Episode 4: Going into the Sun

How do you make your sci-fi movie as realistic as possible? You hire a scientist to help you out! This week we look at what it's like for a scientist to help make a movie is scientifically accurate, and why a movie director might want science accuracy in the first place.

(Episode transcript.)

Even though they're primarily entertainment, scientists really want to get into the movies because they can be a great place to bring some science to the public. There are a number of institutions hoping to improve the quality of science in film and television. For example, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation runs a science and film program that provides grants to filmmakers to produce movies with science and technology themes or characters. They also give out grants, fellowships, and prizes for filmmakers and movies that showcase STEM subjects at the Sundance Film Festival.

The National Academy of Sciences runs a program that connects film and TV producers with scientists. It's called the Science & Entertainment Exchange, and it's helped to provide consultants for everything from The Avengers to House. We also talked with Jessica Cail, a psychopharmacologist who's been contacted to work on books, movies, and TV shows through the Exchange. She told us that her job as a consultant isn't just about making sure the chemistry is accurate. Consultants can also help filmmakers craft believable scientist characters and give a broader representation of what scientists are really like (i.e., not all white guys) into pop culture. If you're interested in reading more about how science and scientists are depicted in TV and movies, Hollywood Science is very thorough and fun. 

If you're a sci-fi buff, you should definitely check out Peter Hyams' movies. He's responsible for a ton of great movies. Outland is less well known, despite starring Sean Connery, but it's pretty awesome, with some truly great sci-fi visuals. If you're curious about 2010 after hearing so much about it, here's a clip.  And if you've somehow never seen Timecop, then check out the trailer. We'll leave you to discover all the rest yourselves! 

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Music in this episode was composed by Malcolm Rosenthal. Artwork was drawn by Jackie Sojico.