'End of the world' starts Monday

While drinking beer at Swan's, local filmmakers came up with idea for series on apocalyptic prophecies

David Springbett and Brian Paisley aren't losing any sleep over what might happen on Dec. 21.

After spending most of 2012 working on Apocalypse ... When? they've learned enough to know a potential apocalypse, one doomsayers claim is based on an ancient Mayan prophecy, is a non-starter.

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Hoax or not, fears persist about the doomsday threat. The public's obsession with such a chilling scenario inspired their five-part series, which premières Monday and airs nightly at 8 p.m. on VisionTV.

"It's a story we've told ourselves," says Paisley, writer and host for the series, produced and directed by Springbett with Heather McAndrew, his partner in Asterisk Productions, as associate producer. Other local collaborators include editor Martin de Valk, researcher and associate producer Sherry Lepage and composers Tobin Stokes and David Parfit.

"There was a beginning, we're in the middle and there's going to be an end," Paisley said. "The more I listened to people's idea of thinking of time like that - linear, with an end point - I realized it colours our day-today thinking more than we think."

In western culture, we're so acquainted with the linear birth, life and death belief system that many conclude if the world is going to end, it will do so abruptly, said Paisley, who views developments such as climate change as simply an evolutionary state.

"It's cyclical. There's not going to be a day when we go to bed, we wake up and it's over. It doesn't happen that way."

Springbett says the doomsday theory is more a product of mass media than the Mayans, and it can encourage anti-social and destructive behaviour. The 1993 siege in Waco, Texas, is "a potent example of doomsday thinking misunderstood by authorities" with a tragic and preventable conclusion, he said.

"I don't believe in the God-sent destruction of the Earth, or aliens invading us," he said. "I think there's a greater chance we'll create our own apocalypse."

Apocalypse ... When?, which he calls "a thinking person's guide to doomsday," explores the origins, implications and psychology of doomsday thinking. To make it, the duo travelled across Canada, the U.S. and into Mexico.

It took them to the deck of a warship in San Diego, where they went to interview a Muslim scholar; the remote temples of Palenque, Mexico, in search of the elusive Mayan calendar; and the William Miller farm in upstate New York, birthplace of the Baptist preacher who convinced thousands that Christ's "second coming" would occur in 1844.

They interviewed scientists, scholars and visionaries such as John Hogue, a modern-day prophet who lives on Whidbey Island, Washington.

"He says the best prophet is one who everyone listens to, and none of his prophecies come true," Springbett recalled.

"There's this idea it means something's fore-ordained but it's not. A prophecy ought to be taken as a warning."

An example, he said, is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, where a prophecy inspires Scrooge to change for the better.

While the series features pop-culture visual references, it takes a broader look at apocalyptic thought through input from experts including Concordia University's Dr. Lorenzo DiTomasso, astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser and author Bill McKibben (Eaarth: Making A Life on a Tough New Planet).

"We were interested in questions other than the biblical origins," Paisley said. "Has it evolved into a science question, or a question outside of Judeo Christianity?"

The series explores the Book of Revelations and other spiritual forms of doomsday thinking; how the "rapture" concept has spawned an industry; and new harbingers of doom such as corporate greed, nuclear weapons, tsunamis, the global financial crisis and the Mayan calendar.

"One archaeologist said people ask him if he's found the Mayan calendar yet and he says, 'No, because there isn't one,' " said Springbett. "There's no 'calendar' like the one on the wall.

It's just a way of measuring time."

And not a very good one, Paisley added.

"The Mayans computed time into the future, but they weren't very good prophets because they didn't see the Gregorian calendar would add a leap year and that, of course, throws any kind of mixed calculation out the window."

Paisley is amused by how "the Mayan calendar" is depicted in movies and TV shows.

"If they need one, they go, 'What about that thing with the sun in the middle and all those colours around a big stone?' " he said. "It's an Aztec sun stone. It's like someone from Alberta pretending to be from Newfoundland. It's totally different."

It's a miracle a project of such magnitude was packaged so quickly. Production took just eight months.

"We were in Swan's drinking beer," said Paisley, recalling how it got their creative juices flowing. They decided to respond to VisionTV's call for submissions for documentaries, even though the deadline was just two days away.

Springbett had just read Future Babble, Dan Gardner's book on failed predictions by experts, and was fascinated.

"We drank beer on Friday, hammered out a draft on Saturday and did a budget on Sunday," Paisley said.

To Springbett's astonishment, he got an email from commissioning editor Joan Jenkinson requesting he call her on her cellphone. "You never get a commissioning editor's cell number," said Springett, who was asked if they could expand it into a series.

Paisley came up with the title, forgetting it was once the headline for a Time magazine cover story about production delays during filming of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 war classic Apocalypse Now in the Philippines.

It wasn't as if Paisley didn't have enough on his mind - like trying not to look like journalist Gwynne Dyer on camera.

It didn't take much to steer him out of newscaster mode, said Springbett. He told him to speak as if he were at the pub.

"I'd say, 'Hmmm. I'm thinking about a nice Hoyne IPA right now.' "

mreid@timescolonist.com

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