Hywel Teague is one of the most prominent journalists in jiu-jitsu, first via his work with BJJ Hacks and later with FloGrappling. There are currently many questions about his involvement with the documentary ‘Red Belts’, which was the result of a crowd funding campaign a few years back. The delay in the project and the status thereof has gathered a fair bit of social media interest over the past week. Hywel recently spoke to BJJ Heroes, setting the record straight as to the exact progress and to explain what’s taking so long.
BH: So, I think what most people would like to know is “what happened”? You had a project outlined, you set goals and invited people to contribute. Why did you decide to call for public support?
HT: The idea for the Red Belts documentary came about a year or so after I had moved to Rio to train jiu-jitsu and work on BJJ Hacks. From visiting different gyms in the city as part of my work I met two 9th degree red belts by chance, and I didn’t know anything about them.
I always believed that there has been a problem with documenting the history of jiu-jitsu, and this confirmed my feelings. If I didn’t know who these guys were, other people probably didn’t either. And then there was the question, were there other red belts out there we didn’t know about?
The idea was to try and document this to educate people around the world about the lives and careers of these grand masters. To do so would require funding, and I explored various options. A few commercial sponsors expressed interest in backing the project, and then I discovered crowd funding – meaning people could donate toward the funding of the project. It would be a cumulative effort of the community to preserve jiu-jitsu history.
BH: What went wrong with the project, meaning, why was it never released?
To be brutally honest, I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went. I thought it would be a relatively simple project that I could crank out in about six months. I didn’t realize the complexity of the project or the logistical difficulties of producing the film.
In short, there were issues with some of the grand masters themselves – these are all men over 70 years of age, some were easier to work with than others, and some would not work with each other at all.
There were technical issues, such as hard drive failures, and necessary upgrades to equipment, but these were resolved and very little footage was lost, and it was easily replaced.
The main issue is the fact that the money didn’t go as far as I thought it would, meaning I could only work on the project part-time while also supporting myself via day job work. I have plenty of experiencing of budgeting for complex editorial projects, but this one took me by surprise.
It is important that people understand, however, the project is not done. It will get finished.
BH: How did the money get invested?
HT: Of the $17,417 raised $6441.53 of that went on Indiegogo processing fees and the costs of manufacturing the rewards. That left just under $11,000.
Filming and editing a documentary to the standards we wanted required better equipment than we had at the time. A camera that wouldn’t melt in the tropical heat – yeah, I fried a memory card once during a +40° filming session – as well as a computer with sufficient RAM to handle those huge video files. There was the hard drive failure, that cost over $1500 to recover the data. And then the expenses of producers, translators, backing up huge amounts of data (which was double backed up) and so on.
BH: Why did you opt to keep silent for so long?
HT: I sent periodic updates for the first three years or so while I was actively filming, but later as progress slowed I didn’t have much to update people with. I’m didn’t think they’d want to know about me spending hours in the National Archive trying to locate press clippings from the forties and fifties, or the pain staking process of translating hours and hours of interviews. Working on the script and editing the movie isn’t glamorous work and I didn’t have any major breakthroughs to announce, so I opted to keep my head down and get on with it as best I could.
BH: What do you regret most in all this affair?
HT: The lack of communication on my part meant that people started making assumptions about what had happened. This later snowballed into accusations and straight out lies via some hard core trolling from certain unknown figures on the net. I never thought I’d be made into a meme, but hey there we go.
I’ve been called a thief, people said that I never filmed anything, that it’s all a con, and – I genuinely find this hard to believe – I even received a death threat! I mean, that guy can say whatever he wants and I’ll laugh about it, but that’s the level of venom with which some people have approached this situation.
I regret not being more open about the status of the project to those who donated to it’s production, and I regret the possible damage to my reputation that has come about since the trolling began.
BH: Do you plant to still finish the documentary, given that your resources have dried out?
Absolutely. It’s not over. There is over 3TB of footage
I committed to doing this not for myself but for jiu-jitsu. The grand masters deserve it. Nobody else ever came forward to take on something like this, so I assumed the responsibility. That means the documentary will get finished.