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Sea Monsters Interview: Producer Lisa Truitt

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Photo by Mark Thiessen. ©2007 National Geographic.

Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: October 15, 2007

Lisa Truitt chats with BMZ on National Geographic's SEA MONSTERS: A PREHISTORIC ADVENTURE, a film that explores the creatures of the prehistoric ocean.

  

Category: Interviews

Lisa Truitt, president of National Geographic's Giant Screen Films and Special Projects, has brought us some of the most memorable giant screen films, including Roar: Lions of the Kalahari and the box office hit, Mysteries of Egypt. Her latest project, SEA MONSTERS: A PREHISTORIC ADVENTURE, travels to the late Cretaceous where audiences meet the sea creatures that once ruled our oceans.

Big Movie Zone: Hi Lisa.  First I'd like to thank you for doing this interview with us. What is it about Giant Screen format that appeals to you and keeps your interest?

Lisa Truitt: It is an incredible medium to work with -- a gorgeous palette on which to paint a filmic picture, if you will. That said, it offers unique benefits and challenges. Size is everything in the giant-screen format. It shapes all aspects of the medium, from the framing of images to the pace of editing and storytelling. Most important, it makes what is on the screen seem more real and in-your-face, and enables us to create an "experience" for the audience that is a wonderful -- even mesmerizing -- way to tell a story. The immense images and the saturating soundtracks linger in a viewer's mind long after the film is over.

BMZ: How does your approach to making Large Format films differ from making documentaries for TV?

LT: TV these days must cater to very specialized audiences. With giant screen movies, we are out there in the theatrical world, so everything is different -- from audience to concept to every detail of the filmmaking. Mostly, it all stems from having such a giant screen on which to work that you can craft images and weave stories differently, all aimed toward creating an entirely different, more immersive, experiential style of story telling.

All that's magnified by having 6.0 surround sound to work with, so you can also immerse audiences in the audio experience of the world you're trying to create. Adding 3D to that adds another complete dimension -- one that pops off the screen.

All told, you end up with a lot more dimensions to work with in making giant screen movies an incredible audience experience.

BMZ: How did the making of Sea Monsters come about?

LT: It began with the early stages of a National Geographic cover story on the subject that eventually ran in December 2005. I knew the magazine was working on this huge, multi-year project. Then that proverbial light bulb went off and I thought, wow, this would make a fantastic giant screen film -- I knew it would be a perfect fit for such an immersive format. It seems so obvious now, because everybody loves dinosaurs, but somehow miraculously this story had never been told on the giant screen, even though it has everything you look for in terms of science and entertainment.

BMZ: It seems there's been quite a bit of interest in prehistoric creatures lately with the release of Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia and Dinosaurs Alive.  How did you go about choosing which dinosaurs to feature?

LT: Funny enough, this isn't a "dinosaur" movie, because technically speaking, these massive ocean beasts aren't dinosaurs. They are "marine reptiles" -- though that phrase hardly does them justice. But the main reason we chose these marine monsters was that this was a fresh story, a dinosaur-era tale that hadn't yet been told on movie screens. Most people know a lot about dinosaurs, but surprisingly little about the creatures that inhabited the seas during the same time. We focused on the late Cretaceous Period because it was a time when the fiercest array of marine reptiles lived and interacted with each other. At the time, cold-blooded marine reptiles flourished, including the giraffe-necked Styxosaurus, the 20-foot "bulldog" fish Xiphactinus and the 40-foot Tylosaurus -- the T-Rex of the ocean.

BMZ: Much of the film is comprised of CGI.  How did you approach creating an accurate depiction of these prehistoric creatures -- not just in how they looked, but their behavior as well?

LT: Creating creatures that no one had ever seen was actually one of our biggest challenges. It was also something that we felt was very important to get right. We assembled a team of scientific advisors to help us create the creatures featured in the film and followed a very arduous review process. We began with creating models based on fossil evidence of each animal. Then, also based on what the fossils tell us about how these animals would have moved, we added musculature and movement, and finally color and texture. The scientists were involved every step of the way. Once we had accurate creatures, we had to insert them into live-action backgrounds, adding the particulate matter and light rays to make the entire environment believable.

BMZ: Are there any aspects about these sea creatures that you were surprised to learn after making this film?

LT: Like many people, I knew a lot about dinosaurs, but relatively little about these ocean creatures. So almost everything in the film was new to me. That was what made making this film so fun -- it's an entirely new world and it's all REAL!!

BMZ: Given the time constraints in Large Format films, were there any aspects you wish could've been included in the film?

LT: When you're making a film for giant screens, you think in terms of a 40-minute story arch. Had we been aiming for 90 minutes or so, the entire story concept would have been rethought and approached very differently. So no, for the film we set out to make, we ended up awfully close to what we envisioned from the start.

BMZ: I understand there will be several tie-ins released to coincide with the movie -- a book and video game?  Can you tell us a bit about them?

LT: We are very excited about all of the products that were created to support this film. This included the creation of companion books for both adults and young readers, in standard, 3D and pop-up formats; a video game available on the Sony PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system, Nintendo DS™ and Wii™ home video game system from Nintendo. Also part of the package is a line of licensed products, including plush toys, puzzles and apparel. Equally impressive is the amazing interactive website dedicated to this film. Educational materials were also created, including a poster, lessons and activities for teachers and informal educators -- all of which can be downloaded from the web site.

BMZ: With the increasing number of DMR films released, where do you see the future of traditional, educational Large Format films?

LT: We at National Geographic are always striving to create story-driven films that not only educate, but ultimately entertain our audiences. I believe that if our industry produces films that are good entertainment on subjects that people are interested in, then our future is a good one. When people go to see a film, whether it's a Hollywood release or a traditional giant screen film, most importantly, they want to enjoy the experience. Entertainment with substance – that's my mantra.

BMZ: Any future projects you can share with us?

LT: We have a lot on our plate. As you can imagine, we are always exploring potential new projects for the giant screen. The challenge is to find that one that will really come together -- one that fits within National Geographic's core mission and one that will be great entertainment. A number of things are at various stages of development and funding, and we hope to have some announcements soon!

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