FOX Networks Group Content Distribution launched the new series Origins: The Journey of Humankind to the global market at a lunch at MIPDoc, which featured a conversation with the show’s host, Jason Silva, and National Geographic’s Tim Pastore, moderated by World Screen’s Anna Carugati.
“Origins is really the story how we became who we became,” said Silva, who previously hosted the Nat Geo hit Brain Games. “It tries to reinvent the genre of the story of humanity. There’s a motif that is a great metaphor for the whole series. It’s a quote by the media theorist Marshall McLuhan. He said, ‘We build tools and then the tools build us.’ The whole show is about the history of humanity. I’m interested in that feedback loop, which is what this show looks at. We create something in the world, we design something in key moments in history, but then that something designed us right back. These transformative, unexpected effects of these tools and technologies, our cultural innovations, really shaped us. The founder of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly, has a great line. He says, ‘We domesticated ourselves. We are a self-creating species.’ We have an episode about the domestication of fire. Cooking made us human. When human beings started cooking for the first time, we domesticated fire. Cooking was essentially a prosthetic stomach, a piece of technology that pre-digested every meal, to make it more absorbable, so we could stay full for longer. Before cooking, human beings spent all of their time chewing. There wasn’t much time for anything else! Being full gave us leisure time for the first time as a species, from that leisure came restlessness and creativity and culture and arts and crafts. Cooking made us human. You can say that about all of these innovations. Language reveals to the mind what the mind thinks, it’s the magic mirror that holds us to ourselves. Before language, we can’t plan and decide and build things that don’t yet exist. From languages comes consensus, comes the virtual reality of human culture necessary for all the innovations that came next. This show really looks at how these seed origin moments blossomed and transformed us—how we created ourselves. It reveals the human story in a way that’s empowering. It also plants a seed for us to realize that now we have to really decide how we want to direct the next stage of evolution. We always tinker with ourselves and modify ourselves. I think you’re going to love the show—I’m very passionate about it!”
Carugati asked Pastore, the president of original programming and production at Nat Geo, about how the series, produced by Asylum Entertainment, came about. It started with a conversation between Pastore and Silva about what he wanted to do next after Brain Games. They are both fans of the 1978 TV series Connections, produced by the BBC, which explored interdisciplinary connections in science and invention. “What is the next iteration of a program that really augments history in that matter?” The Asylum came in with a partnership with John Boswell, aka Melodysheep, creator of the Symphony of Science online video series. “With his audio, visual, sound design skill set, they created an idea to visually redefine that type of storytelling. Immediately I thought of Jason.”
Silva was excited that Boswell was on board the project. “He is a sensation on the internet. He’s a composer, an editor, a digital filmmaker. He and I had worked together before on this short video called What is A God? We both knew the power of visuals and kinetic music to make trailer-length ‘Brain Bombs.’” Origins, Silva said, has short-form “Brain Bombs” in each hour-long episode. “Every act opens up with what we call a ‘Symphony,’ which is the John Boswell-Jason Silva dance of visual music floating ideas that get you excited for the main act of the show, and then we have these re-creations that feel like movies. That mash-up, that dance, is unlike anything that’s been on television.”
In addition to these mash-ups and scripted re-creations, each episode includes expert analysis on these origin stories. It was a long process to come up with that format, Pastore said, but Mars served as much of the inspiration with its doc and scripted drama hybrid. “We said, how do we go further? What’s next? How do we create another genre mash-up? They are fundamentally remixes, taking disparate creative devices and mashing them together to create something unique and new and exciting in the genre. How do we create this wild roller coaster ride to generate an energy that moves an audience for an hour of programming that will redefine the doc-drama space.”
Pastore also noted that the show has inherent international appeal. “We interviewed over 40 experts from around the world. The series itself has 32 distinct scripted vignettes that take place throughout history and across the globe, as well as 24 documentary sequences that travel the world, as well as Jason, our tour guide through history. This is one of the most global programs we’ve put out in years.”
Pastore added that attracting millennials was a key consideration point when devising the show. “Most factual programming is aged up, so our strategy at the end of the day is, how do you age-down the factual market? How do you bring in the younger audience? The first way in is offering up something fresh, something unexpected and innovative.”
Silva added, “It’s very important to communicate facts in a compelling way. Storytelling matter. Facts are more important now than ever more. In an age of ‘alternative facts,’ we need to get better at communicating the real facts. The medium is the message, Marshall McLuhan said. The style is hugely important. Werner Herzog says it’s not just about stating the facts. If that was the case, the phonebook would the world’s most interesting book! How do you present key facts in a way that’s compelling? How do you convey awe and wonder? Carl Sagan, one of my heroes, used to say that understanding is a kind of ecstasy. Connecting the dots gives us a dopamine hit. We get a reward from acquiring knowledge. We are competing in a marketplace of ideas, we are competing in a multiscreen world. If you don’t have ADD today you’re not paying attention. When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive. So you have to fight harder to immerse people, to suck them in, to get them off their multiscreen, fragmented situation and focus them on the content you’re making. You have to show them why the content is important in a visceral manner. Get people out of their heads in order to have a visceral, immersive experience. Immersion is required for any interpersonal transformation or education.”