Author Archives: Michael Hammerstrom

Michael Hammerstrom
Michael Hammerstrom is the Manager of Marketing and Engagement at CuriosityStream, the world's premiere nonfiction streaming service. He previously led national community engagement efforts for PBS, focusing on K-12 education, as well as for the national nonprofit KaBOOM!, mobilizing high need communities to build playgrounds through competitive grants and grassroots fundraising. He holds a BFA in Theatre and Liberal Arts from The Boston Conservatory and started his career performing and teaching children's theatre.

Creating ‘First Man’

June 8, 2017 marks the premiere of our latest original film, First Man, created in partnership with Nilaya Productions.  First Man is an epic special that takes viewers on an exceptional journey back through 25 million years of human evolution.

Part of what makes First Man so special is that it has something to please every viewer, spanning history, science, drama and even special effects.  Not only are the storyline and scenic backdrops jaw-dropping, but the special effects make-up takes center stage, as our team worked diligently to accurately portray four species of early hominids.  Curious about the process of turning modern-day actors into species dating back millions of years?  Read on to learn more about the fascinating process.

Team

Our biggest challenge was the actual look of the characters.  With the influence of movies like Planet of The Apes, aesthetic standards have indeed dramatically changed, while the expectations of the audience have increased.  With the arrival of new technology in make-up and prosthetics, after a few tests, we decided to work with the Academy Award-nominated Adrien Morot FX Studio in Canada.  Renowned for their incredible masks and make-up, they had just wrapped work on The Revenant.

Design

Our protagonists were initially drawn by character designers.  Based on scientific assumptions of what they could look like, we decided to give each species an identity: noses, eyes, mouth, foreheads, fur and hair.

Casting

Casting the right actors for this film was a particularly extensive process.  In order to find the actors who could perform difficult primate movements (walking on all fours, jumping, climbing trees, etc.), the process was much more involved than usual, but we ended up with a stellar group of actors who would help embody the traits and behaviors of extinct hominids.  Once our cast was in place, it was off to Canada, where they would be entirely moulded – face and body.

Sculpting 

Once the actors arrived in Canada, Adrien Morot FX studio created the facial masks and the costumes inspired by the character designs, custom adapted to each individual character.  Those masks and costumes were accompanied by special eye lenses to accurately portray how the size of the iris changed throughout time.

Shooting 

In the end, we received the masks and costumes in South Africa for the shoot.  We were shocked by how heavy everything was – weighing in at a few tons of equipment because, in order to keep the costumes fresh, each actor would wear a replicate of the same costume every day they were on set!  Each day would mean five hours of preparation and two hours of getting rid of make up at the end of the day for an actor.  Furthermore, it takes an army!  Each actor had three make-up and costume artists assigned to them.

 

Watch the First Man trailer here:

First Man is available to stream in its entirety starting on June 8, only on CuriosityStream.

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Thank You, Teachers

Remember that teacher who made you love learning?

Remember the first time you figured out that one math problem that had been impossible up until now?  Remember that college recommendation that your high school teacher wrote for you that almost brought a tear to your eye?  Well, now is your chance to say “thank you” to teachers everywhere.

The first full week in May is celebrated as Teacher Appreciation week in the United States and we are thrilled to join in the praise for our nation’s educators.  Nobody instills curiosity in a young learner’s mind like a good teacher does.  We are partial to many teachers, like decorated “Mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin – the math teacher everyone wishes they had.  Watch Benjamin in action below and fall in love with math all over again.

 

So, take a little time to #ThankATeacher this week.  Whether it’s your child’s teacher, your own childhood teacher, or your family member who works in education, let teachers know how appreciated they are.  Stay curious with some of our top content about education here:

 

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A day in the life of a filmmaker: Working with Commander Chris Hadfield

We are just one week away from the premiere of one of our most exciting original documentaries to date, Miniverse.  The film features the always wonderful CuriosityStream advisory board member Michio Kaku, as well as astronomers Derrick Pitts and Laura Danly, and is hosted by former astronaut Chris Hadfield.  All of you space fans out there may remember Commander Hadfield as a YouTube sensation for his performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station.  Well, it turns out he’s just as fun and creative to work with as you might imagine.  We sat down with Doug Cohen, executive producer of Flight 33, to live vicariously through him about working with one of the world’s greatest astronauts.

Q: What was Chris Hadfield (CH) like to work with?

A: Chris is a former fighter pilot and an astronaut, so the things that felt like challenges to the rest of us were no sweat to him.  To quote one member of our crew, “Chris Hadfield is the best human being I’ve ever met.”  It’s not just that he’s charming, curious and tireless; it’s also that he sings, plays guitar, tells great stories and, of course, he’s been to space!

Q: What was the funniest thing that happened while shooting Miniverse?

A: Chris had spent the whole day driving at about 40 miles per hour through the Mojave Desert while chatting with astronomer Laura Danly.  We kept his speed down to reduce the amount of road noise during the conversation.  As the sun set, we prepped to shoot beauty shots of the car driving down the lonely desert highway.  I radioed to Chris that he should drive past the camera, and since we weren’t rolling sound he was now free to go as fast as he wanted.  When I called “action”, he put the pedal to the metal and whipped past us at 122 miles per hour with poor Laura Danly holding on for dear life!  That’s the last time I tell a former fighter pilot to drive as fast as he wants!

Q: Describe the dynamic between CH and Michio Kaku.

A: They were excited to meet each other!  It was fun to watch the contrast between astrophysicist and astronaut. Michio made it clear that despite his fascination with space, he had no interest in doing something risky like traveling to Mars.  Chris, on the other hand, said that the danger is precisely what makes him want to do it.

 

Q: Between CH and Derrick Pitts?

A: Derrick would have liked to be an astronaut himself, so he was thrilled to be Chris’ guide for the outer planets.  The two of them bonded over some packets of freeze-dried “astronaut ice cream.”

 

Q: Between CH and Laura Danly?

A: When we asked Laura if she wanted to participate in the program, she said “you had me at Chris Hadfield”.  They had a lot of time to talk as we drove from the mountains to the desert, and it was amazing how many things they saw reminded them of Star Trek episodes.

 

Q: What’s the hardest part of shooting so much inside of a car?

A: We had five cameras rolling inside the car at all times, plus cameras affixed to the exterior and to a chase car.  That’s a lot of cameras that need a lot of tending.  You are constantly stopping to troubleshoot misbehaving gear.  We studied how James Corden does it for Carpool Karaoke and how Seinfeld’s team does it for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and took the best ideas from both.  The difference with our show is that we were really traveling from place to place, so we couldn’t just stake out a route on a local road and keep circling.  The entire country was our “set”.

Q: Why did the cops keep pulling CH over?

A: We had no problems in most of the country, but in New York and Washington, D.C. the police were extremely “curious” about this car with cameras all over the windows.  Sometimes, we would neglect to remove our prop license plate that said “ROCKET”.  That also drew the attention of the police on a couple occasions.  One officer removed the license plate and cut in half!  Luckily, we had made an extra one.  In general, when we would tell the cops that we were making a science documentary with an astronaut and a bunch of astrophysicists, they let us go with nothing more than a confused look.

Q: Are there any funny stories from shooting in NYC near the Freedom Tower?

A: We shot at the Brooklyn Bridge across the river from Freedom Tower just before sunset, and as we were shooting, people were lining up to meet Chris and Michio.  This actually happened almost everywhere–hotel lobbies, the steps of the Washington Monument–people from all over the world would show up and ask for an autograph or a selfie.

Miniverse premieres the week of April 17, only on CuriosityStream, and will be available in standard, HD and Ultra HD 4K resolution.

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Travel back in time to when dinosaurs ruled the land

Ancient Earth is available now in Ultra HD 4k, HD and standard definition on CuriosityStream.  This 3-part original series awakens the magnificent prehistoric creatures that previously roamed Earth through extraordinary animation, produced in collaboration with 12-time Emmy Award winning Pixeldust Studios.

Who isn’t curious about the creatures that roamed the Earth long before mankind?  The success of blockbuster films about dinosaurs, history museums, children’s books and more prove that the prehistoric age is as much a part of modern day pop culture and interest than ever before.

Over here at CuriosityStream, we’ve heard from several of you (and your kiddos!) that you just can’t get enough content about all things prehistoric.  Today, we’re delivering on that request with our new original, exclusive series Ancient Earth, which will take you on an extraordinary journey back in time to an era when ferocious saber-toothed carnivores, terrifying 40-foot sharks and massive dinosaurs dominated our planet.  The series couldn’t come at a more relevant time, as scientists are gathering growing evidence that we’re now in the middle of our planet’s sixth mass extinction, with dramatic declines in wildlife populations around the world.

Everyone will find something for them in Ancient Earth.  Animation lovers will nerd out over incredibly realistic animations that bring to life some of the fascinating and almost otherworldly creatures that once lived, but were wiped out during the worst mass extinction events.  History buffs will be equally tantalized, as the series is based on the newest resources and research from experts at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History.  Kids of all ages will love that watching a show featuring fight scenes and stories of dinosaur survival and extinction is approved by their parents.  And those parents can be happy knowing that the series is not only a lesson in prehistoric creatures, but nature as well, since each episode offers an immersive experience with period-accurate environmental and landscape elements.

Ancient Earth features the extraordinary lifeforms that evolved during three of Earth’s most significant geologic periods, and the cataclysmic events that resulted in their demise:

  • Episode 1 – The Permian Period introduces viewers to the life that sprung forth on land and sea more than 252 million years ago, including terrifying creatures like the saber-toothed Gorgonopsid and shark-like Helicoprion.
  • Episode 2 – The Triassic Period reveals how the power of evolution ushered in the first era of early dinosaurs, most of which were ultimately annihilated by waves of lava and toxic gas from extreme volcanic activity.
  • Episode 3 – The Cretaceous Period highlights magnificent dinosaurs like Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex, and massive pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatius—one of the largest flying creatures of all time.

 

Watch the series trailer here:

All three episodes of Ancient Earth are available now, only on CuriosityStream.

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Reflecting on Past U.S. Presidents

This President’s Day, join us in reflecting on past leaders whose legacies are still felt today.  What can we learn from how the United States has been governed in the past, and how did personal crisis, love, and politics play a role?  The documentaries highlighted here will take you on a presidential journey to the past that feels extremely relevant in today’s modern political landscape.

#GeorgeWashington

George Washington was the first President of the United States and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.  He served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and presided over the 1787 convention that drafted the United States Constitution.  Widely admired during his time and still today, Washington was unanimously elected by the Electoral College not once, but twice.

With all of these accomplishments, it got us thinking: “How would President Washington’s communication style have differed if social media existed when he was in office?”  Politicians in the 21st century are now expected to communicate to the masses through social media – sometimes to the point of scrutiny.  Their every word is sent to millions and instantly fact-checked and analyzed across the world.  Would the original “father of our country” have been viewed any differently if he communicated in tweets?

Our original, exclusive documentary #GeorgeWashington plays out that exact scenario, as historians analyze George Washington’s voluminous correspondence.  Setting out his contacts and letters in the modern framework of a Facebook profile gives Washington’s busy and productive career a new transparency.  Watch the film today and tweet about what you think using #GeorgeWashington!

Additional Featured Content

Presidents in Crisis – What can we learn from history about presidents in crisis? Before they led America through national crises, Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were all transformed by personal trauma. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reveals the all too human men who became legends.

 

Lessons from the Presidents: Balancing Work, Love and Play – Doris Kearns Goodwin is back again to share her unique understanding of some of our greatest presidents. In this engaging lecture, she provides leadership lessons we all can learn from in our never-ending pursuit to live our fullest and most successful lives.

 

Lincoln’s Last Night – Through dramatic reenactments, this powerful documentary takes you on Abraham Lincoln’s journey from his early years as a rising politician through his presidency, the Civil War, to his untimely death.

 

JFK: Fact & Fable – Television made Jack Kennedy the ultimate celebrity during his presidency. However, the JFK we remember is the one his wife, Jackie, created after his death. From Air Force One to the Oval Office to the Rose Garden, Jackie Kennedy designed the symbols of presidential power still used today.

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Love is a curious thing

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are featuring a wide variety of content that looks at intimate relationships, both human and animal, from scientific and historical perspectives.  Sit back and share these touching programs with someone special tonight!

Leaps in Evolution: Creation of Motherly Love

Episode two of our three-part series Leaps in Evolution examines the unique bond between mother and child, across all species, and how it has evolved.
Most human mothers raise fetuses inside their wombs and breast feed their babies for a long time after birth.  Have you ever stopped to wonder what made humans evolve so that we raise our children so affectionately?  The latest research reveals an unexpected origin of mothers’ affection toward their children.  Scientists believe that our ancestors experienced unforeseen dramatic changes in DNA under threats of extinction.  These DNA changes caused humans to be devoted to raising children.

Learn about the scientific interpretation of the evolutionary roots of our affectionate bonds with our kids in this heartwarming documentary, Leaps in Evolution: Creation of Motherly Love.

 

Additional Featured Content

Curious Minds: Sexual Selection – Explore why males and females behave the way they do across the animal kingdom when they select their mates.

 

JFK: Fact & Fable – The world is captivated by the love story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. Our original film outlines how she cemented his legacy in the name of love.

 

Science Shorts: The Love Hormone – Oxytocin is believed to be responsible for human intimate relationships. But how exactly does it affect the body and mind?

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Programs to Honor Black History Month

This Black History Month, we are shining a spotlight on content that explores history, culture and storytelling across the globe, from Africa to the United States.  Our marquis featured program is Ebony: The Last Years of the Atlantic Slave Trade, arguably one of the most beautifully filmed and directed films ever made about the transatlantic African slave trade.  One of the top production companies in France, Les Films D’ici, along with Senegalese director Moussa Touré shot much of this tragic story in Africa, giving it shocking authenticity.

Ebony: The Last Years of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Slavery is the shared dark side of the history of many nations around the globe.  But apart from the accounts of our schoolbooks and a few memorable dates, what do most people really know about the struggle to put an end to the Atlantic Slave Trade?

During the second half of the 19th century, slavery and the trade linked to it were theoretically forbidden.  The concept of abolitionism was spread out all around the colonies of various empires.  However, the slave trade continued and brought even more injustice and violence, in a world that was at the dawn of a major change.

Through realistic dramatic recreations, and authentic drawings and documents of the time, Ebony follows the tragic lives of Africans who were sold into slavery in Guinea and transported across the ocean to work under brutal slave owners in the French West Indies in the early 1800’s.  Watch the powerful story here.

 

Additional Featured Content

Ray Charles: If You Can Sing – Iconic musician Ray Charles shows how “easy” it is to sing from the heart, explaining how he beautifully executes his craft.

 

Butterfly Effect: Martin Luther King, Jr. – What would the Civil Rights movement have been like if Martin Luther King, Jr. had not been motivating change?

 

Lessons Learned: Time In Africa – Henry Crumpton, a former CIA covert operative, tells a story from his post in Africa that changed his way of thinking.

 

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Destination: Jupiter + The Year of the Rooster

February 2nd will mark one of NASA’s Juno space probe’s closest flybys to Jupiter.  We are celebrating by sharing what we’ve learned along the way since Juno first set out to Jupiter with a newly released episode in our original series Destination: Jupiter!  Then, travel to China during the peak of this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations with our newly curated content collection, China.  It’s a busy week for curious minds and we’ve got you covered with content spanning the globe and the Universe.

Destination: Jupiter

Seven months since the Juno spacecraft arrived at Jupiter on July 4th, 2016, the mission has started to lift the veil on the largest and most mysterious planet in our solar system.  Since its initial approach, the craft has been on a 53-day orbit around the gas giant.  Thus far, there have been three close flybys in August, October, and December of 2016.  During that time, Juno has flown a mere 2600 miles above the Jovian clouds, employing eight cutting-edge space exploration instruments to collect images and peer below the thick atmosphere of the planet, hoping to reveal its inner most secrets.

As the next flyby approaches on February 2nd, the Juno team will be tasked with making an unexpected and critical trajectory decision, impacting the future of the carefully-planned mission.  Review what has been uncovered so far in Mission Update, the second episode in our exclusive, original Destination: Jupiter series, and learn how you can become an active participant in the Juno Mission to Jupiter!

 

Chinese New Year

The most anticipated global event in China’s calendar is in full swing, when people take to the streets to ring in another year.  Unlike the festivities of many countries, which always take place at midnight between December 31 and January 1, Chinese New Year is a moveable festivity.  This year, the celebration began on January 27 (New Year’s Eve) and continue for around two weeks (ending on February 2) and the year will last until February 15, 2018.  This year is the “Year of the Rooster” – those born in 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993 and 2005 are known as Roosters.

To honor the occasion, we have created a new content collection, full of our most fascinating and informative documentaries about China.  The collection contains 11 programs and spans over 12 hours, guaranteeing that you can become an expert on all things China by the time this year’s New Year celebrations come to a close.

Find the collection in its entirety here.  Happy New Year!

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Mars: The Red Planet

If you have been following NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, then you know it has had quite an eventful couple of months!  It has recently discovered an odd-shaped iron meteorite that some likened to “an alien egg,” viewed spectacularly layered rock formations and, just last week, slabs of rock cross-hatched with shallow ridges were discovered that likely originated as cracks in drying mud.  This makes it a perfect time to explore our new collection, Mars: The Red Planet.

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System after Mercury.  Named after the Roman God of War, it is often referred to as the “Red Planet” because the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance.  50 years of space exploration have brought us closer to understanding Mars, but is it as hospitable as many experts think?

This newly curated collection is made up of eight programs, totaling just over six hours of content all about Mars.  Perfect for all age ranges, the content covers everything from whether or not there is water on Mars to the likelihood of life on Mars to what it would take for humans to colonize Mars.

So, why not make it a night of star gazing and dreaming of far away galaxies?  Grab some popcorn and get ready to binge on facts and speculations about the Red Planet.  Find the full collection here, only on CuriosityStream.

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Top 10 Curious Moments of 2016

As we look back on 2016, we want to take this opportunity to thank you for being a part of our curious community.  This past year has been monumental for science and technology and CuriosityStream been there every step of the way with documentaries that explore key moments in science, history, space, technology, nature and the human spirit.

Journey down memory lane by binge-watching our top 10 curious moments of the year.  Who knows what 2017 will have in store?

               

               

               

               

               

 

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