The Nicolai Family — Vincent, Maria and Enzo — with a new garage setup and Triumph Speed Twin — Rahoul Ghose
Afilm about the power of community in the face of hardship
With the worldwide premiere of johnnypuetz Production’s The Distinguished Gentleman set for Friday, Oct. 4 at the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival in Ontario, Canada, we thought we’d sit down with executive producers Jean Pierre Kathoefer (JP) and Kirsten Midura to discuss their first project together, reveal some of the behind-the-scenes stories, and announce details regarding the film’s imminent local release — the NYC debut will be Oct. 9 at the Kickstarter headquarters in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
The 17-minute short film documents “the power of community in the face of hardship.”
In February 2019, Queens, NY-based moto enthusiast Vincent Nicolai almost lost his life in a near-fatal accident when a propane tank exploded in his garage while he was working on his motorcycle. The accident consumed Nicolai’s motorcycling legacy, including his two Triumphs, his tools, and all his collectables, and left the community leader with serious burns over more than 40 per cent of his body.
As the news hit social media, the New York City motorcycle community rallied behind Vincent to raise more than $77,000, a communal act of solidarity with an element of karma; Vincent, himself has raised over $70,000 for the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, a motorcycle charity that funds prostate cancer research and promotes awareness of men’s mental health issues, depression and suicide prevention. Vincent’s persistent, annual efforts to raise money for the cause has had far-reaching impacts. In addition to providing financial support to men in need, he also has inspired others to fundraise for DGR and has built a strong network of friends and family who came through in his own time of need.
When Kathoefer and Midura heard about Vincent’s accident and the rallying efforts of those around him, their film team knew this story had to be told … how, in the wake of the accident, Vincent’s family and motorcycle friends came together in an astounding way.
1) The topic is a very emotional one, in particular for the main subject Vincent Nicolai and his family … how do you tackle a filming something like this, balancing the emotions of those being filmed with creating a film people can truly identify with?
Jean Pierre Kathoefer: The whole story lives with the emotions. As a filmmaker, especially in documentaries, you want the emotional moments. This is how you tell the story … being able to connect with your audience on an emotional level is the key. How to handle that while filming and balancing is not easy. People open up for you because there is a trust and a connection with you. This needs to be maintained all the times, starting with when you first reach out to the subject.
I remember having a discussion with Maria (Vincent’s wife) about this. She told me her concern with being filmed and getting too emotional. I told her that before we would publish the movie, she could watch it first and have the last call. If she wasn’t okay with it, we would change it until she approved. I can tell you, that was a very intense moment for me – getting the movie done, pressure because of the timeline, and running out of budget for the editor. So, I bought two bottles of great wine, went to her house, and we watched the movie together on her sofa on my MacBook. After the movie she said to me with tears in her eyes: “This is beautiful!” She is one of the key people in the movie and it would have been difficult to change it. Thanks to Vincent for the tip with the wine.
The Distinguished Gentleman — johnnypuetz Production
Kirsten Midura: In terms of the topic, I think in some ways the story told itself. The gravity of the accident was genuine, and Vincent’s optimism and the support from his family and friends led to a natural resolution. From our end, we just needed to tell it like it was, to keep it authentic and real, and let Vincent’s experience speak for itself.
From an emotional standpoint, I think the key was to build trust with Vincent, his family, his doctors, and others who were close to the topic. It helped that we weren’t strangers — we’ve both known Vincent for a while, albeit not as well as we know him now. But getting to know his wife and son, in particular, was both critical for that trust and also a great experience, since they’re wonderful people. I also think the fact that JP and I just want to tell an impactful story is important — we’re not trying to profit from this project or get famous from it; we just want to make a difference in our own way.
2) How did the creative process work between you? How many hours were spent shooting and how did the editing process go?
KM: This was our first film together, and I think it went great. JP (being German) is very organized and pragmatic. And I work well with that type of personality. I drafted the rough outline of the story, JP was the creative genius behind the lens, and we worked together to figure out who and what should be in the film. In terms of editing, we were fortunate enough to receive sponsorship from the DGR, which allowed us to afford an editor, which really elevated the film. We found Tom Ragan, a brilliant editor and documentarian, himself, and I hope we get to work with him again in the future.
JP: This was the first time ever, that I worked with a team on a film together. Up until now I had been producing my films on my own, from the idea until the export/upload of the finished film. This time I had a full crew. Kirsten as a co-producer, Tom Ragan as an editor, and Anna Khromova as a sound mixer. Working in a team means that there needs to be more communication and coordination. But the beauty about it is, that I was able to work with people that are professionals in their areas. Managing the project and directing at the same time was very time consuming. More than 12 shooting days needed to be organized and filmed. It added up quickly. Another critical part for me was to outsource the editor role. Finding the right editor was a long process and I am very glad that I found Tom. He did an awesome job and it was great working with him.
The Nicolai family — Vincent, Maria and Enzo — with a new garage setup and Triumph Speed Twin — Rahoul Ghose
The whole story lives with the emotions. As a filmmaker, especially in documentaries, you want the emotional moments. This is how you tell the story … being able to connect with your audience on an emotional level is the key. How to handle that while filming and balancing is not easy. People open up for you because there is a trust and a connection with you. This needs to be maintained all the times, starting with when you first reach out to the subject.
3) What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome during filming and putting together the final edit? What equipment was used? Who else worked on the film … sound, editing, etc.?
KM: Oh man … B-roll and archival footage were the toughest. Vincent doesn’t have a whole lot of photos from his youth, so finding footage of his early life was difficult. JP also had to go back and shoot some additional B-roll shots after we wrapped all the interviews, mostly because this was our first time working on a project like this and we didn’t know how much B-roll we’d need. There was a bit of a learning curve, but the trial-and-error will help us be that much more streamlined for our next project(s).
I’ll let JP answer about the equipment, but our other key crew member was Anna Khromova, our kickass sound mixer. We definitely want to work with her again, too.
JP: Where shall I start? Coordinating shooting days with very busy people in NYC, technical issues on filming days, losing SD cards with video material, lack of b-roll and archived footage … The list is long, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed.
The film is shot on a Canon 80D, a very low end DSLR camera. For sound, we had Anna on board, with professional sound equipment. That being said, it’s very cliché, but I think the sound quality is way more important than the video quality. And it is always about the storytelling. Therefore, Tom did an excellent job.
Let me give you a quick side story about Anna and how she got into the team. I reached out to her because I knew her work from other people. I literally texted her that I was a big fan of her work and I would love to work with her, but I didn’t have the money to pay her. I told her that we would pay her if we were able to organize budget and sponsorship but for now, she would have to work for free. I have no clue why she said yes. However, it was another beautiful moment when we got the funding and I reached out to her and said, “Hey, we got money and we will pay you for your work.”
4) You managed to acquire some supporting footage and images through Triumph America and members from the local moto community, including Vincent Nicolai. How did you integrate this into the interview and action footage you shot personally?
KM: Yes, and a HUGE thank you to Triumph for that — it was really helpful to have those shots (e.g. footage of DGR, aerial footage of Vincent riding, etc.) We couldn’t have gotten those shots otherwise. In terms of how we used it, most of the Triumph footage was either from DGR or was somewhat of an expose on Vincent from a year or two ago. So, we used it as we would archival footage. Our interviews and live action were what made up the post-accident story. There’s a little inconsistency because Triumph’s footage was in 4K, but I think our editor did a great job of smoothing it out, so it fits together seamlessly.
5) You also had the financial support of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride to make this concept into a reality … do you find the world community just as inspiring in terms of this support?
KM: Yes, and also a MASSIVE thank you to the DGR. It would have been a very different experience if we hadn’t had not only their financial sponsorship, but also their overall support and encouragement. We’ve had DGR rides from all over the world reach out about potentially screening our film at their events. DGR has expressed interest in putting the film on their website, and (DGR founder) Mark Hawwa is talking about showing it at the 2020 Throttle Roll in Sydney, Australia. The guys at DGR have been there for us every step of the way and we couldn’t be happier with our experience working with them.
6) You have even been honored with a world premiere showing of the film at the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival in October. What does this exposure mean to both of you?
KM: JP had been speaking to the people at the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival. He wanted to attend the event, but even better, he wanted to submit a film. One day, while we were chatting in JP’s kitchen (now our de facto production office), JP had mentioned (to me) he wanted to submit a film but wasn’t sure what to make it about. Meanwhile, I had recently done some fundraising for Vincent, and I knew his story was one about perseverance and the value of community, especially the NYC motorcycling community. So, I said, why don’t you tell Vincent’s story? JP asked if I wanted to do it with him, and the rest is history.
So, we’re pumped! We achieved our initial objective. What’s amazing is that the project has developed into a much bigger endeavor than we had planned or hoped for -- we have a film we’re proud of, we’re submitting to festivals around the world, we’ve built relationships with great organizations such as DGR and Triumph, we’re meeting people we’d never know otherwise, and most importantly, we feel like we’ve been able to do a little more to help Vincent, his family, and our community at large. This project has grown into such a great experience, and it feels like it’s just the beginning.
Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival Tickets:click here
Vincent Nicolai receiving a DGR care package from Michael Higgins, Anna Khromova (sound), JP Kathoefer (camera) — Kirsten Midura
What’s amazing is that the project has developed into a much bigger endeavor than we had planned or hoped for — we have a film we’re proud of, we’re submitting to festivals around the world, we’ve built relationships with great organizations such as DGR and Triumph, we’re meeting people we’d never know otherwise, and most importantly, we feel like we’ve been able to do a little more to help Vincent, his family, and our community at large.
7) The opportunity has also sprung the idea of a road trip to the festival where both of you and Vincent will appear at a Q and A session. What kind of help do you need from the community in terms of sponsorship for this trip? And you intend on covering this trip for a future film short?
KM: JP, Vincent and I are riding up to Toronto to attend the Moto Film Fest. We’re extending the invitation to our friends and family who want to come, so if you’re interested, let us know. In terms of sponsorship, we’d discussed looking for a heated gear sponsor (it WILL be October in Canada, after all). We’re also open to exploring other sponsorship opportunities for gear, press bikes, accommodation on the way up to or in Toronto, etc. We’re open to exploring options. For coverage, I know it’s impossible for JP not to document his motorcycle adventures. We’re not sure yet if it’ll be its own short, but I know there will be plenty of content coming from it.
8) Even more exciting on the local front, we now have a date and a location for the NYC premiere: Oct. 9 at a theater in the Kickstarter Headquarters in Greenpoint. When will tickets be available and what can those lucky enough to attend expect from the event?
KM: YES! It will be our own little premiere, complete with a cocktail hour, a step-and-repeat/red carpet, the film screening, itself, and a Q & A with JP, Vincent, and me. We want this event to be an excuse to get dolled up and have a special night out. We’ll be making the tickets available in mid-September, so keep an eye out for the Eventbrite listing.
9) For each of you, what was your most memorable moment from producing The Distinguished Gentleman. What was your ultimate takeaway from the experience overall?
JP: My most memorable moment. Man, there were so many. But one of my highlights was pitching the project to (operations manager) Mikey (Stojcevski) from DGR. I met him twice in NYC. The first time, I heard that he was going to be in town, planning to attend a New York Classic Riders event. I heard about this last minute. So, I grabbed my camera, went to the event and pitched him about the project. He didn’t know me but was right away stoked about the idea, so we met a week later again. I remember him looking at me and saying, “We will support this!” Just a few hours later we received the information that DGR would fully fund the film. This was a great moment, but scary at the same time. Now we had money, we had to deliver a movie. I’d like to thank the DGR team once again. There were no restrictions regarding the film. I will always remember the words: “No worries guys, we trust you.”
KM: : I learned so much from this experience, personally. I’ve dabbled in film and TV over the last year, but this was the first time that I really got to roll up my sleeves and be involved in all of it, start to finish. From a production standpoint, it was just JP and me, so anything that had to get done, we did it. It was a great way to implement all the production skills that I’ve gradually collected over time, all in one place. Also, seeing the final product has given me a lot of confidence in my ideas -- it’s satisfying to see your idea come to life, and validating when it turns out how you hoped it would.
For my most memorable moment, I feel like the ‘helmet handover’ will always stick with me. In the fire, Vincent had lost his treasured DGR helmets that he had been awarded over the years for being a top fundraiser. We knew this was a big sentimental loss for him, so we helped to coordinate their replacement. One night, our crew and Mike Higgins — NYC’s DGR co-organizer — went to Vincent’s house to surprise him with the new helmets. That night felt like the culmination of the project, both in terms of the story, and in terms of the filming. Afterwards, we got a tour of Vincent’s newly finished garage, and we sat with Vincent for a while in his home sharing riding stories. It was the perfect, wholesome ending to a very emotionally charged project.
(left to right) Anna Khromova, Vincent Nicolai, Jean Pierre Kathoefer, Michael Higgins, Kirsten Midura — johnnypuetz Production
I learned so much from this experience, personally. I’ve dabbled in film and TV over the last year, but this was the first time that I really got to roll up my sleeves and be involved in all of it, start to finish. From a production standpoint, it was just JP and me, so anything that had to get done, we did it.
10) With this featurette under you belts, what’s next in terms of film projects you’d like to pursue?
KM: It’s funny that you ask … as soon as we wrapped filming on this project, JP turned to me and said, “So what are we doing next?”
This project has allowed JP to formally launch johnnypuetz Production, LLC, so we have a platform to keep working from. We already have a plan for a motorcycle-related series of documentary shorts, focusing on different groups around the world. We want to get a little more legwork done before we go into too much detail. But needless to say, there’s more in the works!
For more information on The Distinguished Gentleman, visit: