Monday, April 28, 2014

Medicine's Dark Secrets

Like a lot of people, I donated to the Indiegogo campaign to fund Medicine’s Dark Secrets, because I thought it was a cool idea and I wanted to see it made. I have no idea if I was supposed to get a freebie or not, but that wasn’t why I donated – I wanted to support an interesting project.

I was sad to see that the project had run into difficulties that caused it to be delayed.

But much more so, I’m sad and upset to see the abuse being given out to Big Baby Productions, and I’m really not prepared to sit by and let it go unchallenged.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I was asked to come in and do some work on the documentary earlier this year. There was a very good reason for this. As I understand it, Lesley-Anne Morrison wrote a script for MDS, based on a combination of Lindsey Fitzharris’ research and her own independent research, which was necessary to provide enough material for the documentary. However, when it came to filming, Lindsey was not prepared to film anything relating to research which was not her own. Why she chose to do so, I don’t know. I’m not here to criticise her in any way and she may well have had good reasons for doing so. Perhaps she simply felt that she was not prepared to read anything she had not personally verified. I honestly don’t know.

Regardless, Lindsey cut large swathes of the script. I can verify that, because I’ve seen the original script and I’ve seen the footage. Initially, I believe she had intended to write the script herself, but ultimately had not had time, which was why it had fallen to Lesley-Anne in the first place.

Whatever the reason, this meant that large portions of the script were not filmed. There were huge gaps in the story, and the narrative that Lesley-Anne had carefully constructed no longer worked. After trying to reconstruct it for some time, she eventually approached me and asked if I would be interested in coming in as a fresh pair of eyes, to look at the footage that had actually been shot and construct a new narrative. I agreed and began looking at it in January. We had reached the stage where we had a new structure but one of the first things I identified was the need to add a narrator – because the story simply did not flow without one. I began watching, cataloguing and making notes on every piece of footage, while the video editor made up rough cuts and selected the best footage from the raw materials.

And then, I got sick. And that set us back for about a month, while I recovered. Sorry about that. My bad.

That delay meant we were going to miss getting a rough cut together for a deadline we needed to hit for the chance to pitch the documentary to networks, so we had to change tack. We focused on getting a couple of trailers ready for the deadline instead. So we started work on that. Then I heard that Lindsey had been in touch and wanted to buy the rights to the footage and the whole project. So we stopped, obviously. There was no point in trying to put together a documentary we weren’t going to make.

Gregg and Lesley-Anne at Big Baby have put years of work into this project. It was Gregg’s idea, after coming across Lindsey’s blog. So far, they’ve earned, to my knowledge, nothing for all that work. They’ve put their own money into it and they’ve used funding to pay other people (not including me, I should clarify, as I agreed to work on a contingency basis – i.e. I’d get paid if and when they did) and cover expenses. So they were prepared to sell the rights and footage at a fair price. What Lindsey was prepared to offer was nothing like what they felt was a fair price for their hundreds of hours of work. She obviously felt it was what she was prepared to pay, but the two figures were miles apart and there was no realistic room for negotiation. So the deal didn’t go through. These things happen.

We were ready to start working again, when I then heard that Lindsey had decided she wanted to pull out completely and retracted permission to use her footage. That meant we’d have to look at a completely different format, without any of the material she appeared in. That was when Lesley-Anne and Gregg came up with the idea of a web series using the excellent footage they have of a variety of fascinating experts talking about the early anatomists and the people who died. And it will be a great series, which anyone interested in the topic will enjoy, I guarantee it. You will see things you’ve never seen before.

But that’s not the main reason I’m writing this. The main reason is this: Big Baby seem to have been turned into some sort of cartoon villains and are getting some ridiculous abuse from people who simply don’t know the story and have jumped to conclusions. Gregg and Lesley-Anne have been and are still working their asses off (to the neglect of other projects) to make MDS happen and are trying to field complaints and abuse while they’re at it due to a situation they did not ask for.

There are no bad guys here, just a project partnership that didn’t work out. Lindsey couldn’t write the script; Lesley-Anne did; Lindsey wouldn’t film the parts she hadn’t researched; the footage was full of narrative holes and that directly led us to here.

In an ideal world, the documentary would be finished now, we’d all be watching it and toasting how cool it is. It’s not an ideal world. Stuff doesn’t always work out the way you expect. But what I can guarantee you is that neither Gregg nor Lesley-Anne are liars, thieves or any of the other nasty, uninformed things I’ve read them being called. They’re a couple of extremely committed, hard-working, honest professionals doing their damnedest to make the best documentary they can. I absolutely stand by both of them, both as professionals and people.

Here’s to seeing MDS online as soon as possible. You’re going to love it.



1 comment:

  1. Well said Justin. Having worked with Big Baby on MDS as the preliminary editor I can verify what Justin has written. Gregg and Lesley Anne have poured heart and soul into the project and have been scrupulous in their attention to commitments, message, and budget. In spite of their best efforts, events conspired to create a different outcome than they had hoped for. It's been a series of disappointing events punctuated by moments of inspired film work. The footage and the stories are as Justin says - something you've not seen before. The content is dense, unique and addresses deep issues about the price of scientific and medical advances. The commitment that Big baby has shown towards creating Medicine's Dark Secrets has been heroic at times. Like Justin, I've contributed a lot of time and effort to the project with an agreement to delay payment until the project is sold. Whether the project ever generates revenue or not I'm more convinced than ever that the time spent has been well invested. My profit may just come in the form of satisfaction for having contributed to some intelligent and insightful programming. If you've invested in the project as well I encourage patience - good things are coming!