Coming Clean: Full Version Now Available!

A while ago, [stderr] I mentioned a movie that a I shot with an unindicted co-conspirator back in 2012. I’m thrilled to say that it’s finished!

[Spoiler Warning: they did actually go to the moon]

I had a conversation with an actual moon landing “skeptic” and pretty quickly realized that I was talking to a fairly intelligent person who had simply become a “skeptic” about one thing too many. He had destroyed his ability to believe in something that had actually happened. I also noticed that very smart people, when they bullshit, come up with some really interesting things – they’re just wrong in interesting ways. That night I couldn’t sleep and started thinking “what if you had some really smart, well-educated people start throwing bullshit around a field they know something about?” I’m pretty sure a good physicist could bamboozle me about physics; at what point would that physicist be able to convince me that my belief in the moon landing was simply a result of my not understanding something a bit more advanced than the basics I’ve managed to get a grasp on.

We decided to make it hard on our audience, by telling the most plausible lies that we could. Best of all, there were grains of truth in all or most of them – most people don’t realize, for example, that NASA and National Geographic made a fair number of plaster models of the moon – they had to because that’s how maps were made in those days. There are loads of models of spaceships and mock-ups of components because they didn’t have 3D computer simulation and they didn’t know what they were doing. So there are many suspicious artifacts out there – enough that someone might come to think that it’s maybe all artifacts.

Dan K., my co-conspirator, put out a casting call and found an interesting mix of smart, creative people who were willing to sling some bullshit, and we spent 3 days in the Pittsburgh area driving around with some studio lights and a pair of cameras and an audio recorder. As each of our actors told their story, we refined the imaginary org-chart of our conspiracy, and asked each of our characters to inhabit that role – then, we interviewed them about what it was like. Our narrative got more elaborate over time, and began to make more sense as we refined it. There were huge pieces of the puzzle that the moon landing conspiracy theorists haven’t thought of – but we did. For example, we created one fellow who was a mechanical engineer (played by a professor of engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University) who was responsible for spacial continuity in the LEM and command module. We were stunned and asked him what he was talking about, and he patiently explained that there was a limited amount of “space” in the fake spacecraft and there were all kinds of things that had to fit into it. It would be glaringly obviously fake if the thing got to the moon and looked like a clown car, with people pulling more and more stuff out of it. So his job was to assign space to all the virtual objects that supposedly were going in the LEM, to make sure that nobody would store a 6-foot pole in a 3-foot space. He said the sectional flagpole was one of his great successes because he had to fight tooth and nail to force the prop designers to not include the huge flag pole they had originally specified. One of the things he said (which I believe made it into the final cut) was that “faking it was probably harder than actually doing it.”

We got home and unloaded the raw bits onto our hard drives and were horrified to realize we had about 8 hours of 4k video and separate audio. It was all nice and clean, but editing it into a coherent narrative was a skill that I definitely lack. Dan thought he did, too. It galled both of us to have this stuff sitting there untouched, to the point where it probably damaged our friendship some; if we got together we’d have to talk about it. Then, Dan got his hands on a copy of Final Cut Pro and started learning it, and got some advice about how to assemble a documentary into a narrative – the 50th anniversary of the mission was coming up and it was time. I believe he said he spent something like 70 hours, all told, editing.

And now it’s ready!

The video’s hosted on youtube, so if you’re a Russian click-bot herder, I’d be thrilled if you “like” it a bunch. Or not. I think activity is what the algorithm is looking for, more than favorable activity. If you know Alex Jones or Joe Rogan, make sure you ask them if “Coming Clean” is a bunch of hooey or not.

------ divider ------

Dan, who works at Google, did a premiere presentation of the film, and many of our stars were in attendance. The reaction was favorable and we had some lively Q&A and giggles during the show, so we counted it a success. One of my favorite questions was “Do you plan to do any more documentaries like this?” My response was: “Do any of you know an actor who looks like John F Kennedy might have looked when he was old?” Interviewing the people who faked that whole thing would be tremendous fun. I know a guy who used to golf with JFK long after he was “dead” and surprisingly, he struck up a friendship with the guy who shot him. No, not Oswald. See, the whole thing is that JFK was a “manchurian candidate” and when that was discovered they gave him a choice between a heart attack or a public relations epic.

The idea of interviewing JFK’s assassin has been in my mind for a long time, ever since I was talking to a guy I used to sometimes hang out with (politics ruined our friendship after 9/11, I refused to have anything to do with him) he was a special forces guy in the Phoenix Program in Vietnam and went on to be an intelligence officer in the CIA. I used to tell him that if he had a chance to utter any dying words he should confess that he fired the shot. He perfectly fit the profile.

One of the amazing things Dan was able to pull off was a tremendous amount of absolutely real photos of NASA test gear that looks like it was designed to fake a moon shot. It’s really remarkable. One of the most remarkable things, in fact, is that real conspiracy theorists haven’t found it and used it as evidence for NASA’s fakery. NASA has placed it all in the public domain, too – Dan says he spent a lot of time drinking good burgundy and browsing NASA image archives. And, it shows.


  1. lurker753 says

    Experts have been bamboozling novices (and themselves, and each other) since forever. Not gonna change anytime soon. The countermeasure is iterated on-the-record discussion and inquiry. (a.k.a. “Stand back, I’m going to try SCIENCE!”)

    You could try debunking the greatest bamboozler of the 20th century: “Quantum Fraudynamics: Feynman and the Anti-Gravity Conspiracy*”.


    (* There is no conspiracy)

  2. brucegee1962 says

    So which is more likely? That moon deniers see your video, say “Oh what a fool I was, how could I be so wrong” and give up their idiocy? Or that they say “Gee, I hadn’t thought of that, it must be true,” and just re-edit this to support gain more recruits?

    I see more ill than good likely to come out of this project, in other words.

  3. says

    I see more ill than good likely to come out of this project, in other words.

    We weren’t trying to make the world a better place. We’re trying to make the world a more confusing place, in line with l’air du temps.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    … he spent a lot of time drinking good burgundy and browsing NASA image archives. And, it shows.

    Pls elucidate as to how we might distinguish this from the results had he, say, drank good Bordeaux.

  5. says

    For all the people here who don’t speak Russian, here’s a translation of what actually gets said at 25:30.
    First two sentences: “His own testicles disturb the performance of a bad dancer. I kiss you a lot and I hug you.” The last two sentences are: “I am scared. For me today.”

    In the middle it gets murky and I’m no longer sure whether I understood the words correctly. It might be that the filter that’s applied to the guy’s voice messes up my ability to clearly hear what exactly he is saying, but I think that probably it’s just that his words simply do not form any coherent sentences. All I heard there were separate words that were just that—separate words that didn’t make any coherent sentences. I am not even sure how to try to translate that. For example, I think he may have said “over the woman’s ravine (butt?) there’s cool mane,” but I’m not certain.

  6. says

    26:10 “I have a large Soviet dictionary, agriculture and noteworthy sights. I kiss, kiss you and hug you.”

    32:15 “What I still do, I kiss you.”

    Lesson for me: I should watch a movie till the end before typing a comment.

  7. says

    I am not sure where I got the idea you were attempting to fool children, my bad. To fool conspiracy theorists and CIA analysts, of course, the bar is much lower and I feel you may have expended excessive effort in the interest of Art, here.

  8. jrkrideau says

    This movie has the potential to attract a lot of crank magnets. If it distracts some of the climate deniers and vaccine deniers to a different conspiracy it may great.

    I am interested in seeing what Alex Jones does with it.

  9. says

    You never really know with conspiracy nuts. I knew a guy who spent years on Godlike, and he could never decide whether there was anyone who actually believed any of it. He was certain that at least significant numbers of posters there were just yanking chains and whacking hornet’s nests, but he was never sure what the population of true believers was.

  10. komarov says

    Huh, so the anonymous soviet apparachik gets blurred, a distorted voice and… named in full. I’d have overlaid some heartfelt russian swearing over the credits when the name comes up. (Or some heartfelt russian, at least. Thanks for the translation, Andreas)

  11. lochaber says

    just got around to watching it.

    I was a bit apprehensive at the idea of this, but that was pretty clever and amusing, and I’m glad you have the “reveal” or whatever at the end, and the FAQ on the website.

    There is a lot of weirdness on the YouTube sidebar…
    Also, I think it really says something about the various conspiracy theorist’s skepticism and “research” that they didn’t watch the end of the video, or look at the website…

  12. voyager says

    Thanks for the translation.

    “His own testicles disturb the performance of a bad dancer”

    I laughed so hard my face hurt.

    Well done. It’s thought-provoking and funny. Dan Klein did a fabulous job of editing and all the NASA footage gives it a nice polish. The entire cast did a great job, too, but Edith Golova as the costume désigner was hilarious. She reminded me of Carol Burnett and had me laughing out loud at the hoodie with half a fish tank glued on and the eight pairs of long johns to puff the painter’s pants out. Classic comedy.
    Oh, but dear god, I made a mistake and read the comments! They were a bit funny, too, but in a weird, sad sort of way.

  13. voyager says

    Oops – wrong set of credits. I should say that actress Barbara Russell who played Edith Golova the costume designer was hilarious.

  14. says

    voyager @#19

    “His own testicles disturb the performance of a bad dancer”

    I laughed so hard my face hurt.

    In Russian “плохому танцору и яйца мешают” (ploxómu tancóru i jájca mešájut) sounds grammatically less odd. I wasn’t sure how to translate this one in English.

    I just did an online search, and it turns out that this one actually is a Russian proverb. Another person translated it as “a bad dancer is impeded even by his own balls.” It means “a bad workman always blames his tools/has some excuse.”

  15. ridana says

    Hoo boy, the YT comments. Well done, all!

    What is going on with the looping trees in the right background during Mashburn Wolf’s first segment (~ 9 min)? Fake interview! (oic, it was to edit out the guy reflected for half a second at ~17 min. And time is running backwards!! Fake!!!!)

    Costuming for hermit crabs. :D RIP Barbara Russell.

  16. Jazzlet says

    I thought Barbara Russell was hilarious, but they were all good, the ‘son of’ did a great job of being disturbingly fucked up.

  17. dangerousbeans says

    Andrew Molitor @16
    Some of them are definitely sincere. I used to know someone who was an honest 911 and Port Arthur (Australian mass shooting) conspiracy theorist. She genuinely believed it.
    Very frustrating to deal with, because they often make some sort of logical sense dispite being wrong

  18. says

    Barbara Russell/Edith Golova as the costume désigner was hilarious.

    The names of the characters are another give-away that it’s all a sendup.

    She was one of the hardest to capture, mostly because we had to sit there trying to keep from giggling. As you can tell from her knicknack room she’s a serious textile artist (among her many other talents).

    We did one take with her explaining how the suits came to look the way that they did. She did a long riff about how NASA was a male-dominated culture so the designs for the space suits were spiky and intimidating-looking. “You know, like Darth Vader?” and she had to “fight all the way to the top” to get the space suits to look friendly and huggable and she felt that had a tremendous positive effect on the program’s believability but she got no credit. She did such a great job of projecting her unhappiness about not getting appreciated for her work, we really felt genuinely bad for her.

    Easily the best part of making the film was the fantastic, fun, interesting people that we were able to work with. I’m not over-dramatizing when I say it went some way toward restoring some of my faith in humanity.

  19. says

    One of the problems we had was getting the actors to keep their riffs “sound bitable” – they would sometimes get going on some long impassioned stream of bullshit and it would be really good but we couldn’t cut in a 10 minute segment that would distort the whole narrative.

    The fellow in the blue shirt in the chair, who played the “continuity project lead” did one epic riff I remember about how “you know we didn’t have schedule tools like you have nowadays with Microsoft Project or whatever? We had to maintain the script and all its changes by putting big flash cards on a wall in a huge building in Area 51. Every time there was a change to the script we’d have to slide the cards around and reconstruct our narrative. Why do you think it was so exciting? We did a good job of leaving out all the dead time stuff you’d have if it was real, like the ‘astronauts’ pooping in their suits and so forth.”

  20. says

    Andrew Molitor@#10:
    I am not sure where I got the idea you were attempting to fool children, my bad. To fool conspiracy theorists and CIA analysts, of course, the bar is much lower and I feel you may have expended excessive effort in the interest of Art, here.

    We were seriously upset and pissed off when the Israelis used our trick with the whole “Iraqi WMD” meme.

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