Tag Archives: documentary

Stephen Hawking Returns to CuriosityStream

Today is an exciting day for CuriosityStream, with the release of the second episode of our Emmy® Award-winning Original Series, Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places (SHFP). This series has not only been a huge success and one of our highest rated programs, but it continues to enthrall our viewers (and our own team!) by sparking curiosity about our Universe.  Working with the award-winning theoretical physicist and bestselling author Stephen Hawking as our tour guide, we couldn’t be in better hands.  We sat down with Ben Bowie of Bigger Bang Productions, executive producer of the series, to learn about what differentiates the sequel from episode one, as well as what the future of the series has in store for viewers.

CuriosityStream (CS): I think it’s fair to say that episode two is even bigger and better that episode one. Talk about the decision to turn the focus toward the biggest question there is: “the theory of everything.”  When Hawking takes us in search of the secret of the Universe, isn’t he really enacting and dramatizing his life’s work?

Ben Bowie (BB): Professor Hawking decided very early in his career to concentrate on the biggest mysteries he could find because, due to his illness, he didn’t know how much time he would have.  Why the Universe is as it is, is indeed the biggest mystery one can contemplate.  We decided this quest would be the subject of SHFP 2 and its follow up, SHFP 3, because only that question encompasses his life’s work.  All the rest follows from that one decision.  So, indeed, it is an attempt to make that journey accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

CS: The “S.S. Hawking” reveals some extraordinary new capabilities in this episode.  What were some of the most exciting and fun sequences for you to create?

BB: Well, believe it or not, it was a difficult decision to allow the SS Hawking to be able to do ‘anything’ – even break the laws of physics!  We weren’t sure if taking the series in that direction was the best thing to do or not.  But, in the end, being a product of Stephen’s imagination, the ship is not bound by the law of physics because it is like the human mind: able to imagine anything it can.  That’s our great superpower, and Stephen has it to a greater extent than most.  Once we had crossed that threshold, we delighted in many of the things we could imagine such a ship doing.  Diving into the Sun, visiting a ruined alien civilization, and getting trapped in a situation that not even the ship could escape were all wonderful scenarios that we had great fun working through.  Getting Stephen to engage in these fantastical episodes, imagining himself in them, was truly a highlight of my career.

CS: There is a sequence where Hawking dives into Venus that is not only visually stunning, but the sequence sends a pretty strong message to climate change deniers.  Whose idea was that?

BB: One thing about Stephen is that he is very passionate about the environment and mankind’s influence on it.  The way that sequence came to be is because during production, the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement.  That decision spurred Stephen to make Venus the first stop on his new journey in this episode.  Planet-wide, catastrophic climate change is not a theory.  Venus – the nearest planet to ours – has undergone such a process, and if we can’t learn from that example, we are simply deluding ourselves.  The challenge was how to make that sequence exciting rather than tub-thumping, and if we succeeded it was thanks to some dazzling extravehicular activity from Commander Hawking himself.

CS: What do you hope people take away from this series?  Having worked with Professor Hawking so many times over the years, what makes this series special?

BB: This series is the closest to the very first idea I had for a show with Stephen, yet was never able to make until the folks at CuriosityStream allowed us at Bigger Bang the creative freedom to try it.  For the first time, we see the world’s most famous scientist engaging with the Universe up close.  That is an incredible rarity!  We also tried very hard to show the scale of things and to reveal how Stephen’s life story has driven his research.  So, I hope this is a new way of communicating science to people of all ages; an exciting adventure but with real (and possibly troubling) science at its heart.  By the end, I hope people will stop arguing about trivial stuff because we should focus on preserving the most amazing thing we know that exists in the Universe – the human race.

CS: SHFP 2 ends with a cliffhanger, but fortunately for viewers, it’s not the last episode in the series!  Without revealing too much, can you give us a hint of what to expect from SHFP 3?

BB: Ah ha! Yes, difficult not to give too much away.  Let’s just say that SHFP 3 takes things to a whole new level, both with what the ship can do and what Hawking can do with it…

 

Watch the Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places 2 trailer here:

 

Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places 2 is available now, only on CuriosityStream, and episode three will be released on April 19, 2018. You can also watch episode one, which earned CuriosityStream its first Emmy® Award in 2017.

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CuriosityStream Wins An Emmy

2017 has been a big year for streaming services.  Following epic wins for Hulu, Amazon Prime and Netflix at this year’s Primetime Emmys, CuriosityStream picked up its first Emmy award at the News and Documentary Emmys for Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places (Outstanding Graphic Design and Art Direction).  Our factual streaming service was also honored with two other category nominations for another CuriosityStream Original, David Attenborough’s Light On Earth.

 

The idea for the Stephen Hawking film arose back in April of 2015 over coffee with Bigger Bang producers, Ben Bowie and Iain Riddick, outside of CuriosityStream’s first MIPCOM in Cannes, France.  They pitched my husband Peter North (Chief Operating Officer), Steve Burns (Chief Programming Officer) and me about a fantastical journey through the cosmos with Ben’s friend, Stephen Hawking.  We knew the idea had potential and a few months later in London, we officially signed CuriosityStream on to fully commission the film.  I remember hesitating over the heavy use of CGI and special effects (which can be costly and sometimes may disappoint) but a revered host like Stephen Hawking, who we already knew our audience searches for, paired with an accessible concept like “Top 10 Travel Destinations,” was sure to resonate.  Of particular appeal was when Ben shared that it would all end up in Santa Barbara, which was really Stephen’s favorite spot on planet Earth and of course the cosmos.

When I finally had the chance to preview the first rough cut of the film, I was completely astounded by the level of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) that Ben, Iain and their team at Bigger Bang had produced.  It looked so much like Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, one of my favorite science programs featuring Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Yet here was Stephen Hawking touring the Universe in his own S.S. Hawking spacecraft, taking viewers on a wondrous journey from the known world’s inception to showcasing the majesty of Saturn’s rings to the potential habitable life on Gliese 832C.  As a sci-fi fan from an early age, Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places was everything I’d ever hoped it could be.

Peter North (COO of CuriosityStream), Ben Bowie (Co-founder of Bigger Bang TV) and Elizabeth Hendricks North (CEO of CuriosityStream)

 

Obviously, I’m thrilled by this Emmy recognition for CuriosityStream but more importantly, it is exciting to imagine what this means for the industry at large.  The economics of the streaming television revolution enable viewers to ‘sponsor’ directly the programming they want to see.  We’ve witnessed with the successes of HBO, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and CuriosityStream that this sponsorship is unleashing quality content like we’ve never seen before.  CuriosityStream’s first Emmy award for Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places (of which we have a Part 2 and 3 coming soon) is following this wave of outstanding programming supported directly by the viewer.

Most importantly of all, I want to express my heartfelt thank you to the incomparable Stephen Hawking for sharing your favorite places with CuriosityStream.  This program and its Emmy win would not have been possible without you and your vision of the indelible impressions worth sightseeing across the cosmos.

I look forward to CuriosityStream continuing its leadership role in the future of quality factual television, with the S.S. Hawking leading the way!

Best,

Elizabeth Hendricks North
CEO, CuriosityStream
@ehendricksnorth

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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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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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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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Journey Into Deep Time With The Experts

Deep Time History is available now in ultra HD 4K, HD and standard definition on CuriosityStream.  The exclusive, original 3-part documentary series offers captivating insight into the links between astronomy, deep time geologic events and human civilization. The host of the series is Dr. Jonathan Markley, a renown Big History expert, and a professor of history at California State University, Fullerton.  We sat down with Dr. Markley and he shared his thoughts on the series.

I’m really excited about the new Deep Time History project on CuriosityStream.  It’s a series that zooms out to take a bigger view of history as we know it. It’s an approach that people like myself have been promoting for years in the Big History movement. It’s a way of viewing history that really grabs you, and it has been growing steadily over the last decade. I’ve just left the International Big History Association conference in Amsterdam where I heard about some really exciting developments.  And, I was able to share the news of the release of CuriosityStream’s exclusive, new series.

I’ll give you just one example from episode 2 – Deep Time History: The Age of Discovery. Take pepper… It seems like something really ordinary, but what is it? Where did it come from? I know I was pretty amazed the first time I realized that pepper has a single source in southern India and just a few hundred years ago, that was still the only place you could get it. It was a big deal in helping build our globalized world, and it played a major role in the age of discovery, as ancient cultures struggled to find a way to get such far off exotic spices as, you guessed it, common ordinary black pepper! And the reason behind it all started as far back as the formation of the moon.


Later on in episode 2, watch for the scene with the modern meal and the salt and pepper packets, bringing this incredible story to life today.  By the way, that was the very last scene we filmed. When it was done I couldn’t believe it was all over.

One of the most fun location shoots we did was at the steam engine museum in Oceanside, California.  The directors were filming all sorts of historical recreations that day so I got to meet Thomas Newcomen, the man who first invented the steam pump, and a young Henry Ford (ok, I got to meet the actors portraying these giants in history!) They had an incredible working steam tractor that was straight out of the history books.

BigEngineHost

I also got to climb into the middle of one of the steam engines. It was kind of scary, but how often are you allowed to get that close to working exhibits at a museum?

I’ve done a bit of on camera television work before but never as a host and narrator, so I learned something new every step of the way.  The director, Doug Cohen, would give me great suggestions to do a scene in a certain way, and after seeing the finished product I had to tell him, “Now I know what you meant!” I never realized just how many people are needed to put a massive effort like this together.  There were usually at least ten other people involved when we filmed on location. I can’t even begin to describe how much I learned from everyone involved in this important documentary production — cameras, sound, wardrobe advisor, producer, writer, lighting, make up, etc., etc., etc.

I hope you’ll watch each episode, be inspired by your own sense of curiosity, and come to a greater understanding of how the history of the cosmos, Earth, life and humanity all come together in Deep Time History.

Watch the trailer below and watch all three full episodes here:



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