Behind the camera with Nathan Kolakovic

Welcome to interview with Nathan Kolakovic! Get to know the tips and tricks about becoming a world-renowned creator, a word about the marketing of Ultimate Frisbee, travels, and more.

Ultimate Frisbee wouldn’t be where it is today without the media coverage. The excitement, engagement, and recognition are here thanks to those who decided to pick up their cameras or other forms of storytelling and share their perspective on Ultimate with the world. With the coverage of the sport comes the opportunity to grow alongside it, share your voice, and change lives, literally.

In this interview, I’d like you to glimpse behind the scenes at creators like Nathan Kolakovic, who supplies us with the best possible highlights from tournaments from across the globe. Literally. I’m still fangirling a bit because when I first started playing Ultimate, Nathan’s videos introduced me to the Ultiverse. Whenever I introduce someone to the sport, I show them Nathan’s videos because you can count on a good dose of the best of the best highlights of this sport.

In this interview, we talk about starting with Ultimate and photography, tournament bucket lists, favorite places, how the highlights come to life, opportunities that Ultimate created, and player brand recognition. Enjoy!

Ultimate Frisbee wouldn’t be where it is today without the media coverage. The excitement, engagement, and recognition are here thanks to those who decided to pick up their cameras or other forms of storytelling and share their perspective on Ultimate with the world. With the coverage of the sport comes the opportunity to grow alongside it, share your voice, and change lives, literally.

In this interview, I’d like you to glimpse behind the scenes at creators like Nathan Kolakovic, who supplies us with the best possible highlights from tournaments from across the globe. Literally. I’m still fangirling a bit because when I first started playing Ultimate, Nathan’s videos introduced me to the Ultiverse. Whenever I introduce someone to the sport, I show them Nathan’s videos because you can count on a good dose of the best of the best highlights of this sport.

In this interview, we talk about starting with Ultimate and photography, tournament bucket lists, favorite places, how the highlights come to life, opportunities that Ultimate created, and player brand recognition. Enjoy!

1. How did you start your adventure with Ultimate Frisbee?

It started back in high school, which was 15 years ago. I was on the basketball team in my high school, and I lost a bet with one of my friends to go try out for the Ultimate team. Then I just started playing it with him, having fun. We had a couple of really good players on the team. Then it took off and I just kept playing. I played for five years in high school and then started getting into photography a bit, but I was into it cause my grandma loves photography. At first, I was taking photos of nature with her, then I was playing Ultimate, and then I started using my first camera. I brought it to the games and just filmed from the sideline, took some pictures and it got out of control from there.

Source: Nathan Kolakovic - first camera
Nathan's first camera - Canon PowerShot

So, at first, Ultimate took over your life, and then photography and filming became your thing?

Yeah. Ultimate was definitely kind of a second thought for me in grades 8th grade 9th, and then my school’s team dissolved because there weren’t enough players, so I had to play for another team in another school. In turn, I took it more seriously. I ended up leaving school early. I’d leave my classes half an hour early, so I could get to practice on time. Looking back on it, it was not the best decision for my grades.

I just kept playing. After I got out of high school, I played Ultimate probably five or six times a week. I just lived and breathed that. Ultimate really took over, and then the filming kind of paralleled that. There was a point when one of my good friends, Jon (the coach of the men’s team the first time I was in Poland), had a conversation with me where he said you can either excel at one or the other. So, I went with the filming aspect. I don’t play as much anymore. Ultimate very much still rules my life. It’s dangerously addicting.

It’s sure addictive; there is something so dynamic about every aspect of Ultimate, so no wonder you started filming so early, and then it took off so seriously!

I started photographing in high school and did some video projects. I was our high school yearbook photographer. Then I did some nature photography, but I only really started photographing Ultimate in grade 12. That was just for fun because I was playing so much and then after graduating that’s when I started photographing a lot more of the events and stuff just because I enjoy being at them. I was photographing instead of just watching.

2. There's a question that I always like to ask people. What does Ultimate mean to you?

The short answer is that it means the world to me. My whole life is based around it. The longer answer is, it’s such a part of my identity because I spent so long around it. Because of Ultimate, I’ve built up so many friendships and I’ve had so many opportunities. I think it means a lot more to me than to many others because I went to the university for one year. I could probably get a decent job at some random department store, but because of Ultimate, I was able to build up connections and have opportunities.

I travel around the world, I go to three different continents a year. I have so many opportunities that, I guess, I’d probably take them for granted because of what the sport of Ultimate has given me. I love the sport so much and I love this translated to filming and the community has shown so much love back to me that I’ve been able to be in the spot I’m in. It means that I can have so many opportunities and experiences that have just elevated my life to such a high level that it would never have been without the sport. Filming Ultimate is my full-time job, which is just absolutely a dream job. This sport has been an absolute life changer.

3. Think back to the first tournament you were shooting that held a special meaning for you. Remember the excitement, the nerves, the thrill. Which one was it?

There are two moments. The first one was in 2011. There’s a tournament in Vancouver called Flowerbowl. It used to be a really popular tournament. Two high-level teams would come and they play a showcase game for everyone and you have tons of people watching. Furious George, Canada’s number one team, and Seattle Sockeye, which I think around that time was one of the top three teams in the States. I just had this little camera there pointing and filming from the end zone. It was so cool to see these high-level teams and I just remember seeing l Michael Caldwell going for a layout D attempt and it was so sick! Then Morgan Hibbert, who was just like one of the most insane people to watch, still is. It was just like one of the highest-level games I’ve ever seen. It was just such a hook to watch, getting a couple of layouts on video. 

Then the following year I bought an actual camera, like a DSLR, saved up money, got a $800 kit, and asked the University of Victoria if I could come to photograph them at a place that’s four hours away. I asked if I could get a ride, and sleep on the floor. Then I went out there, I got some video clips and I got the first photograph of the layout. It was from the other side of the field, super zoomed out. Honestly, it was a horrible photo, but, at the time it was the first time I had a photograph of a layout. That’s a photograph of the player of Furious George, Kevin Underhill. It was just one of the most mind-blowing things.

Source: Nathan Kolakovic - the first layout photo

4. What kind of equipment do you have? Are you Team Canon or Team Sony?

Team Cannon all the way! On the photography side, like lenses, I am Team Cannon all the way. Please do keep in mind this is saved up over the last five years of equipment. 

For photography, I have a Canon 1D X Mark II, which is my main powerhouse for photos, a Canon 5DMark IV as my backup or second camera, and then a Canon 7D Mark II as my backup to my backup to my backup. That’s an 8-year-old camera. 

On the video side, I use a Panasonic GH5S, so that’s the camera I use for all slow-motion videos.

It sounds as if you have a separate bag for your equipment.

I definitely have a bit of an addiction to buying camera gear. I bought a suitcase specifically for my camera gear when I’m going somewhere for four or five days, I have my camera bag, which is all my camera gear, and then a smaller bag for just a change of clothes. Then I usually check another bag for all my actual clothes and stuff.

5. How long does it take for you to edit each video? Does it take a lot of time?

It really depends. I would say a regular, two-day tournament, after I’m done filming it probably takes somewhere between 10 and 20 hours of actual editing. Then I need to find music, so I go in and I look for songs that I would potentially use for videos and I just make a huge library of potential songs. When I go into editing, I cut down all the clips and then get it down to 8 minutes worth of footage. Then I start seeing what kind of songs vibe with the footage the most. That’s probably the part that takes the longest because once I’ve chosen the song it just falls together extremely quickly. 

Some videos, especially the World’s, either take the longest or the shortest amount of time. For World Juniors, I made “The Best Of” video took around 15 hours. A lot of the other videos, because I’d seen the footage so many times, I was hammering it out within five or six hours. 

It really depends on the quality of the footage and the amount of good plays. If there are a ton of really good plays, it usually takes longer because it’s harder to feature the best plays. If there are only a couple of really good plays, I find it a little bit easier. It takes a little bit less time, but also it really depends on the song because if I have good songs that I absolutely love, the flow is a lot quicker.

Do you have it all in your head when you start editing or does it fall into place when you start working on it?

When I film, I always do short clips, so basically every time a play stops, I stop recording. I end up with hundreds of 15 and 22-second long clips. I go through them before I even open my editing software. I’ll go through, I’ll cut everything down, and get rid of about 80% of the footage. Then from there, I import the remaining  20% into my editing software. Once I do that, there’s usually about 25 minutes worth of footage. Then I’ll cut that down again to be about 8 minutes and then kind of find the song I like and then I’ll cut that down to like 6 minutes. I’ll get picky and cut it down to however long the song is. Once it got cut down, to however long the song is, I’ll start rearranging clips and changing the speed of them until I’ve got a proper video made out of it.

6. Ultimate gave you a lot of opportunities and you travel a lot. What’s your favorite place to visit?

My favorite place I’ve been to, I think I’m gonna say Ireland. I’ve been to Ireland three times now. One, I love the weather there, and that’s not even sarcastic. It’s cold and overcast, and it’s raining a lot, which is a lot like it is here in Vancouver, and that’s my favorite kind of weather. Irish people are super amazing and nice, I love the accent, the food’s amazing Liam Grant is there – I love that guy.  Some of the sites are just outstanding, so anytime I can go back to Ireland, it’s just like, God, I’m a happy person to go there.

What places would be your favorite to travel to?

I want to go to Kenya, Uganda, or South Africa. Africa was an amazing experience. I was pleasantly wrong with the state of Ultimate there. There were some solid teams and I believe with a bit more experience the teams could be successful at the world stage!

Other than that, the place I’d like to go would be a tournament in Northern India. I’ve seen one or two pictures of it with the mountains in the background. 

As for the tournaments – Manila Spirits. The media company that does all the filming in the Philippines is so good and they’re such nice people. Manila Spirits is like the top of the top of the bucket list tournaments I want to go to and that’s because of the videos that were made. So yeah, I want to go there even as a player, as a spectator. I’d love to go to film, but I don’t see any reason why I would have to go, especially with the talented media team out there.

7. What is your routine while preparing for the games? What would be your advice for young photographers and videographers who would like to follow in your footsteps?

Well, so if you ask any of the Ulti photographers or Ultiworld people, who will see me at a lot of the major events, I usually like to show up to the fields an hour early with all my gear 100% ready to go, with knowledge of where every team is and all the best match-ups…and I’m completely lying about all that! 

I am not a morning person. I wake up at the last possible second. I’ll usually show up to the fields in a huge panic, forgetting about a battery or two. A lot of times there’s an Ultiphotos photographer there, at World Junior’s there was Kevin Leclaire. We stayed at the same hotel, and some of the days he’d get to the fields early and then he’d tell me once I got there where to go. So, I’ll be honest with you, I’m a horrible, horrible person to take any advice from for how to show up and prepare. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am the worst person when it comes to planning. I really need an assistant! Luckily, I use the same equipment for every single tournament, so I don’t have to put too much thought into what to bring or whatnot. And luckily, my bag is big enough to pack everything as well. Otherwise, I’d just be a mess every single time.

Nathan Kolakovic and Kevin Leclaire

I absolutely loved it. The amount of energy going into World Juniors is unmatched as compared to anything. As for the event itself, I’ll be honest with you, for a lot of it, I was pretty distracted because a lot of my camera gear got lost. So I was just like really focused more on my camera gear. The airline screwed it up, so I didn’t get my tripod or a bunch of my clothes for about three months. It was a bit of a frustrating one. I think the event itself was very well run. I’m pretty sure there are tons of facilities on site, the food was good. I think overall everything was really nice and it was so nice to be there, especially since the last time we were there was back in 2016, and overall, it was quite an improvement over 2016.

My favorite part was the scoring system that was available for everyone. When I was writing my summaries, I was kind of looking up the games and choosing the games based on score events because there are so many things going on at the event.

Yeah, tournaments that do live score updating are the best. I don’t care what anyone says about anything or how much of a hassle it is to set up. I think it’s a general thing when you want to elevate the tournament. I don’t know the logistics behind it, but I think having live score updates is one of the coolest possible things you can do at a tournament. For me, speaking strictly from the media side, being able to go to a website and be like “I’m watching this game because this is a team I want to watch”, and then that game is a four or five-point game, and then check the website and there’s a tie-game going into a Universe point being and you’re able to get to the other field. The amount of amazing clips and footage I’ve caught, that have come from live scoring is insane! Knowing a game is going into the Universe point or it’s a close game or teams making a comeback – live scoring is so helpful.

I can’t imagine tournaments without it as they’ve been present ever since I started playing. During one of the editions of the Polish Beach Ultimate Championships, my friend worked on synchronizing the scores with the footage. So, whenever someone scores, the system shows up who made the point and assists.

That’s so nice. When it comes to developing Ultimate communities, I like the idea of trying to make superstars or bringing names to communities. I’ll use my favorite example with Colombia. It’s just like, no offense to any other Colombians, but if you’re going to go, you don’t really watch Colombia play, you’re going to watch the Cardenas play. They are a worldwide recognized name. The players go to watch them play and when they can see people scoring in live stream, they can be like, “Oh, this person like this person scored sick!”. And if you don’t know the team very well and you see a name pop up, you’re like “I’ve never heard of Manuela”, and you see Manuela scored again, and then “Oh, she got an assist. She must be a sick player!”. I guess it helps build recognition for players.

It becomes a different sport, in general, when people become fans of individual players. If there’s a New Zealand Ultimate tournament, I always pop in to see if Nicholas Whitlock is playing. If he’s playing, I’ll watch the game because he’s a friend of mine, but he’s also a very exciting player to watch. 

I guess it's also kind of a secret to team marketing because I see that most teams promote their reels, but they never put the name of the person. It's difficult to follow the team because of little engagement if you don’t know anyone on it.

Yeah, I do my best for my reels, and there are so many players that I just don’t know or their Instagram handles. So, whenever I post a reel, I try tagging the player making that play just to try to build up themes and stuff. There are a lot of people who aren’t a fan of the AUDL, but personally, I think, the way that they had been showcasing or creating fans of players and making it exciting for people and the way that they’ve been doing it insane. Some of the players have their actual personal profiles but then they also have their player profile. So it’s like you can go in and see what this specific player is up to and actually become a fan of that person. I think doing that is something that players think it’s a little bit too much. People don’t wanna do it, I guess because they think it’s a little bit too cocky. But I think having some sort of a like attempt at making a fan base for players is so cool. I think it’s a great way to again, I’ll make the sport and give people a reason to watch teams, and again with the marketability of the thing, it’s a supply thing. 

Speaking from tournament preparation and social media experience, to grow the sport, we need an outside fanbase. The usual spectators are the players, who hang out between their games at the venues. Last year, I got some sponsorship with the prize for the winning team, but we didn't get the patronage from the President of the Region, because the awareness of Ultimate Frisbee is that it’s not a sport, but a few people throwing frisbee in a park or this case, at the beach. We seem to lack any recognition beyond our own community bubble.

I was following the Egyptian Open and they brought Rowan McDonald over. If anyone doesn’t know, he’s like an AUDL All-Star. He’s an insanely good player, he’s built up quite a bit of traction for himself. Having a big name like that showing up to a tournament just elevates it, and brings more seriousness and legitimacy.

8. From my media creator's point of view, which division is the most interesting to shoot and why?

I don’t think the division matters much at all. Strictly from a filming perspective and ease of filming is Open, just generally because I’m 6 foot 2 and I like to film low. For the most part, in the open division, the players are taller, at least North American players are a lot taller, so it’s a lot easier on my back. As for the Women’s division or when I’m filming in any situation where the players are shorter than me and I have to lower my camera, it’s a little bit more tough.

In terms of actual play style and quality, I don’t think it matters too much. As long as the teams don’t play Zone. I think I say this in every interview. Zone is like a killer just for any team or division or game. I don’t care if it’s like the top two-rated Teams in the world playing Zone against each other. I’m not gonna watch it. I think that the individual plays are pretty much better. From a media perspective?  It’s just way more exciting. It’s cleaner shots and it’s a faster pace in general. It showcases individual players and Zone is just slower. If there’s no Zone, I’m a happy person. 

For age groups, it’s definitely the college or U24 levels because you usually have a mix of really good throwers or there’s a decent amount of bad throwers with a lot of very athletic people who can make up big plays for the bad throws.

9. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to promoting the Women's division from a media perspective?

I think the big thing is to start building and getting the names of individual players out. For example, there’s the Western Ultimate League, which is the Women’s branch of the AUDL on the West Coast of North America. I don’t see much of what’s going on with the League, but with the on-star building side of it, there are players, like Jamie Eriksson, who do an outstanding job. She built the brand around herself and she’s promoting games and things that are happening there. Again, back to the Cardenas twins, they’re a huge name and if they say something is happening, an event, tournament, or stream, I’ll go watch that. I guess there are not enough superstars, media outlets, or promotions from as many players in the Women’s division. I think having some more players making those personal profile,s like you see guys doing it, especially the AUDL players. A lot of dudes are doing that stuff and they’re all very successful. People want to watch the high-level players.

I don’t think there are enough players in the Women’s division that do it, but there are a few that do it in the Mixed division. Seattle Mixtape is a brand itself, but not too many of those players, even though there are a lot of ballers, don’t promote themselves. The only person I know who is like a brand of themselves is Khalif El-Salaam and a lot of people will go to watch a Seattle Mixtape game to watch him play. 

Regardless of where in the world people are, I’ll follow any decent player who’s posting about Ultimate consistently. Anyone who plays Ultimate a lot should make a second account specifically for Frisbee. I think that’s a great way to promote yourself, promote the sport, and promote any division you’re playing in. There’s brand recognition or personal brand recognition behind that. It’ll draw more people to watch it. People go watch the Cardenas games, Jamie Eriksson or Brittany Dos Santos, and not necessarily the teams that they’re playing on. I think that’s one of the coolest things about the biggest games. 

You’ll have teams, for example, like Boston’s Brute Squad or Fury, who are very huge – they’re a big deal because they’ve been around forever, but if you see the Cardenas twins, I don’t really care what team they’re playing on. Cardenas twins are taking on Fury or Brute Squad. That’s the game I wanna watch. So I think, pulling brands around individual players is one of the huge things to do. Players like Jaime Eriksson or Abby Hecko are exciting players to watch. If you put them on any lowest-level team going into a tournament, I’m still watching that game because I think something exciting will happen. That’s the reason why anyone watches any sport that’s like basketball. People won’t go and watch any game that LeBron James or James Harden aren’t in because they want to watch the superstar play.

I hope you’re as excited about this interview with Nathan Kolakovic! In a world where every share and like matters, let’s remember to spare some of our attention for our beloved sport and creators. It’s our mutual effort that will help grow Ultimate Frisbee into a recognizable sport across the world. Making yourself into a brand may sound daunting, but that’s one of the ways to support your team and Ultimate Frisbee recognition. Thanks for reading the interview and I hope you learned something new about media work from Nathan’s point of view. You can follow Nathan’s on Instagram, YouTube or at

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