A lovely little blog on the production of the film. 🥰
Update: Jan 26, 2023
Time to share another clip with y'all, since you've been so amazing about supporting this film. Today I also shared a description of my writing process on my Substack.
The Christmas Tree Problem (2 minute flip clip). In this part of the film, I discuss what I call the Christmas Tree Problem. This is one of the difficulties with civilizations in neighboring star systems ever getting to be able to visit each other:
In short, it has to do with the time element. You can be lucky enough to be right next to each other, on stars as close as a single light year apart, but... what if you're not at the right time? What if one of you existed a billion, 5 billion years before the other?
The problems of faster-than-light travel make this prospect difficult enough. The problems of time make it even worse... exponentially worse. We really want to meet our neighbors out there, but the universe seems to have decided that we shouldn't.
Update: Jan 16, 2023
Here's a bit from the Jimmy Carter UFO segment of The UFO Movie THEY Don't Want You to See. President Jimmy Carter famously saw a UFO, a case which was finally solved, and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast is one that played a role. I went and spoke with President Carter's grandson Josh Carter, and also the retired Georgia Tech professor who solved the case.
Color, sound, and scoring have not been done yet, so this means you'll hear differing sound levels, muffled sound, and notice different color casts between different scenes. Fear not, these corrections are a normal part of the process and they happen last.
This segment of the film is part of a larger segment discussing the importance of falsifying evidence before accepting it. President Carter's story was subjected to this kind of scrutiny, and it failed the falsification test. His sighting turned out to be an Earthly thing, not an alien thing. And that's great.
Once again I will now return to my labor. I hope you enjoy the results.
Update: Jan 8, 2023
Enjoy this brief clip.
In the segment of the film discussing the importance of having a high bar for the standard of evidence that we accept, we talk about a couple of famous cases. This is the Rendlesham Forest case, in which some airmen from a US Air Force base in England followed a flashing light through the forest one night...
Obviously (or maybe not) color, sound, and scoring have not been done yet, so don't harsh on a film at this early stage.
Anyway I will now return to my labor. I hope you enjoy the results.
Update: Dec 19, 2022
The shoot hit the fan.
This weekend we shot the final piece of video: my beginning-to-end narration of the film, at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory east of the Sierras. The plan was the begin filming just after sunset, and as the film progresses, my setup gets progressively darker until it's full blackness by the end of the movie. Because of the awesome camera and lenses in use, the shots looked fantastic, with stars in the sky behind me and the impressive big dish at the observatory.
Nighttime temps were going to be in the 20s (°F) which is 10-20° warmer than what I'm used to at home. My wardrobe in the film is, as you can see in the pics, my usual "Science vs. Pseudoscience" sweatshirt. I bulked up with some crazy thick fleece long underwear, and had about a thousand hotpacks hidden all over my person.
I spent as much time as I could in our onset warming hut: a Tesla in camp mode, set to 75º, complete with snacks, more hotpacks, and tons of warm water bottles.
We had six segments of narration to shoot, each taking about 30 minutes to get through. Near the end of segment 4, I began having trouble with some of the words (particularly "Special Relativity"). I was slurring. Then I began shuddering. We made it through by doing lots of takes, but when we finished segment 4 it was clear that we could not continue. Even in the warming hut, I was slurring badly and shuddering uncontrollably. It became clear that I was well into hypothermia: I had the memory loss, the confusion, everything. So we had to abandon the shoot.
Back at our house (a wonderful Airbnb in Bishop, CA), I drank lots of hot water and took a long hot shower, but I didn't recover until after sleeping for a few hours.
What to do? Having only 2/3 of the movie shot is as disastrous as having none of it.
We got up at 4:30am and went back out to the location, and set up again. This time I was not allowed to leave the warming hut at all unless I was actually on camera. The night shooting conditions exactly matched what we had left, and we timed it so that when we finished segment 6, the sun would be just teasing the horizon.
And it worked out, I think better than any of us had hoped. And moreover, the long interruption added a neat new element to the film: My narration started at sunset and now it ended at sunrise, bringing the story full circle, and matching the emotional tone of the writing. The film ends on a poignant, hopeful, positive note, and having the sun rise at the same time is a beautiful creative touch.
When we finished segment 6, I was already shaking again and beginning to have trouble with "Special Relativity". Fortunately we were done and out of there.
The moral of the story: Don't make a UFO movie in the middle of the desert at night in the winter. Or if you do, make a wardrobe choice that includes a hat and a parka.
Update: Dec 15, 2022
You may have heard that UFOs have been proven to have the ability to disable our nuclear missile arsenal. If you haven't heard that, well, you weren't listening to the Congressional hearings on UFOs very carefully. Because they said that and talked about it.
Well, you don't need to worry about that, but you might want to worry that some Congresspeople are shockingly bad at their due diligence. This is one of the very worst examples of terrible anecdotal evidence turning into something that people in important positions believe.
Yesterday I was in Denver, Colorado, home of the US Air Force Academy and a number of important USAF installations, and spoke with Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, USAF (ret.), a former ICBM launch officer, about the facts of this story and what really happened with our nuclear missiles on that day.
I've said this is not a "debunking" movie, and it's not; but it does stress the importance of having a high standard of evidence, and this is one example showing the folly of not having such a bar.
Leaving tomorrow for the very last shoot. The finish line is nigh!
Update: Dec 1, 2022
We're deep in the writing stages now. Did you think that came first?
For a doc like this, which includes a lot of interviews, you start with a pretty detailed outline. Then you shoot all the interviews. Then you get those transcribed, and then you pick out all the parts that you're going to use.
Then comes the stage where I am now: writing "around" all that interview dialog. You want the whole thing to come together into a seamless, cohesive presentation.
The very last task in the production phase is shooting me. I'm going to narrate the whole thing through, beginning to end, following that script. So it has to be done last of all. A couple weeks ago, I decided to change the location for that. It's going to cost a bit more money, and it's going to cause 3-4 people to freeze our asses off for about 6 hours, but it will be worth it.
Trust me on that one.
Update: Nov 21, 2022
Recent coast-to-coast-to-coast-to-coast shooting trips have resulted in a bad case of jetlag and some tremendously successful shoots.
Of note was telling the story of President Jimmy Carter's 1969 UFO, and how it was solved by a Georgia Tech professor. First I interviewed retired professor Jere Justus, who used to work with the Air Force when he was an undergrad, launching rockets to perform atmospheric experiments. Then I went to the home of Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter in Plains, GA to interview their grandson, Josh Carter, who told the story of his grandfather's UFO sighting and how it ultimately was solved.
Great guys, a great story, and will make a truly memorable sequence in the movie.
Three more shoots to go!
Update: Oct 31, 2022
Just completed a shoot in Texas, at the McDonald Observatory operated by the University of Texas at Austin. The filming permit for this was one of the big-ticket items, but having a topnotch location like this is worth it.
We shot inside the 107" Harlan J. Smith telescope.
I was here to interview a couple of astrophysicists about some of the big questions for the film: Is there intelligent life out there? And if so, can they ever visit us?
Both questions are full of even more questions. They're also full of topics ripe for philosophers to debate, but I'm glad I don't go there. Philosophy is a subject for other filmmakers to tackle.
We did have some trouble — perhaps due to an entity the astronomers have dubbed the Toilet Ghost. Whether it's real or not, its effect sure seemed to be. I was more than a little anxious when reviewing all the footage, but luckily all of it escaped the ghost's influence.
In keeping with the theme, we had an actual UFO of our own just outside the observatory. See the photo attached here. For a full explanation of what it turned out to be, see our Facebook page.
On to Atlanta next.
Update: Oct 17, 2022
Today I thought I'd share with you what I take on the road for these shooting excursions. Actually, I'm only sharing a bit less than half of it. The two biggest cases (lights and stands/tripods) are not shown.
Since this is such a small budget film, and as I'm doing most of the shooting myself, I needed to create the smallest, handiest, most portable kit I could come up with. I've got it down to five cases including my personal suitcase, which is needed because it contains the foldable luggage cart I need to lug all five through airports and to rental car terminals.
Checking all these is not a problem (airlines have a special reduced rate for media equipment), but the special yellow one -- packed with lithium-ion batteries -- can't go in a cargo hold, so I have to take it in the plane with me as my carry-on. It's the heaviest one, and it's less than delightful to schlep down a long airport corridor. Roller equipment cases are generally too big to fit in an overhead.
The AV case contains:
- Three 4K cameras
- 7" monitor w/sunshade
- Shotgun microphone
- Digital audio recorder
- 2 sets of lav mics with recorders
- All the memory chips for audio & video
- A bunch of cords, batterys, rolls of tape, rubber bands, velcro, and random miscellaneous stuff that you always end up needing
The battery case contains:
- 6 big camera batteries, enough to last two half-day sessions
- 20 big batteries for all the different LED lights I bring. That's also enough for two half-day sessions without recharging
- Charging gear all of the above, which is how I spend my nights in the hotels
- Zip ties, so the TSA guys can seal it back up again after they cut my zip ties off to inspect it
This week I'll be heading to Las Vegas for CSICon where, unusually, I will not be filming anything -- which makes it my break week from the production. Next stop: the McDonald Observatory in Texas.
So other than that, it's lots of writing, more writing, transcribing, and moving stuff around to craft a compelling narrative.
Update: Oct 6, 2022
I'm just about at the halfway point of shooting on the road. I've now completed location shooting at:
- Washington, DC
- Folsom, CA
- Rancho Cordova, CA
- Sunriver, OR
Next on the schedule is:
- Fort Davis, TX
- Plains, GA
- Woodstock, GA
- Madras, OR
Once all that is done, then the final shooting will be completed here in Bend, OR with a single set piece (will sort of be like a "headquarters" for the documentary presentation), with some fun aerial stuff up in the local mountains. Then it's off to the editing room; then to color & sound; and finally to scoring. Still looking at a completion date right around the end of the year, if all continues to go well.
If you are a podcast listener, you might want to catch this episode of This American Life. In the final third of the episode, host Ira Glass watches the Congressional hearings on UFOs with analyst Mick West over Zoom. I got a kick out of it, because they covered exactly the same ground I did when I shot Mick last week in California. Yes, this movie is coming at a good time.