Today we have a rather interesting guest for you. Grigorij Richters is here to talk about his new asteroid disaster film 51º North. We talk about how it began, how it first attracted the attention of Queen guitarist Brian May and then how people like Stephen Hawking took an interest and helped make today (30th June) National Asteroid Day! Read on to learn all about it…
Firstly in your own words could you just tell our readers a little about your film?
Well on paper you could say the film is about the end of the world due to an asteroid impact. But to me the film has always been about the journey which our protagonist Damon Miller goes on knowing that the world is going to end. He’s having to deal with these extreme circumstance and the fact that he can’t tell his friends or family because there is really nothing which we can do to stop it. So for me its always been about how one deals with knowing that life will be over soon.
So what kind of a balance were you aiming to strike between informing the audience about asteroids and telling a personal narrative?
Well it’s a good question. When I started making the film five years ago I didn’t have any science background because I’m a filmmaker you know? For me it was like going through a similar experience to that which our protagonist is going through because he is a filmmaker too. He’s a blogger too and has a huge following before he stumbles upon this research and gets involved with it just like I did. I wanted to make this act like a beginners guide to asteroids by not using technical jargon and therefore giving the viewer a chance to actually understand them. It’s a very thin line between using educational bits and pieces without making it too dull. Hopefully we struck that just right!
How did you fist come to this material then?
Well it was five years ago and I was doing a lot of corporate filmmaking but I always wanted to make a feature film. Then my assistant at the time randomly sent me a Horizon documentary called The Good the Bad and the Ugly. I sat down to watch it thinking ‘who cares!’ but there was something about that documentary which somehow hit it home. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but when I finished watching the documentary I started doing research and I found out that there are less people working on the asteroid problem worldwide than there are working on one shift at MacDonald’s! I then started to realise that there was this threat out there which we still think Bruce Willis or NASA can save us from, but in actual fact it’s not under control and we have so much work to do.
That leads me to ask what the thinking was behind making it a feature and not a documentary?
I don’t know… I was twenty-two at the time and I always wanted to make a feature. I didn’t have a lot of money but I did have my camera which was my greatest joy at the time… it still is actually.
I thought that with a documentary I would only reach those who were already aware of the subject matter, if I could somehow make it into an actual feature with a narrative however then I could probably get to a lot more people. Hopefully some people will watch the film and, perhaps not get as panicked as I did, but instead intrigued, curious and will start doing their own research. That’s what I’m hoping.
Right so at the very beginning when it was very low finance we shot this scene with 2500 extras from social media, no permit, no money, no nothing. When went into Piccadilly Circus we had some press and in order to try and make it look professional I told them that the UK Space Agency was involved and was helping us make the film. Then it somehow got into CNN the next day and I get this email from the Agency! I didn’t really want to open it as I was a bit afraid, but they were incredibly kind and said that they wanted to support us and try to make it great.
They gave us real life experts and when we had eventually filmed interviews with all of their scientists I said ‘I’ve talked with all of your major scientists now, do you think there is anybody missing?’. And they said that if I really want to know about it, I should really get in contact with Dr Brian May who, along with being the famous guitarist, is also an astrophysicist.
So I emailed him again and again and again over the course of several months and then on November the 28th 2013 he emailed me back. It was amazing; he had watched the film and wanted to get involved. From there it was just a matter of figuring out a time slot when we could go into the studio and record it. That day certainly changed my life, but it also changed the entire history of this film and helped create asteroid day.
So how did that then lead to getting the attention of people like Stephen Hawking and the formation of Asteroid Day?
This is a sort of a bullshit thing to say but Brian May really is the nicest guy you will ever meet. He is so generous and brilliant an just gets things so incredibly fast. The next day after the recording session he emailed me and said about this science festival which has been running for a few years. In 2011 they had Neil Armstrong as a speaker and Brian said about how there was another coming up. The film wound up heading that festival, literally two hours after Professor Stephen Hawking gave his brilliant speech and from there one thing led to another.
Just before screening the film I had the honour of talking with Professor Stephen Hawking about the subject matter. He was saying that ‘making a film is a great step for raising awareness, but we have to do more’. That obviously just got me going like ‘oh my god, oh my god, Stephen Hawking just told me to do something amazing’! All the lightbulbs were going off in my head. Now, some time later, we have gone from this little indie film to heading a global awareness campaign!
Well I always want to be telling a story… the first thing is just to get through the next few days of getting this film out which will be quite demanding but utterly fantastic. We have decided to give all of the profits that the film makes to the asteroid foundation which essentially runs national asteroid day. So any money we make will further global awareness.
My hope is that if the film does really well then we can take some of the money and create more content, get more young filmmakers like myself to write scripts and content to put out on the next national asteroid day in order to keep furthering that awareness.
The beautiful thing about this is that we have all of these terrible diseases, we have earthquakes and all such global issues, and yet here we have this global issue that is potentially more dangerous than any of those and yet as a species we can prevent it. So maybe this can be one of those things which gets nations closer together to prevent a mass extinction event, something which I think none of us want!
And that’s all folks! Please do visit the 51º North Site here in order to learn more about the film, asteroid day and to find out how you can watch the new film.