I recently submitted a question to the Freakonomics guys for an interview with the MythBusters.
They picked my question as the first one!
Here’s my question and their answer:
Me: Could you describe the brainstorming process that goes into an episode? How far in advance do you begin planning? Who sits in during those meetings?
ADAM: The usual crowd at a brainstorming session is me, Jamie, Alice Dallow (our producer), and whichever researcher is doing the segment we’re working on — either Dennis Kwon or Eric Haven. We also have an on‐the‐ground executive producer during an official “story meeting.” We usually have one or maybe two of them before shooting a myth, but discussions about stories can happen all over the place, and at any time.
Often, we’ll ask for certain parameters as far as locations or materials, and as we discover what’s possible or not possible, we’ll hone it down to what we’re actually going to do. The show’s researchers are fantastic about finding the weirdest of things and experts, and Alice is brilliant at keeping us on track. The discussions can be like herding cats — there’s a ribald, funny atmosphere, and we’ll range very far from the topic at hand.
Planning can take anywhere from a month to a day or two, depending on the schedule. We’ve had critical locations fall through at the last minute, and needed to turn 180 degrees on a few hours’ notice. We’ll also flag difficult stories as far in advance as we think necessary. Some things, like getting permission to film at Giants Stadium for the Jimmy Hoffa story, have taken the better part of a year to work out.
Then there’s the discussions that Jamie and I have. We’ll often take a difficult problem home, think about it overnight, and maybe discuss the problems we see in it while driving to a location. We also play devil’s advocate with each other — if one of us has a good idea, the other will poke as many holes in it as possible, and in this way we try our best to shake out any problems before we hit them.
JAMIE: This is, believe it or not, the most fun we have on the show. There is no underestimating the thrill of a big catastrophe or explosion; but if you really want to know what gets us going, it’s the brainstorming. Once a topic has passed muster, some basic research has been done by our research team, and we are down to nutting it out, Adam and I swing into action — sort of. Usually we go home first and think about it overnight, and then come in bursting with ideas. We set up in front of a dry erase board, and lay out any solutions we came up with by ourselves.
Amazingly, as much as we are of different temperaments, we quickly spot the best solutions and chip in to flesh the approach out. It becomes like playing Ping‐Pong with ideas. Sometimes it gets so intense that there is no time to complete sentences; it becomes a bunch of gesticulations, some pieces of words or phrases, and then, when we come out on the other end, the approach is fleshed out. We call it the “MythBusters Mindmeld.” To anyone listening, it is gibberish, but it allows us to plow through a huge amount of designing in no time (which is what we have a lot of on the show).