AlienCon 2018: The History Channel’s Project Blue Book With David O’Leary & Paul Hynek
by Hannah Means Shannon
In the From The Stage to the Screen: A Sneak Peek of Project Blue Book at AlienCon in Baltimore, hosted by the History Channel, Arturio Interion introduced the first 10 minutes of the show. David O’Leary, show creator, and Paul Hynek, consultant on the show, also took part in the panel following the opening footage.
O’Leary said that he’s had a “lifelong search” for life in the universe, and feels you have to address the question of aliens still. He read books about the current UFO situation, but also started investigating America’s history with UFOs, as a younger person. It was there that he first learned about J. Allen Hynek, someone who worked for the government, but became a believer after working on Project Blue Book.
That “arc” of moving from skeptic to believer, set against the backdrop of “real cases” made O’Leary feel like “this would be a show that I want to watch”. The show presents some of the “best cases in that era”. O’Leary has also spoken to the last living director of Project Blue Book, Lt. Col. Robert Friend, who was a Tuskagee Airman, worked on the space shuttle, and more. He had a chance to ask a number of questions, including whether the “majestic twelve” documents are authentic, and Friend thinks they are. Friend also said that if he did know about the existence of alien life through his work on Blue Book, he would not tell the public, which O’Leary found very telling.
Hynek was asked about his father and how he came to be involved in Project Blue Book. Paul Hynek has heard a number of theories, one in which his father was the first astronomer to “pick up the phone” close to the Air Force base in question, and he subscribes to that version.
O’Leary said that the fact that UFO theories “persist to this day” means that the show is relevant right now. He feels that there are still sightings now that are of interest, though it’s harder, with the internet, to tell what’s fake and what’s not. Leary feels this is an era where there is “fake news”, no matter which side it’s coming from, and that clouds issues like UFO sightings. Some of the issues relevant in the Cold War setting in the show are particularly relevant now, like espionage and competition between the USA and Russia. The show also has a number of female characters, he mentioned, and the show addresses the struggle against “societal molds” at the time.
O’Leary said that there’s been a “consistent narrative” from military personnel seeing and witnessing things that “defy explanation”.
O’Leary was asked what he thought about the ideas of “telepathy” from alien spacecraft that seems to come up in the show. O’Leary thinks that “psychic phenomenon” is possible based on scientific observation and physics. Research into the phenomenon has convinced him with “legitimacy”. Regarding psychic experiences with UFO’s, that’s a “narrative” that has occurred often, O’Leary said. When people have recounted UFO experiences, they have often recorded “emotions” and “visions”, as a piece of the UFO story that they didn’t want to “shy away from” in the show even though it’s part of the “strangeness” of the narratives that exist.
After showing some footage of an interview with his father, Paul Hynek was asked why his father continued with Project Blue Book if he thought the Air Force was not trying to determine the truth. He said that his father’s approach was about if something was legitimate and what to make of that, but the Air Force’s goal was simply about risk and security and did not entail “scientific curiosity”. Their goal was to address hysteria about flying saucers, which they did. Hynek knew that Blue Book was not a “scientific endeavor” but gave him access to “scientific data”, which he analyzed later.
Hynek wasn’t able to study UFO’s, but he was able to study reports, so he set up a system for people to analyze those reports without a “lurid” coloring, but in a more rational way, Paul Hynek said.
O’Leary was asked about working with Robert Zemeckis, who is such a major director, and what made him say “yes” to the project. O’Leary said that Zemeckis is a “searcher”, just as O’Leary is, someone who has an “open mind” about issues. He wanted to tell the story in a “grounded way”, like O’Leary, and Zemeckis found that root in “real life cases” attractive.
Asked about the challenges of dramatizing something that’s based in facts, Leary said asking when you can break the rules of accuracy to make a drama more dramatic is a pressing question, like placing things slightly out of order for ending and beginning episodes more effectively.
They took some liberties, O’Leary said, but they had Hynek’s sons as consultants, which helped them make decisions on accuracy. There were also small details the sons provided that stimulated their dramatic sense, like the fact that UFO sighters would simply turn up at the house looking for Hynek. And because he was “soft hearted”, he often welcomed people who might have had good intentions, but also might not.
Paul Hynek was asked which “cases” caught the attention of his father the most, and he cited a case from Papau New Guinea concerning Father Gill, and Anglican Priest. Father Gill ended up coming to the house, unannounced, while going to a conference in the area. He wasn’t on a book tour or trying to drum up press. Hynek asked him many questions about his sighting, and the way in which he answered seemed very sincere, and also had multiple witnesses. That’s one case that Paul and his father both found compelling.
O’Leary cited the Flatwoods Monsters case, where a group of kids saw a crash in the woods, went with their mother to investigate, and saw a creature, in West Virginia. The strangeness of the drawings they found, the fact that adults and children were involved, that there were physical effects of illness on the witnesses, all make it memorable for Leary, and we’ll see this case in the show.
A local case to the DC area where fighter jets were scrambled in 1962 will also be featured in the show, O’Leary confirmed.