What to Expect When You're Expecting Aliens

The UFO Welcome Center in Jody Pendarvis' backyard has become something of a local oddity and tourist attraction in Bowman, South Carolina. Pendarvis is serious, however; he built the 30-foot structure in 1994 and speaks mysteriously about meeting alien visitors on Earth. He plans to be the first to welcome his extraterrestrial friends when they return. Welcome to Planet Earth, a well crafted and intriguing short documentary by Michael and Morgan Livingston, strives to meet Pendarvis on his own terms and explore his eccentric, fantastical world with an open mind. Director Michael Livingston talks about the making of the film in an interview below. 

The Atlantic: How did you discover Jody and decide to do the documentary?

Michael Livingston: My brother and a friend were watching a special on PBS that showed quirky things in our state. The show was alphabetized, and when it got to the letter U it briefly showed the UFO Welcome Center. Literally, the next day my brother and his friend traveled to Bowman, SC to take pictures of the UFO. After he got a chance to meet Jody he was convinced that we needed to make a film about him. 

What were some of the challenges of telling his story? 

In the film I didn't want Jody to seem crazy. Unfortunately, building a giant UFO in your front yard in such a small town will make you look that way. The hardest challenge by far was allowing the viewer to decide whether or not Jody was crazy or just another person with an extravagant hobby. Taking an unbiased approach meant throwing out 90% of the questions I had already dreamed up, and simply allowing Jody to craft his own story. 

Did anything in the course of shooting surprise you? 

Prior to shooting the only knowledge I had of Jody and the UFO Welcome Center came from my brother’s photographs. There's no information on the Internet, no wikipedia site and no phone number to call for information. So, it was hard to plan out what I was going to do until I actually got there and met Jody. I expected him to be a little more standoffish than he was, and before I could even get a question in he wanted to tell me all about it. Instead of formulating a plan for the film, I just let him take me around and share his story. Usually, before filming I've done enough research to find the story, but in this case it was all created on the spot. 

What's next for you?

I have a few projects lined up to work on. However, I want to do something on a larger scale. I can't really say too much about it right now, but I am trying to put together a cultural and historical documentary about something from the region I live in. If it all goes well it should be a really dynamic piece. I also have a website and blog where I put up small pieces from time to time. 

For more work by Michael Livingston, visit http://pioneerdocs.com.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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