How Yes Theory’s Project Iceman is redefining the YouTube “challenge”
Dec 20, 2023 – minute read
Dec 20, 2023 – minute read
A YouTube channel deciding to take a risk with something new. A scrappy media company submitting their independently produced documentary to the Academy Awards. A film crew caught in a blizzard. A 27-year-old management consultant, standing on the edge of an iceberg, just moments away from becoming the first Iceman of Antarctica. Feature documentary, Project Iceman, is truly a story of rising to the challenge on all levels.
Luckily, this concept isn’t new to YouTube. The platform has become known for showcasing challenges of all sorts — viral trends, unbelievable feats, creatively crafted ways of pushing human potential to its limit, including the channel that brought this very documentary to life.
“In the summer of 2015, four guys in their early 20s decided to come together and explore more of what life has to offer by doing 30 things they’d never done before in 30 days,” explains Iceman director and Yes Theory co-founder, Ammar Kandil. “Coming out of that month, we realized the value of seeking discomfort and saw how much doing hard things together could enrich our lives.”
Determined to stay out of their comfort zone, the new friends continued taking on challenges and documenting them on their channel. Today, Yes Theory is a full fledged media company with over 8.6 million subscribers. They’ve scaled the initial concept of their videos, making them longer, more technically advanced, with new faces and new stories.
“These eight and a half years have been a journey of pushing ourselves, communicating a point about life, growth, purpose and looking for people who seek to get out of their comfort zone. On the journey, in 2019, I ended up meeting this man named Anders Hofman.”
“ The Iceman became a way to show my younger self, and a younger generation, that in the end, you have to believe in yourself. We’re all capable of incredible feats if we dare pursue them.”
Project Iceman is Yes Theory’s third feature length documentary (their first two, Frozen Alive and The Lost Pyramid grossed a combined total of over 25 million views) and it follows Anders as he trains for and eventually becomes the first-ever human to complete a long-distance triathlon in Antarctica (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run.) After what he described as “a lifetime of putting his dreams on hold,” the 27 year old management consultant became fixated on proving that limitations are just perception and began training for the seemingly impossible.
“I was basically an amateur. I had done one Ironman but hadn't done any extreme sport or anything like this before,” says Anders. “But for me, the Iceman became a way to show my younger self, and a younger generation, that in the end, you have to believe in yourself. We’re all capable of incredible feats if we dare pursue them. In order to do that, I knew I needed to make a documentary showing from the very first time I jumped in ice water.”
After almost two years of training across Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard and Norway, Anders set off with his team on a 33-day expedition to Antarctica. While Anders swam, biked and ran through the frigid climate, the film crew encountered obstacles of their own. The average age of the crew was 27, and the majority of the crew didn’t have film or expedition experience. On the sail-out to the swim start, the team said they were met by leopard seals, the number one predator in Antarctica, and were caught in a blizzard with winds up to 93 miles per hour. Still, they persisted, catching the very moment an inexperienced Anders became the first self-proclaimed Iceman of Antarctica.
According to the film, Anders finished the Iceman in 72 hours and 54 minutes, burning over 30,000 calories. And after a year of negotiation, Yes Theory said the documentary was offered a deal of $1.25 million. Despite these accomplishments, the crew found themselves facing a larger “challenge” — a fight for legitimacy and creative control.
“ There's people who are holding on to these old structures of Hollywood, deciding how things should go and who has the experience or the credibility to say something.”
“I had one production call where I was with 13 people who clearly didn't give a single crap about what we're making,” says Ammar. “That was such a contrast from having trusted the team that put their lives on the line to be able to go and tell that story. It just felt like the most dry, insincere process for a film with an energy like this one. I remember I finished the call and called Anders and I was like, ‘We can't do this. We have to just figure out another way.’
“So honestly, as hard as it was to leave the money, it was also a pretty easy decision because we knew what we were working with. We also knew that luckily we were in a position to have a beautiful community behind us.”
And that they did, with thousands of fans helping Yes Theory crowdfund the movie to its premiere in theaters across the globe. It qualified for and was submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ 95th Academy Awards in the Documentary Feature field, but ultimately, Anders and Ammar shared that the real reward is seeing the message resonate with both fans and complete strangers.
“What gives a piece of art its value is how the creators feel about it and how people perceive it — not just a committee or a bunch of critics,” says Ammar. “We had the premiere for the film in Dubai. I had a fallout with my dad for the six years before that, and that was our moment of reconnecting for him to come and watch that film. Even though there was no subtitle in the film in Arabic for him to understand, I saw him cry watching the film because he connected with the message and what Anders was going through.”
“And,” adds Anders. “I think we showed in the end, it's not about your previous experience, the money, the network. Coming from Denmark as a nobody and being able to do sold-out premieres for 1,600 people in London, going to LA, going to Dubai, and now doing a premiere in Brazil a month ago is unbelievable. The reaction from everybody and the message resonating with people from all over the world, there's nothing that will ever beat that.”
“ We just know what we've created will be out in the world today for them to judge, and it feels like a massive moment knowing we didn’t compromise on it one bit.”
From the very beginning, Anders, Ammar and Yes Theory had the goal of releasing Project Iceman on YouTube. Today, that challenge has officially been conquered. The documentary is available in its entirety on the Yes Theory channel.
“At the end of the day, our work is gonna speak for itself,” says Ammar. “There's people who are holding on to these old structures of Hollywood, deciding how things should go and who has the experience or the credibility to say something. At this point, I don’t care what people think of digital creators or if they're ‘serious enough.’ We just know what we've created will be out in the world today for them to judge, and it feels like a massive moment knowing we didn’t compromise on it one bit.”