In Part 1, Kevin Grazier shared three of his top surprises about being a science adviser in Hollywood. Let the conversation continue --
Whenever I do a public talk/panel/convention, it is almost a certainty that I will be asked, “So how does your job work? You just get a script and tell them what they did wrong?” It is nearly always phrased that way, or quite similar, every time. It’s true that for episodes for which I was not included from the onset, I receive a copy of the script and a window of time in which I can submit notes to the writers and showrunners. But if all I did was point out what was wrong, what purpose would that serve? Let’s use a real example from the last season of Eureka.
(warming to it)
There’s a chance we could replace the blown conduits with carbon nanotubing.
Can we use this instead:
(warming to it)
There’s a chance we could replace the blown conduits with a high Tc superconductor.
Where Tc is said just like it looks “Tee see.” Basically, it means a substance that is superconducting at a (comparatively) high temperature, like room temperature.
Finally, here’s a fun exchange between Henry and Grant from Episode 401. It’s dialogue that never made it to the final episode (but is included in the extended version available on the DVD) – a tidbit for fans of Eureka:
What is it like, Henry? Living in 2010? I have monochromatic visions of Asimov and Bradbury.
At this point in time, Asimov was still in graduate school, and Bradbury was writing mostly horror. Suggest:
What is it like, Henry? Living in 2010? I have monochromatic visions of Burroughs, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne.
How many people approach me asking if I can get them, a relative, or their significant other a job science advising.
Believe it or not, this is one of the most common questions I am asked at conventions, but I have also had to field this topic at parties, college classes I teach, the gym, and once even on a Friday night at Wal-Mart.
Let me respond to the request, as I interpret it, by analogy – with an equivalent request in a slightly different context.
“Excuse me, Mr. Nye. My name is Kevin Grazier, we’ve met a couple times before very briefly. You were at JPL for the Cassini Orbit Insertion, and we met briefly backstage filming that game show ‘Our Little Genius.’ Yeah, what mess that turned out to be. Hey, listen, since then I’ve consulted on a very popular kid’s show called The Zula Patrol, and done some on-camera work for The Universe on the History Channel, and a couple episodes of Naked Science for Nat. Geo. I really think I’m ready to host my own show. So if you hear of any kid’s science shows in need of an on-camera host, would you please let me know? Thanks, here’s my number.”
I am pretty sure that is a call that will never come. This is no reflection on Mr. Nye, I do not know the man. The above is true – we met only twice and very briefly both times. Even the nicest guy in the world would balk at a request of the form, “You don’t know me, but could you help me start off a new career at a point that took you years and a lot of hard work to reach?” Beyond presumptuous, it simply is not fair – because that request also carries with it the implication. “Please voluntarily give up a paying gig to a complete stranger.”
Ask me that question at a convention, I will look you in the eye, smile, sincerely admire and appreciate your enthusiasm, and politely decline. I won’t pass on to you a gig that I’ve learned about, I’ll be doing it. What I will do, though, is help you land your own gig, and start off in the Industry at point farther along than where I started. There is now a place for prospective science advisers to start if they have no contacts yet in the Industry – the organization hosting this blog post. The mission of the National Academy of Sciences’ Science & Entertainment Exchange is to raise the level at which science is portrayed in television and film. Part of how they do this is by connecting the creative talent behind television and film with volunteer scientific experts in many different disciplines. If you have the desire to be a volunteer science consultant, and feel you have the background, The Exchange keeps a large database of potential consultants. For consideration to be added to that database, contact Marty Perreault (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Rick Loverd (email@example.com) at The Exchange.
A key phrase above is, “and feel you have the background….” It helps you empathize with the writers, it helps you recommend options, and it helps your credibility if, in addition to scientific input, you have at some point written a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Do that, and you become more than a science adviser, you become a legend boundary spanner. In David A. Kirby’s 2008 book Lab Coats in Hollywood, an entire book dedicated to the role of science advisers in the entertainment industry, he writes,
The benefits of familiarity with entertainment culture have led to the development of a recent type of science consultant that I refer to as boundary spanners. Boundary spanners are individuals with some scientific training who also develop extensive experience within the entertainment world. The boundary spanners’ methodology involves their own consultation with appropriate specialists from whom they obtain and synthesize scientific information that they translate into the language of cinema…. Boundary spanners provide advantages because they readily move between the social worlds of science and entertainment.
So a boundary spanner is somebody who’s skills are a marriage of those of a scientist with those of a screenwriter. Increasingly, if you hope to be an adviser on more than rare occasion, being a scientist – even a great one – isn’t enough. Take a screenwriting or production class (UCLA Extension, by way of example, has a formidable television and film curriculum, and many of the courses can be taken online). Learn the industry; become a boundary spanner.
If any of the above advice helps somebody to land a cool gig, feel free to buy me a beer at Pulse or High Velocity at Dragon*Con.
Or SETI Con.
You get the picture.
The sheer number of people – fans, scientists, science writers, etc. – who are just tickled and grateful that science increasingly has a voice in Hollywood.
It happens with surprising regularity, and is certainly one of the most delightful types of fan interactions I ever have. Occasionally somebody, for whom the accurate portrayal of science in television and film is an important aspect of the experience, approaches me and just wants to shake my hand for fighting the good fight.
That this happens is not surprising. How often it happens is.
The Exchange just did its 400th consult and is closing rapidly on 500. The level of science dialogue in Hollywood is being uplifted 2, and the future is looking far brighter for those of us with hard science-fiction leanings. Here’s hoping that very soon all our favorite shows will be using the Force correctly.
And, yes, I mean F=ma.
2 Borrowing from David Brin.
Kevin R. Grazier, Ph.D. is a recovering rocket scientist: after spending 15 years on the Cassini/Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory he's now a full-time writer/producer. He served as the science advisor on such productions as Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, Falling Skies, the upcoming summer blockbuster Gravity, and SyFy's new epic series Defiance.