Exchange consultant Emilie Lorditch recently told us about her experience as a Sloan Science Advisor and what it was like to “find her perfect fit.” Here is what she had to say:
When you find the intersection of what you are good at and what you love, it truly is a gift and for me serving as a Sloan Science Advisor has been one of the most fun, challenging, and exhilarating things I have ever done!
What is a Sloan Science Advisor?
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation film school program helps aspiring and professional screenwriters and filmmakers use science and technology themes and characters in their work. The goal of the program is to influence the next generation of filmmakers to create more realistic and dramatic stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers. This innovative program awards prizes at six leading film schools, including American Film Institute (AFI); Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama; Columbia University Film Department; NYU Tisch School of the Arts; UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television; and USC School of Cinematic Arts. One of the requirements of AFI’s program is that the student must work with a science advisor. Because of my experience being an AFI Catalyst Fellow (where scientists learn about the craft and business of screenwriting), I became part of the list of possible Sloan science advisors. Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist, business expert, and a Sloan Scholar at AFI’s Conservatory, plays matchmaker to find the right advisor for the right student.
“In a time where much of scientific discovery is inspired by culture, and specifically film and books, it is important to have a symbiosis between the two,” said Cerf. “Many times my science students finish an expample by ‘like they had it in Star Trek,’ so it is important to have a close interaction that benefits and allows for a conversation and inspires both ends – films inspired by science and science inspired by film.”
The first time I served as a Sloan Science Advisor I was paired with Cindy Matta. She had an action/adventure screenplay about a scientist who goes into hiding in avalanche country. Her story was a good fit for my weather and natural hazard background. The relationship between advisor and advisee is full of possibility and anxiety. “I was intrigued and intimidated by working with a science advisor,” said Matta.
I was nervous too, but I was excited about the possibilities and the opportunity to learn something new. In the beginning, I did not know anything about giving a screenwriter notes and I am embarrassed to say that my “notes” were more like an editor’s edits but Matta was incredibly kind and patient with my steep learning curve. Brainstorming ways to solve her character’s problems was so much fun! I came at her story with a different toolset and looked for ideas that she had not thought of that were scientifically accurate AND helped improve the story.
I remember reading a scene where the main character was hiding in a remote cabin and he was looking at the vial containing the virus that he had stolen and inspiration struck. I had recently read an article about a scientist who figured out a way to turn his mobile phone into a microscope. I immediately sent the article to Matta and she incorporated the idea in her script. This was one small part of my role as a science advisor but I am so proud of that part. It made the script stand out because it was true science that was fun and MacGyver-like. Matta’s script unfortunately did not win the grant that year but the experience encouraged me to take some screenwriting and script analysis courses through the UCLA Extension.
This year, when I had the opportunity to work with another screenwriter, of course I jumped at the chance. Brennan Peters’ screenplay had a supporting character who was a female environmental scientist who represented a minority. “I realized that if I wanted to change the world that I was going to have to tell human truth stories through film and TV,” said Peters.
Peters’ script gave me the opportunity to use my environmental science knowledge and to learn more about the commercial fishing industry and the technology involved. This time around, Peters had a science degree and I had much more experience with screenwriting and script reading. I pushed Peters to make the most of the opportunity that she created for herself in this female scientist character. This was a chance for young girls to see a woman scientist on the screen as a hero. Peters took the feedback and revised her script in record time to meet the deadline. Her hard work paid off and as a result, she won a grant this year.
Today, both Matta and Peters are writing and currently working on projects. I am honored to have been a small part along their career journey. As for me, I am still learning and would like to take a class about film development. I discovered that I really love working with screenwriters and helping them shape their projects and hope that I will continue to have opportunities to do this in the future.