Behind the Lens with Boris Diaw: Filmmaker, Adventure Traveler and Future Space Explorer

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

SAN ANTONIO — Boris Diaw has a future plan that goes way above and beyond, literally, anything a professional athlete has ever thought of doing in retirement.

“I will go to space at some point,” the Spurs’ veteran forward tells the NBPA in his office at his Shavano Park home, located in northwest San Antonio. “I won’t say in the next 10 years, but maybe in 30.”

At his rate, Diaw will have already conquered the globe in 10 years. Just take a scroll through his Instagram account.

If there was a Most Interesting Man Award for an NBA player, he would be the favorite. In his office, he even has a framed poster featuring the Dos Equis character from “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials. The Frenchman is a free-spirit, single-with-no-kids worldwide adventure traveler, serious photographer, children’s book author, and screenwriter and director, having recently completed a project last month with Cedric the Entertainer and a Hollywood-experienced crew.

Trekking and horseback riding in the tropical forest of tayrona in colombia. #feelbadforthehorse

A photo posted by Borisdiaw (@diawboris) on

And he’s one of the most versatile big men coming off the bench in the NBA, for the second-best team in the league.

“If I don’t take a break, I go crazy,” the NBA’s renaissance man says.

Diaw loves traveling so much that he wants to marry a flight attendant one day. The constantly active, constantly evolving Diaw even likes to keep it moving in conversation. He’s animated with his hands, smiles and laughs while he talks, leans up in his chair every few minutes to stretch and move around, and is an interactive storyteller where he uses his iPad to describe examples of his work. Being around him, you get the feeling that he would be the perfect host for a party while being the biggest hit at someone else’s party.

The versatile scoring and passing forward, who turns 34 next week, is truly embracing an independent, get-up-and-go lifestyle—no worries, no fatherly duties, nowhere to be, except for shootaround the next morning for a game against the Bulls in early March. Basketball is the only thing he really schedules for long term—from the NBA to the French national team in the summers.

“I live in the moment for sure,” he says. “Three months ago, I didn’t know I was going to do a short film. Now, I’ve got a short film done. I don’t plan much; I’m going to go year by year.”

Since the end of his rookie season in 2004, Diaw has been on different safaris in Africa every summer, weaving through the wild nature of Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa (his favorite is Kruger National Park), and once to India. His favorite animals are the big cats and hippos, which he compares himself to on the court. “I play strong and I’m big,” he says. “[A hippo] looks nice, but it’s the most dangerous of the African animals and the one that kills the most people every year.”

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

Those close encounters inspired Diaw, who watches National Geographic and Science Channel religiously, to publish a book last July with National Geographic Kids called Hoops to Hippos, showing and telling his wildlife photography through the years. And that’s not all he’s done in the creative arts. Last year, expanding on his passion for the photography and movies, he executive produced the feature film N.O.L.A Circus and the low-budget Stage V, both of which release later this year.

Another personal highlight in his life was his 30th birthday, when he organized a trip to South Africa with more than 15 friends, including NBA veteran Ronny Turiaf. There they went snorkeling with whale sharks and wild dolphins, and uniquely experienced a rhino up close to see how a wildlife service inserted a microchip into its horn. That’s done in a country-wide effort to track the animals’ whereabouts and prevent poaching. Diaw has also traveled with Turiaf and close friends to the Caribbean, Colombia, Croatia, Dakar (where his father, Issa, lives), Madagascar, Reunion Island, the Sahara, Spain, the Pyrenees and Peru, among other places.

Just how adventurous is Diaw? During the trip to Peru, where he fished for piranhas in the Amazon rainforest, he ate something else that none of his other buddies would try. Let Turiaf tell the story.

“Boris is the guy that’s going to go to the restaurant and order like chicken hearts—whatever odd thing that people may think it is,” he says. “And one day we were eating at this beautiful restaurant on a little cliff, and this guy brings out this crazy huge octopus that’s cooked, and everybody was surprised, like, ‘Man, I’m not going to touch this.’ And then Boris said, ‘You guys are not going to eat it? Alright, cool.’ He grabbed the plate and he ate the whole octopus, and he loves octopus. And I’m, like, ‘Boris, you are insane.'”

Diaw is such a thrill-seeker that he’s in the process of buying a catamaran to embark on the ultimate voyage when he’s done playing. And Turiaf will join him.

“I’m going to sail around the world with my boat,” Diaw says. “I really cherish that freedom for sure being able to go and travel. So many people say it, they’re going to travel around the world, and they never get to it. The only thing that I set is going around the world.”

Then it’s off to space.

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)


Behind the Scenes of Boris’ First Film

Diaw’s adrenaline-junkie world these days centers around his 10-minute short film called Easy Life. He debuted it on this day in March at his house for his mother Elisabeth, aunt Michelle, uncle Jacky, friend Mathilde and personal chef for three years, Rochelle Fulton, whom he calls “Dr. Healthy.”

Before Diaw gathered everyone together in the family room to show the film, they dined over French conversation, enjoying peppermint hot chocolate, Brie cheese covered with a Baileys and pecans spread, mussels and vegetables soup, and soy glazed turkey breast with rice and broccoli.

While they ate dinner, the French language TV5MONDE channel was on the TV in the background, airing a show about underwater creatures. Diaw has been all about wildlife since he was seven years old, when he traveled to see Issa in Dakar and bought a disposable camera to capture the animals around him. He fell in love with safaris for their peacefulness and freedom, for the animals and for himself to be out in the open. At home, he has two seven-year-old Siberian huskies, Neige (French for “snow”) and Croc Blanc (“white fang”). He calls them “my babies.”

My doggies love to go to the beach, especially on a cold day #huskies

A photo posted by Borisdiaw (@diawboris) on

Throughout his house, he has framed photos on the walls featuring his close-up images of different big cats, his favorites to photograph. He keeps different versions of his Canon EOS 5D Mark cameras in his walk-in closest. He has so much equipment, including tripods, photo stabilizers and high-end lenses, that he stores the rest in his bathroom.

While Diaw has framed action shots of his play during the Spurs’ victorious 2014 Finals, which coach Gregg Popovich chooses for each player after every championship win, they remain stacked up on the floor in his office. “I don’t put pictures of me on my walls,” he says.

The main arena in Diaw’s off-the-court life is the jungle—the same place, this time in Kauai, Hawaii, where Diaw shot most of Easy Life during this year’s All-Star break. In fact, the location was the same where some of the Jurassic Park movies were filmed.

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

Boris Diaw with his crew on set in Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

After Diaw produced Stage V and N.O.L.A Circus—which he worked on with fellow countrymen Alexis Ajinca, Nicolas Batum, Nando de Colo and Ian Mahinmi—he had the itch to make something on his own. Luc Annest, the French director of N.O.L.A Circus, recommended to begin with a short film.

As Diaw thought of something that would be emotional and have a strong message, he gravitated towards telling the story of a father teaching his young son that he has it easy in life compared to the suffering facing the hundreds of thousands of young children soldiers around the world—many of whom are violently kidnapped and end up being sexually abused and exploited, according to Diaw.

“[The film] has two goals,” he says. “One is on the education, based on the kid in a nice neighborhood and living a nice life, and acting like a brat and spoiled. People have it harder than you do. Don’t complain so much about your life. And the other focus is showing what’s happening with child soldiers everywhere in the world now. It’s not just Africa.”

Without taking any formal screenplay classes, and reviewing only a couple of scripts some friends sent, Diaw finished writing Easy Life in just two days. “I think you learn from experience just by seeing stuff sometimes,” he says. He started it on the Spurs’ flight to Boston in early November, and finished it the next day to New York. Then actress Nia Long, who’s married to Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka, connected him to Cedric the Entertainer to try to convince him to play the leading role. He didn’t need much persuading.

“I just saw him on a TV show 2 Broke Girls on CBS and I was, like, ‘He’s so funny,'” Diaw says. “And then I was, like, ‘I’ve never seen him in a serious role. I think he would be great playing a serious role.’ He liked it from the get-go. He said he could only do a Friday, which worked out. We shot in L.A. first, then Hawaii.”

Boris Diaw with Sarah Stavrou and Cedric the Entertainer on set in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

Diaw with Sarah Stavrou and Cedric the Entertainer on set in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

Diaw arranged for two crews in both locations, hiring director of photography Chris Moseley, who’s worked on big-budget Hollywood films and a dozen shorts for more than 25 years, to help him lead the production. And Diaw enlisted his French friend, pianist Vincent Balse, to compose the score. He even has a piano in his house for Balse to practice on when he comes to town. Diaw now knows how to play music from the movies Amelie and The Godfather. “That’s pretty much it,” he says. “I tried to learn one Beethoven. It’s so hard.”

Leaning on others for their expertise earned the respect of Moseley and others on set; not to mention, Diaw wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and help carry equipment. Later when filming wrapped, Diaw treated the entire crew to dinner.

While Moseley observed that Diaw was a bit nervous on the first day in Los Angeles, unsure when to assert himself, that changed over the course of the day as they worked straight through from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“His confidence grew and grew throughout the day, and I think by the end of the day he was feeling much more confident and making good decisions,” Moseley says. “Dealing with actors is a difficult thing, especially a known actor [like Cedric], when you’re new because it’s intimidating. You don’t want to say the wrong thing. But I think they got along really well. Then you’re dealing with kids, too. And [Diaw] has the right personality I think to try to get the most out of child actors, because they can be very difficult to deal with; their attention span is so limited. I think he did a good job on the script and a good job on casting.”

What impressed Moseley the most about Diaw’s first-time direction behind the camera? “I think that he has good sensibilities,” Moseley says. “He knows kind of what sounds right and what doesn’t, and he has a photographer’s eye as well. And I think that he has good aesthetic.”

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

Diaw joked around that his director style is having “my cappuccino and expresso machine,” which was even attached to a generator on set in Kauai. But he says his style is just the way he is on the court: versatile—and he envisions directing all kinds of films one day, and doing more acting as well. When Diaw watches movies—he’s a huge film buff and credits Instinct as his favorite one for its psychological effect—he finds himself directing in his head, always trying to predict what’s going to happen in the following scene. Some of that stems from his unique vision on the court, and being behind the lens predicting the movements of some of the fastest land animals in the world.

What helped Diaw get more comfortable during the four-day shoot was that he wrote the script, so he began to understand quickly what he wanted in certain shots. That translated to the editing process. For example, during a scene between Cedric and his female lead, Sarah Stavrou, when they’re arguing over his lack of attention to his son, Diaw wanted more of the emphasis on the father to show his facial reaction for a greater impact.

Overall, Diaw says he “learned everything” from the production of Easy Life, which he’ll submit this year to the Cannes and Tribeca film festivals to try to gain traction as a filmmaker for future projects.

“As I was going along, it was learning the schedule,” he says. “OK, you have 15 minutes to shoot this scene or this angle, and then you have 15 minutes to shoot that. We had to go, go, go. It was putting all the schedule together two weeks in advance to make sure that we got everything right, to know how much we needed, to know which equipment we were going to use, too. And then the last-minute changes. For me, it was more because I wasn’t able to prep so much in advance because I was in the middle of the season. There were so many things I had to change on the fly. But it was a great team.”

Diaw with his L.A. crew. (Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

Diaw with his L.A. crew, including director of photography Chris Moseley (center). (Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)


A Vision Becomes a Reality

Turiaf recalls when he and Diaw were around 15 years old in France competing on the country’s junior national team. They laid out a plan to do something if they ever had the money: go on safari. In 2010, they did it together in South Africa, while also attending the World Cup.

Turiaf, who’s one year younger than Diaw, was in awe of how positive and how much of a visionary his friend was at a young age.

“I think of him as my big brother, he’s the inspirer,” Turiaf says. “He’s someone that grabbed me under his wing, and that led me and inspired me with his action and his care. He’s inspired me and challenged myself to think differently and to really challenge myself to go for whatever dream I had, and be the crazy, moody-at-times, full-of-life Ronny Turiaf. He’s someone that always follows through on what he says. It’s pretty powerful.”

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

Influenced by Diaw, Turiaf, who last played in the NBA in 2014 for the Timberwolves, has a simple goal: “I want to set foot on every country in the world,” he says. He’s already seen five of the New7Wonders of the World, and he may see the final two—Petra and The Colosseum—in the next two weeks after he visits some of his family in Paris.

Don’t even doubt Diaw and Turiaf becoming global tour guides one day. “Why not?” Turiaf says. “Maybe it’s like a monthlong vacation around the world sponsored by Virgin America. That would be perfect. He’s such a crazy entrepreneur that is accomplishing great stuff, and I think we align a lot.”

Diaw is under contract with the Spurs for one more year. How long will he play beyond that? He has no set timetable. He’ll call it quits like his lifestyle—spontaneous. He also feels that way because he’s already accomplished his only NBA goal: winning a championship. When he hangs it up, he’ll then explore extreme sports, including skydiving, scuba diving, whitewater rafting and get this: being dropped off by a helicopter on the top of a mountain to go skiing. “I want to do all these crazy things,” he says.

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

(Photo courtesy of Boris Diaw)

For now, Diaw is focusing on the film festivals and exploring an internship with HBO or VICE to learn more about documentaries, which is his next creative venture. He recently bought a couple of professional video cameras, and has decided on two topics he’d like to explore.

“For one, humans what they do to humans,” he says. “They do the dumbest and craziest stuff. The list is limitless there. You’ve got the child soldier, you’ve got the enslavement and prostitution in some countries, you’ve got so many things that people do to people, wars and different stuff. Then it’s the way we don’t respect the planet, so global warming is part of it, the way we treat the animal kingdom, the planet. We take it for granted like it’s ours.”

There are plenty of signs as to where Diaw is heading next, but when he gets there, wherever he is on the planet, anything is possible.

“Trust me,” Turiaf says. “Just sit down and watch what he’s going to unfold.”

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