Filmmaking

Where the Redfern Grows

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Yesterday, I was fortunate to meet one of the most prolific writers of the paranormal out there, Mr. Nick Redfern.

He’s also one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, and extraordinarily eloquent.  He listened patiently to my questions with nary a wince, threw down amazing answers, cranked the ideas up to 11, and then suggested further directions I could explore.  It’s like his mind is wired specifically to see incredible connections across the entire paranormal spectrum.  There is a reason all those other UFO shows seek him out.

My reason for interviewing him was primarily based on his book, Contactees, which shows off his ability to tease out new data from all the old stories, and track down a number of other fantastic stories besides.  I’m really getting excited about this film now, and can’t wait to share it with y’all. (That’s what they say in Texas, which is where I met Nick.)

So, I’ll pimp his book, too.  Seriously, read it.

Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist

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In 2013, I came across this book by Aaron Gulyas:

 

An incredibly well-written and insightful book made only more impressive by its use of “zeitgeist” in the title, it is a fantastic deconstruction of the Contactee phenomenon and how it relates to the broader picture of American society.   As Mr. Gulyas is a history professor, he was well-suited to the task.

This book was, in short, the print version of what I’m attempting to do with this documentary.  Naturally, I had to talk to Aaron.  So I traveled to Flint, Michigan, to do just that.

The interview went swimmingly, despite some technological snafus, but those were sorted out in time, and we had an amazing conversation.  It was an interview filled with “wow” moments, and I’m excited to include it in this film.

In the meantime, buy Aaron’s book here . No, seriously.  Buy it.  It’s great.

Production Art. Now With More Character!

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As I’ve mentioned before, one of the issues I’m facing with this documentary is that most of the major players are unfortunately deceased.  This is an issue that documentarians have faced forever, and the gap is generally filled with rather dull pans across black and white photos or illustrations.
However, I am an animator by trade, and so it seems to me that I should step it up.  I don’t want to do just the regular ol’ pan across photos.  (Don’t worry, there will be plenty of that as well…I have a lot of gaps to fill.)  So I am relying heavily on animated segments to bring this film to life.  
To that end, I present a sneak peek at one of the biggest players in the film.  The work isn’t quite finished yet, but he’s getting there.  Can you guess who he is?
Hint: His name rhymes with Yamski.

More Concept Art

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No big posts today.  Just some more concept art.

Version 1.  

Update:

After noodling with the picture some more, I came up with a version I liked better.  Tell me what you think.  Granted, the subtleties might be a shade lost on these low res versions.  I’d give you higher res ones, but I have to save something for the film.

Version 2.

Adamski Pre-Production Inspirational Sketches

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Though this is the production blog for They Rode the Flying Saucers, I have posted relatively little about the actual production of this film.  I thought I’d try to correct that a little bit with this entry.

A significant portion of this film will ultimately be animated, as most of the people in it are, unfortunately, deceased.  To steel myself for the coming onslaught of animation I will have to be doing in the very near future, I have been following a tradition of animation established long ago by the Disney studios–the inspirational sketch.

Adamski et Orthon, circa 1952

Disney, and other studios besides, have artists whose specific job is to come up with as many ideas as they possibly can about whatever the film is about.  If they’re making a film about, say, a genie in a magical lamp, then these artists will make amazing oil paintings, sketches, watercolors, and sculpture about genies and magical lamps.  These works of art–and they are incredibly, unbelievably artistic–are like concept cars.  They may be super cool, but they never see the light of day.  You won’t see these things in the final films, though they are the seeds from which the art of the production grows.  They are unrestricted by narrative and market needs, and so they have an unfettered ability to stimulate the imagination.

What some have said they think of when they hear the title of this film.

Over the past several years, I have been doodling in notebooks and on napkins, coming up with images, ideas that can convey portions of this film for which there is no footage or imagery to cover.

Here are a few sketches I’ve done of George Adamski.  These are not, I should emphasize, scenes or portions thereof that will be appearing in the finished film.  These are only concepts, ideas to get me thinking visually about which directions to go.

The Stranger in the Pentagon

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The other night, I was fortunate enough to score a ticket to a sold-out screening of two classic-UFO-inspired short films at the Burbank Film Festival.  The first was The Maury Island Incident, which tells the allegedly true story behind the long-dismissed UFO case from 1947.  It was an entertaining film, though one more relevant to this blog was the second in the screening,  Stranger at the Pentagon, directed by Craig Campobasso.  A complete story in its own right, it’s also a sales piece for the eventual feature, and is based on the book of the same name by one of the classic Contactees, Dr. Frank E. Stranges.

Dr. Frank to his friends.

Stranges, who passed away in 2008, was an evangelical minister who claimed to have met a man named Valiant Thor in 1959.  Val, as he was commonly called, was from the interior of Venus and was a VIP guest of the US Government while he tried to offer assistance (in the form of new technologies to eliminate death and aging, among other things) to the people of Earth.  This assistance was rejected by the President at the time, Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the grounds that it would destroy the economy.

Being that this was a short film, it necessarily breezed over many of the details of Dr. Frank’s story, but still managed to be thoroughly enjoyable.  Both the narrative and visual styles were reminiscent of the ’60s, in all its Technicolor-hued, brightly lit glory.  They visual effects were very advanced for a short film, capturing a happy place between a ’60s aesthetic and a modern, iPod-influenced high tech.

If you get the opportunity to see this film, or donate to its completion, please do so.  But beyond the scope of the film (at least the short version) is what I find very interesting about this story…that of religion and the Contactees.

Many, such as Carl Sagan, have decried the Contactees as fanatics more akin to religious sects than to a scientific-minded group, despite their many scientific claims.  And though it’s often relegated to the background of the Contactee stories, religion is an integral part of those same stories.

Much like the rest of the world when it comes to religion, however, there was a fair amount of dissent amongst the Contactees.  The questions that come up are endless…how does salvation work on a universal scale?  Is heaven peopled with nonhuman aliens?  Did Buddha reincarnate on another planet?  Are there other religions in space that we don’t have here?  Was Ganesha’s odd appearance due to him being an alien? Did Jesus save the souls of the denizens of other planets?

To many of the Contactees, though not Dr. Stranges, the answer to that last question was yes.  Val Thor spoke of how while the Space Brothers were not actually Christian, (as they were perfect beings unspoiled by sin and therefore found religion unnecessary), they were aware of Christianity, and even introduced himself as being from the planet “your Bible refers to as the morning and the evening star.”    I think it’s interesting that a being from a society advanced enough to travel across millions of miles of empty space would describe his homeworld in poetic, rather than scientific terms.  (Such as how Orthon told Adamski that he was from the second planet from the sun.)

One of a handful of photos of Valiant Thor

That, to me, is the poetry of the Contactee stories.  The most intriguing of the stories weren’t just straightforward, technical tales.  In addition to being scientifically advanced, the Space Brothers were also spiritually advanced.  Their art, philosophy, and religion was of a higher order.  Perhaps their manner of thinking would be to put things in terms that we might understand.  As Val was speaking to an evangelical minister, perhaps he deliberately chose to speak in theological terms.

As with any discussion of religion, this is filled with controversy.  Some have criticized the idea of Christian aliens as being awfully convenient for the Christians.  One wonders how a Contactee claiming Allah as the deity of choice on Venus would have fared.

Other Contactees were somewhat more pragmatic in their approach to organized religions and Space Brothers, choosing to say that religion actually originated from outer space.  George King of the Aetherius Society, for example, claimed that Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna were all beings from other worlds who came down to earth to teach us the cosmic laws of outer space.  Perhaps more controversially, he claimed that Krishna was the most advanced of them all, even more than Jesus.  I suspect Dr. Frank would take objection to this characterization.

Still other Contactees took a broader perspective on the idea of religion.  George Adamski promoted the principles of “Universal Law”, which were the guiding rules that govern all citizens of other planets.  Most of these principles are fully compatible with Christianity, as well as with Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam, as they are the core principles of all major religions.  Compatible, that is, provided one dispenses with the organizational and narrative structures of religion and focus instead on the messages being conveyed.  Adamski advocated for the abolition of organized religion in favor of supporting the universal principles that they all shared, because those divisions only caused strife.

And then there are those who claim, even today, that any beings from outer space are damned, because they have not received the Gospels.  Some go so far as to say that what we call extraterrestrials are in fact demons in disguise.  Obviously, this subject is too big to tackle in any single blog post, so I may return to it at a later point.  Or, you can stay tuned and watch the documentary They Rode the Flying Saucers.

Ancient Aliens and Contact in the Desert

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On the weekend of August 8, 2014, I made an almost literally last-minute decision to head out to Joshua Tree for the “Contact in the Desert” conference.  To anyone who has never been to a UFO conference, I recommend heading out to one at least once.  They are a hoot.

This conference, held in the Mojave Desert in August, hearkens back to the Giant Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Conventions held by George Van Tassel from the ’50s to the ’70s.

Not much has changed in sixty two years

Joshua Tree is only a dozen miles or so away from Giant Rock, so there is a similar level of oppressive heat and lack of shade.  This year, when the power went out and took the air conditioning with it, we really got a sense of what it must have been like in the early days of the GRISC.

But as inhospitable as the climate may be in the desert, the fun of these conferences comes from the people who attend.  For one, you get to rub elbows with all the people you’ve seen on TV and heard on the radio a thousand times.  The rock star attraction at this year’s CITD was Mr. Giorgio Tsoukalos, of Ancient Aliens and In Search of Aliens fame.  Also, memes.

The hair is Giorgio.

As you can see in that picture above, seated next to Giorgio was Erich von Däniken, the man who (sort of) started all this ancient aliens stuff up way back in the 1960s.  One of the most dangerous thinkers alive, according to Carl Sagan, his book Chariots of the Gods contributed greatly to my current interest in this subject.  In fact, in a college communications class, I gave a speech arguing that we need to take a serious look at what von Däniken says and not disregard him out of hand.  My speech was disregarded out of hand.

That said, Mr. Sagan’s appraisal of von Däniken’s work isn’t completely off base, either.  While I think many of the ancient myths of the world that depict sky beings and flying chariots are compelling, I think that trying to suggest that the giant blocks of Baalbek could only have been moved by levitation technology provided by our ancient alien forebears sells our ancestors short, to say the least.

As a result of the TV series Ancient Aliens, there has been an incredible resurgence in popularity in the subject of ancient contact.  In They Rode the Flying Saucers, I’ve been exploring the idea that alien beings contacted regular people in the ’50s and ’60s.  But what about ancient times?

In fact, most of the Contactees held with the belief that contact went way, way back.  Adamski didn’t claim he was the first person ever contacted by alien beings, but he was definitely the most prominent of the modern contacts, which were catalyzed by the detonation of nuclear weapons and the imminent need for intervention.

The first two-thirds of Flying Saucers Have Landed, the portion written by Lord Desmond Leslie, deals with ancient aliens in great detail.  He talks about great vimana battles in ancient India.  George Van Tassel lectured frequently about flying saucers and extraterrestrials in the bible.

The story of the spaceships and the people who operate them is not anything new…These people originally colonized this planet. Their ancestors and ours are the same people, way back in history. Back in 1951, they contacted me through what they call the Omnibeam and through an instrument they call an Adaphon. This is an apparatus, a gadget, an electronic gimmick or whatever you want to call it. It’s a piece of equipment. And it works. Now I’m not the first one they’ve contacted with this. They’ve contacted people all through history with it. There’s many accounts in the bible of people who heard voices from heaven.

– George Van Tassel, 1958

Van Tassel claimed that the Space Brothers looked like us because they were us.  They were descended from the same beings who put humans on Earth in the first place.  Some have pointed out the startling similarity between Joseph Smith’s meeting with the angel Moroni and a modern contact tale:

Fashion sense, for one

What Ancient Aliens and shows like it portray is what Contactees would look like to a world that didn’t have the level of development needed to understand it.  If Adamski hadn’t been something of an armchair scientist, would he have considered Orthon an angel instead of a Venusian?  Just how much of the contact experience comes from the Contactees themselves, and how much is external?  Do the beings come down, assess where we’re at culturally, and act either as a god or as an alien according to our state of development?

It’s easy to dismiss stories like Van Tassel’s and Adamski’s as pure fantasy, because they can often seem quaint to our modern sensibilities. But consider that very similar tales go back to Joseph Smith, to Mohammed, to Ezekiel, to Moses, and beyond.  Are the Contactees just drawing upon an established narrative foundation, or are they experiencing something real?

And if so, what is it?

 

Farewell Good Brothers

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In the early 90s, before the days when reality TV “documentaries” took over, I was an avid watcher of the Discovery Channel.  One day, I saw a promo for this film:

At the time, I was somewhat obsessed with stories of alien abduction tales as told by Whitley Strieber, Betty and Barney Hill, and Budd Hopkins.  Which is to say, stories in which people were taken out of their cars or their homes late at night in the middle of nowhere and subjected to inhumane experiments by ugly, bug-eyed aliens.  Then I saw this movie, which told the tales of the Contactees, who turned the notion of “aliens” into “space brothers.”  Beautiful, angelic humans here to save us from our own excesses.  Here is the description of the film, from the production company’s website:

Farewell Good Brothers is an off-beat, irreverent and often hilarious portrait of a few people who, back in the 1950′s, claimed to have been contacted friendly visitors from the planet Venus. Theirs is a world of mysterious government conspiracies, strange religious rites and unbelievable close encounters; a world inhabited by an assortment of charlatans, true believers, Christian fundamentalists, and messianic cults. Through contemporary interviews and a wide assortment of unusual archival imagery, the film examines the role of these so-called ‘Contactees’ in pioneering much of contemporary Flying Saucer mythology. With it’s emphasis on the political and religious motivations of these people and it’s visual depiction of their beliefs, FAREWELL, GOOD BROTHERS is unique in both style and content.

I missed the movie on Discovery, but tracked down a VHS copy (Ah, VHS, remember those days?) and wore it out watching it over and over.

Farewell, Good Brothers is definitely “off-beat”, as it says. The interviews are golden, and well worth a watch.  Howard Menger’s story, specifically, is what drew me into this subject.  In his interviews, he comes off as a cantankerous, rebellious old man who spouts his message of peace and love in the same tone he’d tell them kids to get off his yard.  If you read his book, From Outer Space to You, you’ll see the young version of that same disconnect: a humble and meek narrator that nevertheless manages to brag about his war heroism and inventiveness.

Peace and love in action.

Also worth watching are Dan Fry almost literally telling the director to get off his lawn and leave him alone.

For all its merit, this film never quite satisfied me.  The tone of the film is lightly comedic, which is perfect for what it is–an introduction to a subject most people these days have never heard of.  It never quite mocks the Contactees, but it never quite takes them seriously, either.  It’s sort of a “submitted for your approval” with a cocked eyebrow.  While I appreciate that tone, the content of the film made me want to know more.

And so down the rabbit hole I went.  And while down there, I discovered some further things about FGB that make it incomplete.  Robert Stone, the director, focused on living Contactees (Robert Short, Daniel Fry, George King, Howard Menger, and a few others) and their stories.  And these stories are fascinating and wonderful.  But in doing so, he missed out on George Van Tassel and George Adamski, two of the biggest names in Contacteedom.

To me, that is like making a movie about the history of rock and roll and not mentioning Elvis or the Beatles.  Sure, you can still get a sense of the subject, but the picture is incomplete.  Mr. Stone had an advantage on me in the form of a 23 year head start; of the original Contactees he interviewed, only Robert Short is still with us.  (I also was able to interview Mr. Short, and it was an amazing experience, to say the least).  Howard Menger died only weeks before I embarked on this project.

So in making this film, I decided to turn what could easily be a weakness–the lack of first-hand interviews–into a strength.  Because I’m not relying solely on those interviews, I am free to examine the accounts of Adamski and Van Tassel, among others.  In using original audio from these people, as well as animation and visual effects, I can tell their stories to fill in the blanks left by Farewell, Good Brothers.

If you get a chance, see this film. (And mine, too, when it gets finished).  There is an updated version available, with new music and remastered in HD.  For your consideration, however, here is the original version as presented on Youtube.

 

 

Regarding Contactee Locations

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Those who are only casually familiar with Contactee lore could be forgiven for thinking that these stories always take place in some remote area, such as the middle of the Mojave Desert, or on the tops of mountains.  But that is not always the case.  Take the example of Orfeo Angelucci.

Orfeo worked in Burbank, California at the Lockheed plant, where fellow Contactee George Van Tassel also worked for a time.   Orfeo was a sickly fellow, and left work feeling ill one night, only to have a surreal encounter on Forest Lawn Drive in Burbank  in which he viewed holographic images of extraterrestrials, who materialized a goblet of liquid and instructed him to drink.  He did, and immediately felt better.

Months later, while driving home from work again, he approached the Hyperion Avenue Bridge late at night.  At the time, it was just empty lots, and very spooky.  Here, he describes his encounter:

Between me and the bridge I noticed a misty obstruction. I couldn’t make out what it was.  It looked like an Eskimo igloo–or the phantom of an igloo.  It seemed like a luminous shadow without substance. I stared hard at the object. It was absolutely incredible–like a huge, misty soap bubble squatting on the ground emitting a fuzzy, pale glow.

                                                     – Orfeo Angelucci, The Secret of the Saucers

 I went looking for this location, and judging from how he describes it in his books, this is where it took place:
Hyperion Avenue Bridge from Riverside Drive

While it may have been remote (“spooky”, in Orfeo’s words) for a major city like Los Angeles, it was still in the middle of civilization, and not in the middle of joshua trees and boulders.

As near as I can tell, the empty lot where the “misty soap bubble” appeared is now an immense apartment complex.  Interstate 5 buzzes to the immediate left of the above picture, another element that was not there at the time.

This picture, from 1937, probably bears more resemblance to how it appeared in 1952:

Surprisingly, it’s largely unchanged, save for a significantly greater number of power lines and bigger trees.  And graffiti. Always graffiti.What is interesting to me about these Contactee locations of significance are their utter unremarkability.  This bridge, while an interesting and attractive one, is nearly buried in graffiti, power lines, and pigeon filth.  No evidence of the alleged incidents remains.The same is true of the area near Desert Center where Adamski claimed he first met Orthon, the man from Venus:

There are no circular scorch marks or plaques or markers or fenced off areas indicating a place of high significance.  This is just a mountain in the middle of nowhere, along a desolate highway.

Giant Rock, home to George Van Tassel, as well as the site of his alleged contacts and the annual spacecraft convention, was perhaps one of the more dramatic locations of Contactee lore, as one has to actually see the rock to fully understand how massive it is.  The first time I visited it, I parked and walked toward it, and after a couple minutes of walking, realized that I didn’t appear to be much closer to it.  It was so big, I thought I had parked near, but because of the lack of visual cues and the overwhelming size of the Rock, I was actually a good quarter of a mile away.

But there are some dramatic changes apparent in this location:

Giant Rock circa 1968

 

Giant Rock 2011

Like Hyperion Avenue bridge, the Rock is now covered with graffiti, as well as char marks from campfires.  The living quarters are now filled in with cement, and a huge chunk of the rock has split off, marring its  majesty even further.  Gone is the windsock and Come On Inn, though the airstrip Van Tassel built is still visible in the distance.

It’s a reminder that history moves on, and this generation of Contactees are mostly just a memory now, just one more reason to preserve this story.

I Want My…I Want My…I Want My Contacteeeeees

By | Animation, Filmmaking | 2 Comments

When I first embarked on this project, I had more than one person raise an eyebrow at it.  A close friend of mine asked, in a very concerned tone, if he needed to “call the tinfoil hat brigade.”  This kind of prejudice, that discussing flying saucers is on par with discussing unicorns,  is a prejudice I’ve seen time and again.  It’s an awkward thing to deal with.

First, let’s get something straight, for those of you who think this is all woo-woo crazy stuff:  My making this film does not equal my wholehearted endorsement of the subject matter.  Someone who makes a film about World War II isn’t necessarily making a call to war, they are simply recording a historical event.  And that is what I am doing. Having said that, endorsing this subject is, in my opinion, not sufficient cause to commit someone to the loony bin pile of public opinion.

I have no intention or interest of proving or disproving the claims of the Contactees.  It is a futile endeavor, as I am fantastically unqualified to even attempt something so bold, and no one’s mind would be changed in the end anyway.

I came to this project a few years ago after a decades-long fascination with the subject.  I was frustrated that I had never seen a satisfying look at the Contactees who were, whether you believed their stories or not, amazingly interesting people.  It is every bit as valid a historical movement in world history as hippies, civil rights, or anti-Vietnam protests.  I’m not equating these or in any way implying that Contacteeism was as important as civil rights or Vietnam, I’m just saying it is part of the greater cloth of mid-century history, and therefore worth examining.

But it usually gets cast to the floor, stomped on, spat upon, or otherwise reviled because it mentions flying saucers and men from Mars.  But that’s exactly WHY it’s interesting!

If you look at the concerns of the Contactees—fear of nuclear annihilation, fear of losing our morality in an increasingly hectic world, hope for future generations—they are everyone’s concerns.  They are universal, and only the medium of the message is different.  While some people march in front of the Washington Monument waving anti-war signs, the Contactees chose a different tactic.  And though I say “they chose”, many of them people would say it chose them.

So I set out to make the movie that I wanted to see, and I’m having a blast doing it.

Thus far, I have deliberately chosen to avoid crowd funding for the simple reason that this is a labor of love; I’m doing this mostly on my own, and I still have a day job that takes most of my time.  Crowd funding would constrict  my time with all the mailings and prizes and whatnot, time that would be better spent actually working on the film.  Plus there is the added pressure that as time drags on, those who contributed might get a little antsy about where their product is.  I just didn’t want the pressure.

As such, I chose to do this self-funded, on my own schedule, at my own pace, and it is a very slow pace.  Only now, after years of research and the occasional interview, am I finally getting on the road toward completion, where I can actually see the shape that it will eventually take.  It is possible that I will need to do crowd funding in the future for finishing this film, but at that point, it’s a different ball game; if I need funds, it’s to hire other people to do the things that I cannot.  And then I am not subject to my own limitations of working around my schedule.

I have put a lot of miles on my car, interviewing people, going to locations, gathering footage and data, researching the subject, reading countless books written by Contactees and analysts of Contactees, talking to people I never thought I’d meet, going to UFO conventions and finding the True Believers and the skeptics, poring through hundreds of hours of archival audio and video, and finally, editing and developing the visual style of this film.

As an animator by profession, it is my intention to make this film look good.  That is secondary to a good solid film, of course, but I am working hard to find ways to integrate the visual aspects of visual and substantive aspects so that they support one another in a cohesive way.

Many of the jobs I’ve had with insane production schedules have been the ideal training ground for this film: on those productions, I had to work quickly and efficiently in order to meet airing schedules.  Now I have the luxury of my own schedule, but for my own sanity, I want to get this out the door.  Thanks to those earlier experiences, I have a unique set of skills that will allow me to accomplish this (To paraphrase Liam Neeson.)

In future updates, I will post some of my visual development of this film.  I hope that is when you will understand how it is not just another documentary, but something different.