You might remember NY filmmaker Nicolas Heller from his captivating short film series Queens of Kings or his Tribe NYC video for Rolling Stones Magazine. Now, Heller is back on the streets of New York capturing city life as he’s never captured it before: in 15-second short films.
These mini documentaries pack as much story as possible into precious few seconds–a filmmaking challenge that Heller has decided to take on daily. From Subway scenes to Union Square orations, Heller is recording it all and uploading these stories for the entire Internet to see. The films from this new project are being premiered this month at @newyorknico and @hellerfilms.
The shorts won’t be confined to the City, either, so keep your eye out to see where Heller’s camera takes him.
Heller generously agreed to answer some questions for this Viewing NYC piece. To learn about his film career and this daily project, read our interview with him below.
1. How did you get your start in filmmaking?
I have been making videos since 9th grade and found a way to make money doing it my Junior year of college when I got my own DSLR camera. I would make music videos for local artists, make a couple hundred bucks a piece, get stoked, and move on to the next one. The music video grind ended a couple years after graduating and almost 100 videos in the can. I was tired of that specific art form so I moved into documentary filmmaking. The first real thing I made was No Your City which documented the amazing street characters in my home of NYC. I currently do a mix of commercial/branded content and documentary work which you can see here: hellerfilms.com
2. What made you decide to begin this new project?
I tend to make my docs as short as possible. I know in this day and age, most people don’t have the attention span or time for a lengthy piece of video content. After seeing my friend Christine make a 15-second Instagram doc on her grandmother, it made me realize it is very possible to tell a story in such a short period of time and I wanted to challenge myself to do a ton of them. You are not necessarily learning someone’s life story, but you can learn a few key things about the person, place or thing through audio and visuals.
My favorite example is “honor thy father.” I have seen this kid play piano in public places since he was 7 or 8. His father is always there making sure he hits the right notes. He used to play more of a conductor role, but lately he sits back and observes. The dynamic has always fascinated me. I can’t tell whether it is super endearing or horrifying. But in this film, I did my best to show the relationship without trying to sway the viewer into thinking one thing or the other.
3. What do you look for when picking a topic for each short daily film?
I try my best to not do any planning ahead of time. I like the idea of going out without having a clue that I could potentially come back home with 6 little films. It makes life a lot more exciting. So generally everything you see in these little films is serendipitous. I went to the dentist yesterday and decided to make a film on my dentist and his 15,000 dollar high tech glasses that I’ve never seen him out of. I got a haircut the same day and decided to make a film about that. Today is St. Patrick’s Day so I might make a film about that. Who knows?
4. Why NYC?
NYC is my home. I grew up here. moved to LA for a few months, missed NYC and came back. Now I am here forever. Constant inspiration every time I step out the door.