American Blackout: Q&A with director Jonathan Rudd

Video highlights from American Blackout



“The research drove the narrative. This film is obviously a drama, but we were determined to be as informed as possible.”
— Jonathan Rudd

Why was a cyber-attack chosen for the blackout?

It isn’t science fiction anymore. A cyber-attack on America’s power grid is a real and credible threat. This film encourages politicians, businesses and the public to consider what preparations should be made to cope with this possibility.

Why do you believe it is a “credible threat”?

The Department of Homeland Security testified this past spring that it had processed 68 per cent more cyber incidents involving federal agencies, critical infrastructure and other select industrial entities in 2012 than in 2011. It also warned of an increase in cyber activity that seemed to be based in the Middle East, including Iran.

In light of the growing cyber-attack threat, security experts have called on Congress to provide a federal entity with the necessary authority to ensure that the grid is protected from potential cyber-attacks. Yet Congress has not provided any governmental entity with that authority.

Describe the fact-finding process behind the film.

The research drove the narrative. This film is obviously a drama, but we were determined to be as informed as possible, and we spent countless hours trying to get it right. We needed to know everything that would be affected in a 10-day nationwide blackout … and that turned out to be basically everything.

Our team of researchers interviewed leading experts in various fields — cyber security, search and rescue, emergency medicine, sociology, engineering and more. We also sent experts the film script to have them weigh in, and we made changes based on their feedback.

Did you draw inspiration from real disasters?

Hurricane Sandy and previous blackouts in New York City and San Diego provided very important factual information as well as genuine user-generated footage.

Why did you utilize crowdsourcing and “Blair Witch”-style filming to tell this story?

As viewers, we are watching more and more material online, and consequently becoming increasingly fluent in the visual language of user-generated film. Because user-generated footage is shot by regular people, a more immediate connection can be drawn between the viewer and the event depicted.

Our hope is that this very personalized form of reporting will allow us to immerse our audience in an intimate representation of how American people survived this event.

What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

That a sensible amount of preparation is advisable over keeping two cans of tuna in the kitchen. America is defined by its spirit of resilience and this film affirms that; even in the deepest of crises, people can pull through.

Since making this film, have you made any changes in your life for emergency preparations?

I am currently on the lookout for a set of large barrels for water storage and a wind-up radio, while our drama producer has already hosted a neighbourhood meeting and is stockpiling bottled water.

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