Meet Lucy Walker, documentarian behind "Countdown to Zero"



Today is the 65th anniversary of the first nuclear test in the U.S., and with it came the dawning of the very serious implications of this invention -- ones that still haunt us today. Filmmaker Lucy Walker recently premiered a documentary about the man who led that test, J. Robert Oppenheimer, at Sundance and screened it at Cannes. An exclusive featurette from the film, "Countdown to Zero," is on our homepage today (and below). 

What were you hoping to accomplish with this film?
Einstein described his support of the development of nuclear weapons as his one mistake, because their invention had changed everything except for our way of seeing, and thus we are drifting towards unparalleled catastrophe. I made this film to change the complacent thinking and avert a nuclear catastrophe.

How did you become interested in this topic?
As a child my most frightening nightmares were about nuclear bombs going off.

What did you learn during the making of this film that you didn't know before?
I learned how hard it is to make a film about nuclear weapons!

How did YouTube help in your research, if at all?
I search YouTube every day for work and find it to be the most helpful site. This is a golden age of documentary filmmaking and the technical revolution of portable -- affordable tools like HD cameras and YouTube are in large part to thank for that. Even 10 years ago, archival research was prohibitively slow, expensive and complicated. People used to advise filmmakers to go to DC and move into the National Archive for a few months! For this film I vividly remember the moment I found the clips of Robert Oppenheimer on YouTube and instantly knew that they would be tremendously powerful moments in the movie. As a filmmaker, a giant, brilliant check-mark goes off in my head when I shoot a great moment or find a great clip, and you know for sure it's going straight into the movie. Those are the awesome moments I suffer through everything else for.

What can regular people to do eradicate nuclear missiles? How can YouTubers help?
Support the movie!

Videomaker tips on choosing a documentary topic

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Following on from their guest post on "Tips for Time Manipulation," the experts at Videomaker magazine are back with advice for budding documentary makers.

One of the greatest things about watching a documentary is seeing the world through the eyes of another. The greatest thing about making a documentary is being able to bring that enriching experience to people everywhere.

Over the last decade the documentary genre has significantly increased in popularity, with topics covering everything from a person who eats too much McDonalds (Super Size Me), to a person who feels strongly about national health care (Sicko). There are documentaries about people in wheel chairs who play contact sports (Murderball), people battling it out for the highest score in Donkey Kong (The King of Kong), soldiers battling to survive in war zones (Gunner Palace), and even one about a man and his wild birds (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill). When taking a look at popular documentaries it becomes quite obvious that, as far as topics are concerned, anything goes. What makes the documentary memorable are the characters within the story.

When choosing your topic, consider not only the subject you'd like to explore, but the people affected by it. Every story needs a main character, someone the audience can follow throughout the movie, someone they can relate to, love or hate, but most importantly, someone they can learn from. Failure to expose the thoughts and emotions of the affected persons within your documentary will leave your movie feeling flat and your message lacking impact.

The most important factor to consider when choosing a topic for your documentary is making sure it's something you're interested in. The path to a great documentary is a bumpy one with unexpected turns and roadblocks. Often the only thing that keeps you trucking down that path is your passion for the topic and your desire to share the experience with the entire world.

Check out Documentary Truth for more ideas on choosing a topic for your documentary.