Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Science of Filmmaking

I came across an interesting article in the LA-based free street periodical Brand X today. Under the title “Quantum Filmmaking,” there was a woman filmmaker named Valerie Weiss. Weiss transitioned from a biophysicist with a Harvard PhD to a filmmaker, currently in pre-production for her first film.

Many filmmakers have a “day job,” but this article demonstrates how one can use aspects and experiences in that day job in order to shape their creative streak. Weiss explains how scientists use creativity in order to form theories and hypotheses and take risks. She believes science and filmmaking should coincide, based on their career similarities. In that sense, Weiss used her background to her advantage.

When it comes to science, however, most filmmakers wing it. There are plenty of websites dedicated to so-called “movie physics.” Everything from warp speed, to flashing bullets, to window glass that shatters on impact, to mid-90s era Macbooks taking down alien motherships, to living blobs with a taste for human flesh. Even recently, Cracked readers played homage to film science. One cannot really blame filmmakers for the misconception since most audience members will suspend their disbelief for a good story.

Because of the overwhelming stereotypes of science and scientists in cinema, many foundations issue grants and awards to filmmakers who portray the field in a positive and groundbreaking light. The two career fields benefit from such a marriage because the filmmaker will receive the support needed for a project, and the scientific industry will receive a renewed interest from aspiring scholars. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant, for example, grants current film students production and screenwriting funds in exchange for a non-stereotypical depiction of a scientist or engineer:

The one condition of all submissions is that they portray science and/or scientists in realistic, non-stereotypical ways. They do not necessarily have to be sympathetic characters, and the story does not have to be strictly about science. Sloan is interested in reading about scientists as human beings whether they’re fallible or heroic. The stories can be totally fiction or based on an actual event or person.

For accuracy, the scripts have to be approved by an actual scientist, such as a faculty member of the awarding university. Weiss joined a program called the Catalyst Workshop, sponsored by AFI. The program only takes professional scientists interested in filmmaking and is partially funded by the US Department of Defense.

One thing is for certain, real or not, you can always count on cinema to make science cool. Think about all the times CSI must have blown your mind.

Happy Filmmaking!

No comments: