Over the few years, the National Geographic series Weird But True! has brought a terrific mix of zany adventures and amazing facts about science and nature. What started as a little basement studio project by creator Charlie Engleman has grown and grown each season. And now, with the arrival of Season 3 on August 14, the show is aiming to deliver its best episodes yet!
Not only does it have a new home (streaming service, Disney+) it has a new co-host. Charlie's sister, Kirby, has been replaced by Carly Ciarrochi (who was previously the host of Sunny Side Up). So, Charlie and Carly? That has a great ring to it, no?
We caught up with the duo to hear about getting dressed up, playing with props, and their favourite moments of the new season.
Charlie and Carly's weird truths!
OWLconnected: So, new co-host, new season, new network! What did each of you want to bring to the new era of Weird But True!?
Charlie Engleman: The first season was so scrappy. We had a very small crew, we filmed all studio segments in the basement of my parents' house. So if we needed to build a set that looked like medieval times in France, we'd go up to their attic and try to find any antiques that might fit and work!
But as the budget for the show increased, we were able to do different things creatively and go places that we couldn't go to originally. So now we work in a big studio, and we're using more interesting camera equipment and have brought more people on board that highlight the unique parts of the show. It's a lot more fun to watch, I think. And we could afford to bring people on like Carly! Right?
Carly Ciarrochi: (laughs) Ah! It's really been such a honour to get to step into this beautiful thing that Charlie and so many others on the team have created. I think Charlie and I are both really curious and enthusiastic people—sometimes in the same way, sometimes in different ways. So I'm glad to be able to offer the audience all different types, levels, and expressions of curiosity and enthusiasm!
There's also so much dressing up and characters, which for me as a performer is so so fun. Like, put me in any costume, give me the biggest moustache, I'll do whatever! I was sort of walking into something that was already built in with my favourite things to do. It's been a blast!
OC: This season has everything from space to farming, germs to camping. How do you choose topics for the show?
CE: You want a balance—you don't want too many animal episodes, too many science things, you want to be able to throw some history in there when you can. But one of our favourite things to do is to choose a topic that might be relatively normal, and then get into the weird parts of it. Or choose a topic, like invasive species, that a lot of people might not know about, but that you can immediately connect to the world around you once you start learning about it.
OC: Carly, were all of these topics chosen when you started?
CC: It sort of grew throughout the year (that we filmed). Most stuff had already been set in place so we were adapting to me on the fly. But as Charlie and I and the team got to know each other, we let the season shift with us.
I think the best example of this is the scuba diving episode. It wasn't on the original list, but Charlie is a certified scuba diver and our DP (director of photography) is obsessed with it! And they were like, "Carly, would you be interested in becoming scuba certified for an episode?" And I was like, Oh, sure! That sounds great! But as they were writing the episode, they were like, "How do you feel about scuba diving?"
"What terrifies you?"
Trying to breathe underwater!
So we brought [my fears] into the actual writing of the episode, which is a cool thing to bring to the show. Because the real life story behind the show is that it was a life-changing experience for me learning to scuba dive and I am now obsessed with it.
OC: There are so many crafts in your show—how long does it take to built them? Do you do it all yourselves?
CE: It takes an enormous amount of time. There are around 40 people in our art division, including illustration specialists and 3D modellers, who make prototypes (of the crafts). Then we have a whole other crew who are in charge of the props and setting things up on shoot days (when there is filming). All in all, I think every single art piece goes through about five or six revisions, anywhere from 20 to 40 people touch or influence it (laughs).
It's almost kind of funny how what might seem like just a model of the Sun went through hundreds of hours of thought and planning in order to appear on screen as it does. It's a ton of people and a lot of time, but it's funny how when you watch [the show], it just looks like a paper mâché planet!
CC: Also, any time you see these 2D (or flat) crafted expressions of science, they're all being hand-puppeteered. So most of the time [you see them], there's, like, five of us that have little germs on sticks that are attached to magnets and there's a camera above us and we're trying to get it super precise, and Charlie's calling out Wiggle! Shake! Out of frame! Bring 'em back in frame!
CC: I think people would be surprised by what goes on. You can imagine us on set giving our lines, but the piece of it that is pulling in everybody from the art team—like all hands on deck to operate these tiny viruses [on sticks]—was just a really fun and surprisingly part of the [filming] process for me.
OC: What topic would like to cover that you haven't yet?
CE: Sewers! [both laugh] I have a dream of doing a sewers episode. I think it would be amazing to explore the plumbing in your house, how it works, how it's connected to the rivers, how sewage systems in cities work, and how when you flush something down the drain, where does it go?
And then we gotta get into a sewer to film.
CC: Yeah, sewers are, like, 1000% at the top of my list, too.
CC: But I'd love to do something related to music. Whether it's a whole episode that's musical or it's an exploration of genre or instruments or something, hitting on music in a way that's unexpected would be really cool.
OC: Last question. What's your favourite episode of the season?
CC: Scuba, all the way.
CE: I'm going scuba all the way, too.
CC: Whoo hoo!
OC: Alright, scuba wins! We can't wait to watch it!
A new episode of season three of Weird But True! will be available for streaming on Disney+ every Friday. August 14 was Episode 1: Dinosaurs.