Since the mid-1800's Calcutta, India has been the world's primary supplier for human skeletons to university medical programs. Every year aspiring medical students would purchase a whole human skeleton for about $300 along with their introductory textbooks. In 1985 the Indian government shut down the multi-million dollar industry after reports started surfacing that Calcutta's bone dealers were robbing graves to meet demand.
In 2007 I wrote an article in Wired magazine called "Inside India's Underground Trade in Human Remains" that explored the roots of the bone business and uncovered unscrupulous dealers who had chosen to ignore the ban and operate illegally. That story, along with several other investigations into illegal markets for human bodies will appear in my forthcoming book "The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers" which comes out in June 2011.
It has been a while since I have been back to Calcutta to investigate the bone business, but over the years several production companies have approached me with interest in doing a documentary on the subject. However there is a steep bar to entry to getting a movie made, and in order to sell the idea I need to make a really snazzy trailer that will get their attention. The trailer above doesn't quite cut it. I'm going to need footage from India. Hopefully the good people at Kickstarter can make it happen.
For the documentary I want to follow the story of Marshall Cordell a former anatomical specimen salesman in America who made almost a $1 million selling medical skeletons in the 1980s. When the industry in India collapsed he feared prosecution for being unwittingly involved in an international crime. So he burned his records and changed his business into a Halloween supply store. Now Marshall wants to go back to Calcutta to make his peace with the past and see the roots of a business that he profited on.
Marshall has agreed to come with me on a trip, but there's a catch. At this point it has been five years since I was last in the region and by now all of the old bone factories have moved to new underground locations, bone dealers have grown tight lipped and their international liaisons have become more circumspect. So, in short, I need to reinvestigate my old leads and see if filming this project is even possible.
$15,000 should get me enough to hire a film crew to chase down some of those old leads, hire a film editor to cut a great trailer and provide the foundation for what I hope will be a great film. The total budget to complete the documentary is probably around $150,000, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
And kickstarter, I can't do this without you. You're my only hope.
For more information about me. I'll be blogging about the project on my website at redmarkets.com and you can get more information about who I am and what I do at scottcarney.com