Underworld is a journey through the reaches of an entire kingdom of life. The visual style has to penetrate the built-up resistance and prejudice that many people have developed. The visuals must provoke a shift in perspective: they must be fun, imaginative and wondrous.

Take the audience on a journey from microscopic spores through miles of webbed filament only to emerge out from a pinch of soil. Continuing further out – rising above the canopy of trees until huge forest landscapes emerge and outlines are shown of the world’s largest organism, and then up further still, beyond the atmosphere of this planet, and show the fungus which thrived on the International Space Station Mir. The film will journey through the continents to see worldwide fungal presence and variety, and through the ecosystems to show how fungi are keystone organisms of all habitats - from forest to jungle, and dune to desert. This is a voyage from habitat to laboratory to dinnerplate: witness the history of fungal development past and future, from ancient shamanic depictions in Arabian caves to the subterranean basins under Paris where indoor cultivation began.

Watch the stunning experiments by Japanese mycologists – as slime molds successfully navigate their way through a maze!
Photo: Nakagaki. Bio-Mimetic Control Research Centre

Present the kingdom with a sense of wonder, passion and excitement. The film will be much more than an illustrated field guide. A series of pretty mushroom pictures would not sustain itself, nor would it capture the dynamics and sweep of the kingdom; that said, it is important to show the mushrooms as beautifully as possible, in all their glory – with photography that will capture their colors, textures and forms. What is the point of a documentary on fungus unless the mushrooms come across as truly gorgeous and magnificent? The actual mushrooms will be approached with a Microcosmos-style, exploring their folds, rising up the stalks and careening over dew laden caps.

photo sequence from Death by Design

Time lapse photography
will capture the dynamics of fungus – see mushrooms exploding out of the ground, rising and falling in a matter of seconds. Watch fungus decompose rotten food in an instant and see the forest floor be covered in swells of different mushroom patterns – in a rhythmic and musical display – as whole patches rise and fall. Slowed down photography also reveals some of the extraordinary mechanisms that mushrooms can use to disperse their spores, as evidenced by the whirling whisps and chimney-like vapours that appear out of the top of a puffball following contact with a single droplet of rain.

The camera will venture into the microscopic realm, both in the petri dish and through scanning electron micrography. Penetrate the gills of a mushroom and see the landscapes where the tiny spores grow and release. See mycelium ripping across the screen in extreme close up. Then venture further in, to the very edge of the spreading mycelium and see even more amazing interactions.

Watch armies of messenger crystals marching in front of the spreading fungus. These crystals act as a reconnaissance unit for the mother mycelium and can signal impending danger such as deadly e-coli (0157 strain) bacteria. Watch in amazement as the fungus responds by producing secondary crystals which are then sent up “to the front lines.” The bacteria swarm to the crystals, are immobilized and the mycelium moves ahead and gobbles them up. The view of these interactions is bizarre and fantastic, almost like a war on an alien landscape. At every scale, the journey through the fungal kingdom is remarkable. photos: Paul Stamets

Visual analogies
are another technique that is going to be employed often – showing how fungal life has parallels all around, in our expansive subways, the swells of WTO protesters, or even weather patterns. Watching clouds form huge blankets stretching through the air, the audience will start to grasp the extended reach of underground fungus - enormous creatures that move and grow in a similar way. In order to visually explain how, for example, thousands of different mycelium can co-habitate in a single meter of soil, footage of clouds interspersing and passing through each other will be used.

These types of visual metaphors can be very effective and also very fun - a technique that Peter Friedman’s Death by Design used to great success. The huge sprawl of a city in the rain, with legions of umbrellas beneath is a metaphor for the mushrooms under massive old-growth trees. Beneath the city, huge networks of tubes, the sewers and subways, keep everything going – just like the mycelium in the forest. The communications network that covered Paris, the air compressed tubing system called the pneumatique, and the present-day Internet also serve as models through which one can understand fungi more clearly.
How like a fungus are the meandering streets and emergent neighborhoods of a city? Of a brain? Of a river delta? And what of the bridge builders, garbage collectors and recyclers? Picture the fungus as it attacks an enemies, by crosscutting it with scenes of raging barbarian hordes.

We will see the impact on art and architecture: the inspiration for Gothic Vaults, the umbrella, domes. Depictions of mushrooms in art range from ancient interpretations in First Nations Art to etchings on the sides of Egyptian tombs, all the way to TinTin and the Smurf village.

There are scores of fantastic archive footage, showing Alexander Fleming’s early experiments and early CIA testings of LSD on their own unsuspecting army. Furthermore, there are several films that feature mushrooms prominently, parts of which (rights pending) will be used, including: The Attack of the Mushroom People, the Clint Eastwood picture Beguiled, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, episodes of The X-Files, X-Men and Star Trek, and the dancing mushrooms from the original Fantasia.

The film will be tied together through a series of interviews. There will not be a single, guiding personality/narrator, but rather a series of perspectives representing the range of people who touch the kingdom both directly and peripherally.

Desired Interview subjects include:

Dr. David Suzuki discusses biodiversity and mycorrhizae
Paul Stamets discusses future technologies, toxic waste remediation
George Hudler discusses folklore, the history of fungus on humanity
Dr. Andrew Weil discusses health and nutrition
Bob Dylan discusses first hand experience of mycotoxins
Suzanne Simard discusses forest ecology and intercommunication
James Arthur discusses spirituality, sacraments, religions and Santa Claus
Bryce Kendrick discusses the spectrum of behaviour and fungal parasites




The film will be a combination of styles- like Death by Design meets
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
meets Microcosmos.