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Making Dragons

by Brian Dunning, Nov 20 2008
Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons

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 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.

17 Responses to “Making Dragons”

  1. Could this be considered the birthing parent to Skeptologists? :)

    I am glad to hear that schools are taking advantage of this. I have my own copy, and I do produce it whenever I have the opportunity.

  2. I must say I really enjoyed “Here Be Dragons” and if I were a school teacher I definitely would show it in my class.

  3. Gotta say, it’s impressive what a go-getter you are, Brian. You’re one of the most aggressively *productive* independents skepticism has seen in years, and you’re not shy about pushing the envelope either.

  4. Justin says:

    “Here Be Dragons” is a fantastic title, dude, as is this project. You are an inspiration. I’m off to the website right now!

  5. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    Watched it with my family. This should be shown on the first day of middle school science. The first thing kids should learn about science is that it is a process of inquiry. It is about questions and the search for answers. The trick is learning what questions to ask.

    Love the podcast, too!

  6. Tressa says:

    Randi isn’t the only one who is amazing!

  7. This video is absolutely fabulous for anyone who hasn’t seen it. I’ve watched it twice, and am buying it for holiday gift-giving.

    I like the idea of this getting expanded upon…and I would really love to see it in more of a story where the main character is a budding skeptic surrounded by family and friends who believe in all of these silly things….maybe even a series of short, fun videos with each focusing on a specific aspect of pseudoscience.

    Josh Nankivel

  8. Patrik E says:

    Truly great stuff! As could be expected with regards to your podcasts. I’d love to se a sequel: Here Be Dragons – the revenge of common sense. Or Here Be Dragons – Reloaded. =)

  9. Scott C. says:

    I also enjoyed the video very much. I passed a copy along to a local high school science teacher who was also very impressed. The fact that teachers around our district are taking the time to show it, considering how little time they have to cover the standard curriculum, is a testament it’s quality.

    Our compliments and thanks to Brian.

  10. Mike says:

    It is an excellent primer for sceptics – I enjoyed it and my 18yr old son also watched it and found it interesting. He regularly challenges his friends when they have any loony ideas using Brian’s methods – so it has worked for at least one person!

    I don’t know whether a professional job would make it it any more effective. I quite like the home grown feel to it as it adds to the authenticity of the message.


  11. There’s one thing I’d like to add to this, which was highly neglectful of me to leave out: My debt of gratitude to Ryan Johnson, director and my fellow exec producer on The Skeptologists, who gave tireless support (mostly pertaining to Final Cut Pro) as I worked on this project. It’s a mystery to me how he ended up being omitted from the Special Thanks section of the credits, at the very least. He certainly deserved some grandiose credit like Technical Consultant or something. So, Ryan, an inexcusably delayed thanks to you.

  12. Ryan Johnson says:

    Brian, you’re too kind. No thanks needed. I’m just happy to be a part of this great community. I’m glad I could help.

    Hopefully these projects are just the beginning of many more great things to come!

  13. [...] a todas las explicaciones draconianas. El otro día explicaba el proceso de creación del vídeo en Skepticblog: I set aside a few thousand dollars and took two weeks off work. I bought a decent HDV video [...]

  14. John Draeger says:

    Brian, you’ve done a wonderful thing by making this free for everyone to watch. You’ve done more than most armchair skeptics just by making this video. I hope people apply some of the “red flags” to their own religious beliefs. Critical thinking skills are lacking in the majority of U.S. citizens it seems, which is shown in the high number of people not accepting the findings of evolutionary biology. The ignorance of that field of scientific knowledge is staggering. I too wish your video would be shown in early science classrooms around the world!

  15. Julian says:

    Finally got around to watching it.

    Am I the only one that cringes when a homeopath starts explaining their beliefs? Maybe it’s intolerance but I seriously feel something similar to pain when that 9/11 truther started talking.

  16. MadScientist says:

    “Only Heisenberg can tell.”

    Well, with some degree of uncertainty perhaps. But which Heisenberg do you refer to? If it’s a dead Heisenberg I stick to the cliche “dead man tell no tales”.

  17. AmyLyndon says:

    I just bought this to show in my senior-level Advanced Psychology Class, i.e. “how to think critically” class where we examine pseudoscience, critical thinking, and applications to the “real” world. Thanks for giving me a great introduction to show to my college students!