Matisse Thybulle wasn’t trying to be rude; it’s just too tempting.
During a video conference call Wednesday morning, the Philadelphia 76ers rookie wing and defensive ace kept grabbing for his camera.
“I'm sorry,” he says with a smile. “I just keep fidgeting with it.”
While so many of his peers document their NBA bubble experience in Orlando, Fla., on social media with quick cellphone videos or snapshots of life inside the league’s answer to the coronavirus pandemic, Thybulle has taken it next level, shooting and editing footage in real time.
The result is the first — and thus far only — documentary from inside the NBA’s Disney campus. His first two episodes of “Welcome to the Bubble” have been viewed more than 575,000 times on YouTube in four days. He’s also posting the episodes on Instagram.
“It was just so apparent that this was, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime deal and something that's going to be pretty historic,” Thybulle said Wednesday. “… It's nice to have memories, something to remember it with. I figured this was a perfect time to create those memories and start documenting them.”
The camera is the fun part of this. Thybulle shoots with a Canon Eos 5D Mark IV, which retails for $2,499, a video camera that can shoot video in 4K resolution. He aimed it at his suitcases as he zipped them up for possibly the next three months. He filmed himself picking up fast food for his team’s flight to Orlando as part of his rookie duties.
He caught teammate Tobias Harris commandeering the plane’s in-flight microphone so he could play a rap song that samples the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme.
The first two episodes, he said, were structurally the easiest. The team arrived. They quarantined. And, then they practiced. Now, with games still a week out, the challenge has become finding the most interesting story lines to carry an episode.
“It's hard to try and separate the days out,” he said. “Do I want to put the Monopoly game in this episode? Will it fit better in the next episode? I don't know what the next episode's timeline is going to look like.”
A lot of people are curious, it turns out, about what’s happening behind those secure doors in Orlando, driving a desire for content.
Players, faced with a healthy amount of boredom and free time, have been very active on social media. New Orleans guard J.J. Redick shotgunned a beer after getting 10,000 retweets. Lakers center JaVale McGee took fans down a water slide with him. Jayson Tatum took fans onto the golf course with him and Boston teammate Kemba Walker. Dallas phenom Luka Doncic tossed a football around. Seemingly everyone on campus has caught fish at the lake. “It is Disney,” Lakers guard Alex Caruso said. “They’re trying to get you to come back, regardless if it’s the park or the pond.”
One Twitter account, @NBABubbleLife, has 86,000 followers in its first week simply by re-posting clips that players and teams are uploading to their social media channels.
Thybulle’s videos aren’t a documentary in the strict sense. Say there’s an argument between teammates after a tough loss — that probably won’t end up online.
“It's a balance," he said. "I don't want to put guys in there and not have them in their best light necessarily, because at the end of the day, these are my brothers, my teammates. That comes first. I don't want to ruffle any feathers. Just keeping things light and fun. That's why I'm doing this stuff.”
Thybulle’s project is ambitious on a couple of fronts. While he’s not sifting through a mountain of footage like “The Last Dance” filmmakers had to do in documenting Michael Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls, Thybulle is also working on a much tighter timeline. And he’s not a professional filmmaker or editor.
Thybulle is mostly self-taught with his camera — he hated the photography class he took in high school and didn’t learn anything in the one he took in college. His knowledge came mostly through watching YouTube videos and tutorials, where he learned just enough about film editing to try to make his videos work.
"You know those people who know so much about sports but can't play them, who never did? It's kind of like I was that person in filmmaking and photography,” Thybulle said. “And now I'm trying to take all the knowledge I gathered and apply it in the real world. I've just thrown myself into the fire.
"The biggest learning curve is the editing process. I'm trying to make it as efficient as possible. Because it's a beast.”
But time is one of the gifts of the NBA’s bubble plan.
Clippers center Montrezl Harrell is using his time to work on a pair of clothing lines. Other players are recording music.
“At home, I have a life,” Thybulle said. “Here, I don’t.”
Right now, there’s time to think about the perfect shot, about getting the camera in the right spot behind where the books are going to go, the perfect lighting in the closet or the correct angle on a nasal swab test.
As the 76ers and the rest of the NBA move into seeding games starting July 30 and the playoffs that follow, there might not be the same kind of time.
“It'll be interesting to see how things go moving forwards, if I'm still going to be able to put out videos at the same rate, Thybulle said. “I don't see myself stopping any time soon. As my schedule changes and the world in here shifts, I'm going to have to adapt.”