Art meets science in 10 Days of Genius for National Geographic
Albert Einstein’s innovative ideas helped us to redefine our perceptions of the world, the universe and how it all works. But what was he like as a person? And when he wasn’t thinking about science, what else did he dream about? These thoughts captivated the Pereira & O’Dell creatives who developed 10 Days of Genius, the new National Geographic short film series about Einstein. Each film uses a different Einstein quote to frame the theme and action on screen. The result is a project that really delves deep into the mind of one of history’s greatest intellects.
LBB’s Jason Caines sat down with Dave Arnold, Executive Creative Directorat Pereira & O’Dell New York to discover more about the series and gain some better insight to the rest of the episodes due for release this year on National Geographic.
LBB> What was the brief and what did you think when you first saw it?
Dave Arnold> The brief was: ‘everyone knows Einstein but few know Albert’. From his humour to his musical ability, there was a creative side to him that we wanted to raise awareness of - because the Genius Series tells his complete story in a way that had never been told before.
LBB> How factual are these short films? Or are they heavily dramatised? Where did you find the source material?
DA> The short films are pure creative fantasy. The source material (motivation for each film) are Albert’s quotes. “You can’t blame gravity for falling in love,” for example, is a wonderful brief.
LBB> How did you decide to use the quotes to define the episodes?
DA> It was important for us that each film was in service of Albert’s creative theories. His math and science theories are known around the world, but fewer people know how visual and creative his imagination was.
LBB> What was the most fun episode to film for you personally and why?
DA> It would have to be Instrument. We worked with our director Sam, a master musician himself, to build a gravity defying instrument based on the overlap of music and physics. It was a labour of love for all involved.
LBB> Why did you create a series of short film instead of something more long form?
DA> It was fascinating for us to see how a collection of creative thinkers would respond to Einstein quotes as creative briefs. There was also the scale that a collection of films could achieve. People might love different films for different reasons and this platform allows us to reach the biggest audience possible for the Genius Series.
LBB> The art direction of the films is quite bold and creative - it reminds me of Wes Anderson almost. Where did you look for inspiration for this?
DA> Sam pulled together an incredible team. From our DP Robert Yeoman (Wes Anderson’s DP) to our Art Director Elliot Hostetter, who built the music shop piece by piece, a world was created on our set in Mexico City that before we started rolling came to life.
LBB> Following on from that question, it’s interesting because they’re films about science but they are beautiful short films. Was this decision related to the creativity behind science?
DA> "Imagination is greater than knowledge" one of Albert's most powerful thoughts was our North Star for the whole project. It was important for us to try to defend this with every decision.
LBB> Why was Sam Spiegel the right director for this job?
DA> From the moment we saw Sam's treatment we knew he was our partner to bring this project to life. It turns out he had studied Albert's life and this project was personal to him also. I love the idea that there was a moment in Albert Einstein's life where he could have pivoted and become a full-time musician, and with Sam coming from the music world first, we knew Sam would make the music a character in the films as well. He's also just an awesome dude to be around.
LBB> Each episode has a different style of filmmaking that reflects the content of each film - can you tell us a bit more about the decisions made here?
DA> We started this project wanting to make a series with Sam, but we all felt Instrument and Mirror deserved our focus and resources. But in the edit, our creative partner and client Andy Baker suggested we reach out to Tongal, to open the project up to their film community. I appreciated how experimental an idea that was, and that is the genesis of 10 Days of Genius.
LBB> What were the most surprising things you learned about Einstein from making the films?
DA> That to him, music was in fact physics. That because of his creative abilities he was able to take leaps in science that others couldn't - and the math and mapping of music, I believe, helped unlock that for him.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
DA> Actually finishing the project! Tennille Teague our head of production, Nate Gross our editor, Andy, Sam and I spent hours on end exploring the stories. We all knew how special this project was and we all became very connected throughout the process.
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