Behind the Scenes of "Optimist"

Bits of the process behind the Optimist letterpress print at Swayspace, Brooklyn.

Two weeks ago, I launched The Optimist Project.

A few people have asked me about how it all came together, so this week I wanted to share a little peek behind the curtain.

I won't get into the backstory of the apartment fire, since I have already covered that in a previous postGo check that out along with the full video if you haven't yet.

Saying Thank You With A Print

A few weeks after the fire, I decided to take the "Optimist" sketch that I had found, and turn it into a little print to send out as a thank you to everyone who helped us out. These cards needed to be high quality, because I didn't want people to just throw it away or stuff it in a drawer upon receiving it. Luckily my friend Meg had recently introduced me to her husband Willy, who owns a letterpress studio in Brooklyn called Swayspace.

You can see a little bit the process behind how the cards were printed in the video above. It's a bit complicated, but essentially the reverse image of the "Optimist" lettering is made into a polymer plate, and then the paper is pulled over the inked surface, leaving a 3-D impression.

Making the Video

A friend of mine convinced me after receiving his card that I need to get this story out into the world, beyond the people in my tight network. I decided I would create a video to share the story and sell the remaining prints to raise money for other people who have lost their home. After all, not everyone who goes through a tough experience is lucky enough to have a great support system.

I made it my goal to spread the message that you can still choose to be happy, even when you are faced with really crappy circumstances. 

The idea for the video came from a conversation I was having with a friend about what had happened. He convinced me that I need to get this out into the world. So I made it my goal to spread the message that you can still choose to be happy, even when you are faced with really crappy circumstances.

Matt Figler and Jess Lee

Matt Figler and Jess Lee

The Team

I was lucky enough to work on this project with the amazing creative duo of Matt Figler and Jess Lee. I've known Matt since high school, when we used to make skate videos together. Matt now works as a Freelance DP/Cinematographer and Jess works with him as a Producer. 

The two were working on a music video they filmed in Taiwan, and they asked me to create some Mandarin lettering for the intro. After I brought up the idea of the Optimist video, they got excited about helping me, and the exchange of services led to a natural collaboration.

Three Main Locations

  • Perk Kafe, my favorite place to sketch to go sketch in my old neighborhood
  • The MKG office in Soho, with the big chalkboard
  • Swayspace Letterpress studio in Brooklyn

Matt shot some super close up shots with his Black Magic camera, while I used my DSLR to get a time lapse of the chalkboard mural.

At night, we went to my new place and Jess conducted a 2-hour-long interview, asking me questions about what happened and how I felt through the recovery. Since nothing was scripted (I didn't even know the questions until they were asked) the end result was an organic style of voiceover.

A Minor Setback

While we were gathering some B-roll footage walking and skating around the city. There was one shot we were trying to get of me skateboarding across the street. Matt was filming up from the 4th floor office looking down on the intersection of Houston St. and Broadway.

I was on the phone with him, trying to plan out where to skate so we could get the shot. All of a sudden, my front-right wheel flew off of my skateboard and I fell to the ground, dropping my iPhone and cracking the screen. 

Normally I would get mad about something like this, but it was pretty of ironic how this happened when we were making a video about gratefulness.

The Edit

Once we gathered all the footage, I was ready to edit it all together. I thought about doing it myself, but I decided I needed to work with a professional.

Enter Cory McCabe.

I met Cory down in Georgia at the Creative South Conference earlier this year. We played a few rounds of pool together, and to make it interesting we made a little bet. If he won, I would make a logo for his film company. And if I won, Cory would help me edit the video.

I lost the bet.

I ended up making him a logo when I got back to New York, and after presenting it, Cory decided he would edit the video for me anyway. What a good sport.

Cory watched all the footage and took the time to listen to the whole interview many times over. He pulled out the best bits of each to tell the story in a clear, concise way, without dwelling too much on the dramatic parts. Finally, he pieced them all together using a song (by Jesiah) that I had licensed for the project.

"When Eric told me about his video project "Optimist", at this point he had already done a logo design for me, and after hearing the story behind it, I was eager to get involved. This was not only the kind of story that I am naturally drawn to, but it was a real and true story that was unlike anything I'd ever heard. "Optimist" has been one of my top favorite projects to be apart of."
–Cory McCabe
First round of Optimist cards going out

First round of Optimist cards going out

Animated gif made by Femke Van Schoonhoven

Animated gif made by Femke Van Schoonhoven

The Results

Since the launch two weeks ago, I've sold almost 200 prints, sending them out to 16 states and 5 countries. Even crazier, over 11,000 people have seen the film – Holy crap!

I am still looking at charities and deciding where to split up the proceeds made from selling the prints, and I will keep updating this blog with more info. Wherever it ends up, this project will make a real impact in peoples' lives.

Needless to say I look forward to collaborating more in the future on projects like this.

When you have a big goal, you can't always get there by yourself.

Find your team. Make it happen.

Eric Friedensohn