When you're young, you have a set of choices in front of you: what to do with your life, how to make your mark on the world, and who you will become. Today’s young people occupy a world where the internet is their playground and the rulebook on how to navigate is still unwritten. How do they discover their place and purpose within this? How do they find inner peace? And where?
25 year-old German filmmaker, Nicolai Deutsch goes underwater. For quite a while. For him, the feeling of weightlessness and the grandness of the ocean is a different world – one that brings him peace. But why? Nicolai and water go way back. His grandmother would take him to pools in the summer and, at just ten months old, he was running into the water. By the age of ten, he started diving and snorkelling on trips with his parents, fascinated by the reefs and the mysteries of the ocean. He was mesmerized by its size, yet afraid, knowing how deep it was. It gave him a pleasing thrill and injection of adrenaline. This love for water fuelled his passion to take a camera into his underwater world.
Filmmaking is a fulfilling and purposeful way to share the stories you are passionate about and every year Nicolai creates a few ‘passion projects’, one of which was 'Listen Close' – a short film with free-diver, Timo Niessner. Bringing expensive camera kit underwater sounds like a challenge, but Nicolai was only twelve when he owned his first underwater camera and has plenty of knowledge of his gear and techniques. "Everything is 33% enlarged underwater. If you put a pencil inside a glass with water, you might see that the bottom part seems a bit larger. To compensate you need a Dome Port. The light breaks in a different way, so you get a proper wide angle.”
How long he spends underwater depends on whether it is a free-dive or using a tank. During 'Listen Close', he and his team were in the water for sessions of up to one and a half hours of filming and in the scenes where Timo was naked, the temperature limited the amount of time they could film. What other challenges did he find? ”You can't talk or shout out directions, so you have to plan the shots before you dive, as communication is limited under water. Also, the diver has no air, so he needs to go up and down all the time.”
Nicolai was drawn to the fact that Timo wasn't really that competitive as a free-diver. For him, it wasn't about how deep he could go or how long he could hold his breath, it was more about the feeling of being underwater, free from stress and worry. ”That's how you can relax and hold your breath that long. The less you think and the less you worry, the longer you can hold your breath – it's almost as if you are about to fall asleep,” Nicolai explains. “In the end, you're almost like a baby. When you are born, you are worry free. You learn to worry. A lot of people go into free-diving to relearn how to be calm and relaxed and take a break. That's what we wanted to show with the film.”
The script was written together with his friend Josua Stäbler a child's voice narrates the story, which is perhaps a stroke of genius that adds to the emotional experience of the film. "The world around you is pulling you and teaching you, and then you grow into the person you are. To symbolise this, we thought it would be effective to get a child to narrate it." Julian Lindenmann’s soundtrack also triggers an emotional reaction.
I always thought you needed a big budget to do great work, but in the end, it always comes down to you and your crew what you make of it.
There are clear themes of discovering a space in which to find inner peace – a space where you can let go. It seems an experience similar to meditation. "Yes, it is a kind of meditation when you free-dive. A lot of free-divers meditate, as it helps you concentrate. You need to be really calm and at peace with your surroundings in order to be able to hold your breath that long.”
As a young content creator, Nicolai is presented with a new landscape and more choices than previous generations, which makes the bringing his experiences to life both easier and harder simultaneously. Access to great equipment has never been easier, and reaching a large audience online is what Generation Z do best, but it’s also getting harder to be noticed amid the online noise. However, Nicolai’s generation isn't scared to reach for their dreams. They are impatient. They are brave. They create their own opportunities.
Nicolai is building a solid reputation as one of a new breed of online content creators. And, like his peers, so much of his education as a filmmaker is learnt through seeking out answers, trial and error. “The way you can teach yourself at the moment with YouTube and online tutorials makes a big difference – all you need is an internet connection and ten euros a month and this can be your university. But the easiest way to learn to film is to simply do it. If you sit at home and wait, opportunities might not come. Most of my friends in the industry all went out, did what they loved and showed it online – then the clients came in.”
The market is busier than ever, and Nicolai has a consistent amount of work coming in. What advice would he give to other young filmmakers? "If you have good equipment, the right story and a passion for the project you can create something amazing."