Private Project

"LIGO - Director's Cut"

Les Guthman's director's cut of his "LIGO" documentary, the moving first-person account of the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of colliding black holes and gravitational waves, the discovery that led National Geographic's list of the "Top 20 Discoveries of the Decade." The director's cut includes a full chapter with Kip Thorne, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, and Alessandra Buonnano, director of the Max Planck Inst. for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, on the cosmology of LIGO not seen in the original version; along with a deeper history of the epic 50-year search for these once-elusive messengers from the "warped side" of the universe: gravitational waves.

Rai Weiss, who also won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, wrote "I don't think I have ever seen a better presentation of how science is done.”

“I really appreciate you highlighting all these female scientists and the work they've been doing," wrote Stavroula Toska, screenwriter, director, producer, production executive. "Their passion was electrifying!”

  • Les Guthman
    This film is his 12th feature documentary.
  • Les Guthman
    This is his 15th feature documentary script
  • Susan Kleinberg
    "Churning the Sea of Time: A Journey Up the Mekong to Angkor"
  • Christine Steele
    "Take Me Home Huey" (Los Angeles Emmy Award for Directing) and many other films.
  • Kip Thorne
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 47 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    November 1, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    600,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Germany, Italy, Switzerland, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • XPLR Productions
    Sales Agent
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Les Guthman

Les Guthman is an American director, writer, editor and production executive, who has the distinction of both having produced three of the 20 Top Adventure Films of All Time, according to Men's Journal magazine, and having won the National Academy of Science’s nationwide competition to find the best new idea in science television, which led to his film, "Three Nights at the Keck," hosted by actor John Lithgow.

He is currently producer, director, writer and editor of the feature documentary, "LIGO," and in production, "SOME WONDERFUL WOMEN: SCIENTISTS OF LIGO," along with a nine-episode web series, "A DISCOVERY THAT SHOOK THE WORLD," produced in collaboration with Caltech, MIT and the LIGO Laboratory, funded by the National Science Foundation, MathWorks and Caltech.

Les is a member of the Explorers Club in New York and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Wikipedia.

As creator, executive producer writer and director of the DISCOVER MAGAZINE series at the Walt Disney Company; of Outside Television, the production division of Outside magazine; and the owner of XPLR Productions, he has produced 35 feature documentaries, directed 12, written 15 and edited 13 feature documentaries. He has written, produced, directed and edited over 20 shorter videos, including the documentary short "Ten Great Unanswered Questions of Science" for his DISCOVER MAGAZINE series.

His films include, "CORWIN" (1995), "Three Nights at the Keck (1998), "The Hudson Riverkeepers" (1998), "MARATHON OF THE SANDS (2000), "The Waterkeepers" (2000), "MESSNER" (2002), "Churning the Sea of Time, A Journey Up the Mekong to Angkor" (2006), "Skiing Everest (2010), and "Saturn's Embrace" (2012).

"MESSNER" was an opening night feature at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival.

"Farther Than the Eye Can See," the epic summit of Mt. Everest by blind climber Erik Weyhenmayer, which Les executive produced, was nominated for two national Emmy Awards, "Outstanding Sports Documentary," and "Outstanding Sports Cinematography."

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

In the spring of 2015, we were invited by Caltech and the LIGO Laboratory to make the definitive inside documentary about the expected discovery of gravitational waves from deep space, after a 50-year search. The discovery would open up the 95% of the universe we’ve never seen before - the violent, “warped side,” as Caltech’s Kip Thorne famously called it. (Kip also was the creator of the feature film, INTERSTELLAR.) The documentary would be a collaboration with Caltech, MIT and LIGO, the international collaboration of more than 1,000 physicists and engineers, which already had spent $1 billion building and perfecting its two giant detectors in Louisiana and Washington State.

We began production that August with a two-day shoot at Caltech, a few weeks before the launch of Advanced LIGO, the project’s $200 million five-year upgrade. We interviewed Kip Thorne and Barry Barish (both later would win the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with MIT’s Rai Weiss), but we told them it would be brief. We wanted to continue filming them (and everyone else) over time, as events unfolded, so they could chronicle LIGO in the present tense, as discoveries were happening, not in the past or future tenses. The present tense of science and discovery is where the thrill communicates on camera, as director Les Guthman has documented throughout his career.

And we were there, as we hoped, for every twist and turn in what became a stunning, thrilling, unprecedented two-year run of mind-bending discovery.

Everyone had told us it would be “a year or two” before the detection would be made. But not long after we interviewed Thorne and Barish, we were at the LIGO Livingston Observatory outside of Baton Rouge, in great good fortune, on the day the historic signal came in. We kept our cameras rolling for the next four days.

The waveform was a remnant and messenger from the first detected cataclysmic collision of two black holes. Almost everyone at LIGO, around the world, was taken by complete surprise.

We filmed as they kept the detection secret for another tense and emotional four months until all doubts were dispelled and their discovery paper was accepted for publication. We continued through 2016, 2017 and the equally stunning detection of two colliding neutron stars, which ignited a gamma ray burst-kilonova light show that became the most observed cosmic event in history. Telescopes and satellite-based cameras around the world turned in a matter of minutes to catch it. We raced to CERN ten days later, where LIGO was holding its semi-annual meeting. The air was electric with discovery.

That fall, our three principal characters, Kip Thorne; Rai Weiss, who spent 50 years perfecting the exquisite sensitivity of the detectors; and Barry Barish, who “saved” LIGO from warring factions and built the two detectors; won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Our last shoot was a magic, icy December week in Stockholm with them.

Four years and a Nobel Prize later, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC named LIGO first on its list of the “Top 20 Scientific Discoveries of the Decade,” and the discoveries are seriously compared with Galileo’s invention of the telescope in opening up a new way of viewing the universe.

In writing and editing the documentary, we knew we had filmed a once-in-a-lifetime inside story about one of the most profound achievements of the human mind: The theory, general relativity, going back 100 years to Einstein and several decades to Hawking and so many others; Weiss’s vision and ingenious perfecting of an instrument that could detect a wave of warped space the size of one atom in the distance between the earth and the sun. And the data analysis, which after a decades-long quest, could “read” that signal from an unknown, surprise event, and tell us it was the collision of two black holes 1.4 billion years ago, The film is also the story of a relentless search for truth, which we hoped would resonate. And they were rebel scientists all, great characters, because this was a sketchy corner of physics, one laced with false claims over the years, controversial up until the moment the detection came in. We chose to take the audience deep into their world for 147 minutes. And what a cool, affirming world it is. And mind bending, if not terrifying, as they witnessed for the first time the violent, warped side of the universe.