Seeing the World Through Time Lapse with Moving Art’s Louie Schwartzberg

October 21, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so excited today to have filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg on the phone with us talking about movies and animation. Welcome to Green is Good, Louie Schwartzberg. LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Good to be with you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Louie, you know, I’m on your website. First of all, just for our listeners out there, this is going to be a real special edition of Green is Good. We’ve never had someone like you on the show before talking about nature and animation and movies. This is going to be so unique but before we even do that, I want to first direct our listeners to your amazing website, which I’m on right now. It’s www.movingart.com. It’s just spectacular. Literally, I’m drawn into my iPad just looking at all the mesmerizing colors and beautiful things on your website. Louie, before we go into talking about what you do as a filmmaker and what you’re producing right now, talk a little bit about your journey to this, the journey of intersection of art and environment and how you even came to this place. LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Well, I was inspired by nature when I went to UCLA with my greatest teacher and I learned to develop the art of time-lapse cinematography because I didn’t have much money. Time lapse is when you shoot like one frame every 20 minutes. You might see like flowers opening or clouds moving and when I started doing it, no one had ever done that in a high-end commercial way. It had been mostly used for scientific research. You see time lapse in commercials all the time now and I would just say that nature’s taught me amazing lessons and insights about life by observing the rhythms and patterns of nature and I’ve been able to share that with people and that’s my gift and that’s my goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, you know, I think you’re just most recently working on a piece called Wings of Life. Is this true? LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Yeah, it’s Wings of Life, which actually, people can see now on Netflix and it’s through Disney Nature. It’s a film about pollination. Meryl Streep does the voiceover and we tell the story about pollination, of the relationship between flowers, bees, bats, hummingbirds and butterflies from the point of view of a flower, so it’s a beautiful love story. I call it a love story that feeds the earth, but at the same time, we all know it’s a serious environmental threat. People know about Colony Collapse Disorder, the fact that bees are disappearing and if the bees go, we go. One-third of the food we eat comes from a pollinating plant, so it’s a critical issue, but the more I got into it, it’s a love story because nature uses beauty as a tool for survival because you’ll protect what you fall in love with so we all do that and what you’ll see with this relationship between the flowers, the bees and the pollinators, their color, smell, taste, touch, all the seductive love dance that’s going on that we’re the beneficiaries of because flowers turn into fruits, nuts, berries and we get to eat this healthy food and without that, life on this planet would be radically different. JOHN SHEGERIAN: First of all, for our listeners again who are just tuning in, filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg is on the line with us. Go to his website, www.movingart.com. Louie, I’m on your website. Literally, every screenshot that’s coming up is a work of art. It could be framed in my home, in my living room, or in a museum. First of all, are these your photos or is this part of the film or some of the films you’ve been working on? Because these photos themselves are just stunning. LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Well, yeah. I mean, you’re seeing imagery that I’ve been shooting over the past 30 years, which parts of it ended up in the movie for Disney Nature, as well as the fact that right now, on MovingArt.com, what I’ve done is launched my own channel. You can go on your iPhone, Android, and put in Moving Art and it’s an app that you can download. It’s almost like a visual Pandora. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It is. LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: You might type in nature or you’re looking for cities and you get this like beautiful montage, which is kind of a breakthrough in TV to be able to just be inspired by beautiful imagery in your home, the inspiration of nature, bring that into your home without it being a typical story that you get on TV, which is like reality TV, people hitting each other and drama, stress, exploitation. I think the time has come when people are looking for that kind of vibration to shift their consciousness and make their lives better. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, our listeners can literally download this app, but if they want, they could even purchase these beautiful works of art. LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Yeah. The videos are available to be purchased online at MovingArt.com but the app right now is free and you can download the app on iPhone or Android just by getting on the app store and getting Moving Art but on MovingArt.com, there’s instructions like how to get it. It’s also on every Panasonic TV and we plan to have it go broader on every make but right now, it’s available globally on every Panasonic TV. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, let’s talk about this. Wings of Life. Louie, what inspired you? What is your continuing inspiration to keep pursuing the intersection of art and environment and to platform these important issues? Because this is so great that someone of your immense talent does this but what was your inspiration here? LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Well, I think that I got turned on by the beauty of nature and you can just say it’s fun and inspiring to just shoot beautiful pictures. People do that all the time but what I learned is that on a deeper level, beauty is nature’s tool for survival because you protect what you fall in love with and so basically, that’s what drives DNA to move forward. That’s what life force energy is all about. Everything wants to reproduce and why? To evolve, to make life better and when you look at the patterns and rhythms of nature, you realize that there’s a greater force out there, that the universe is alive and I’m just trying to unveil those mysteries. To me, it’s a voyage of discovery so whether it’s like watching in slow motion a hummingbird pollinate a flower or you know, time lapse flowers opening and then seeing fruits and vegetables appear in front of your eyes. I’m making people, I think, realize that we only live that one little narrow frame of time called the human space, that everything moves at a different frame rate, that everything moves at a different metabolic rate. It kind of is like opening up your mind to the broader vision of consciousness and life’s energy that flows throughout the planet and throughout the universe and we need to kind of get in sync with it. We can’t just exploit it. We need to learn how to live in harmony with nature and I think when people see these images in time-lapse slow motion, they realize, oh my God, there’s so much going on that I’m not aware of, and hopefully, they’ll fall in love and appreciate it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Given that I’m not a photographer, nor am I a filmmaker, but lots of our listeners aren’t but they appreciate the beautiful art that you’ve put out there. Is that the technique that you used? It’s time lapse? Is that what it’s called? LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Yeah. It’s time lapse and I’m sure that your listeners have seen flowers opening and clouds moving and what’s kind of beautiful is from the point of view of a Redwood tree, we look like we’re ants screwing around in time lapse. From the point of view of a mosquito looking back at us as your hand goes at it in slow motion, it takes forever before it flies away so everything has a different frame rate, which is what I’m playing with on the camera but again, the broader statement here is that there is so much we don’t really see. We don’t see in slow motion. We don’t see in time lapse and these are portals we can go through to get a deeper understanding of life on earth. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and when did you start doing this kind of technique? When did you start shooting time lapse and nature? LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Oh God, about 35 years ago. In the beginning I said I did it because I didn’t have much money. I couldn’t afford film but this is probably a world record. I’ve had a camera running nonstop for over 35 years shooting 24 hours a day, seven days a week because I’m not shooting much film. I primarily planted some flowers growing and opening so I shoot like two seconds of film per day and I’ve squeezed 35 years into 12 hours of film. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. That’s crazy. That’s wild. LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: That stretched your mind, didn’t it? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah. Talk a little bit about what you learned on this film. You know, I saw a term on your website, buzz pollination and colony collapse and can you just interrelate what these terms mean, what you learned while making this film, Wings of Life, and for our listeners who just joined us, filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg’s on with us now. You can see his great art at MovingArt.com. Download his most recent movie on Netflix, Wings of Life. What did you learn that you could share with our listeners out there that’s important for us to realize about nature and the environment? LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Well, you mentioned buzz pollination. That was something that bumble bees do. When they land on a tomato flower, what they do is they grab on tight and then they vibrate their wings at like 400 cycles per second, which is the same as the A note, but it’s just vibration that makes the pollen come out and so what the flowers and the bees have done in this co-evolution that took 135 million years, they pick partners to reproduce to move their DNA around. Plants don’t have legs. They can’t move around so in order to reproduce, they use bees as messengers to move their pollen around so yes, it’s a beautiful kind of symbiotic relationship and of course, the bees get pollen and nectar as a reward but buzz pollination refers to the fact that these bumblebees, you can almost touch a tomato flower with a tuning fork and you will see the pollen come out so they pick specific partners, just like you went on a date or who you would marry. They want a certain partner to reproduce with and that enables them to flourish and to prosper so that was one important thing that I learned. The monarch migration, I filmed that sequence when the monarchs go all the way from Mexico to Canada and as they migrate, they reproduce. Their grandchildren make it up to Canada, go all the way back to the same acre in Mexico in the highlands so how do they navigate? How do they have this GPS coordinate that they can just go straight back to Mexico being the grandchildren of the parents that have left Mexico where they winter and come back to the same place. These are things that even scientists don’t quite understand yet. The miracles of nature and the mysteries of nature is something that inspires me and hopefully, inspires the audience because your jaw drops when you realize that there’s this intelligence going on just because maybe we don’t have the vocabulary to communicate with nature doesn’t impugn the concept that they’re non intelligent. It’s just that we speak to our inability to communicate. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s interesting. Talk a little bit about this issue of pollination. That’s fascinating. What would things be like if we didn’t have pollinators and all this interrelated behavior that you’re now sharing with me and with our listeners? LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Well again, so this is like G-rated sex. It’s really interesting. Actually, it’s not sexy because it’s not within the species. This is a magical mystical intersection between the animal and the plant worlds where life regenerates itself on this planet. That’s what I filmed and that, to me, is a huge idea because I thought okay, this is a serious environmental threat, Colony Collapse Disorder, the bees go giving us fruits, vegetables, nuts, etcetera, but this intersection between the animal and plant world is what makes the world go around. It’s what sustains life so what would life be like without it? I’ll tell you. Grains are wind pollinated. We’d still have grains to eat like rice or wheat but that would be it and then you can imagine that our lifespan would probably fall to 30 years so we’d be like those impoverished people you see in third world countries that only live on rice all the time so would we die totally? Probably not but life would be totally different. It would be economic and political chaos. Can you imagine people fighting over food shortages? This could happen if the bees go. Apparently Einstein was quoted, whether it’s true or not, but scientists agree that man may only have five years left to live. I’m not trying to be a doomsday guy about this. What’s beautiful about pollination and the issue is that there are things people can do about it. It isn’t like global warming where you go, oy vey, I don’t know what we’re going to do about the polar ice cap melting. What’s beautiful about pollination is that anybody can plant a garden. Even if you live in the city, you can just put a tomato plant on your back porch. Teach your kids the value of growing your own food, the fact that it’s organic, the fact that it’s healthier and tastes better. Plant pollinator-friendly flowers in your garden and help the pollinators. These are small little things we can do. Take your front lawn. Turn it into a garden. With how much water we waste and energy we waste by creating these lawns and filling up trash cans with recyclable stuff and then the garbage truck’s gotta take it and all the water it takes to fill it up. Plant a garden. That’s what people did for the past millennia and the past hundred years and now we’re stuck with buying produce from around the world and now we have a giant carbon footprint that pollutes the environment. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Louie, that’s such great solutions for our listeners to implement themselves. They can be part of the solution. Knowing your history and learning all about you and being on your amazing website and again for our listeners out there, www.movingart.com, we’re down to the last three or four minutes but I want to ask you this: Do you feel that with all of the work that you have and the history that you have and the learning that you’ve done over the last 30-some what years and all the massive success that you’ve had, let me say, that your most important work potentially is ahead of you because of all the knowledge that you have now and how important these issues of environment and nature truly are to the future if we’re going to try to continue to live on this planet and not just, as you say, live for 30 years each but put on a sustainable life? Is some of your best work ahead of you and what is your most important work going to be? LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: Good question. I think we are at a critical junction and I think that the work I’m doing is important because we have the answers and solutions to how to live sustainably on this planet, right? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: We have the scientific know-how. We know what to do, whether it’s go solar, get off fossil fuels, grow your own garden. What we’re lacking is that I guess, the will we need, this shift of consciousness, and what I’m trying to do with my movies is I’m not trying to preach to anybody. I’m just having them fall in love with nature and this beautiful imagery and say we’ve gotta protect it just like this unconditional love with your children, you know? You don’t think about it. It’s on a to-do list but you protect what you fall in love with and so we are at a tipping point where the environmental degradation that sort of made of obvious, we can’t continue to go down this path. We need to change and that change, I think, can happen through inspiration and beauty and that way, we naturally — every time I don’t want to throw a piece of paper away because I love the forest, I don’t think I shouldn’t do that because it’s on my to-do list not to do because you’re supposed to recycle. It kind of hurts because I don’t want to see trees getting cut down unnecessarily, you know? And so the next film I’m working on, which is a bigger idea than pollination, I’m doing one on mushrooms because mushrooms and mycelium create soil and soil is really the beginning of life because without soil, you don’t have plants. Plants are the only true solar collectors that take light energy from the sun to create food, fuel, shelter for mammals to live off of, including us, and so the biggest organism on the planet is mycelium, which is a root system for mushrooms, and it’s everywhere and it’s intelligent and I just keep on going deeper into the mysteries of life so that once we get that insight and understanding, I think intuitively, we’ll make the right choices. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Louie, we’re down to the last 30 seconds. Anything that you could share with our listeners, the next generation following you that want to do what you do, that want to be artists but want to talk about environment and sustainability? How can they become the next Louie Schwartzberg? Any advice? LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG: I would just say go out in nature, be present, be mindful, open your heart. It’s really easy. I grew up in Brooklyn. Nobody taught me anything about being in the woods or nature. My parents were holocaust survivors. If they didn’t do it, I didn’t do it and it’s amazing that the moment people go out into nature — go on a hike, whatever it is — instantly, it changes your mind, body, and spirit and it’s just so easy to just fall in love with it and if you fall in love with it, you’ll do the right thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Louie, you’re the best, and I gotta just say this. I’m a huge fan of yours. Not only are you an amazing artist but you’re also a humble human being. For our listeners out there to learn more about Louie and his great work, please go to his website, www.movingart.com. Download his film, Wings of Life, on Netflix. Also, watch Louie’s TED Talks, Beauty of Pollination and Gratitude. They’re amazing. Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg, you are a filmmaker extraordinaire and ambassador of nature and the environment and truly living proof that green is good.