The first installment of Invisible Thread, an ongoing ELM passion project series, Throw tells the story of an outsider from East Baltimore, an area challenged by gang violence and poverty. Often misunderstood, Coffin Nachtmahr found acceptance among a subculture of “throwers” and it turns out, he’s a virtuoso. He now helps others find a creative and social outlet by sharing the very toy that inspired him.
Watch it HERE
How yo-yos change lives: a look into the film “Throw”
Ian Durkin September 28, 2016 by Ian Durkin Staff
Coffin Nachtmahr is a modern day superhero. Growing up with a debilitating stutter amidst violence and poverty in East Baltimore, he’s known adversity his entire life. But with the help of a hidden superpower, he’s managed to create community, purpose, and positivity. What is that superpower? A yo-yo.
Since high school, Coffin has quickly become one of the top throwers in the growing subculture of yo-yoing. Amassing mind-bending skills, fans, and even venturing out to create his own brand of yo-yo products. Coffin and his yo-yo exemplify the power of staying true to yourself and how the simplest of objects can be used as a vehicle for good. When we first saw this film, we knew that we had come across something special. So we sat down with filmmaker, Darren Durlach of Early Light Media, to learn more about the making of the film.
Vimeo: How did you meet Coffin and what compelled you to create the film?
Darren: Dave Larson and his wife Ashlene met Coffin while walking through a park near their home in Baltimore. Coffin was performing yo-yo tricks that appeared to defy physics, and he has a charisma that causes anyone within sightline to be entranced.
We had been looking for a story to sink our teeth into as part of a passion project series named “Invisible Thread.” The idea behind the series is to explore the unseen characteristics of human beings that tie us all together. In “Throw,” Coffin appears to be different from everyone else, but really he’s just looking for a way to connect and move past the obstacles in his life that gave him troubles. What’s very interesting is that the simplest of toys was the tool that allowed him to do it.
The theme of being true to oneself and not caring what others think is a really uplifting aspect of the film. Did Coffin’s perspective influence this approach?
100%. Selfishly, we look for people and stories that we learn from and help us grow, not just as filmmakers, but as people. Coffin never stops. Not just in throwing, but he’s an artist, an engineer, an entrepreneur ... he’s never not created. And [he’s] never been influenced to not put himself out there, despite being bullied for his differences.
He’s incredibly brave. Most would crumble under the things he’s been through and never come out of their cave. Coffin does the opposite. He puts himself on stage with both his middle fingers in the air. It’s beautiful.
As filmmakers, I imagine you’d never filmed a yo-yo action sequence before, though you were able to do so with interesting movement, layered sound design, and punchy editing. What else did you learn through making the film? Were there any unplanned difficulties?
Something we struggled with as storytellers was how casually he spoke about the death of friends or family. We were afraid the audience would think he was unemotional about it and not be able to connect with him. But when we interviewed his friends, it started to make complete sense. He was numb to the violence because unfortunately it’s a way of life in some Baltimore neighborhoods. We think by interviewing his friends, who help give a more 3D image of the problem, it helps the audience understand his character more fully.
You also were able to seamlessly blend in what appears to be home videos. Where did that footage come from? What did it take to make it fit?
Luckily Coffin comes from the YouTube generation and shoots a lot of footage of himself and his friends. It was fun to work with because it was so organic, and when edited with music and sound design, it flowed pretty naturally.
While the film documents yo-yoing like I’ve never seen before, it also perfectly speaks about how a simple object — be it a yo-yo, an instrument, or anything else — can alter someone’s life and add significant depth to it. As a filmmaker, how have you experienced this sensation?
We didn’t seek out this concept, but recognized immediately the beauty of something so simple having great impact. Yo-yoing is like a locker combination: there’s nearly unlimited moves, but it’s pretty much just a ball on a string. When someone is able to spend deep focus on anything, greatness can be achieved.
Coffin is compelled to spend endless hours on this simple toy and he has become great. Olympians are the same way, refining micro movements, hours at a time everyday in order to improve their score by a fraction of a second or one tenth of a point. It was inspirational for us, so we laser-focused on this story to make it as great as we could with the time and resources available.
“Throw” is rooted in a strong sense of place. What is your relation to Baltimore? How do you think the backdrop of the city influenced the film and the characters within?
Baltimore is a beautiful yet complicated place full of wonder and dynamic people. Too often it’s written off or generalized as this or that. Both Dave and I worked as journalists for years in this city and have grown to love it in our own ways. It feels good to tell a story of a Baltimore native who wasn’t fed with a silver spoon, and is kicking ass in life. The city is alive and well.
In the light and the shadows exist communities of wonderful people who just want to live happy, healthy lives. Coffin embodies that to some degree and is using his skills to help others. Kids have been uplifted by his story and so many people told us that their first yo-yo was a gift from Coffin. He’s just a special dude.
What else are you looking to create? Anything new to expect from you?
We hope to continue our “Invisible Thread” series with more stories of human connection. It’s a wide-open topic on purpose. All the best stories are about people and how they connect. Early Light Media is a commercial production house that stays pretty busy, but we want to use the series to continue making stories that shine a bright light on people and/or issues that normally wouldn’t get the light of day. We have a lot of ideas, but if you know of something special, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks, Darren. We look forward to future episodes of your series. Vimeo community, hit these guys up if you have any leads!