Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film.
We made this film as a part of a new filmmaking workshop sponsored by the International Wildlife Film Festival, called IWFF Labs, with Days Edge Productions. The group selected for this workshop comprised biologists, filmmakers, and journalists. We were formed into 4-person groups with mixed expertise, and paired with a scientist local to the University of Montana. Then we had half a day to plan, 1.5 days to shoot, and 2 days to edit this film. We had to quickly adapt to a new group dynamic, delegate and prioritize tasks, divide and conquer. The scientific discovery was deceptively simple: 3 symbiotic partners in lichen instead of 2. But because we were excited and immersed in the science, we wanted to add in a lot of details about the scientific methods that completely muddled the story. We had to overcome our interest in the details to tell the larger story.
How do you approach storytelling?
Our team is diverse in its approach to storytelling, however, one common theme was humanizing science. We filmed the scientists in the woods and in their homes, so we could convey a human story of discovery. We wanted our main characters to be scientists, as the relatable people they are, outside of the categorical nerd or professor role. We loved telling this story about people and lichens in the woods, with all of the magic found in sunrises, cabins, and dewy trees.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
The scientists didn't want the story to be about them, but rather about the process of discovery. We decided to focus on the idea that a world-wide group of scientists helped each other question their assumptions to make this discovery. Through teamwork, persistence, and creativity, they discovered something incredibly important about organisms that they see every day. Hopefully young scientists will see this film and feel emboldened to question the status quo and seek out symbiotic collaborations.
Were there any surprising or meaningful experiences you want to share?
At one point, we wanted to make an analogy of a lichen, by showing all the different components on a pizza: basidiomycetes represented by chanterelles, ascomycetes represented by morels, and algae represented by nori. Tim, whose cabin we shot at, ended up having all of these components, and they made mushroom-related food for us whenever they weren't on camera. Mushroom omelettes for breakfast, mushroom pizza for lunch, etc. Even though we didn't end up using the analogy, we felt like we were becoming one with the fungi.
Anything else you would like people to know?
Lichen scientists are incredibly lichen-able! We lichened hanging out with them while making this story. They really are a bunch of fun-guys. Not mushroom to discuss more.
We are hoping to tell more stories with John McCutcheon’s lab. Stay tuned!
What inspired you to tell this particular story? What did you learn during the making of this film?
We were inspired by the collaborative scientists studying symbiosis. We learned so much doing this, really. It was part of a course that taught some of us more technical skills, while others more storytelling. We learned from each other mostly, each person pitching in with their expertise and helping others with less experience.
Lichens are charismatic! Lich, who knew?
How do you foresee this nomination impacting the life of your film and your career as a filmmaker?
Kate - Confirmation that we have the skills we need moving forward. I am transitioning to full time science media, and this nomination is an important, well timed confidence booster.
Talia - This nomination has opened my eyes to the huge impact a short film can have. I am currently applying for professorships and plan to incorporate outreach filmmaking into my research program, especially since my biomechanical studies involve lots of high-speed video.
Chris - This film was an exploration into the minute and often overlooked world of lichens. Having the film nominated was a wonderful reassurance that the little things in nature can also share a spot in the wildlife media limelight. I hope this film becomes part of a growing body of high quality media that showcases the "smaller majority." Now, more than ever, I'm looking forward to watching that growth and being a part of it myself!
Andy - For me, it was thrilling to get to meet and work with these other young, excited filmmakers and scientists. To have the fruit of that whirlwind effort invited to screen at Jackson Hole is a real inspiration to continue these kinds of collaborations with peers in this amazing world of science and natural history film.