Magic in the Lane: Documentary on Chuck Katis

by SwimSwam Staff Off

January 02nd, 2020 News, Video

Having already completed projects on baseball, football and golf, the Dickens brothers hit the drawing board to figure out what sport their next film should cover. Both Eriksen and Soren Dickens had been lifelong athletes and filmmakers, so it only seemed natural for them to blend the two outlets.

“We were sitting in our college apartment at the time, trying to figure out what our next passion project should be, and all of a sudden Soren jumped up and said that he knew the perfect person to do a documentary on,” said Eriksen Dickens, the older of the two.

“Who?”

Chuck Katis,” was Soren’s response.

Neither brother knew Chuck Katis personally, but Soren, being a competitive swimmer his whole life, had heard about Chuck through mutual friends at UC Berkeley.

Soren exclaimed, “Chuck was the perfect center piece for a documentary because he’s such a unique individual. I mean, how many swimmers do you know that build robots or do magic shows with David Blaine?”

Indeed the younger Dickens was correct. Chuck Katis could very well be the most dynamic, well-rounded athlete ever to don a pair a swim goggles.

Chuck Katis received a swim scholarship to Harvard University where he swam for two years before transferring to UC Berkeley as a junior (NCAA Champions 2014, American Record Holder 200 Medley, All-American).

In both 2012 and 2016, Chuck came close to qualifying for the Olympics but fell short both years. When asked if he was going to try again, Chuck responded with confidence, “Oh yeah, 2020.”

But Chuck’s athletic career, while indeed impressive, is but a mere aspect of who he is as a person.

Chuck began doing magic in 2000 after being inspired by a street performer he saw in London. “Magic allowed me to get through really difficult times because it’s a great reminder that something incredible can be created through dedicated, relentless hard work—what you put into it, you’re going to get back out of it.”

While in high school, Chuck began using his skills as a magician to perform in hospitals for young cancer patients. He also started a nonprofit called Magic in Miracles when he was only 16 to further serve young children in dire situations.

“For that second when you’re watching the magic trick, you stop thinking about the tests or treatments that you have to go through as a young cancer patient. I wanted to apply my skills to a group that really needed it,” Katis explains in Magic in the Lane.

Hospitals were not the only place Katis would venture to with a deck of cards. If you strolled through the streets of Berkeley, there’s a good chance you would see Chuck performing magic with the local homeless population. Not only this, Chuck actually did a magic show at a homeless shelter with David Blaine, arguably the most successful street magician of the last decade.

“Chuck the swimmer is very impressive. Chuck the magician is just fascinating. But Chuck the entrepreneur? That might take the cake,” Eriksen Dickens claimed.

While at Harvard, Chuck started an educational platform called “Mentagrate” where students can ask each other questions and receive reliable answers regarding school curriculum.

In 2016, amidst the fiery presidential race, Katis saw an opportunity to capitalize on the frenzy by selling coffee with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton labels on the bags. Not only was this venture financially successful, it got Katis written up in CNN.

But educational platforms and coffee bags were not what Chuck was truly passionate about. What he really wanted to create was something that would elevate his performance in the pool. Something that would take his swimming career to the next level.

Enter the BodBox.

“Leveraging my training experience combined with some artificial intelligence,” Katis says, “I created a training robot that watches you work out and gives you feedback which allows you to perfect your form. It’s like a personal trainer.”

Chuck admits that once the idea for the Bodbox came about, he became obsessed to the point where his friends were worried about him.

“I’d lock myself away in my room and spend hours teaching myself how to code—I had to teach myself a lot about engineering and pick up a lot of different languages over a short period of time. But in my mind, I actually saw it as a way to get better in the pool because I knew that refining my discipline was going to help me in the water.”

And indeed it did. Not only did Katis’s Bodbox help him swim faster and become stronger, it was helping athletes from all different sports experience similar results.

“Being an entrepreneur, I never viewed it as not wanting to work for someone, it was more like, I see myself working for people because I want to supply something that people are greatly benefited by.”

When Eriksen and Soren Dickens first pitched the idea of doing a documentary to Katis, they were relieved when Katis saw the idea as mutually beneficial.

Speaking on the film, Eriksen claims, “The goal of this documentary was to inspire other people with similar mindsets. The film is really a character study with an underlying theme of paying close attention to what you really want out of life. When you commit yourself to your goals, the world opens itself up to you.”

The film was shot over the course of two years. Soren Dickens handled the majority of the technical side of the film and Eriksen Dickens focused on the story side of things.

“During pre-production, I wanted to get to know Chuck on a more personal level before we began filming in order to craft the story appropriately,” Eriksen Dickens says. “I found him to be very polite, kind and intelligent—also very mysterious, which was intriguing from a filmmaker’s perspective.”

When the brothers first met Chuck, he was wearing his trademark all black outfit with a black bag slung over his back. At 6’2 with broad shoulders, Chuck’s stoic demeanor was such that when he walked into a room, it was hard not to notice him.

But it was apparent to the brothers that Chuck did not want the kind of attention that put him in the spotlight.

Upon meeting Katis, Soren reported that, “he struck me as being super humble and mild mannered. He was a bit reserved, but not standoffish. You could tell just by the way he handled himself and the way he spoke that he was very intelligent.”

The brothers claimed the filmmaking process was very ‘guerrilla style’ and that they never had a crew larger than five people at a time. The majority of the filming took place in Berkeley, which was around four hours from where the brothers lived in San Luis Obispo.

There are also scenes in the film of Katis practicing at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado as well as racing at the Santa Clara Grand Prix.

“We normally had two shooters at every shoot we did with Chuck. We wanted to get as much footage as possible so we had enough to work with in the editing room,” Soren Dickens claimed.

All footage was shot using two Sony cameras, a go pro, and two different drones. There is also footage used provided by SwimSwam and Swimming World, along with old home videos of Chuck swimming as a kid.

Once filming concluded in the summer of 2018, the next six months were dedicated to editing the project.

According to Eriksen Dickens, “we really wanted the tone of the film to be a reflection of Chuck as a person. He’s not uptight, but he is quite serious. He’s mysterious. When working with him I got the vibe that a lot of people know Chuck’s name, yet he keeps his circle small. If you watch the film, there’s a certain feeling it gives off through the cinematography, the music, the way things are filmed that reflect this.”

The 32 minute film covers aspects of Chuck’s life ranging from his early years to his time in college, his entrepreneurial pursuits, his family life, and everything in between.

It can be found on the Dickens brothers’ company Youtube channel, Platinum Peek Productions under the name Magic in the Lane.

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