It may not seem like it some days, but I’m a journalist, not just a critic of alternative history. This means that I am interested in the story behind alternative history as much as I am the specific claims made by alternative theorists. And what I’ve found is somewhat disturbing. You’ll remember that last year I obtained documents from the National Archives about Erich von Däniken’s efforts to advise Gerald Ford during the 1976 presidential election; well, now I’ve found some interesting paperwork about H2’s highest-rated show, America Unearthed.
I’ve obtained documents from Minnesota Film and Television (MNFilmTV), a nonprofit that distributes public money and private matching funds on behalf of the state of Minnesota, which reveal that Committee Films, the production company behind America Unearthed, has accepted more than $190,000 for diffusionist documentaries accusing scientists, historians, and the government of lying about the history of America, including $112,740 for America Unearthed itself. Since MNFilmTV is a public-private partnership, 50% of that money came directly from taxpayer dollars.
Yes, you heard right: Minnesota taxpayers are funding America Unearthed.
The funding comes from the state of Minnesota’s “Snowbate” production incentive program, which rebates up to 20% of production costs for expenses incurred while shooting in Minnesota. Snowbate’s funds are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and applications are not evaluated for quality or content, only to ensure a production agreement is in place. Because this involves public money, Committee Films was required to submit detailed financial reports about their productions to receive funding. These financials are now public record and play an important role in showing the (very) big money involved in telling untruths about history on television.
Note: None of this is illegal, but it is deeply disturbing that taxpayer dollars are going to fund productions that spread untruths about American history.
Committee Films accepted $53,254.41 in 2010 as compensation for Who Really Discovered America?, a diffusionist program that ran on the History Channel. They also accepted $19,468.57 in 2009 for The Holy Grail in America, another History Channel program, this one claiming that the Knights Templar traveled to the United States in the Middle Ages.
Committee has applied for and has been approved to receive $112,740 for shooting parts of the pilot episode of America Unearthed in Minnesota. (This number is not final and may be slightly less depending on final submitted expense reports, which Committee must file by February 12 of this year.) It is one of only eight television series to have received funding from MNFilmTV. Remember, this $112,740 and the following numbers are only for the pilot episode, a single hour of television. [See here for an update on these numbers.]
The documents provide an interesting look at the production of America Unearthed. According to forms filed by Committee Films, the program had a budget of $617,000, of which nearly $200,000 was spent on payroll. Production took 60 days, and the production company claimed 25% of production occurred in Minnesota, where 91% of the budget was spent. The cast was paid $17,500, with an additional $9,500 in compensation for travel and living expenses. (This is on top of the production’s own $53,000 travel budget.) Series star Scott Wolter is listed as the only official cast member and must therefore have received most or all of that money.
Numerous other expenses are listed, many of which appear somewhat humorous to those not familiar with the costs involved in TV production, including $3,540 for hair and makeup and $7,320 for wardrobe. Those are some seriously expensive t-shirts Wolter wears. [Note: Most of the wardrobe budget probably went to the reenactments featured in the show.] By contrast, the money required to shoot on-location across America was only $7,500. Additionally, fifteen Minnesota workers, a lawyer, and an insurance company, earned tens of thousands from the production, along with another $8,000 set aside for music.
According to the production documents Committee was required to file, America Unearthed intended to explore whether Thomas Jefferson had “secret knowledge of treasures that lie west of the Mississippi when he brokered the Louisiana Purchase land deal” and whether the Grand Canyon holds “the tomb of Egyptian royalty and treasure beyond all comprehension” (emphasis in original). The program description Committee provided also claimed that “some” had “gone to great lengths to cover up” the truth about American history.
As we know from the finished series, America Unearthed implied that the United States federal government and the Minnesota state government (in the guise of the state archaeologist) were working to suppress anomalous findings.
So, in short, Committee asked for and received taxpayer dollars from Minnesota to accuse Minnesota’s government and the United States government of a conspiracy to suppress the truth about the claims Committee was using these public funds to make and broadcast.
The numbers don’t lie: There is good money to be made in presenting speculative claims about American history. And now we know exactly how much and who is getting it.
Note: I am not posting the documents here because some contain non-public contact information for production team members, banking information, and other material that should not be online. Copies of the documents, however, can be obtained from Minnesota Film and Television upon request.
[Update: I went ahead and blacked out some of the private information so I could post the project certification and the budget pages. Here they are.]
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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