Since the beginning of the Skeptoid podcast, people had been asking me for a video version. Tempting indeed, but having been a college filmmaker and done my share of dabbling, I knew that a weekly video podcast would require far more than the limited time I have available for Skeptoid. So this idea stayed on the back burner for a while.
But I finally got fed up with the amount of uncritical praise and attention given to the garbage conspiracy films Loose Change and Zeitgeist on the Internet, and decided that it was time for a counterattack of reason. So I spent a few months of odd hours putting together my thoughts and writing my own garbage film for the Internet, which I called Here Be Dragons. (I wish I’d picked a different title, because that one’s so common, but heck, I was fresh out of creativity by that point.)
Here Be Dragons was conceived to be a 40 minute (classroom length) video introduction to critical thinking. It’s free of any content that would affect its appropriateness for any school. Most significantly, I wanted it to be absolutely free to everyone. I wrote a 5000 word script that was a distillation of Skeptoid’s general message.
One of the best assets that Skeptoid provides me is an incredible resource of thousands of enthusiastic skeptics eager to help out with any kind of skeptical outreach project. So I temporarily dropped a special announcement and call for help into my Skeptoid feed. I needed artwork, a composer, computer graphics artists, additional “man on the street” video footage, and still photography. Response was huge. I was overwhelmed. Talk about an embarrassment of riches: So many people wanted to help, who brought so much talent and energy to the table. I had to say “Thanks but no thanks” to 95% of everyone who threw their hat into the ring. It was like being a manager during a massive corporate layoff. But I was left with a team that I couldn’t be happier with.
I set aside a few thousand dollars and took two weeks off work. I bought a decent HDV video camera and an almost-good-enough wireless mic. I bought Final Cut Express, learned how badly it was crippled, and bought Final Cut Studio. I then spent two weeks of nonstop production: Driving around, setting up tripods, printing cue cards, replacing broken gear in panic mode, reshooting scenes that didn’t work, sneaking into my orthopod’s office on his day off, earning strange looks from people at the beach, calling in more favors than I can count, getting parking tickets, being chased away by airport security, forgetting meals, employing my whole family for all sorts of odd jobs, and generally enjoying the hell out of life.
Weeks of editing and scoring followed. A week of rendering, ripping, compressing, burning, and web site building followed that. And then, quite suddenly, at about two o’clock in the afternoon, I couldn’t find anything else to do. Here Be Dragons was done.
Like I do for all of my projects, I spend virtually no effort promoting or marketing them. I reason that if they’re good, it’s not necessary, they’ll sell themselves; and if they’re not good, marketing them would be a waste of energy. If my projects find success I want it to be because of their quality, not the quality of their marketing.
People started downloading it (it’s at HereBeDragonsMovie.com). They started making DVD’s. They made foreign language translations. They show it in schools. Two friends have donated huge amounts of time to handle technical issues and get it entered into film festivals. So far, so good.
The most fulfilling part of the experience is the number of teachers I’ve heard from who employ Here Be Dragons. I’ve heard from two different high schools who make it mandatory viewing for all students. I’ve lost count of the number of science and physics and critical thinking teachers who have written to tell me they show it in their class.
Where is Here Be Dragons going to go from here? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what I’d like: I’d like for a proper documentary production company to look at it, find value in its message, give it a budget, and professionally remake it. Will this happen, or perhaps something completely different and unexpected? Only Heisenberg can tell.