Things never go as planned when creating a documentary. That’s one of the many lessons I’ve learned while in production on the film Losing Grip, following my former gymnastics teammate and 2021 Olympian, Shane Wiskus.
Back in 2015, I found my passion for photography and filmmaking. Shane asked me to bring my camera in one day to shoot some video while the gym was empty. I had pretty limited skills at the time, but I enjoyed the process of filming. I continued recording Shane throughout the years. Both his gymnastics and my camera skills improved over time. I retired from gymnastics in 2017 due to being too tall but continued working in marketing at our gym, Mini-Hops Gymnastics.
After graduating high school in 2018, I took a gap year where I worked on several film projects including filming the University of Minnesota Men’s Gymnastics Team. Through traveling on the road with them, I found a greater appreciation for collegiate athletics and the sport of gymnastics. I thought the close bond the team had could be found at any college, yet I’ve struggled to find a team like it.
Once I settled into school at the University of Tampa, I reached out to one of the professors in the communication department, Dr. Christopher Boulton. He recently completed a feature-length documentary on dance. His films have been shown at over 50 film festivals around the world. I pitched this gymnastics documentary to him and he was on board. I completed an independent study with him pre-planning this documentary my second semester of college.
Dr. Boulton recommended I apply to my school’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). This is a grant for students to conduct research over the summer. I wasn’t exactly sure if a film project could qualify, but I completed an application and was accepted.
As with most aspects of life in 2020, my project was put on hold for an unknown period of time. In September 2020, the University of Minnesota decided to cut the men’s gymnastics program along with two others indefinitely after the season. This was a shock to everyone. Not even the coaches were briefed ahead of time.
My documentary was already following the decline in men’s collegiate gymnastics, but now it became central to my main subject. I realized… I was documenting the final year of a one hundred and eighteen-year program. At the least, I was preserving history. But my true goal is to showcase the profound impact gymnastics has had on my life.
The timeline for the film got pushed back exactly one year. As things started opening back up, Shane’s chances to go to the Olympics looked as good as ever.
While driving to St. Louis with my mom in June of 2021 to attend the Olympic Trials, I told her, “This is like a true documentary… I’ve got all my camera equipment and I don’t really know what I’m going to film, but whatever happens, it will be significant.”
I was fortunate to get a credential to the trials, but what I was allowed to film was pretty limited due to NBC’s rules. I captured the reactions of Shane’s parents as he was announced to the Olympic Team. I also set up an interview after the trials with three-time Olympian and Gopher alum, John Roethlisberger. He provided some great insights into the history and future of the sport.
While my original goal was to fly to Tokyo to film Shane as he competes on the world stage, they are not allowing any spectators. Not even his parents are allowed to go. I’m looking forward to filming the outcome from this side of the ocean.
I’ve learned so much through the process of making this film. When I first brought my camera into the gym, I never thought it would end up here. There’s something oddly satisfying about capturing all this content and doing nothing with it for now. I know when these segments are tied together in a cohesive movie, empathy, courage, and greatness will emerge.
To watch the trailer, visit: https://stevennye.com/losing-grip
For updates on the film, follow the Instagram page: @losinggripfilm