Les Guthman
 Director, Producer, Writer, Editor                                                                                                              



        
        "LIGO"

In the spring of 2015, I was invited by Caltech to make the definitive inside documentary about the expected discovery of gravitational waves from deep space, after a 50-year search.  The discovery would open up the 95% of the universe we’ve never seen before - the violent, “warped side,” as Caltech’s Kip Thorne famously called it.  (Kip also was the creator of the feature film, INTERSTELLAR.) The documentary would be a collaboration with Caltech, MIT and LIGO, the international collaboration of more than 1,000 physicists and engineers that already had spent $1 billion building and perfecting its two giant detectors in Louisiana and Washington State.

We began production that August with a two-day shoot at Caltech, a few weeks before the launch of Advanced LIGO, the project’s $200 million five-year upgrade.  I interviewed Kip Thorne, but I told him it would be brief.  I wanted to continue filming him (and everyone else) over time, as events unfolded, so he could relate them in the present tense, as they were happening, not in the past or future tenses.  The present tense of science and discovery is where the thrill communicates on camera, as I have documented throughout my career.
LIGO LIVINGSTON OBSERVATORY, Livingston, LA


And we were there, as I hoped, for every twist and turn in what became a stunning, thrilling, unprecedented two-year run of mind-bending discovery.


Everyone had told me it would be “a year or two” before the detection would be made.  But not long after I interviewed Thorne, we were at the LIGO Livingston Observatory outside of Baton 

Rouge, in great good fortune, on the day the historic signal came in. The waveform was a remnant and messenger from the first detected cataclysmic collision of two black holes.  Almost everyone at LIGO around the world was taken by complete surprise.


We filmed as they kept the detection secret for another tense and emotional four months, until all doubts were dispelled and their discovery paper was accepted for publication.  We continued through 2016, 2017 and the equally stunning detection of two colliding neutron stars, which ignited a gamma ray burst-kilonova light show that became the most observed cosmic event in history. Telescopes and satellite-based cameras around the world turned in a matter of minutes to catch it.  I raced to CERN ten days later, where LIGO was holding its semi-annual meeting.  The air was electric with discovery.


That fall, our three principal characters, Thorne; Rai Weiss, who spent 50 years perfecting the exquisite sensitivity of the detectors; and Barry Barish, who “saved” LIGO from warring factions and built the two detectors; won the Nobel Prize in Physics.  Our last shoot was a magic, icy December week in Stockholm with them.

SUPER COMPUTER IMAGE OF GW150914 COLLIDING BLACK HOLES




“This discovery is the kind of achievement that happens only a few times a century.“

   -- Brian Greene, theoretical physicist and best-selling author.  


"I don't think I have ever seen a better presentation of how science is done.”

   -- Rai Weiss, Nobel Prize winning creator of LIGO.


OTHER LIGO REVIEWS




EXPLOSION OF GW170817 - COLLISION OF TWO NEUTRON STARS

CREDITS:

Director
Les Guthman

Writer
Les Guthman

Producers
Susan Kleinberg, Christine Steele

Director of Photography
John Armstrong

Additional Camera
JR Kraus, Bettina Borgfeld, Lars Larson, Sam Ameen, Christoph Gelfand, Sandy Abernethy, David Coner, Les Guthman, Frederik Gabrielsson, Nicholo Melchianno, Nick Blair

Location Sound
Alejo Ramos-Ariansen, Damon Karys, Paul Stula, Charles Kraft, Aarden Dick, Ulla Kosterke, Mark Mandler, Tom Bergen, Clay O'Dell, Daniele Clignini.

Editor
Les Guthman

Sound Design
Evan Benjamin

Supervising Colorist
Randy Starnes

Colorist
Kevin Mottashed

Production Intern
Anna K. Jones

Research Intern
Laurel Violet White

Legal
Shaun Clark - Sheppard Mullin

LIGO Detection Simulations
SxS (Simulating Extreme Spacetimes), NASA Astrophysics, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, BAM Collaboration, Georgia Tech Center for Relativistic Astrophysics, CAASTRO, NCSA, Cardiff University Gravitational Physics Group.


I am especially pleased to have produced and co-written with Brian Greene the festival's main stage LIGO program - which now has well over two million views online.
UPCOMING 2020 SCREENINGS:


- 6 pm screening, followed by discussion with 
Dr. France Cordova, director of the National 
Science Foundation, and Dr. Richard Isaacson
NSF program officer 1973-2001.
8 pm screening, followed by discussion with


Four years and a Nobel Prize later, NATIONAL 

GEOGRAPHIC named LIGO first on its 

list of the “Top 20 Scientific Discoveries of the 

Decade,” and it is seriously compared with 

Galileo’s invention of the telescope in opening 

up a new way of viewing the universe.  




LIGO HANFORD OBSERVATORY, Hanford, WA

In writing and editing the documentary, I knew 

we had filmed a once-in-a-lifetime inside story 

into one of the most profound achievements of

the human mind:  The theory, general relativity, 

going back 100 years to Einstein and four 

decades to Thorne and so many others; Weiss’s

vision and ingenious perfecting of an instrument

that could detect a wave of warped space the size

of one atom in the distance between the earth 

and the sun.  It was also the story of a relentless 

search for truth, whichI hoped would resonate


And they were rebel scientists all, great 

characters, because this was a sketchy corner of 

physics, one laced with false claims over the 

years, controversial up until the moment the 

detection came in.  I chose to take the 

audience deep into their world for 90 

minutes,  and what a cool, affirming world 

it is.  And mind bending, if not terrifying, 

as they witnessed for the first time the 

violent, warped side of the universe.