“The Most Unknown” follows nine scientists across the globe who are engaged in research to answer really deep questions, like the nature of consciousness and how life began. In addition to distributing the full 85-minute film on Netflix, Motherboard is releasing it in theaters this summer and will spray pieces across its website, YouTube and social channels as well.
The 85-minute film — which Motherboard describes as “epic” — was directed by Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Ian Cheney (“The Search for General Tso,” “King Corn”) who was advised on the project by Werner Herzog.
Through a deal with documentary-film distributor Abramorama, “The Most Unknown” will be released in theaters in 20 U.S. cities, starting May 18 at New York City’s Quad Cinema.
Then in August, the film will bow on Netflix where it will have an exclusive two-week window before arriving on Motherboard’s own platforms. Netflix has secured 24-month global rights to “The Most Unknown” and will make it available in 25 languages.
“Netflix was a pretty obvious partner for us, because they have big scale – we know it’s going to a global audience,” said Derek Mead, Vice Media’s executive editor, global, and former editor-in-chief of Motherboard.
After Netflix’s debut, Motherboard will create nine 10- to 15-minute-long standalone episodes — one for each scientist profiled in the film — in different formats native to a range of platforms. Those will include Motherboard’s site (motherboard.vice.com) and YouTube, along with series for Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. Those segments won’t carry advertising.
“From the beginning, we wanted this to be something a bit more modular, a story that would work in multiple formats,” said Mead, who’s an executive producer on the film.
Part of the reason for the multiphase, wide-release push is that the film was produced with a grant from Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation. The math-and-science nonprofit wants the film’s message about scientific discovery and wonder to inspire young people.
“Rather than using our social platforms and website as a promotional vehicle for the film, we went into this thinking of having this be an entire ecosystem… to talk about science in a way that helps people understand how scientists think and how they work,” said Mead, an executive producer on the film.
Thobey Campion, Vice’s head of publishing, added that “the media ecosystem feels like the Wild West right now, so we kind of made our own playbook… Supporting the sciences has never been more important than right now, so to really get the word out we’re deploying a fleet of content formats.”
Meanwhile, Mead allowed that the theatrical release of “The Most Unknown” will be “useful” for the film to be eligible for awards consideration.
The world premiere of “The Most Unknown” was at last month’s CPH:DOX documentary film fest in Copenhagen, and Vice plans to screen the film at other festivals this summer. In addition, it’s working to host special screenings in high school and college science classrooms in the fall.
Cheney, the film’s director, said “The Most Unknown” represents “an attempt to break new ground in science storytelling while showcasing the work of remarkable scientists all over the world.”
It’s not Vice’s first distribution deal with Netflix, which acquired worldwide rights to “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond,” a documentary from Vice Documentary Films about Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Andy Kaufman.
Last month, Vice named former A+E Networks boss Nancy Dubuc its new CEO. Co-founder Shane Smith, who previously served as CEO, is now Vice Media’s executive chairman. The changes came after the company was roiled by misconduct allegations against several top execs.
Watch the trailer for “The Most Unknown”: