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Clayton Brown & Monica Long Ross: Directors, THE BELIEVERS

February 20, 2013

believers1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE BELIEVERS, from concept to financing.

Our first film was a documentary called The Atom Smashers, and it was about physicists at a huge lab near our home town of Chicago searching for an incredibly small particle called the Higgs boson. One thing we noticed was that they were extremely careful when they talked to us, and were reluctant to show much emotion or even say very much about their experiments. We asked them why, and were told “we don’t want to have another Cold Fusion incident.” That got our attention. When we finished that film and it was time to start looking for a new project, we remembered that line. We did some research and soon found out what he was talking about: Cold Fusion was one of the most notorious scandals in modern scientific history. We soon realized that, despite (or maybe because of) the hullabaloo surrounding this event, a small but dedicated group of scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts (including a LA-based talk show host and a high-school honor student from Michigan) still believed that cold fusion was going to save the world. There was even a 25-minute piece about it on 60 minutes claiming “Cold Fusion was Hot Again.” We were hooked.

And it fit with our mission: Our documentary company, 137 Films, is a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) with a mission of making documentaries from stories we find in the world of science. So, we go looking for great stories that involve science, scientists, and the intersection of both with American culture. The cold fusion episode was right up our alley. It took science, pop culture, the media, greed, utopian zeal, patents, and dreams, and put them all in a blender on high. Unfortunately, when it was all over, two people suffered pretty significant personal consequences as a result, and everyone was a little bit wiser.

Regarding funding, we finance all our films through fundraising events, grants, crowd sourcing, and individual giving. That begins with pre-production and continues throughout production, post, and distribution. The Believers followed that same route.

2Q: It appears that the film has been screened at other festivals; how has it been received? Do audiences respond differently at some festivals than they do at others? And do you ever stop being nervous?

We premiered the film at the Chicago International Film Festival in Oct 2012 and we won the Golden Hugo for best documentary! We’ve had great audiences ever since. University screenings with electrochemical and physics students and faculty in the audience are always fun. But, so too are audiences of “believers,” neutral observers, and downright skeptics. Some people are familiar with the story, others haven’t ever heard of cold fusion. The post-screening discussions are always fascinating. We may never stop being nervous (what if the projection is bad??) but after the many early screenings of different cuts with test audiences, seeing our finished film is more fun than scary.

Eric Golab, a high-school honors student in Michigan, performs a cold fusion experiment in his basement.

Eric Golab, a high-school honors student in Michigan, performs a cold fusion experiment in his basement.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE BELIEVERS?

So many good moments. We both agree that one of our favorites is the first interview we did for the film. It took place on President Obama’s inauguration day in January 2009 at Dr. Storm’s beautiful mountainside home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We alternated interviewing Dr. Storms with watching the inauguration. It was a beautiful day and location and seemed an auspicious beginning for what we knew would be a long journey to tell this story. The worst moment was when a subject showed up for a scheduled interview and immediately declared that he couldn’t go through with it because he was afraid he’d be assassinated if he spoke with us! He proceeded to tell us hair-raising stories about people he claimed had been killed for their knowledge of cold fusion, but he wouldn’t tell them on camera. He warned us we might also be in danger and then walked out. Very bizarre.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

Two people claim they can save the world with sea water and batteries, and embark on a three month rollercoaster ride that changes everything. No one has ever looked at science this way. It’s a mystery wrapped in a drama inside a personal story of greed, discovery, hope, politics, money, pop culture, and scandal. It’s personal, it’s universal, and you don’t need to know anything about science.

5Q: There are now so many different ways in which to distribute a film; each have pros and cons. What are your hopes or plans for future distribution?

Our goal for The Believers has always been to find distribution and get the film out to a worldwide audience using as many platforms as possible, from mobile phone to good old-fashioned TV broadcast. After our win at the Chicago Festival we had several offers for agents and distribution. We are presently comparing the offers of two distributing companies for online and broadcast of the film worldwide; by the time of the festival we should have signed on with one or both. We wish we could get a theatrical deal (who doesn’t?) but that’s probably not in the cards at the moment. However, the Believers DVD will be available soon!

Watch the Trailer!

Buy tickets to see THE BELIEVERS at Cinequest!

From → Interviews

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