The documentary Lily Topples the World follows domino toppler and YouTube phenomenon Lily Hevesh. The 90-minute doc by filmmaker Jeremy Workman will be available to stream on Discovery+ on Thursday, August 26, and will open in theaters at the IFC Center in NYC on Friday, August 27.
“Lily Topples the World follows 20-year-old sensation Lily Hevesh – the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only girl in her field – as she rises as an artist, role model, and young woman,” says the official synopsis. “Filmed for over 3 years across countless cities and featuring appearances by Jimmy Fallon, Katy Perry, Will Smith, YouTuber Casey Neistat, and a steady stream of Gen-Z creators, [the film] is a coming-of-age story cloaked within a unique portrait of an artist, a story of how passion and artistry can make dreams come true, and an unlikely American tale of a quiet Chinese adoptee who transforms into a global artistic force with over 1 billion YouTube views. ”
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with domino artist and YouTuber Lily Hevesh (Hevesh5) about her amazing domino art and how she’s using her platform more than ever before.
Tyler Treese: In the documentary, you share that you were first gifted dominoes and really just enjoyed seeing them fall. There’s an instant connection there. When did you realize that you could like take a step forward and really create this amazing art?
Lily Hevesh: It took a few years for me to really get the hang of building dominoes and learning the tricks. But I think the moment for me was when I was 13, I posted a video and I started getting more inquiries to build larger professional domino projects, like making a commercial out of dominoes and a Campbell soup logo in a commercial. From that, then I was like, “Whoa, is this like, is there something here?” Am I doing this well enough that people want to take it to a greater level? So it just started from posting videos and after maybe like four or five years of building dominoes, I was like, this could be much bigger than what I’m doing now.
You probably didn’t start that being like, “Oh, this is going to be a career path,” more of a hobby. Were you shocked at just how lucrative and how this is so rewarding?
Yeah. I started just because it was fun, and it’s still so much fun. It’s my passion. I’m just very lucky that it has become something that I can do full time. But not just a means to support myself, but also just a way to connect with others and, and share this awesome new hobby with the world and get people into it because I know how much dominoes have really changed my life. In terms of learning to be patient and figuring out how things work and problem-solving and getting through failures. I feel like that mindset and the way that dominoes can teach you things is really applicable to other areas of life. So I’m just trying to share that with the world and get people into it.
One of my favorite scenes in the documentary shows you teaching other people how to set up dominoes and how to put these together. How rewarding is it to be a teacher and sharing your passion with other people?
Oh, it’s so rewarding for me to be able to share dominoes with others. Because I remember when I first started building, I got into it because I watched other domino builders online posting their videos and they were the ones who inspired me. So now thinking that I’m the person to can inspire other people and get them so excited about dominoes this is really cool because it’s kind of come full circle in a way. It’s just very gratifying.
Every time I would see these massive pieces of art just all comedown. My main thing was like, “That’s going to take so long to clean up.” What’s the cleaning up process like?
Cleanup really isn’t that bad to be quite honest. If there’s a lot of colors and I need to sort them back into bins, that’ll take longer, a typical setup could maybe take a couple of hours to clean up. Sometimes I have help, sometimes it’s just me, but it’s just a matter of picking up the dominoes with your hands and then putting them into containers sorted by color.
So I was really curious about what led to this documentary happening? When were you first approached about it?
Yeah, I was 19 at the time when the director, Jeremy Workman, came to me and he just emailed me out of the blue. He was saying like, hey, I saw your work and I thought it’d be a really cool and interesting subject to now do a documentary about this domino community online and my life. I don’t think anyone had ever done a full movie about dominoes before. So I was really excited and I was like, yeah, let’s try something. So afterward, Jeremy came to my house, met my parents, we talked about what would go into making a documentary and how he would be sort of like a behind-the-scenes cameraman as I was doing projects. It just sounded awesome. So we went from there and later on, he started filming me while I was in college and all the way till now.
I love that it does show you going to college and the importance of education there. Can you just talk about, know that balance of still going to college, despite already having this very interesting, very awesome art career?
When I was in college, it was somewhat difficult to balance YouTube and schoolwork. I will admit. But what I did was I made a ton of videos during my gap year, the prior year, so that I could still have content to post on my YouTube channel. So I kind of backlog a bunch of content. This is my strategy to keep the channel running while also doing schoolwork. But it’s just a matter of making time every day. It’s like editing a little bit here and there and then posting, but also being really focused on school because I loved the classes that I was going to. I was studying product design and it kind of coincided with things that I was doing with dominoes of course. So it was, it was a hard decision to leave college because I did enjoy it so much, but I knew that my path wide and other areas were beyond just the traditional path.
I love the scenes where you’re working on your own dominoes because you can see that detail-oriented. You’re talking about the texture, you’re talking about the indentation for the logo, it’s all these small things, and it just shows the attention to detail you would need to be able to create these amazing pieces of art. Can you talk about what skills you have learned from doing these dominoes for so many years?
Yeah, for sure. So the attention to detail thing is definitely top of the list. I’m always able to pick out something that is slightly off-center, or like just random little things that most people would gloss over, but I look at it, I can see it. Also, just patience in general, because I know from dominoes it’s going to take so long to build a project. It could take hours, days, sometimes weeks, all for maybe a couple of minutes of fall down. But something that I’ve learned is that you have to be patient, no matter what it is in life. good things take time and it’s worth spending that time because at the end you’re going to get a great result and you’ll be glad that you spent that much time working on a single project.
Also just perseverance. Every time I knocked down a project by accident, which happens here and there, little things fall in everything that I build. But I just keep on building. That’s my tagline. I just set up the dominoes again and I’ve learned it’s just part of the process to have these mishaps all over. That’s just life. You learn from it, you, you keep going, you don’t let those things drag you down. Instead, you learn from it and figure out why it failed. Then you can prevent that in the future. So there’s lots of stuff that you can learn from dominoes.
The documentary shows one of your creations falling apart and I was so heartbroken by it and you’re so calm. You’ve been there before. You’ve seen it all happen. I was really curious what the worst time that ever happened, the most work you put into something and it just didn’t quite add up.
I think there’s one time I built a project. It was like 4,200 dominoes or something like that. It was completely finished. I was getting ready to knock it down. I had all the cameras set up getting ready to knock it down. And I remember the tripod for some reason wasn’t completely stable. So it actually fell over onto the setup with the camera on it. It just crashed and everything toppled over, which was a bit sad and disappointing because I was ready to knock it down, but you know, now I look back on that and I’m like, well, it made a good story. So definitely you learn.
What’s really cool about this documentary is you get kind of open up, you get to share your story with your audience. You’ve been able to do that as well with YouTube over the years of just sharing more of yourself with the audience rather than just focus purely on the work. How exciting is that and how hard has that been getting to used to the very large platform you have?
Yeah. I mean, I’m still getting used to talking to the camera. I feel like it’s always going to be an ongoing process of becoming comfortable with doing things and talking more openly about who I am, not just dominoes, but it’s been such a great experience. After being anonymous on YouTube for six and a half years, deciding to show my face was probably the best decision that I could have made because now I’m able to really talk to my audience and connect with them and share this passion in a very human-like manner that I haven’t really done before in the past. I feel because of that, we’re able to really develop a community and a sense of shared passion for this very niche kind of art form. I think that’s really, really a beautiful thing. With the power of the internet and social media now, it’s like, it makes everything so much more fun and makes it less lonely because there’s other people around the world that love the same thing that I do, and we can do it all together.
Yeah. And what really struck me watching this documentary is that it’s such a unique form of expression. What’s really cool about this is that you even go beyond dominoes, you’re adding in other objects. It’s almost like a Rube Goldberg machine of all this crazy stuff interacting. From an artistic standpoint, how satisfying is it when you see the payoff of all this work and it all comes together, especially when you do those live shows and you can see the people react and you see their wild expressions? Just how rewarding is that?
It’s the best feeling in the world to see the domino project work exactly as planned and especially to have a live audience there to cheer it on at the end. Like I described domino toppling, it’s kind of like you’re going on a rollercoaster. It’s a thrill because you build it for a week straight, and then you topple it. It’s like two minutes of exhilarating, just like captivating dominoes falling over in a very satisfying manner. Just seeing that it work exactly as I planned is really the most gratifying thing.
We get to see so many of your celebrity interactions in the documentary, which was really cool, and meeting Katy Perry and all these other celebrities. Were you ever starstruck? How crazy is that?
I mean it’s pretty wild that I’ve been able to meet other celebrities through dominoes. I try to not get too high on any like interaction. I try to not put people on pedestals, even if they are someone like Will Smith or Jimmy Fallon. I understand being in the spotlight somewhat from my YouTube channel, it’s like I realize everyone is just human. When I present myself personally, I don’t want people to put me on a pedestal. So in some ways I’ve taken that and I don’t put other people on pedestals or I try my best not to, even though some people might go crazy for Katy Perry or something, but, yeah, it’s sort of like I’m able to keep my cool. I’m not like a super fan girl type person. Anyway, you can probably tell that from the film, but, yeah, it has been an awesome experience meeting people like that through dominoes.
As the film shows you do have your own dominoes now. Can you talk about just how rewarding it was to go through that process and then have that end result and people can buy them now?
So making H5 domino creations, my dream brand for the perfect domino, has been so rewarding. I’m working with Spin Master and they’ve been just such amazing people to take on my vision and make it really come to life from a very small idea. I had a couple of years ago to now a fully-fledged product where we have not just the dominoes that are made for toppling, but also accessories and templates to help you set it up and tutorials and directions. It’s really become this thing where it’s not just an underground hobby now, like this is becoming a toy, it’s becoming something that is like Lego almost where it’s a building toy that not just kids can enjoy, but anyone can enjoy and, and be creative with it. So to see the set in stores now at Walmart and on Amazon and becoming more widely available, it’s just so cool.
It really is awesome. Then my last question here, I don’t want to ask for your favorite piece because I’m sure all of them hold a special place, but I did want to ask you what, what is like one of your creations that really holds a special place, maybe some sentimental value or one that really sticks out?
That’s a great question. I want to say a project that I did a few years ago. I believe it’s called 12,000 dominoes following your passion, something like that. But essentially I built all of the things that I love in life. So I build things that revolve around family and friends and traveling. Some of my hobbies like playing percussion, piano, and put it all together in one setup to just showcase things that I love. I think that one is really expressive of who I am, and it shows the world a little bit more of my personal life while also combining dominoes. It’s a very meaningful, personal piece to me at least and I hope that that shows that to the rest of the world.