Day's Edge Productions
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In our quest to uncover the laws of nature, scientists are discovering big answers from a tiny source: a charming little lizard that can be found in any backyard in the tropics. The new Smithsonian Channel documentary, Laws of the Lizard, follows award-winning filmmakers Nate Dappen and Neil Losin as they discover why the fascinating anole lizards might hold the key to understanding the past, present, and future of life on Earth.
On their year-long journey through the American tropics, from tiny Bahamian Islands and Caribbean rainforests to metropolitan Miami and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Nate and Neil encounter remarkable lizards and capture species and behaviors that have never been filmed before. They also meet some of the world’s top biologists, including the man at the center of the anole lizard universe, Harvard University professor Jonathan Losos.
Laws of the Lizard tells the surprising story of anoles – how they spread through Latin America and the Caribbean, conquered every possible habitat, and diversified into hundreds of species – and what they tell us about other species and ecosystems around the world.
Filmmaker Q&A - Neil Losin
● What inspired this story?
Directors Neil Losin and Nate Dappen both earned their PhDs studying lizards, so they knew that lizards called “anoles” have played, and continue to play, a pivotal role in our collective understanding of evolution and ecology. Yet to our knowledge, no one had ever made a documentary about them.
● Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film.
The challenge was making a story about very small lizards feel like a very big deal. We hope that our own excitement about the story and the enthusiasm of the featured scientists about their small-but-charismatic research subjects accomplishes that.
● How do you approach storytelling?
We like to collaborate with scientists from the inception of a project, all the way through to the final delivery. In this case, our primary collaborator was the Godfather of anole research, Jonathan Losos. We worked together to get funding for the film, choose the scientists to feature, shape the story, and – when we were in the field – track down a whole bunch of really cool lizards.
● What impact do you hope this film will have?
Anoles are lizards that many people can find in their own backyards. We hope that this film encourages people to take a closer look at the nature all around them… you never know when that lizard or insect perched on your garden hose is actually a creature that transformed our scientific understanding of life.
● Were there any surprising or meaningful moments/experiences you want to share?
With the help of an anole researcher named Luke Mahler and his all-star field crew, we were able to find a very rare anole in the Dominican Republic – a species that had only been described to science in 2016. We were the first camera crew to film it. Both of us (Nate and Neil) were unexpectedly moved by the experience of finding and filming this creature. What a privilege to capture and preserve a sight that few others have ever witnessed! (Of course, it’s easy to get emotional when you’re delirious from lack of sleep after spending two long nights searching in the dark for an exceedingly well camouflaged sleeping lizard.)
● What next?
I think the world won’t be ready for another anole film for at least a couple years… So we’re moving on to other stories. We’ve got plenty of projects in the pipeline, but one we’re excited about involves the evolution of color vision, and focuses on some of the coolest invertebrates around: jumping spiders!