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Isabella Rossellini, well known as a supermodel and movie star, is now making short films for mobile devices that illustrate the sex lives of dragonflies, earthworms and other creatures. But they are not like standard nature shows. In these films, which she researched with the help of Wildlife Conservation Society experts, she not only details unusual aspects of the critters' biology but also dresses up as them and mimics sex with paper cutouts. We asked Rossellini what she hopes to accomplish with the films on invertebrate love, dubbed Green Porno, which premiers May 5 on the Sundance Channel’s Web site. A version of this story will appear in the July issue of Scientific American.
How did you get started making these short films?
Sundance was interested in experimenting and expanding the definition of film, and nowadays there is the new possibility of creating content for what are called the third and fourth screens—the third screen being your laptop, the fourth screen being your mobile.
Sundance said, "Would you be interested in making films for the mobile?” Because the mobile not only has a small screen in comparison with television or cinema, but also you're not looking at it when you're sitting at home in a comfortable chair as you would watching television. You're looking at little films on your cellular phone while you are waiting for somebody or for the bus. So we thought short films would be something that people would dedicate two minutes to watch, but longer would be difficult. [watch Isabella talk about making the films]
You call these shorts Green Porno—what’s the story behind the name?
Sundance wanted, if possible, content that was environmental, because the channel and Robert Redford [the creative director of the network] are very dedicated to it. It’s part of their mission.
And then they said, "Because this is new media, can you make it flashy and funny?" But when I heard these three words—short and green and flashy—flashy to me translated into sex, so it's great to do a very short little series about the life of bugs.
Was it hard researching the sexual behavior of bugs?
It was difficult. I was always joking with some of the scientists I called that, when it comes to insects, you can go through pages and pages and pages of how their mouths work, and I kept on saying, "I want to know how the genitalia work." There are great descriptions about mouths and not much about sex.
When I read scientific books that have a lot of terminology that is hard for me to understand—because I'm an actress, I'm not a scientist—sometimes I have to say, "What does he [the bug] do? He doesn't have teeth to chew food, so he spits. So it's as if I spit my gastric juices to the food so I can then suck it in. So instead of an internal digestive system, I have an external one." When I'm trying to understand the behavior, I bring it back to humans. That's the process I tried to illustrate when I did Green Porno.
I was terrified of making mistakes. I'm a very big supporter of the Wildlife Conservation Society, so I kept calling them, and their scientists are very kind.
How far did you go with the costumes?
Often I had the bug eyes. Once I have the eyes on, I can't see anything. Sometimes I'm led like a blind person to the set, and then I'm told to turn a little bit to the right so it looks like I'm facing the camera. But the earthworm was the worst, because the costume is 35 feet long. [watch earthworm video clip] Once I was in the costume I couldn't come out, and then my arms were along my body, so I was completely strapped, and it's very constrictive. I almost broke out of it one afternoon after being there for three hours while they were still fiddling with the lights for some reason—"Ahh, I can't wait, I'm going nuts!"