By Bennett Cohen
Set in a future world on the verge of environmental collapse, a group of archaeologists venture into a toxic desert wasteland, determined to unearth a lost civilization they believe suffered a similar fate and hoping that this ancient disaster holds clues that can help avert their own ruin. But can they survive the desert long enough to do the work they need to do, and unearth the discoveries they desperately need to find? In their digging, they make at least two discoveries they don’t expect: the power of love, and a curious notion they come to know as “faith.”
In his Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot wrote, "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time."
For me, Eliot's words are especially appropriate when it comes to science fiction, or any sort of futuristic, speculative fiction. We use our imaginations not merely to predict the future, but to shed light on the present, and on ourselves, and gain a new and deeper understanding.
That's where The Dig began for me – using the future as a window onto the present, exploring themes and emotions that affect us now as much as they might in the future. Added to that was my long-time interest in archaeology, and equally long-time desire to write about it dramatically. So, The Dig actually began with the intention of using both the future and the past – and using both to gain a bit more understanding of what we face today.
The issues I grappled with are not unfamiliar ones: environmental breakdowns, global warming, the spectre of mass extinctions – including our own – and a looming dystopia that could affect all of us (and may sooner than we imagine). There was something else I knew I wanted to be at the center of The Dig: a love story. Dealing with issues like global warming and extinction in the abstract tends to relegate it to an intellectual debate with little in the way of real emotional stakes. But personalizing it, and showing the human loss that could result from it, gives it an emotional impact that it can't have any other way. That emotional impact was also something that I knew was critical.
But the last element of the story emerged after I had already sketched the rough outline of the story. It evolved through the development of the story, as I worked with FUTURESTATES Series Manager Karim Ahmad. As we talked about the ways in which a dystopian future might dehumanize us, a topic came up that I hadn't thought about before: faith.
Much has been written about how we're in the midst of the sixth great extinction in world history, and how — unlike every other mass extinction — it's of our own making. It struck me that little has been said about the spiritual costs of this global meltdown. I'm not talking about the holier-than-thou spirituality so many politicians employ. I mean a spiritual connection to the world, and to each other.
That became the final element that made The Dig take shape: the desire to look not only at the desertification of the earth, but at the desertification of our souls, as well, and what the impact of that on us might be in the future, and in the present.
— by Bennett Cohen, Writer/Director
One can go so deep inside making a film that it's like being in one's own skin – and far easier for those outside the process to perceive than those inside it.
I don't think I took even a single reflective glance at what it was like until the very last take of the very last set-up of the entire shoot. That last shot took place in the desert. Right before it, my producer, Maurice James, took me aside and told me that one of the great joys of directing is to yell "Wrap!" at the end. So I did, but he told me to yell it louder. So I screamed "WRAP!" at the top of my lungs, and laughter followed as everyone finally exhaled.
But the moment that sticks in my mind most came just before that. I was apart from the others. The sun was setting, casting a warm glow over the desert. The DP Mathew Rudenberg, his crew, the actors, make up, the art department were all working, laughing, enjoying every last second of the experience. That's when I finally took a moment to reflect and take pleasure in what we'd done.
I wrote it, I directed it, but movies are a collective art form. And as I watched the joy everyone was taking in that last "magic hour" of movie making, I couldn't help but smile. It wasn't just that I had done it. It was that we had done it. And all of us knew it.
That wasn't really the end, of course. We still had post-production, which is like making a movie all over again. And more work after that. But the truth is artistic creations never really end. Because making them is only part of what they're about. Viewing them, seeing them, reading them, experiencing them – all that is just as important. We hope they echo on, with audience members becoming creative partners – understanding and being affected by them in their own ways.
One of the first directors I ever worked with told me that movies are "made" three times – once on the page, once in production, and once in post. But he left out a fourth – when they're seen, in the minds of those viewing them. Everyone who sees The Dig becomes a creative partner in its process. And for that, I thank you as much as I do everyone else I worked with along the way.
— by Bennett Cohen, Writer/Director
A graduate of Yale University’s Yale School of Drama, Bennett Cohen has had a career that’s covered a wide range of film and television, including writing, producing, feature film development, and teaching. As a writer and producer, Cohen has had numerous productions made for television, working in such genres as thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, and war, and with such companies as Showtime, Paramount Television, Universal Television, and Fox Television, ITVS, and PBS, among others. He has also adapted two novels for the screen, Jack Higgins’s Night of the Fox and Roderick Thorpe’s Rainbow Drive. His ITVS/PBS screenplay The Fix was nominated for a Humanitas Award. As a journalist, he has also written a number of nonfiction articles, as well as the nonfiction book The Zebra Murders, which has been optioned as a motion picture by DreamWorks and Plan B Productions.
Maurice James is the president of Mojo Pictures, a Los Angeles-based television and film production company. James co-created and co-executive produced an A&E Network reality TV pilot with their award-winning production partners Stick Figure Productions. Mojo Pictures is also producing a Brazilian music documentary film with Academy Award-nominated director Fernando Meirelles and acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom called Tropicalia. James is an award-winning graduate of the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC School for Cinema and Television and has been working in the film and television industry in a variety of capacities for the past six years.
Dominic Francis Bogard — Montes
Dominic Bogard earned a BFA in Drama from the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. Since a recurring role on ABC’s Flashforward, he has played lead roles in By the Time the Sun Is Hot, Harvest, and Jesus Lovin’ Buddhist. Some theatre credits include playing the roles of Nick Massi in the Chicago company of Jersey Boys, Mark Cohen in the national tour of Rent, and Jim in Soho Repertory Theatre’s Molly’s Dream. Bogard is cast in the lead role in the sci-fi feature film Shadow Man.
Melanie Merkosky — Dixon
Melanie Merkosky has been catching attention online as the star of web series such as CBS's Harper’s Globe, as well as the anticipated web series Continuum and Apocalypse Wow! She has performed in theatres across North America while on tour with the musical Mamma Mia! and can been seen in the award-winning Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows.
Josh Carpenter — Haas
Raised in East Texas, Josh Carpenter moved to New York in 2001 where he performed in the Off-Broadway children’s shows A Dolphin Up a Tree and Weeping Willow, as well as featured work on Sex and the City, Law & Order: SVU, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and several indie films. Now based in Los Angeles, he is a cast member of the online sketch comedy series WHYMS.
Grady Lee Richmond — Nic
Grady Lee Richmond shows up a lot on TV, in commercials for motor oil, water filters, phone services, and the like — almost always as The Scary Biker Dude. He was also seen in episodes of the Animal Planet Cable series Hollywood Safari, guest starring as an evil poacher. He has had roles in the films Show and Prove; Millennium Eyes; Speechless; Wild Bill; Paper, Rock, Scissors; Mouse Hunt; and Human Quality.