Preventing Armageddon: In the Edit Room


Go behind the scenes of “Naked Science: Preventing Armageddon” with the show’s edit-producer and find out what it takes to work on a Nat Geo production.

As an edit-producer, I get to wrestle full-time with the scientific content of a show, working to wrangle it into an entertaining story that gets the facts straight. It’s always a blast, and I relish the challenge of being the translator from the scientists to the audience. “Preventing Armageddon” was no exception.
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Scientists like their language to be precise. But when a scientist says something like, “later aircraft data indicated evidence that tended toward a questioning of the original hypothesis,” something’s got to give, because that just won’t communicate to an audience. Maybe something simpler like, “Later, they found out it didn’t work,” would be better. Negotiating these sorts of details is trickier than it seems.

LIVING THROUGH EDITING

I also get that feeling of being the first to see something, and do a lot of virtual traveling by looking at footage. Director and Field Producer Cecile Bouchardeau did a fantastic job chasing the story to Arizona, Hawaii, England, and even to Hoboken, New Jersey. When she was done globe-trotting, she sent all the footage back to the home office of Veriscope Pictures, here in Boston. We unwrapped the tapes like holiday presents and finally got to see the scenes we’d planned for months.

I almost fell off my chair the first time I saw the solar furnace that’s set up in White Sands, New Mexico. Straight out of science fiction, it was built during the early, scary days of the Cold War. 360 shiny mirrors focus a beam of sunlight that can literally melt a rock. For anybody who ever used a magnifying glass to burn a moustache onto a baseball card when they were a kid, this was just unbelievably cool. Of course, then you do a little research and you sober up quickly.

The army first built the furnace in nearby Natick, Massachusetts, where it was used to test the effect of a nuclear blast on live pigs. According to one source, different salves and lotions were applied to the pigs to see if anything could protect them from the heat. Nothing could. It’s a better feeling to know that the furnace may now be paving the way toward building a successful asteroid defense.

FINDING THE SUPERVOLCANO STORY

Finally, we were in search of an active way to tell the story of the supervolcano, Earth’s biggest explosion. We found the Puna geothermal plant, which steals a little heat from Kilahuea, Hawaii’s most active volcano. We also found Jack Lockwood, who has probably seen more lava in his life than anyone alive. We were spellbound by both his stories of diverting lava around the world, and his reverence for the powers of nature.

In Hawaii, there’s a traditional belief that the volcanoes are the embodiment of the goddess Pele, and Lockwood paid his respects to her when we asked him to compare fighting a volcano to fighting a battle. “I’d like to think in terms of not doing battle with the volcano, but trying to tell the volcano in a very gentle way: ‘Madam Pele, I’m not doing battle with you, but you know it’d be awfully nice, you think you could go this way?'”

Jack was a pleasure to talk to and work with. I think maybe the most beautiful and timeless shots in the show are of Jack scrambling around dried lava flows at dusk, examining stones through a magnifier. “Oh, sure,” said Jack when we asked him to film the scene, “I can play boy geologist!” Here’s the spirit of youth and discovery that knows no age. 
Don’t miss the all new episode, Naked Science: Preventing Armageddon, tonight at 10P et/pt!