Highlight Machine: A Q&A with Nathan Kolakovic

Nathan Kolakovic. Photo: James Clayton.

Nathan Kolakovic is ultimate’s premier highlight reel making machine. If there’s a major ultimate event, he’s probably there catching the biggest layouts and skies in 192 frames per second.

On the heels of his 2019 season in review video, we wanted to catch up with him and hear about what he’s been up to and what’s coming next.

Season in Review 2019 Ultimate Frisbee

Q: Hi Nathan! Thanks for taking some time to chat with us. First, how did you get into ultimate and when did your interest become more focused on filming?

Hi Charlie! I got into ultimate at the beginning of high school. I lost a bet with a friend so I had to try out for my school team. I played for five years, and after five years and playing at two junior nationals, I only really had one photo of me, so I took it upon myself to bring a camera to games so I could at least get some photos of my teammates to have some memories. I shot stills for a couple of years, then in 2013, when the Vancouver Nighthawks came along, I wanted to take photos but was stuck in the stands. I decided to film the full game, although with a 16gb card you can’t film everything so I just did short clips that I fed into my first ever highlight reel:

Kolakovic’s First Highlight Reel

In 2014, I got my first paid gig filming for the Vancouver Riptide. In the following years, I went to WJUC 2016 in Poland to watch friends play and film there. I think that was the point when my focus turned from playing to filming. Between the opening ceremony, the Cardenas and Mot twins, and the finals, how could you not? The video from the finals is still my most viewed video today by a large margin.

Q: What’s the most enjoyable part of making a highlight reel? How about the least enjoyable?

Most enjoyable part: well, the two most enjoyable parts of making a highlight reel are, first, when a sick play like the Brittney Dos Santos Layout happens:

Dos Santos Layout

I don’t really know if I got it for sure until I review it. But when I review it and it turns out I nailed the shot, there’s no better feeling. The second best would be the first time I sync up the drop of a song with a sick play, it never gets old!

The least enjoyable: Zone. I hate filming and watching zone. Stop playing zone, please.

Q: I know from having been at countless tournaments with you that you really grind to get your footage. Lots of long days on your feet. What keeps you motivated?

Its always a pleasure to see you at tournaments! Theres some very long days, especially the 12-14 hour Semifinal Saturdays. What really motivates me is knowing that at the end of the day I’m going to sink my teeth into a Chipotle Burrito. But for real, a lot of the time it get exhausting and then some random person thanks me for my work or says they love my videos. It really brings new life to me, and I grind for those people.

Q: You’re just one guy. How do you decide what to film?

At the beginning of each day, I look at the matchups and get a basic plan for my day. Once I get a solid play from each team, I move on and keep shifting around. Since my videos are so condensed, I get one or two clips from each team, then I focus on the games that I find were the most entertaining or have the best story behind them.

Q: What is the ideal weather / wind / field setup combination for you to get the best shots?

Overcast is always amazing, and nothing beats slow motion rain. I tend to enjoy when there is a slight amount of wind. The disc will hang for a bit longer in most cases or fly a little further which forces players to make big plays! If I can get a grass with clean background, I’m always happy: it makes focusing a lot easier! My positioning is always the end zones, usually 1/3 of the way into the field from either sideline, normally from the left since the force is usually (righty) forehand. Wind and light have some effect, but it’s usually a secondary thought.

Q: Excluding the time spent filming, how long does it take you to put together a typical highlight reel?

My fastest turn around time was four hours. But for most videos, it’s usually between 12-15 hours of straight editing. The more footage I have, the longer it takes, of course. Videos like an Opening Ceremony video are done overnight in about 12 hours.

Q: How do you make this work financially? Are you doing ultimate videography full-time at this point? What’s changed over the years?

I was working a full time job for the first 5 or 6 years; it was the only way to afford the gear and flights. As I built up a bit of a name for myself, I got more work. As of July 2019, I took the leap and quit my job to pursue video full time. I think a big part of it is always working to improve my craft. I’m never fully satisfied with my videos. I’m extremely pleased to work with some amazing companies and build awesome relationships!

Q: You’ve really established the look and feel of a high quality ultimate highlight reel. Can you share your gear list and how you approach getting the look (and slo-mo) that you do?

Up until last summer, I was using the Panasonic GH4. Recently, I’ve switched up to the GH5s. I pair that with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8. I film like how I learned to take photos — keep in tight and low. A big key in my opinion is to use only manual focus, it keeps the camera focused on the subject and doesn’t hunt around to the background or change the focus to a player running in front. If you can lock that down, it’s a huge bonus. This style I edit with comes from many different videos or movies I’ve seen, tons of inspiration comes from Red Bull, the movie 300, and the OG Ultivillage video (You know the one I’m talking about). Some people aren’t the biggest fan of slow-mo, but I find it fascinating seeing things we could never see with the naked eye.

Q: Ever thought about doing a full lowlight reel? The people, they want it.

I’ve considered it. The day will come, I’ve attempted to do it, but I do need to meet deadlines. If you follow me on Instagram, I’ll usually post misplays on my story!

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring videographer/editor who wants to create great ultimate video content?

Make content you like. Start with a point and shoot camera or a phone. If you’re using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, my preference is a shallow depth of field. I use 2.8 now but I used f/4 for a long time! Stay zoomed in — you’ll miss some action, but the stuff you get is incredible. After, grab a song you like and sync up the first drop/hit of the song. That makes or breaks a video. Most editing softwares do have stabilization, and I highly suggest you take advantage of it. I always keep the plays short, I think if people want to see the full play develop, they can watch the full game or request the entire clip later.

Q: Got any news to share? Anything new on the horizon?

News! I am working on a casual NKolakovic merch line. Be on the look out for that! I’ll be attending a lot of the big tournaments this year, and am looking to host one of my own which has been a dream of mine for a while now! Expect to see some new content from me, some off ultimate stuff as well as gear reviews and some filming and editing tutorials!

Thank you Ultiworld! This was tons of fun, looking forward to seeing you at the next event!!

Nathan Kolakovic. Photo: John Kofi.
  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld.You can reach him by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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