Magic in the Lane: Documentary on Chuck Katis

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“Chuck Katis isn’t your typical swimmer,” Building robots and doing magic with David Blaine are just a few things that keep him busy while training for the Olympic Trials.

Having been life-long athletes themselves, filmmakers Eriksen and Soren Dickens, otherwise known as the Dickens Brothers, were drawn to making films about athletes. They had done a documentary on their high school football team in 2016. They made a short documentary on a golfer they met while in college at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. They produced a full length documentary on baseball and even produced a short film on barrel racing.

In the spring of 2017, the brothers were looking for a new project to begin.

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Swimmer Chuck Katis during the filming of the “Magic in the Lane” documentary; Photo Courtesy: Platinum Peek Productions

“We wanted to do something involving sports,” Eriksen said. “We just didn’t know what. It was Soren who came up with the idea.”

The younger Dickens had been a swimmer his entire life and had heard about a certain swimmer with an interesting story through mutual friends at UC Berkeley. Only this person wasn’t just a collegiate swimmer.

Chuck Katis isn’t your typical swimmer,” Soren said. “ I mean, how many swimmers do you know that build robots or do magic shows with David Blaine?”

The brothers reached out to Chuck to see if he’d be willing to allow them to do a documentary on his life. To their delight, Chuck was receptive to the idea and was willing to partake.

“When we met Chuck, we were impressed with how he carried himself. You could tell he was extremely intelligent by how he spoke. It was also apparent how humble he was. He just struck us as a really genuine dude,” Eriksen said.

The 6’2 Katis was a collegiate swimmer for two years at Harvard before transferring to Berkley for his junior year. In both 2012 and 2016, Chuck came close to qualifying for the Olympics but fell short both years. When asked if he was going to try again, Chuck responded, “Oh yeah, 2020.”

In addition to swimming, Chuck is also an accomplished magician. Throughout the years, Chuck has done magic shows at homeless shelters and hospitals and even started a non-profit called Magic in Miracles while he was still in high school.

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Chuck Katis performing magic for cancer patients; Photo Courtesy: Platinum Peek Productions

“For that second when you’re watching the magic trick, you stop thinking about the tests or treatments that you have to go through as a young cancer patient. I wanted to apply my skills to a group that really needed it,” Katis explains in Magic in the Lane.

When he’s not swimming or performing magic, Chuck is probably building robots. Yes, robots. “Leveraging my training experience combined with some artificial intelligence,” Katis says, “I created a training robot that watches you work out and gives you feedback which allows you to perfect your form. It’s like a personal trainer.”

Chuck came up with the idea for the Bodbox after falling short in the 2016 Olympic Trials. He thought about ways in which he could improve himself and locked on to this idea of a training robot. Once the idea came into his head, Chuck admits he became obsessive about it.

“I’d lock myself away in my room and spend hours teaching myself how to code—I had to teach myself a lot about engineering and pick up a lot of different languages over a short period of time. But in my mind, I knew that refining my discipline was going to help me in the water.” Now, nearly five years later, Chuck has a thriving product, a team under him, and customers from all different athletic backgrounds using his patented AI technology around the world. Speaking on his success, Katis says, “Being an entrepreneur, I never viewed it as not wanting to work for someone, it was more like, I see myself working for people because I want to supply something that people are greatly benefited by.”

Apart from robots, Katis also started an educational platform called Mentagrate while he was at Harvard to give students the opportunity to engage with each other regarding school curriculum. The goal was to allow students the chance to help each other with their rigorous studies.

In 2016, amidst the presidential race, Katis capitalized on the frenzy by selling coffee bags with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton labels on the bags. This venture was so successful, it actually got Katis written up in CNN.

Speaking on the film, Eriksen Dickens claims, “The goal of this documentary was to inspire other people with similar mindsets. The film is really a character study with an underlying theme of paying close attention to what you really want out of life. When you commit yourself to your goals, the world opens itself up to you.”

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Katis will swim in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha in June; Photo Courtesy: Platinum Peek Productions

The Dickens brothers got to know Chuck well over the two years they worked on the film. The majority of filming was done in Berkley, California, with additional scenes shot in Colorado at the US Olympic Training Center and also the Santa Clara Grand Prix.

Eriksen Dickens served as the writer and director, while Soren Dickens functioned as the lead camera operator and cinematographer. Both brothers contributed to the editing of the 32 minute film.

“We kept our sets small. There was never more than five crew members at a time,” Soren explained.

The film covers not only Chuck’s success in swimming and entrepreneurship, it also explores his childhood struggles and where he received his inspiration to become so relentless for what he wants.

According to Eriksen Dickens, “we really wanted the tone of the film to be a reflection of Chuck as a person. He’s not uptight, but he is quite serious. He’s mysterious. When working with him I got the vibe that a lot of people know Chuck’s name, yet he keeps his circle small. If you watch the film, there’s a certain feeling it gives off through the cinematography, the music, the way things are filmed that reflect this.”

The film wrapped shooting in early 2018 and was released in December of 2019. It can be found on the Dickens brothers’ company Youtube channel, Platinum Peek Productions under the name Magic in the Lane or watch below.

 

To follow the Dickens brothers on their future endeavors check out their website or their Instagram handled @platinumpeek.

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