Filmmaking

Film Status Update

By | Filmmaking, Movies, Production Art, Uncategorized | One Comment

As the audience for the They Rode the Flying Saucers grows on social media, I’m getting asked this question more and more frequently: “when will the movie be available?”  This is a logical question, and it’s one I find myself asking repeatedly.  The answer is a bit more tricky.

The Integratron

I have been in production on this film for close to nine years.  Originally,  I intended it to be a short doc using animation set to archival audio of the Contactees; but then it took on a life of its own.

At the beginning of production, I lived in Los Angeles, and in close proximity to me were a number of the historical Contactee sites: Giant Rock and the Integratron were a two hour drive away in Landers, Desert Center three hours away.  Mt. Palomar, where Adamski lived, was two hours away near Vista, California.  Just down the road from me was the Empire Center mall, which was once the Lockheed factory that employed George Van Tassel and Orfeo Angelucci.  The empty field where Angelucci had one of his contact experiences is now an apartment building where I briefly lived.   The Aetherius Society’s US headquarters were five blocks from my office.  I couldn’t ignore the opportunity, so I started shooting footage of these areas to use in the film, which was the gateway drug to shooting interviews.  And soon I had way too much content for a short documentary.  This was now a feature.

L to R: Myself, Glenn Steckling of the Adamski Foundation, and Alan Tolman, a friend of George Adamski’s, before our interview at the Oak Knoll Campground on Mt. Palomar, formerly Palomar Gardens.

In the intervening years, after I’d gone to conventions, met more people connected to this story and conducted more interviews, the project has bloomed into something that could potentially sustain a limited series.  I have dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of content.  Not all of it is golden, and some of it is quite academic and would only interest the dyed-in-the-wool fans of the subject.  In the last year, I have committed myself to paring this down into a manageable format with all the best stuff.  I have completed a rough cut and am on the way to a finished second cut of the film.  While it is still too long for the average person to sit and watch, it’s getting there.

But there are a number of steps yet to accomplish: animation and graphics, music, sound mix, rights and clearances, acquisition of stock footage, etc.  Without going too much in depth as to how the sausage is made, suffice it to say that my original goal that I established at the beginning of this year of having it completed by November 20 (the 65th anniversary of Adamski’s meeting with Orthon at Desert Center) is looking more and more unlikely.  This is also the reason for the lack of recent updates to this blog: time spent writing blog posts could be spent finishing the film.  For that, I apologize, but hopefully this will explain why.

The good news is, I suspect most of the production will be accomplished by then.  It is just a matter at that point of the various hurdles of securing distribution, fundraising, etc., to get this all finished and off to the races.

Desert Center, a few miles from Adamski’s infamous 1952 meeting with Orthon.

Which is really my way of saying, stay tuned: I’m going to be begging for money at some point, and I’d love for the fans of this blog and the various outlets on social media to be part of this process.  I want this movie to be the best it can be, and it will take a significant investment to finish this film and get it out to you.  But it will happen.  I’ve stuck with this film for the better part of a decade, so don’t worry that it will never see the light of day.  I’ve put too much time and energy into it to do that to you.  Or me.

New Poster

By | Filmmaking, Production Art | No Comments

There’s nothing like a deadline to give you a kick in the pants to get things done.  I will be attending this year’s Contact in the Desert in Joshua Tree, California, as I’ve done most years.  It’s a great time, a lot of fun, and gives me a way to meet the people in the UFO “biz” as it were.

This year, since I’m aiming for a release of this film this fall, I wanted to do some promotion, and so I created a new poster for the film.  Here ’tis.

 

Special thanks to Gerard Aartsen for letting me swipe the title of one of his books as the tagline for my film.

I will be handing out postcard versions of this guy at the conference, so if you attend, find me and get one!

In Memoriam: Bill Warren

By | Filmmaking, Interviews, Movies, Science Fiction | No Comments

billwarren_v01

Early on in the production of They Rode the Flying Saucers, I knew that I wanted to address the idea of science fiction films as it related to popular culture.  I approached legendary film director and 1950s sci fi expert Joe Dante about doing an interview, and he told me that the real expert was a guy named Bill Warren.  So I approached Bill, and he kindly agreed to speak with me.

Joe was right.

Bill literally wrote the book on 1950s science fiction films, pictured here.  Actually, that’s only Volume 1.  Volume 2 is even thicker.  Turns out that Bill Warren was something of science fiction royalty, having apprenticed under the legendary Forrest J Ackerman, the man who created science fiction fandom.  Without Forey, there would be no Trekkies.

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During our interview, I was struck by the sheer depth of Bill’s knowledge.  He told me that when he was a kid, he literally read every sci fi book at the library.  His recall of those books and the movies made from them was tack-sharp.  He organized conventions and festivals, and knew many of the people who’d actually made the movies I wished to discuss in my film, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Bill and his wife Beverly were very kind, and we chatted for quite a while after we turned the cameras off.  I told Bill that I’d had a great time, which I had.  Sometimes, these interviews are things to get through, sometimes you realize that you can’t use most of what the person is saying.  Talking with Bill, however, felt like I was talking to an old friend about our favorite movies.  His enthusiasm was infectious and his insights were impeccable.  We discussed the shift from 1950s sci fi films to modern films, which really boils down to a growing cultural cynicism.  That is changing, he thought, as more and more movies were embracing the honesty of the 1950s.  From the preface to Keep Watching the Skies!:

Alien is similar to a 1950s movie in many ways.  Star Wars reflects certain elements of those films.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind faintly echoes It Came From Outer Space.  Some films have actually been remade, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and remakes of others have been announced.  Maybe the 1950s science fiction movie hadn’t really died; it was just sleeping in the minds of those, like me, who loved them.

I could do a whole film on flying saucer movies of the 1950s, using just that interview.  I’m glad that I get the chance to use portions of it in my film.

Bill passed away after a long illness on October 7.  My condolences go out to Beverly and his family and friends.  I hope that he’s on a flying saucer in the sky somewhere, having drinks with Ray Harryhausen and Forey Ackerman.

 

 

Hanging out at Area 51

By | Filmmaking, Government, UFO | No Comments

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to doing the one thing that all UFO-interested folks must, at some point, do: make the pilgrimage to Area 51.

As this film is about the Contactees, Area 51 doesn’t factor directly into the main storyline, so it has always been a low priority for me.  And, honestly, I’m much less interested in top secret military aircraft than in silver flying discs bearing beautiful Venusians.  That said, this was a surprisingly fun trip.  Since you’re reading this blog, I will assume you already know what Area 51 is, and what it’s all about and won’t bore you with explanation.

Personally, I was excited to see the infamous “Black Mailbox”, despite knowing that it was only the mailbox for a nearby ranch, and was saddened to hear that it had been removed.  But lo and behold, some intrepid someone put up a replacement…this one being actually black. (The removed one was not).  I was somewhat surprised by the sheer amount of detritus left there; some of it was just trash, but most were offerings, turning this into a shrine: pleas for the aliens to abduct them and take them to a better planet, “Jack was here” along with drawings of aliens, pleas for the ETs to give their souls to Jesus, etc.

blackmailbox-001

I didn’t know what to do next, really.  There’s not exactly a tourist center.  Well, OK, there is, and I went there, but I didn’t ask specific directions, because I thought it would be fairly obvious.  Turns out that when there’s only one road that dwindles into nothing on the horizon and you’re on a half tank of gas, complete knowledge of a situation is comforting.  Fortunately, that lone road was the right one.  And so, we plunged onward through a surprisingly dense Joshua Tree forest, dodging the occasional free-roaming cow.

area51_cow-001

And then we saw the sign, with the accompanying white pickup on top of the hill.  To this point, the trip was scenic, but uneventful.  Something about seeing that sign, with its dire warnings and legends of authorized lethal force, exhilarated me with the overall sense of menace.  Which was made more pointed by the imposing and silently watching pickup on the nearby hill.

area51_sign-001

I know, I’m a nerd.  But I love it.

There was no real danger, other than an uncomfortable talking to and hefty fine.  But the sheer drama of the signs and the razor wire and the hours of driving through nowhere to get to this point were exciting enough; it conjured a story in my head, full of aliens and spaceships.  Often, in the Mojave Desert, I’d felt a sense of magic laying just under the surface, a sense that anything could happen.  Here, in Groom Lake, I felt a similar sense of endless potential, but this time at the hands of dark but human forces.

And maybe that’s why people are endlessly fascinated with Area 51.  In a time when people are losing all sense of control over their daily lives, perhaps traveling to this zone of strangeness (to borrow Peter McCue’s phrase) and looking that lack of control in the face gives us comfort.  In that way, looking for secrets at Area 51 reflects our modern fears and concerns.  Much like how meeting beautiful Venusians reflected our fears and gave us hope in the mid-century.

Carl Sagan and Contact

By | Contactees, Filmmaking, Movies, Religion, Reviews, Video | 5 Comments

Over the course of making They Rode the Flying Saucers, one movie has kept coming to mind: Contact.  I mean, duh.  It’s right there in the title.

The original novel on which the movie is based was written by one of the purest scientistic minds ever: Carl Sagan.  A brilliant astronomer, he was fascinated by the idea of alien life and alien civilizations.  He was a staunch advocate for SETI (The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence), a scientific effort to find alien civilizations elsewhere in the universe, and fought against its cancellation by Congress in the ’80s.  Despite this, he was highly skeptical of the UFO reports, on the basis that they did not have sufficient verifiable evidence to support them.  “Extraordinary claims”, he said, “require extraordinary evidence.”

In 1980, PBS aired Sagan’s series Cosmos.  In one episode, he directly addressed the idea of UFOs, and one gets the sense that he did it just to get it out of the way, because if he didn’t address it, people would ask annoying questions.  In this segment, he used what was at the time considered the case with the greatest verifiable evidence for its truth, the Betty and Barney Hill encounter.

As a scientist, he felt the only way to discuss the validity of this case was to look at the only evidence that could be verified, as opposed to the anecdotal reports and psychological tests.  This amounted to a star map drawn by Betty Hill, which she claimed she saw aboard the alien craft onto which she was taken.  This map included stars that were as yet undiscovered in the 1960s.  Sagan, in the clip above, describes exactly why this evidence is useless for verifying the Hill case–namely, the dots she drew could easily be a random pattern of dots that one could find in many areas of the sky if you looked long enough.  While he disregards many of the other compelling aspects of the Hill case, I give him credit for remaining open to the idea that her story is true:

For all I know, we might be visited by a different extraterrestrial civilization every second Tuesday.  But there is no support for this appealing idea.

But what of the classic Contactees? To many die-hard UFO believers, the Contactees were outcasts; to skeptics, they were absolute lunatics.  To them, Contactee stories were absurd, simplistic, and worst of all, absolutely devoid of supporting evidence.  Even Sagan seemed downright annoyed by them, as you can see by his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he speaks of them in this clip:

 

 

So it appears that Sagan was open to the idea of aliens, and even to the idea of alien visitation.  In a book co-written with I.S. Shklovskii called Intelligent Life in the Universe, Sagan even addressed the possibility that aliens may have visited us in the ancient past–that’s right, Carl Sagan was an Ancient Astronaut Theorist.  Unlike the likes of Tsoukalos and Von Däniken, however, Sagan pointed out that this was entirely speculative, but not impossible.  But I think it’s notable that he did not automatically dismiss the idea.   Compare that to many of the (to paraphrase Greg Bishop) “evangelical skeptics” today, who have apparently re-defined skepticism to mean “if it can’t be proven true, it’s necessarily false.”

And this is what makes the film Contact so interesting.  I would say “spoiler alert,” but if you haven’t seen this movie by now, you need to get on the ball.  The story was presented in a dryly scientific way…the first hour of the film establishes Jodie Foster’s character Ellie Arroway, a brilliant astronomer fascinated by the idea of alien civilizations.  (Sound familiar?)  It establishes her conflict with her peers, personified in the character of David Drumlin (Tom Skerrit), who thinks she’s throwing away her talents on a hopeless quest like SETI.  But when Ellie actually discovers an alien transmission, Drumlin the skeptic becomes Drumlin the I-Knew-It-All-Along.

The alien transmission is written in mathematics, the only truly universal language, and includes instructions for creating a wormhole-generating device that will allow a single passenger to travel to the alien world and make face-to-face contact.  To not go into too much detail on the plot, suffice it to say that Ellie eventually does this and meets an alien being.  This being scans her mind and takes the form of Ellie’s deceased father, as a way of making it easier for Ellie to understand the being.  After a brief conversation, Ellie returns to Earth, where only a fraction of a second has passed, though eighteen hours has passed for her.

With no evidence other than her word, no one believes her.  But she has had an a-theistic religious experience, and will never be the same–not unlike a typical Contactee experience.  Perhaps Sagan was inspired by them, at least in part.  The Contactees were men and women who offered no evidence but told wild tales.  The beings they met were almost always human in appearance, and could read minds, and were kind and relatable–much like Ellie’s experience in the film.  The only thing missing in Sagan’s tale is a tour of the spaceship and a warning against nuclear weapons.  And yet that message is implicit in the story, from a scene earlier in the film in which Ellie says that the one question she would ask an alien being, if she was given the chance, was how they made it through their technological adolescence without destroying themselves.  (Ironically, she does not ask this question when given the chance.)

I think it’s surprising and yet somehow fitting that a towering figure of scientific rationality like Carl Sagan was willing to admit that not everything is scientifically verifiable.  That even though a story of alien contact may sound unbelievable, it is not necessarily untrue.  While this is a work of fiction, I would say that it has a scientifically sound grounding in reality and to some degree spoke of Carl Sagan’s beliefs.

Perhaps the Contactees were not so simplistic after all.  Perhaps their experiences were projections of a sort, much like in the movie.  Perhaps the beings they met took forms that would be easy for humans to relate to.  And the fact that they had no evidence does not mean that their experiences were necessarily false, no matter what the skeptics say.  Their experiences changed their lives in deep and profound ways, transcending concrete scientific fact to address human spirituality and potential.  In other words, the Contactees stories had an inner reality that science cannot discover or probe, yet is perhaps no less true.

 

The Aetherius Society and Operation Starlight

By | Contactees, Filmmaking, Religion, Video | No Comments
Charging Mt. Baldy with spiritual energy

Charging Mt. Baldy with spiritual energy

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited along on a pilgrimage to Mt. Baldy with the Aetherius Society.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, the Aetherius Society is a group founded in 1957 by Dr. George King. Among their beliefs is that there exist on the Earth numerous holy mountains charged with spiritual energy, and Dr. King, through Operation Starlight, was able to make the energy of 19 of those mountains accessible through human effort.  (The others operate on a spiritual level that is beyond us).  Mt. Baldy, near Los Angeles, is one such mountain.  From the Aetherius Society’s website:

Spiritual energy is no less real than electricity and operates according to natural laws. It can help to heal, inspire, guide, bless and protect whoever it is directed to.

We can all learn to invoke and transmit this light energy – this love energy – to help ourselves, individuals in need, and most importantly, the world as a whole.

What is spiritual energy, exactly?  It’s too involved of an answer to go into here, but according to the Aetherius Society, it can be directed, like electricity, toward certain specific targets in order to generate healing.

In times of crisis, the Society directs this energy toward the affected areas.  For example, during this particular pilgrimage, the healing energy was directed primarily toward the victims of the recent earthquake in Nepal.

The height of the Contactee era was, not coincidentally, the height of the Cold War, and as such, the entire planet was in something of a constant crisis; nuclear war loomed like the Sword of Damocles, and Dr. King founded the Aetherius Society, in part, to deal with this.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the Aetherius Society believes that there was a fifth planet in the solar system named Maldek.  This planet was destroyed in a nuclear explosion, and is now the asteroid belt.  

They believe that prior to the destruction, Maldek was a highly advanced culture, but “the disease” came–a lust for power.  The advanced beings of Maldek turned their knowledge and power to developing ever more powerful weapons, until they managed to destroy their planet entirely.  But some beings from Maldek traveled to Earth and established a colony there, named Lemuria, or Mu.

This society flourished for centuries, but they fell victim to the same lust for power, and destroyed their society a second time.  The survivors established a new paradise, this one called Atlantis.  But the same fate awaited them.

And now in our modern era, we’ve achieved heights of technical prowess unmatched for millenia, and once again, we have the power to destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the space brothers are watching this time, and as such, issued “The Command” to Dr. King, telling him that he was to become the voice of Interplanetary Parliament on Earth.

He founded the Aetherius Society, which in turn serves as a front lines of defense against this “disease” from taking over and destroying humanity once and for all.  For those in the Aetherius Society, it is essential to send this healing energy out into the world, in order to prevent such a thing from happening.

And I, for one, feel comforted knowing they are doing just that.

 

Branding the Contactees

By | Filmmaking, Ramblings | 4 Comments

The classic Contactees from the 50s and 60s have a bit of a branding problem.  When someone sees a picture like this:

Alice K. Wells’s drawing of Orthon

There’s just not a lot of interest.  It’s just a guy in a puffy suit.  There’s not a lot to go on.  But when people see something like this:

…it makes the rounds on Tumblr and other blogs.  In addition to it being a frame capture from a very popular TV show (South Park), it is popular because it’s iconic.  The simplified cartoon image of an alien gray is like a kind of cognitive shorthand that brings up a whole range of ideas that extend beyond the image itself.  First, you know that these guys aren’t from around here.  Second, they probably got here in a flying saucer of some kind, and third, they’re probably going to perform some unpleasant medical procedures on you.  This iconic shorthand was popularized by the Schwa.

Not to be confused with the typographical schwa, ə.

The Schwa was created by artist William Barker in the early ’90s.  His intention, as he outlines in this article, was to show a corporate takeover of the earth through branding and marketing.  Sort of like an alien invasion, if you will.

He did this extremely well.  The Schwa is such an elegant distillation of the iconic image from the cover of Whitley Strieber’s Communion that I think it helped to spread the idea of alien abduction and invasion in the pop culture in a way that actual narratives cannot.  Budd Hopkins’s work about missing time and alien probes remained on the fringe, but Barker’s artwork is inviting and fun to look at.  It’s also so well designed that you could remove even the head and still get a distinctly alien feeling from it.

Still makes me shudder a bit.

I can’t help but think the Schwa played a role in how the Grays became stereotypical aliens in the eyes of popular culture, rather than the benevolent humans that the Contactees claimed to have met. Or even the Reptilian, the Michelin Man, or the Hopkinsville Goblin.  There’s something so simple and primal about the image of a Gray that it makes for an icon that wouldn’t look out of place on an iPhone.

The Contactees were already a relic of a bygone era by the time the Schwa came around.  But I wonder if it’s because they never had that kind of simple, easy to grasp brand.  Sure, they had their own typical sorts of encounters–beautiful blonde haired humans in tight jumpsuits, messages of peace and love, etc. etc.  But they never had that one image, that one icon that took their message to the masses.

Thus, sixty years later, I propose an icon for the Contactees:

It’s not quite as elegant, I suppose, nor as evocative as the Schwa.  But at least it’s a step.  I invite anyone  reading this blog to submit their own designs, and I will post them up here.  Even rough sketches.  I think it’s high time the Contactees had an iPhone-friendly icon of their own.

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Santa Claus is Coming…to Kill.

By | Filmmaking, Interviews | One Comment
A few months ago, I interviewed Greg Bishop to get his views on the Contactees.  For those who aren’t familiar with him (though I know most of you are), Greg is a writer, researcher, and radio host extraordinaire whose show, Radio Misterioso, continually brings in fascinating guests from all over the paranormal spectrum.  I was fortunate enough to be a guest on his show myself.

pandit-header

In the spirit of the season, I’m sharing this little tidbit from the interview.

Happy Holidays, whatever planet you’re from!

 

The Perfect Spot for a Contact

By | Contactees, Filmmaking | 2 Comments

As promised, I did go to Desert Center this weekend.  I missed the 62nd anniversary of George Adamski’s alleged encounter with Orthon by two days, but I figure that’s still pretty good.  I shot some footage for the film up there, but really, I was on a quest to find the actual, magical spot where it all went down.

I should point out a distinction:  Obviously, whether George Adamski actually met a man named Orthon from Venus on that fateful day in 1952 is a controversial notion.  But George was, in fact, in Desert Center that day.  And he did walk off into the desert, alone, and a few minutes later his friends joined him to find him in an excited state.

As such, this must have happened at a particular spot.  After checking with my sources, I found that the exact spot was either unknown or unimportant.  For the sake of this film, I wanted to get as close as possible.  Realizing that this was not going to happen, I decided to just pick a spot and shoot what we were there to shoot.

The thing with Desert Center is that it’s a whole lot of rocks.  There’s very little vegetation, no trees, nothing really to distinguish one spot from another out there.  So, I figured, perhaps it doesn’t matter what spot was THE spot, because all the spots sort of look the same.

Pictured: A lot of spots that look the same.

So we set up the camera and started shooting.  The desert is a strange place, because it gives one a sense that anything can and will happen.  So it’s no surprise that people have mystical experiences out there.  I was thinking this very thing, about how the desert is a strange and magical place, when I noticed something interesting about the area.

Here is a photograph from George Hunt Williamson’s book, Other Tongues Other Flesh, of George Adamski at Desert Center, only a few feet away from where he claimed Orthon stood.

And here I am, where we chose to set up the camera to shoot:

Nailed it.

Okay, granted, it looks like George was standing a little further down the slope, by the old computer monitor someone had dragged out there for target practice.  But I thought the coincidence was remarkable, and I choose to take it as a good omen that this film is on the right track.

We wrapped up our shooting and headed down the road back toward civilization, and we came across this:

Literally, a sign we were on the right track.