Getting scientific in Hollywood

Adriene Hill Sep 16, 2011

Getting scientific in Hollywood

Adriene Hill Sep 16, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: It was a record summer for the film industry — box office receipts topped $4.4 billion. Some of the year’s blockbusters got a little help from the Science and Entertainment Exchange, created by the National Academy of Sciences, that pairs scientists with Hollywood.

More on that collaboration from Marketplace’s Adriene Hill.

Adriene Hill: Matching up Hollywood producers and writers with scientists isn’t without it’s — shall we say — hurdles.

Ann Merchant: I think at the beginning, there was this sneaking suspicion that the science people thought they weren’t quite cool enough to hang out with the Hollywood people.

Ann Merchant is with the nonprofit National Academy of Sciences.

Merchant: And the Hollywood people were maybe just a little intimidated like, ‘Oh my gosh, does that guy have a Nobel prize? And I’m just hanging out with him?’

But they got over it. The Exchange is basically a free matchmaking service, and it’s popular. They do three to five new consults every week.

One film that used the Exchange: the summer blockbuster “Thor.”

Merchant: And I know that it isn’t necessarily intuitive that there would be science with Norse gods, because that was my first reaction.

Sean Carroll: There’s a couple of ways in which science became important in “Thor.”

Sean Carroll at the California Institute of Technology was one of the scientists who helped out. Among other things, “Thor”‘s creators wanted to know:

Carroll: What is the way that a super advanced civilization could zoom around great distances through the galaxy very quickly?

His answer made it straight to the movie, more or less.

“Thor”: ‘You don’t think this was just a magnetic storm, do you?’ ‘Look. The lensing around these edges is characteristic of an Einstein Rosen Bridge.’ ‘A what?’

My question exactly. Turns out it a sciencey word for a wormhole. But:

Carroll: I was told by the producer, Kevin Feige, ‘We can’t call it a wormhole — that’s too ’90s,’ So the idea of wormholes has been cliched in Hollywood, apparently. But it’s clearly the idea they wanted so I said, ‘You could call it an Einstein-Rosen bridge.’

The Exchange isn’t trying to turn Hollywood blockbusters into snoozy documentaries. It’s not trying to make every piece of fantastical world realistic. It’s not trying to directly preach or teach science.

Loverd: I don’t have any illusions of grandeur that “Einstein-Rosen bridge” is now in the teenage lexicon for kids everywhere.

Rick Loverd is the director of development for the Exchange.

Loverd: If that can inspire one kid to go look it up on Wikipedia, and get interested in theoretical physics, then we’re doing our job.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.