How Science Experts Make Movies Better

Film-making and science, an artful collaboration.
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) – What do the movies: "Frozen," "Thor," and "Iron Man" all have in common? They’re all examples of when science and science fiction collide.

From the "final frontier" to a frozen fantasy world, scientists and storytellers are working together to bring facts into fiction films. 

“Hollywood reaches more people than any other group in the world and I think it has the opportunity to inspire more people than any other group in the world,” said Rick Loverd, program director for The Science and Entertainment Exchange in Los Angeles, California.

Connecting art and science are the focus of the people who work at the Science and Entertainment Exchange. Working with the Exchange, movie and TV screenwriters, directors, producers, art directors, and set designers have access to a database of more than two thousand experts who have answers. 

“We get the wildest questions. A lot of our questions have to do with space travel and futurist [probability] kind of things. But we’ll also get crazy emergency room scenarios. Or crazy ballistic questions [such as] what would a bullet look like traveling through a specific type of material?” said Loverd.

Although the film "Back to the Future" got some things right, is time travel really possible? “It’s hard to do a really great time travel movie that stays true to the laws of physics as we understand them," he said.  "Going back in time seems fairly impossible."

The Exchange handles even the smallest details on the set of a TV show or movie. “Everything from production design, set design, art department stuff, sometimes we’ve had scientists go on to sets and write equations on chalkboards, or on dry erase boards on the set that are in the background of shots,” said Loverd. "We did a consult on Frozen on how the snow was falling on the screen and how it would look.”

The goal is to use science fact to improve the story and to introduce audiences to sciences that they may not even know existed.

Loverd explained how they fly in scientists from all over the country that have an expertise that is related to the story and they have them listen to the set director, the writer, the producer, sometimes the art department.  "They’ll all just be around the table and they’ll just have a conversation -- a super nerdy conversation -- about the science in the film versus the science in reality,” he said. 

That’s what happened during the production of the blockbuster movie, "Thor." A physicist was called in to consult on the film and the result? The character of Jane Foster --played by Natalie Portman-- was reimagined as physicist in order to help inspire young women to pursue science.  “To have a strong female physicist in a popcorn summer movie, talking about Einstein Rosen Bridges,” said Loverd. “Hopefully it got young girls excited about becoming a theoretical physicist one day.”

Whether it’s an astrophysicist or a mechanical engineer, there’s no doubt that the made-up stories created in Hollywood can have a real impact on our world.

“If you want to be the next Tony Stark, why don’t you go get a degree in engineering and maybe you could be the next Tony Stark,” said Loverd.


Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.