Remember the scene in Back to School where Rodney Dangerfield’s millionaire character hires Kurt Vonnegut to help him write a paper about the works of Kurt Vonnegut? Or the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen pulls Marshall McClune out of nowhere to settle an argument with some idiot outside a movie theater? If only that happened in real life.
But wait a minute, I forgot, it does happen in real life now that the Science & Entertainment Exchange is up and running. Hollywood professionals really do have that kind of quick access to top experts across all areas of science.
There's a lot of science that goes on behind the scenes of film and television, not just what appears on-screen. Earlier this year, the National Academy of Science's Science and Entertainment Exchange assisted the producers of a new Discovery/Science Channel series calledScience of the Movies with finding scientists in a wide range of fields to explore what goes into making a blockbuster movie or hit TV series.
With Terminator Salvation - a film on which The Science & Entertainment Exchange did a consult - hitting theaters this weekend, it’s hard not to get excited about watching John Connor staving off the impending destruction of humanity in the fourth installment of the franchise. But, let's not completely take this action film at face-value. The latest Terminator movie releases in a very different era than did its predecessors. Starting in 2007, robots actually did start carrying guns in Iraq. More and more, we are outsourcing risky combat assignments to machines.
A couple of years ago, at a friend’s party, I wound up chatting with one of the writers/producers on the hit TV series Bones. When I mentioned I was a science writer, he visibly paled and became instantly defensive: “I know, I know, the science on our show is unrealistic, DNA results never come back that fast….”
I assured him I loved the show and the occasional scientific liberties didn’t bother me, because the stories and the characters were so compelling. But I thought it was a shame that this very smart man only heard from the scientific community when they were complaining about whatever the show got wrong. So he associated scientists with factual nit-picking and finger-pointing, when in fact, science is every bit as creative and innovative as writing for film and television, and can be a treasure trove of inspiration to a writer seeking funky new plot twists and characters.