Sunday, February 27, 2005

Our moment --- and we missed it (part 2)

So what do you do? What do you do when you're a documentary filmmaker and something incredibly important happens in your story --- and you miss it?

In astronomy there's a thing called a Gamma Ray Burst. It's one of the strangest things that happens in the universe. A gamma ray burst is a massive explosion that, for a few seconds, is brighter than the brightest thing you can imagine. But it only lasts for a few seconds. Literally. That makes it hard for astronomers to study them because a giant radio telescope can't just whip around in a second or two to catch one in progress. So what do they do?

Gamma ray bursts leave an afterglow. By the time the telescope can point in the right direction, all that's left is an afterglow where the explosion happened. But a lot can be learned from the afterglow --- not quite as much as seeing the real thing, but still pretty important.

That's exactly what we did --- we focused on the afterglow of our event. It wasn't quite as good as the actual thing happening, but we decided we had to move quickly before it cooled off. Within a couple of days after hearing about what had happened, we were at Fermilab interviewing the leaders of the project that had been canceled, covering a visit to the lab from Ray Orbach from the Department of Energy and Speaker of the House Hastert, and asking anyone we could find what they thought about what had happened.

We got quite a bit of coverage and eventually had to move on as the afterglow cooled off. In a couple of really frustrating moments, we got replies from scientists who declined our request for an interview because they were just too upset. They were afraid of saying something too dramatic. It made us gnash our teeth, of course, because they were under the impression we were looking for composed, professional scientists and we were looking for furious, impassioned scientists.

More on what scientists think we want later.

In short, we're not exactly sure if our moment will be what we want it to be. Nothing is clear until the editing process begins. During production, you just gather and gather, and we believe we gathered quite a bit. This moment, like the afterglow, has themes and ideas that will resonate long after the moment has passed, infusing the rest of the story with more meaning. A documentary can never have too many of those moments...

1 comment:

R Zake said...

Hey guys,
Good luck with your documentary. I have done a few of my own: In My Solitude (Directors Prize Illinois Film Festival, IDA/David Wolper Reel '91) and Timmy and Lucille. Then I got the golden handcuffs forming a commercial film company - Chicago Film Works- commercials suck. Have now written a feature. Good luck with your work & will be at your sale