Mike Day, Executive Producer
Note: Although Mike did travel to a few of the sites during the scouting trip, he was not present for the shoot; therefore, he has elected to discuss the history of the film.
The Greatest Placeswas conceived back in 1992, when the Science Museum of Minnesota was completing work on Tropical rain forest. Mal Wolfe had given me a National Geographic book called "Our Awesome Earth: Its Mysteries and Its Splendors," which looked at Earth's ecosystems--forest; grasslands; mountain; plateau; and so on. This book became the basis for an IMAX movie that would look at geographic landscapes.
Every quarter the Science Museum conducts "idea testing," which consists of polling random museum-going audiences on a variety of film titles and ideas. In testing conducted during spring of 1993, The Greatest Places on Earth title and idea was ranked number-one, even over other concepts which went on to become popular IMAX films.
We repeated idea testing several times during the year, and it was decided in 1994 to begin the film's initial research and development. This involved outlining possible story concepts, estimating a budget, and conducting data research on 30 different locations. Science advisors were selected, with Mel Marcus serving as principal science advisor and chief geographer. Throughout this process, we continued to test the film concept in various focus groups.
Not long after initial research and development began, the working title of the film was changed. The Ringling Brothers had already trademarked the name "Greatest Show On Earth," so we decided to shorten the film's name from The Greatest Places on Earth to simply The Greatest Places to eliminate any trademark contention or confusion.
The second phase of research and development began in 1995 with location scouting. Data research conducted earlier had helped narrow the field from 30 possible sites down to a more manageable 10. Between March and October of 1995 a crew was sent to each site, where its members shot more than 10,000 35mm slides. These slides were brought back to Minneapolis, where they were transferred to video and animated. This "animatic" was shown to more focus groups to test the overall appeal of the film, as well as the appeal of each individual segment. The animatic also presented the opportunity to test audience comprehension of the original themes and to test audience preferences of particular places, subjects, visual sequences and animals. At this point, the focus groups were narrowed from random museum-going audiences into two groups: adult groups and groups consisting of middle-school students.
These focus group surveys provide a great deal of important information to moviemakers, giving them the chance to find out what people do or do not want to see before a lot of time or money has been put into actually making the film. For instance, the first animatic for the Greatest Placeswas put together around the theme of "integrated processes and elements"--things like earth, air, water, and life, the things you can find anywhere and everywhere on Earth. It was a good idea, but the focus groups said it was too confusing and suggested it be used as a secondary theme rather than as the main theme. The animatic was reshot, this time featuring "diversity" as its main theme. The diversity theme was so popular with both adult and student test audiences that it became the main theme of the movie you can see today, The Greatest Places.
Filming took place exactly one year after the scouting expedition, from March to October of 1996. During filming, the crew focused on the places, subjects, and images that had been popular with test audiences. One of the images the middle-school audiences had particularly liked was of parrots at a clay lick in Peru: The students liked the surprising contrast of what appeared to be "birds eating dirt." Knowing this, the crew was able to set out in search of other shots presenting similarly surprising contrasts.
Beginning in November of 1996, the crew began creating the final movie. Music was composed, sounds were sampled and mixed, the script was written, and countless hours of footage were edited out before the final 38-minute movie, The Greatest Places, premiered on February 14, 1998.
Greatest Places Online © 1999 Science Museum of Minnesota