Nat Geo’s MARS Previewed at MIPCOM


CANNES: MIPCOM delegates were able to preview an episode of the National Geographic Channel series MARS at MIPCOM, with the screening followed by a panel moderated by World Screen’s Anna Carugati and featuring executive producer Justin Wilkes and author Stephen Petranek, among others.

Being launched at the market by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution, MARS hails from Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and RadicalMedia. The preview episode was introduced by Courteney Monroe, the CEO of National Geographic Global Networks. The panel following the premiere featured Wilkes and Petranek, as well as director Everardo Gout and cast members Ben Cotton, JiHAE and Clementine Poidatz.

Wilkes discussed the genesis of the project, which began with a conversation with Elon Musk at SpaceX about making a doc to tell the story of what they are doing at the company. That evolved into a “greater story about why we as humans should go to Mars,” Wilkes noted. “We started to think about how you tell a story that is rooted in the science and engineering taking place today, but then also realize a journey into the future to see what will actually happen when we get to Mars.”

Wilkes had previously worked with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and approached them about the project. Grazer had been lunching with Peter Rice, the chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, and knew that Nat Geo was looking for tentpole programming to relaunch the channel. “It was probably the easiest sale we’ve ever made.”

Asked why going to Mars as a scientific pursuit is important, Petranek, the author of How We’ll Live on Mars, noted, “There are a lot of mysteries about Mars and about the origins of life on Earth, including that life on Earth could have originated on Mars…. Mars is probably the greatest scientific park in the universe to find out more about Earth. That’s one reason to go there…. Honestly, the greatest reason to go there is that technology does not advance, humans do not advance, unless there’s motivation. The kind of advancements that we made in World War II and from the Apollo mission have created almost everything in this room. So you have to push technology to get humankind farther along. If you don’t have a great visionary project like this, things don’t happen. This would accelerate the development of humanity in an amazing way. And the third reason is that Earth is threatened by many different forms of disaster that could make us extinct as a species. If you want the human species to live forever, so to speak, you have to become a space-faring society.”

Gout, the director of MARS, called it a “love letter to humanity. It gives us hope when we most need it.”

JiHAE, who plays twins in MARS, said the biggest challenge for her was switching back and forth between her two characters. “It was a really rewarding experience.”

Wilkes and Gout weighed in on the show’s use of both documentary and scripted elements. “We had crews all over the world feeding back stories and real-time information that was then ending up in the script, and informing the drama,” Wilkes noted. “Meanwhile, we had a whole drama production. On some level, as we started to see both pieces we felt like these will marry together. We felt that as you’re watching this narrative, it would be really helpful to know how you might actually land a ship on Mars before you see a ship landing on Mars. And it was really trial and error, frankly. We felt that there was no distinction between the two when we got it right. It was one continuous narrative.”

On preparing for the role, JiHAE said one of the most eye-opening things she learned about astronauts is “what a great sacrifice they are making on every level. They are going on a one-way ticket, knowing that a lot of them could die at any time. There’s no way back.”

Discussing production challenges, Wilkes said that one of the biggest was also one of the greatest assets of the production: “There’s a level of authenticity and reality that was demanded by the network. It isn’t as easy as dreaming it up. We had to back it up. Most of the time the ideas came from the real challenges that we found ourselves in or found our fictitious crew in.”