Every director winds up with a few souvenirs from a production. After making "Training for the Apocalypse," which will air early next year on National Geographic, Rob VanAlkemade ("What Would Jesus Buy?") now has "two cans of pepper spray, four killing knives, 12 candles, 60 cans of extra food, 25 gallons of extra water (plus the 40 in the water heater and the 10 in the toilet tank, not the bowl), 34 books on preparedness and/or disaster, three hard hats, four pairs of goggles, two CPR masks, a hand-crank radio, three flashlights, three headlamps, a fully-prepped video camera, and more."
That stockpile is the result of collecting 110 hours of footage about apocalyptic survivalists with producers Gregory Smith and Alexandra Fuller. They will focus on "three fascinating individuals and their cohorts: Leland, an exiled Mormon in small town Utah with 30 years of experience as a doomsday prophet; Brian, his newest congregant; and Fernando, the founder of the Philadelphia-based Survive & Thrive meetup group, which distinguishes itself as 'open to all faiths, beliefs and lifestyles, BAR NONE.'"
Trying to locate survivalists "was a particular challenge," VanAlkemade said.
"In mid 2008 I was already in Amsterdam for something, so I hopped on a train to Antwerp to spend the afternoon with Patrick Geryl, the self-proclaimed inventor of the real theory of relativity and founder of a planned billion-dollar mountaintop compound," said VanAlkemade. "In early ’09 I was visiting Mom for a few days in Phoenix, so I told her I’d be right back and stole her car to meet now-famous Cody of Dual Survivor at his top-secret headquarters in the high desert plains, where he taught me all about the benefits of rats as a potential staple food."
VanAlkemade said he feels like his team was born to tell their stories. "Our collectively overflowing stockpiles of paranoia, optimism, fatalism, love for humanity, suspicion of humanity, yearning for goodness and appreciation for contradictions all played integral, and sometimes even constructive roles throughout production," he said. "As we had hoped from the start, the story we ended up with, while amply disturbing, is also a very positive, practical, life-affirming and funny one.
"Emotional well-being was certainly an issue for me on this production, but after about a year of escalating preparedness-obsession, I peaked, settled down and stabilized back into a generally calm and pleasant person who could probably cope well in an earthquake if not a global thermonuclear war.
"I now actually spend very little time worried about whatever disaster may or may not befall us, and much more of my time than ever actively pursuing, and attempting to cause, peace and happiness," he said. "The whole point of our film is that even if one finds themselves preparing for the worst – which might not be such a bad idea – it is essential to keep our hearts and minds open to living our very best."
The film is currently locking picture and while National Geographic already has TV rights, VanAlkemade and his team are looking for finishing funds via Kickstarter.
"Training for the Apocalypse"
Director/Camera/Editor: Rob VanAlkemade
Executive Producers: Annie Sundberg ("Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"), Gregory Smith
Producers: Alexandra Fuller
Post Producer: Chris B. Moore
Production Coordinator: Fernanda Ubatuba
Sound: Gib Berry
Music Supervisors: Dondie Bastone & Brian Keigher