“So are you the Talent?”
“Uh… Yes… Maybe.”
“You’re the Physicist?”
“You’re a real Physicist? Not just playing one?”
Snippet of conversation between myself and a woman from the art department at the studio, while we stood waiting for our green tea to brew. The floor is full of tables all around, mostly occupied with various people sitting at them fiddling with Macs. (Macs everywhere, as I’ve come to expect from the people in the Industry.) There’s a serious-looking table with more senior looking people discussing something in earnest, and another serious-looking table with people editing video on more Macs. All the tables are serious, of course, but overall there is a fun atmosphere. There’s also a big situation board that is consulted regularly by groups of people. It is covered in bright yellow stick-notes covered in writing that are being moved around. There are people coming in and out with a sense of purpose, and some of the crew I am with are milling around with bits of equipment. All very exciting-looking. It is all made a bit comical by this totally out of place and thoroughly splendid trio of bright red chandeliers that are hanging down from the ceiling over what looks like the head table for the senior folk. Strange but well-appreciated quirk of decoration, for what is otherwise a high-ceilinged warehouse-type space.
The situation? Shooting some fun things about physics for a TV show. It will air on a station near you (in the USA) next year some time. Details then. We converted a corner of one of our teaching labs at USC into a mini-studio:
Joe Vandiver, the director of our teaching labs, got to bring out some nice little demos to fill up the background and make it look interesting… I wrote some equations on the board and played with preparing a demonstration model. We shot a lot of stuff in the lab, and then I got into a van with the crew and we drove off to Hollywood for a demo. I’ll just say that it involved a crash test dummy, and I got to do the smashing up… several times!
But the best thing? I pitched an idea for something I’ve always wanted to do, and they went for it. Let me explain. Do you know the Back to the Future films? One thing I love about them is that they are the same film done three times, with the same set pieces, more or less. One of the excellent set pieces is the point where they need to figure out how they are going to get the Delorean up to the right speed so that the time machine can work properly and get them back to the time they want to get to… There’s always -always!- this moment when Doc Emmett Brown (the scientist with the hair, etc, played wonderfully by Christopher Lloyd) is about to explain what the car needs to do. He turns to reveal a beautifully and unneccessarily detailed model of the entire village that he has constructed to explain the setup… and he says “I apologize for the crudity of this model”. [Update: I checked this just now… Of course YouTube exists now. See here. He actually says “Please excuse the crudity of this model” -drat!- but it’s close enough.]
I love that line. Every time I watch that movie (or any of them) I just wallow in that line. I’ve been waiting for the day when I am presenting some research in a seminar and I present a rather nice theoretical model of something so that I can say “I apologize for the crudity of this model”. Nobody will get it, but I will titter uncontrollably like a schoolgirl for a few seconds, and I don’t care. The next best thing would be to do this on camera and show a real model of some situation, and then do it. This is exactly when they let me do! I was able to explain with a model (constructed by their art department from my hasty description on the phone… that’s one of them on the right constructing another model for a part of the show I’ll not be involved in…), look at the camera and say the line, and then later do it for real in an “experiment”. I hope they edit it correctly so that it works. I’m not sure the director really understood the idea. He was a great guy, but he might have been too young to know or appreciate the movie. Sigh.
And yes. I did wear a lab coat for some of the scenes. I laughed when they showed it to me. But why not have some fun with it? I even helpfully completed the cliche by adding a pen to my breast pocket.
(Note: “The Talent” is a term used in this town to mean, I think, the people in front of the camera. I’m not sure it applies entirely to actors, so was not sure of my answer in the opening exchange above… but later I did a bit of acting, and so I suppose I covered all the bases.)
(For earlier posts in the series of this title, search over on CV using “Tales From The Industry”.)