In December 2018, Nils and Kaspars went to Thailand to film a short documentary “Mind Your Step” in just 30 days. The film takes you through spectacular locations and Nils’ daily life as an action sports athlete. Additionally, the movie is highlighting the global plastic waste problem, and they’ll be donating 10% of sales to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Nils Jansons (@nils_jansons) is a professional inline skater who competes around the world, coaches kids and creates films with his friends. Kaspars Alksnis (@kasparsalksnis) is a freelance visual artist, filmmaker, rollerblader, and pizza lover. Their friendship started over 15 years ago, and this is one of their many joint projects.
In this interview, they talk about what it took to create and promote their independent film. They absolutely love what they do, but what really got them going was ambition, grit, and relentless motivation. Read their story below to get inspired and take action.
P.S. The full documentary with exclusive action footage of Nils’ skating stunts is available on their Sellfy store starting April 30.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
Nils: I think the idea has been with us since Sellfy became very popular in our action sports scene, so it’s been a few years. I knew I wanted to be a part of something like that as well. Me and Kaspars, we’ve worked together on many projects. This time, we wanted to step it up. So, Kaspars came with his vision and the energy to create something, and I was ready to do it. It all connected and we chose Thailand as our destination.
Kaspars: The goal was to film this project somewhere far, far away from Europe. It had to surprise viewers with the sights, with how exotic and fascinating it is. And, destiny just made it all click together.
What was it like to film the whole movie in 30 days?
Kaspars: It was 30 days of non-stop skating and filming. Every day you wake up, you skate, you film, you go to sleep. You feel just as tired in the morning as in the evening.
Nils: Yes, we were very tired all the time, but we enjoyed the whole process. Every day, we woke up and we had a goal, a new mission. We just focused on what’s next.
Did you have any fears or doubts about making a film so far away from home?
Kaspars: We had talked with Nils about Thailand for two years. So, it’s been a step-by-step project and we chose our steps wisely. We learned this mindset from doing tricks.
You can’t change your mind when you’re doing a trick because then you can get hurt. But, you also need to be sure about what you commit to. It’s not random and unplanned. It may sound like YOLO, but it’s not.
Nils: I think once we were there, when we actually met in Thailand, there was no more doubt. We knew it was just going to happen. No time to doubt. Once you have this mindset, you just do it. It’s the same in life, I think. Once you commit, you commit all the way.
How did you finance this project?
Nils: At the beginning, we collected some funds from sponsors I know and some other companies from our industry. They helped us kickstart the project just so I could buy my flights to Thailand. We have about 10 supporters backing our project. They covered the main travel costs, and all the other costs were on us.
Before you started filming, did you set a goal for how much money you’d like to make with the project?
Nils: Not precisely. Our primary goal was to connect it with a charity. During the trip, our focus was to make our work as great as possible with the idea that it would be naturally rewarded in sales. But we didn’t plan how much money we’d like to make from this.
Tell me more about the charity part…
Nils: We wanted to not only take from this project but also to give back. A part of it was to show the documentary part to the public for free, to spread the message. Another part is to connect our project with nature, to spread awareness about environmental issues and collect donations to help solve them. While we were in Thailand, we saw how terrible the huge plastic pollution really is. We decided it’s an opportunity for us to connect our project with this environmental aspect. 10% of the sales will go to the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), which is a large organization that is helping to protect and save wildlife globally.
Kaspars: Actually, this idea came from other sports like surfing. For surfers, nature is everything. For skaters, it’s more about the urban environments and the streets. Our industry is so small that for many people it may seem foolish to give away money which you’ve worked so hard for. But, with this step, we want to show that you can give back even if you’re in a small industry and you’re not the biggest guy. You can still give back and show a good example.
And I believe that by giving more you get more. I think this kind of project proves that blading can go further than just collecting money and living from it. And if it works in other industries – why wouldn’t it work in our industry?
Some of our friends are donating money, too. For example, Alex Burston is donating to mental health programs. He has done it two or three times. His example helped us shape our idea, too.
Did you have a script or a specific vision in mind before you started filming?
Nils: It was a balance between planning and going with what happens. We adapted the script all the time. Especially with skating, you can’t predict how productive it will be or how easily the tricks will come. It depends on your mood, you might get hurt and some tricks might take all day to do. You might have one plan at the beginning of the day, but it can turn out completely different. You have to adapt and make the best out of it.
Kaspars: Yes, I agree. That’s the hardest part about documentaries – you never know what’s going to happen. But, I knew the basic things like how I wanted to film the intros and things like that. So, there were fewer minutes to worry about.
From the beginning, we had the idea to split the movie into two parts – the action part and the documentary part. We’re making the action part available for purchase for one week only on our Sellfy store, together with the full documentary. The action part is the eye candy – you’ll see Nils doings stunts, jumping down the stairs and running rails. Then, we’ll present the documentary Mind Your Step for free as a 3-part series on Nils’ YouTube channel. The first series is coming out on May 8.
Having this concept in mind from the start helped us decide on pretty much everything – how to film, what kind of content to put in and how to present it. It’s easier when you have a structure in mind – you start with the basics, fill in the content and go from there.
What were the most difficult parts of creating the movie?
Nils: It was hard being on the road for 30 days, non-stop. We didn’t have a crew to organize everything for us. We didn’t know where we were going to stay the next night. At the same time, I had to skate every day and throw my body into it, which is physically really hard. And Kaspars was realizing the script and filming all day long. You need to be motivated every morning to keep going.
Kaspars: We faced many challenges. We could make a documentary about how to make a documentary. It’s very hard to live this ‘documentary life’ because you don’t know what’s going to happen even in the next minute. And in these types of outdoor projects, everything depends on you. No one will tell you what to do. You need to plan every single thing, you need to become a great multitasker.
Also, we had a strict time limit and my visa was expiring. I almost got stuck in Thailand for New Year’s Eve and almost went to jail. Luckily, everything ended well and I left the country with a smile on my face.
How did you stay motivated?
Nils: I think the motivation came from being in a group. We had our French friend who helped with logistics and a friend who is from Thailand. So we were four people traveling together and we met different people and friends who helped us out along the way. Being with others helped boost the energy and cheer each other up.
On a trip like this, you’re totally out of your daily rhythm. At some point, you just want to have a break and chill, but you can’t because you’re in this 30-day marathon and you need to finish it.
How much money did it cost to make this movie?
Nils: I think it was less than 5000 euro. You could probably make it happen with less as well.
How are you promoting this film?
Kaspars: It’s mostly been us two making this project. It proves that nothing is impossible and you don’t need a big team to make it happen and make it look good. It’s a bit of a freestyle, but this time it’s more professional, compared to our previous project. We’ve put a lot of work into the presentation.
We started with a teaser trailer, then we had an exclusive premiere for our friends and supporters in the cinema Splendid Palace in Riga, Latvia. We’ll be doing more premieres across the country. We see Latvia as a great platform because it’s hard to go out into the world with this kind of independent project. We already know how to do the media promotion in Latvia, and everyone loves Nils here, so we’ve had lots of local media attention. We’re using the connections we already have. Now, we’re launching the action part of the film through Sellfy and we’re using Nil’s social media to promote it internationally.
How did the cinema premiere go?
Kaspars: We called the people we knew from doing a previous project titled Lost in Latgale which we presented in the same cinema. It made sense for us to do something like that again, to have a nice ceremony, a nice concept. This time, it was more special because there were no entry tickets. It was invite-only and you could donate if you wanted to. It was like a little experiment and it didn’t work 100%. I think when you do something for free, people aren’t as committed and it requires a lot of effort to invite people personally and to get people’s attention. But, it was still great.
Nils: We ended up having around 500 people. It was nice, we had snacks and drinks. And the screening date was the deadline to finish the movie. I think Kaspars was even working on the movie on the day before the premiere.
How did you get over 34K followers and what’s your approach to Instagram?
Nils: Winning bigger competitions really helped because people recognized my name more. Also, creating great videos and launching them from my site. That’s how I got attention in the industry.
I haven’t put much planning or structure into my Instagram. I post about my everyday life. Most of my followers want to see action, they want to see me do tricks, and that’s what I try to give them. And now we’re trying to expand it beyond skating and show something more.
What other platforms do you use to post your content?
Kaspars: We use Facebook and YouTube as well. The film also has its own website mindyourstepmovie.com. The best thing about it is that it’s there for as long as we want. It’s not like social media news which fades quickly.
Nils: Yes, in this era, everything kind of disappears. You post something one day and people want to find it the next day, but it’s already somewhere in the ocean of posts. But our website keeps all the information about the project and people can always go there.
Nils, you joined YouTube not too long ago. Are you planning a YouTube career?
Nils: I see it as a way for me to be independent when I’m done with sponsors. I’ll keep creating YouTube videos if people want to see them. But it’s hard to maintain my channel because I have multiple projects and plans at the same time. YouTube takes a lot of time and I’m not very consistent. And we’ll see if I can make some money out of YouTube. Why not?
Apart from showing stunts, I’d like to inspire people and spread the message about healthier living. I see that in our sport, people don’t take care of themselves and quit skating when they’re 30 because they feel they’re too old.
My goal is to keep skating forever and show people that you can experience all the adventures and enjoy skating if you take good care of yourself – stretch, work out and live healthily.
What lessons have you learned during this process of envisioning and making the movie?
Kaspars: For me, it’s to surround myself with professionals who are a little bit better than me so I can learn from them and make the project as good as possible. That’s important in life, too. Surround yourself with strong personalities who inspire you and who will never let you down. It helps in every project and situation in life.
Nils: Nothing great comes easy. It’s always hard work. It takes effort and pain. It’s hard, but it’s always satisfying in the end.
What tips would you give to other actions sports athletes who want to make a living independently?
Nils: If there’s a will, there’s a way. If you want to make things happen, then commit and go that way and just do it. If you fail, you’ll find other ways. You’ll live, you’ll learn. Don’t sit around thinking about what could be. Take action.
Decide what person you’d like to be, take steps in that direction and you’ll find answers along the way. You don’t have to have it all figured out at the first step.
Kaspars: And, it’s not about money. There is so much information, so many possibilities, good cameras, computers, contacts and so on. It’s not about money, it’s about how you use opportunities. And, if both of us could do this thing, then anybody can. It just depends on how far you’re willing to go and how far your nerves can take it. It depends on how strong you are without a full team, without a big budget and so on.
What are your next steps into the future?
Nils: This is a once in a lifetime project, but I know there is more to come. The future for me would be to keep skating, stay healthy, compete and film more videos. Keep inspiring the kids and show a good example. I just want to make a living out of skating in different ways, even when I’m not pushing myself to the max or trying to compete. I want to travel the world. Do pushups every day, eat salads, drink a lot of water, and feel good and healthy.
Kaspars: I think it’s good that we shot our powder out with this project for at least a couple of years. It takes a lot of energy. My goal is to inspire people, to make them think a bit outside of their daily life and show rollerblading with beautiful shots. I hope I’ll continue doing what I love.
Exclusive footage with Nils' skating stunts is available on their Sellfy store starting April 30.
Go to www.mindyourstepmovie.com for the latest project updates.
Follow Nils Jansons and Kaspars Alksnis on Instagram.