11 June 2020

#DrawnToGeoscience: The Monument

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#DrawnToGeoscience is a series of posts by artists who draw (or in this case, create videos) about science and explain their process and inspiration while also showcasing their pieces. Learn more about contributing. This week, Crystal Nichols. 

The evening light highlighting Hobart Bluff and the big leaf maples in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Credit: Crystal Nichols

*Google search: equipment needed to create a documentary.*

This is how my journey to creating The Monument began. In reality, it began before I made that search, in the months (that turned into years) of being rendered unable to shake a passion that gripped me—a passion to highlight and document the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, a hub for biodiversity in the western U.S., and to share its magnificence with the general public.

My time spent attending/presenting at scientific conferences clued me in to an important perspective— as scientists, we are not always the best communicators. We have conferences and written publications dedicated to communicating knowledge among the scientific community, but what about the education of the larger public? That nagging question has guided my career moves for the past few years and landed me in the director’s chair (so to speak) of a documentary.

Producer Crystal Nichols and aerial cinematographer Dustin Saigo filming a towering fall in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Credit: Paul Kirby

Now, for the nitty gritty. Creating a film is hard work. For me, it was an emotional rollercoaster that came with the added challenge of learning a variety of new skills. The film itself is an attestation to the importance of collaboration. As a first-time filmmaker I recognized I had so much to learn. I called upon resources at my university and forged friendships with those knowledgeable on the equipment and film-making process. My most important piece of advice to fellow scientists cannot be found in a collection of online resources or book. I want to share that human beings are a valuable resource and when we combine our efforts focused on a shared goal, great things can manifest. I created The Monument for a public audience, and I quickly learned that the diversity of opinions about the film matched the diversity of organisms showcased in the film. I found value in those opinions, but what I had to remind myself, and would like to remind all of you, is there is no right way to tell a story or highlight the natural world.

At the film premiere, I was asked, “what was your biggest takeaway from this project?” That question kept me up at night. It turns out, the answer is simple. I learned you do not have to be perfect at something to do it, you just have to love it. After all, my scientific career was born out of a love and appreciation for our natural world. Admittedly, I have felt as though I have one foot in the research realm and one foot in the educational outreach realm. However, I believe film can act as a harmony between these two pillars of science. With that being said, I am exploring what I want the next step in my career to be. I have a suggestion box that is always open for submissions.

-Crystal Nichols is a director, writer, producer, and cinematographer. Find her on Instagram @cni29.