Lily Hevesh is the most subscribed to domino artist on YouTube. Her work has been featured in movies and on television. Lily Topples the World is a documentary screening at South by Southwest that focuses on her unique talent, her rise to fame, and social media culture. Lily and director Jeremy Workman spoke with AIPT about the film.
AIPT: My first question is for Jeremy. How did you first hear about Lily and what inspired you to make a documentary?
Jeremy Workman: I had just finished another movie that was also premiered at South By called The World Before Your Feet. And that was a really, really intense documentary that I had done where I was filming somebody who’s walking every single street of New York City and I filmed about 500, 600 hours of him and I edited it myself and I was just so burnt out at that point.
The movie was done. It had already gotten, I think its offer to premier at South By. And I was just hanging, sitting on my couch in a vegetative state because it was so difficult to edit that movie. And I would often find myself just sitting on the couch, watching YouTube.
And I immediately found myself going on down rabbit holes, watching dominoes videos, which I was just doing for many hours at a time. If you look at domino videos online, it sort of all goes to Lily.
And I was sitting there… they were so good and they were so artistic and so well done. And at that point I just wanted to get to know more about who this person was with this weird YouTube channel, with this weirdly named YouTube channel. And I was like, I got to meet this person and see what there might be here.
Maybe I was thinking there could be a movie, but I wasn’t even sure. And I basically reached out to Lily out of the blue. It was the first time I had ever done that as a filmmaker. So often when we’re doing documentaries, they’re either somebody commissions it or maybe it’s somebody but with Lily, I really came to her as a fan. And then once I got to know her, I found her just even more inspiring. And then we decided sort of together that it would make sense to go on this crazy journey.
AIPT: Lily, Jeremy talked about your YouTube channel and it’s millions of subscribers. So you’re used to being in front of the camera, but a documentary is more personal and intimate. What was your initial reaction and was it a hard adjustment for you?
Lily Hevesh: Yeah, that’s a good question. So I’ll be honest. I didn’t entirely know what it entailed to make a full length documentary. So, I mean, I knew that he wanted to get into my personal life and also just the behind the scenes. That’s not really on my YouTube channel and I was definitely okay with that, but it was different in the sense that he was asking me more personal questions, about my childhood and just growing up. And that’s something that I hadn’t really talked a lot about on my YouTube channel.
So, I mean, it definitely made me become more vulnerable and I’m glad he did that in the best way possible. It doesn’t come across as bad. It’s just me sharing my story and telling my message to the world. So yeah, I mean, I think I got used to it. It’s never super comfortable for me to talk about those things, but I was happy to do it.
Workman: Yeah. It was so interesting just because she had this incredible reach just like tapestry on YouTube and yet it seemed there was a lot more to her that I thought could really be explored in a documentary. So that was really inspiring and unique and just this story of her and how she got to where she did. And yeah, that really stuck with me as well as a launching point.
AIPT: I think one of the stands about the documentary, and it really caught me off guard, was it, there was a coming of age story in there, which I thought was really neat. Were either of you expecting that to happen?
Workman: We filmed for three years. And I began filming her in college. And I remember that it was the first thing I filmed of her. I showed up at her college on a Friday and I filmed her for the weekend or something. And it there was such great material, just her and her friends and hanging out. And I also was realizing when I was filming her in college, she wasn’t doing dominoes because she was in college or she was doing them in a limited way. So it dawned on me very early that wow, this is a really interesting coming of age story and that really excited me as a filmmaker.
I haven’t seen many documentaries that are coming of age stories. We’ve all seen a ton of narrative films or read books or whatever, but I hadn’t really seen one that was this young adult documentary coming of age. And then that really was a catalyst in my mind and sort of saying like, “Wow, it’s a portrait of an artist, but it’s really also this coming of age story.” And that I hadn’t really seen that. And it was so relevant with Lily’s story as well in the three years that we were filming.
Hevesh: And I don’t know if I saw that it was going to turn out into a coming of age story. I felt like little clips of it here and there, but not enough to really get the whole picture until the end with the process. But I think it makes sense. I started in college, you’ve seen me just being a normal student. And then I pro into this entrepreneur, who’s doing YouTube and doing this whole business with dominoes and it changed a lot within the period of time that Jeremy started filming me. So, I mean, I think the whole coming of age story, it’s a good way to portray it in the sense that, everything changed in my life during that time. And it was probably the best point that he could have started filming me.
AIPT: So there’s the coming of age, but there’s also independence and Lily you growing into a role model. What do you want audiences to take out of the documentary?
Hevesh: I love audiences to take away that following your passion is really the best thing that you can do. And I want people to have the confidence to follow it. Even if people think it’s weird or not a lot of other people are doing it. If you love what you’re doing and it clearly brings you joy, then nobody can take away that joy from you if you really are into it a 1000% and you never know where it’ll lead, if you don’t try it and keep pursuing it, it doesn’t need to be a career or a job. But just having something that you can do, in the meantime, as a hobby that brings you joy and just keeps you going and brings you some life. I think that’s just so important for people to have.
Workman: That was also a big inspiration for me because I was seeing Matt just filming her, this embracing of life, this joyous embracing. And that’s when also, we realized, wow, this was going to be this portrait, this portrait of joy. And it had a lot to do with these themes that Lily’s mentioning, that we were sort of seeing how her life was portraying that, was manifesting itself in those ways.
AIPT: Social media, especially YouTube are a really big part of this documentary. Now, usually they’re very maligned when you see them, but you, Jeremy you show the importance and the positive effects it has on today’s youth. How important was it for you to show the positive side of YouTube?
Workman: That was another thing that really struck me. And I know it’s not necessarily how a lot of the world may see social media, particularly YouTube, but I saw as I was following Lily and seeing her in this world, I was just sort of seeing how important that YouTube was for this culture, for this generation in a way that we’ve all heard so many stories about how horrible that is. And it wasn’t what I was seeing at all. It was the opposite.
And I was seeing this young woman who was finding her voice through social media and through YouTube and the people around her doing the same and it being one of identity and empowerment. And that was something that again, you don’t really see that. And I didn’t want it to be about that, but I just said, “Well, that’s a different take on all this that I thought was really applicable to what we were seeing with Lily.” So, yeah, it was definitely something that I was thinking about because from watching it all in front of my eyes.
AIPT:And here’s the big question. How many of Lily’s creations did you knock over?
Workman: So at the beginning, when we started filming, I had just come off this movie where I was filming this guy walking around the street. So I was like, “I’m a great shooter. I know what I’m doing.” And I sort of ultra confidently told Lily that like, “Don’t worry, I’ll never knock over dominoes, don’t worry, don’t worry.” And I really wanted the movie to be right with her and right beside her and right in there with her. So I was often really deep in her artwork, just right next to her.
Okay. So I only knocked over one artwork. It only happened one time. It was one of those things where I was like those little windscreens on microphones and it dropped down and it destroyed a spiral that her and another artist had done, spent all weekend doing or spend a day doing. And so it only happened once, but after that, I wimped my way back. And I was like, “Oh my God, I just blew it.” So I really was watching out quite a bit, but again, only one time.
SXSW is March 16 – March 20. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.
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