Fresh from the Air Force Entertainment Industry Tour, director / producer Jon Turteltaub sits down with The Exchange to share about science advising, working with The Exchange, and his current project.
Why did you choose to work with The Exchange while making The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? What advice were you seeking? Which scene or scenes needed input from a scientist?
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice involved a super-smart grad student studying plasma storage by using Tesla coils. I had to call someone to explain what the hell that meant because one of the main themes of the film was that what we think of as “sorcery” is just science we have yet to understand—and I really wanted to understand it.
Why should film and television projects consider science advising? What is the advantage of using real science in film or television?
Everything we do is better when it is believable. Audiences can tell when you’re throwing a bunch of nonsense at them, and every good liar knows that the best lie has a bunch of truth stuffed in it. In addition, the scientific details can be crucial to generating plot, because just as any good movie is full of surprise discoveries of story and character, using scientific reality to reveal those mysteries makes things more concrete and therefore more dramatic.
How important is it that the audience sees science portrayed accurately in film and television?
From a plot and character point of view, it’s only really important that the audience believes the science is being portrayed accurately. Otherwise, everything else starts to feel fake and the stakes disappear. To convince an audience, you need scientists to take you somewhere believable in their world. But audiences are getting smarter. It used to be you could throw around some French words and the audience would believe you were in Paris. It’s the same with science. The bar is a lot higher and we have to be more accurate for the audience to suspend their disbelief.
How would you describe the Hollywood community’s interest in science? For example, has it always been there, or do you think that interest has grown or changed in recent years?
There is no such thing as a uniform “Hollywood community.” Any business populated with both attorneys and electricians will never find consistency. But the creative community is fascinated with science. Whatever is known leads us deeper into the unknown and that’s where imagination lies. Most often it is science fiction that gives birth to science, not the other way around. Most things a scientist discovers were first dreamed of by a poet. It’s just a guess, but I would venture that NASA was populated by people who read Jules Verne long before they read Newton.
What do you like most about working with The Exchange?
For me it’s about access. There’s a moment in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall where he’s having an argument with a woman about Marshall McLuhan’s work and Woody walks over to Marshall McLuhan and gets him to tell the woman she’s wrong. That’s what The Exchange is like for me. When I need truth, information, or insight I can just walk right over to the source and get it.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a film called Last Vegas about four men turning 70 who are still learning what it means to “act your age.” It’s very funny and very sweet—unless I screw it up.
Did you use science advisers on Jericho? If you did, how were they used, and if you did not, do you wish you had? Finally, what happened to all those nuts?
Originally we were very interested in understanding the effects of a nuclear blast. As crazy and crass as this sounds, I found out that it was not so bad! The public’s perception is that if you dropped a nuclear bomb on New York you would take out half of New Jersey. Turns out that most bombs, if they hit Wall Street might not even effect the Bronx. As for all the nuts that fans sent to CBS to keep them from canceling the show (more than 60 tons worth—that is a lot of nuts), CBS sweetly and wisely sent them overseas to our troops in Afghanistan.