Our Wicked Healthy Interview Series features individuals who are making a big impact in the plant-based world and beyond. Today we’re featuring Louie Schwartzberg, a pioneer and master of high-end, time-lapse cinematography, creator and curator of Moving Art, inspiring storyteller and fellow mushroom whisperer.
With a career that spans more than three decades with a long list of accolades for his achievements, Schwartzberg is a visual communicator who tells stories about nature, people and places through arresting imagery and breathtaking movement. His filmography reflects his deep and diverse experience, while his other projects are, in his words, an exploration of “the worlds that are either too slow, too fast, too small or too vast for the human eye to see.”
Using time-lapse cinematography, Schwartzberg is able to open up and reveal the beauty and movement of these hidden worlds that surround us in an attempt to better understand their connection to the planet and ourselves. One of his latest endeavors, Fantastic Fungi, focuses on one of our favorite subjects, and literally gets at the root of the mystery, power and beauty of the fungus among us. Take a look at the trailer for the film below:
We are, of course, fascinated by Schwartzberg’s storytelling here and how his work—much like the shrooms he’s filmed—has a positive and powerful effect on those who watch and listen. We’re wicked stoked for the opportunity to ask him a few questions about time-lapse cinematography, what shrooms do when we’re not watching, and what kinds of fungi he’d like featured in a Wicked Healthy dish.
We’re wicked excited to talk about mushrooms, but first want to thank you for bringing this subject to life. Can you tell us a bit how time-lapse cinematography works, and how it makes fungi in particular, look so fantastic?
Time-lapse is a way to compress time. The way we do that is by filming one frame every 20 minutes with mushrooms. That means you’re shooting three frames in an hour and, therefore, in 24 hours, will have three seconds of film, because film is projected back at 24 frames per second. So it’s basically the opposite of slow motion, which is another way to look at it. In slow motion, you are shooting things twice or four times faster than normal. And when it’s played back, it’s played back four times slower than normal, because playback is always 24 frames per second. So again, going back to time-lapse example, what we’re doing is we’re shooting very slowly (incredibly slow) and therefore, when you play it back, it accelerates time.
In the case of mushrooms, this technique lends itself so well because they are alive, and not still. They are only “still” in the sense of how we observe them from our limited perspective and perception—and the assumption that everything we see is reality.
Flowers are always opening and closing, and mushrooms are bursting through the soil, spreading their spores in order to reproduce. There’s so much we don’t see. So I love making the invisible visible, as well as taking people on journeys through time and scale. And that is a way to broaden your horizons and realize that the perspective you’re watching (which is 24 frames per second, played back at 24 frames per second at “normal” human vision) is only one way of looking at the world.
Instead of just talking about this, the camera can literally show you the different realities and viewpoints that exist between different organisms like, say, a redwood tree that would view us as if we were time-lapse critters, scurrying around. And the fruit fly (which only lives a day or two) would look at us as if we were monsters, moving in ultra-slow motion. So your reality all depends upon your point of view.
Like you, we’re completely fascinated by mushrooms, and love the possibilities they offer in the culinary world. Your film includes perspectives from scientists and doctors, who talk about the beneficial qualities of mushrooms in different ways. As a cinematographer, what are some of the most compelling qualities about mushrooms that inspired you to tell this story?
First of all, I love the way they grow in time lapse. They really exemplify the regeneration of life. I got interested in mushrooms because, after doing another film called Wings of Life, which is all about pollination and how critical that all is to our food supply, I realized that plants need soil. And where does soil come from?
They come from Mycelium, which is the root structure of budding mushrooms. Mycelium recycles organic matter, but also breaks down rock. And without Mycelium and fungi, we would maybe be drowning in organic matter but, more importantly, we wouldn’t have the bedrock of soil from which all life arises from.
One of the most intriguing aspects of your work in this film is your ability to capture the constant movement and beauty of things that are seemingly still to the naked eye. How does becoming aware of hidden things like this benefit us as individuals and, in turn, have a positive effect on the future of the planet?
I think that when we can see things from a different perspective, whether it’s a hummingbird or a mushroom, it broadens your view of life and makes you want to appreciate it. A lot of the imagery filmed is really beautiful and, to me, beauty is nature’s tool for survival, because we protect what we love. So it’s a way to engage people because we are hardwired to respond to beauty. That’s why all puppies and babies are cute—because nature wants DNA to move forward. Nature wants life to flourish. Beauty is a way to engage our senses to fall in love with things in order to protect them.
So I think it becomes a consciousness-shifting experience, because it shows how everything is transcendent, and allows us to look at the life-death cycle as well. And we realize that we are just a smaller part of a greater whole, and that everything is connected.
You have talked about the power that media—especially your form of media—has to shift consciousness in a positive way. What do you want your audience to take away from this film and implement into their daily lives?
I think that when you look at majestic nature, and watching it through portals of time and scale that are invisible to the naked eye, it brings you into the divine. And when you enter that divine experience which is your natural birthright, it makes you present. And when you are present, it engenders gratitude. You become grateful for these little things that make the world go around, like birds and bees and flowers, which are all gifts.
So I would hope that people become more environmentally conscious, and instinctively protect and preserve this great and heavenly planet that we live on.
We’d love to cook you a wicked healthy, plant-based shroom dinner. What two (or three) mushrooms are your favorite, so we can plan the perfect dish for you if the opportunity ever arises?
I love chantrelles, portobello and morels. I am intrigued by matsutake mushrooms, but have never actually tried one, so that would be great one to use in a wicked healthy dish!