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RE: Matt Wedel on the perils of doing documentaries

I'm curious:

  I'm sure Tom Holtz and (I think) Dave Krentz have commented on the aspect of 
the documentarian's perspective on the matter.  It is quite important to 
understand that there are not actually two sides to this coin, and Matt seems 
to be expressing just one to its fullest (for the purpose of debate?).

  1. The paleontologist is requested to comment and appear to make statements 
in a field he is generally considered important in, so as to support two 
things: what the documentarian wants to say (more below) and to provide 
material for what the documentarian CAN say.

  2. The documentarian has already produced a prospectus on the program, and 
this can take many years of plotting/planning before the program sees any 
television/DVD in which not just the talking heads are combined, but the 
digital material is composed (again, see below).  The documentarian has also 
pre-plotted the program before most of the talking heads are interviewed and 
filmed, and in many cases the filming of the talking heads is one of the final 
pieces of the documentary to be produced before the editing process and final 
voice-over confirmed.  This constrains whatever any talking head may want to 
insert into the program.  In some cases (I understand Bakker and Horner have 
been neck-deep in some documentaries start to finish, especially if it's about 
their work) the paleontologist CAN help modify the progress of the film, but 
for the most part, this is moot.

  3. Production costs of the film are difficult to expand when you are given an 
initial budget, and you do your digital programming (licensed, not in-house) 
well prior to the documentary, based on whatever data you've previously made.  
In some cases, bits can be cut when it is flatly untrue (flying allosaurs?), 
but then you are hedging into the area of "paleontologists disagreeing" and, as 
many people understand, the public and scientific understanding of "Science" is 
not always the same.  Because the CG work is done prior to the talking heads, 
there is little that can be done to fine tune details, and it would be helpful 
for whomever is on the ground floor of the project to devote the time it takes 
to direct this (with whatever clout he/she has); but this is not always, or 
virtually ever, the case.  Finally, of course, one should know that because the 
subject has been dead for over 65 million years, no dinosaur documentary can be 
anything like _The Blue Planet_, as the subjects in the latter are being filmed 
and thus do not need to have debating talking heads to explain what they 
_could_ do.

  In conclusion, the paleontologist is not making the film, and is thus not 
responsible for its content.  I can sympathize with the talking head who feels 
they are being used to represent something they disagree with (Matt talks about 
cut and paste shrunk baby brachiosaurs, unburied eggs, etc.) but I suggest that 
if you want to make it right, make it yourself.  So far, no paleontologist that 
_I_ know of has started their own production of a documentary, paid for the CG, 
interviewed the talking heads, etc.  If one of you does this, perhaps you can 
make the ideal film.  The next step is of course not making it dry, but 
engaging for the average, non-science-literate viewer; my understanding is that 
this would be just as much of a challenge as not taking the talking-heads 
representation personally.


Jaime A. Headden

"Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969)

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn
from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent
disinclination to do so." --- Douglas Adams (Last Chance to See)

"Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a
different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race
has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or
his new way of looking at things." --- Zapp Brannigan (Beast With a Billion 
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