that with the vibrancy of his work and the intensity of his output.

That meant we had to collect shots of Neenah, Wisconsin, at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning in February at about 7 degrees. We dutifully got shots around town, and of Mike standing in front of his cookie-cutter suburban home. We wrote a scripted voice-over to set up the banal details of the town before—at the last moment—dramatically turning the story to Mike’s unexpectedly fresh, fun, and colorful art. We then edited quick cuts of Mike’s work timed to the music hoping to completely surprise viewers, while drawing them in even further. “How did this one unassuming guy create so much amazing work?” we hope they’ll wonder. And then we have them hooked for the duration of the film.

Take a look for yourself.

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