Interstellar Discoveries

I’m a fan of Chris Nolan’s work so I’ve been looking forward to Interstellar. I’ve also been fascinated by the McConaussance – the transformation of Matthew McConaughey into an actor of considerable stature in a series of excellent films (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, etc…), so I’ve been doubly interested in seeing how he works in a film under Nolan’s direction. Same for the always amazing Casey Affleck. All quite exciting to see.

But then to my surprise it turns out there’s another reason to be interested. Kip Thorne. Some years ago, at a party when I last saw him, Kip told me that he had been working on some film or other with a major studio, but I did not know of the details. Then I ran into a mutual friend a couple of months ago who said something a long the lines of “Kip’s movie is coming out soon…”, and I learned that it was something to do with Interstellar! But I did not know any details.

Then I got sent* this Wired story, and then** this story, and I finally got around to looking. The Wired story has a lot of interesting detail, including a special film (that I ought to look at at) with interviews and behind the scenes material (the still to the right is a screen shot from it). still_from_interstellar_wiredThe film will apparently feature a black hole and a wormhole in some way (I don’t want to know more – I like films to unfold in front of me in the theatre). Kip has been working with the visual effects people to get right exactly how such objects really look, an issue that has not really been fully addressed, it seems. He, like a number of us interested in science and film, is keen to help filmmakers really do a good job of representing some of these fascinating objects as accurately as possible. (Not, in my view, in order to stifle filmmakers’ imagination, as it so often seems when you hear scientists out there pontificating about what’s wrong in one film or another, but because the actual science is so very often far more interesting and full of delights and possibility than a visual effects kluge can be…) So apparently he wrote down [...] Click to continue reading this post

Fireworks!

It is the 4th of July, and I hope you who are celebrating it have a good time today!
fail_lab_ep_6_still_2

I can’t really let the day pass without sharing with you the episode of Fail Lab in which we examine fireworks and pyrotechnics with an appropriate cautionary note, and a dash of humour. Enjoy it again if you’ve seen it before, and don’t forget to check out all twelve episodes. You can read my discussion of the whole series (excellently made by Patrick Scott) starting here, and there’s more here. Click below for the episode: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Honest Time Travel?

On Tuesday I hung out with some of the Screen Junkies folks who you may know from the hilarious “Honest Movie Trailers” web series (seriously, if you’ve not seen any of them, please go right now and have a look). We had a fun chat about time travel in movies, and presenter Hal Rudnick and I bonded over various movies old and new. The final version of the show is up on YouTube (embed below), and I’m bummed that I did not get to meet the other guest, Christina Heinlein (JPL), who seems fun – and is a descendant of, yes, that Heinlein. I love the idea that she works at JPL, helping make possible the space exploration that Robert Heinlein helped inspire us all about in his writing. Anyway, enjoy the short piece (I wish you could see a bunch of the other material too… we really had a great chat about the ins and outs of time travel, but a lot of it inevitably ended up not making the cut…)

I could not resist talking about my view of this (perhaps growing) trend of using time travel as a means of resetting movie franchises (see Star Trek, X-Men…). It’s a great way of repairing writing and other filmmaking wrong turns. Feel free to imagine your own version of this – Star Wars anyone? Another pass at [...] Click to continue reading this post

Science Films Galore!

Sorry that it has taken me so long to get to posting the results of the USC Science Film Competition. It has been super-hectic. In addition to the usual things I have to do, I had to give a talk about science education to the Society of Physics Students – that went well, I heard – read and examine another PhD. thesis (twice in one week), do battle with two fronts of vermin attacks on my house, and prep a whole lot of other things I won’t trouble you with… Also, oddly, the time change seems to have left me in a state of exhaustion each day.

Enough with the excuses. What are the results, you ask? And is it true the winner was controversial?!

usc_science_film_showcase_2014_1Well, first and foremost we had a fantastic time celebrating the work of all the students in the competition. About 75 or so people turned up, making all my frantic buying of things in Trader Joe’s and so forth all worth while, and there were two screening sessions separated by a coffee and snacks break. Since there were twelve films this year (a 50% increase!) there were six per session (I curated things so that the sessions were about the same length), which worked rather well. A lot of the films used quite a bit of their 10 minute allowed duration, and so given that I pause between films to give each team a chance to take a bow, it was in danger of being a long evening, and for that I apologize to everyone, but I do think that the students should get a fair amount of individual recognition for their hard work.

Anyway, to cut a long story to medium, the standard was quite high this year, with several good films at the top that were hard to choose between, but I think the 15 judges (from academia and the film industry, with scientists and filmmakers and scientists-turned-filmmakers on both sides) got it right.

The first prize winning film has resulted in raised eyebrows from some, including the filmmakers themselves who apparently were sure that their film would be overlooked due to its content. I think that the judges got it exactly right. It is a fine example of exactly what I’m looking for in this competition- a [...] Click to continue reading this post

Showcase and Awards Today!

science_film_competition_logo_smallJust a reminder: The USC Science Film Competition Showcase and Awards are tonight (March 7th) at 6:00pm. I’ve been tallying up all the judges’ input and have the results in special envelopes to give out tonight. Very exciting. Come along (event information here), and enjoy celebrating all the students’ hard work. There will be twelve films on display!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Films!

Good News Everyone!

The deadline for the USC Science Film Competition (now in its third year) passed, over the weekend. The good news is that I now have 12 films in the vault (a 50% increase on the two previous years), waiting for the next stage of the competition. They are on a wide range of topics, in a variety of narrative styles, and I’m super-excited to find a block of time and have a look at them. The next stage is judging, and I’ll be assembling the panel over the next day or two and letting them start looking at them and casting their votes.

So keep an eye out for more news soon. The showcase and awards ceremony is on the 7th of March, and I’ll be opening envelopes and giving away prizes with delight, I’m sure. I’ll also be posting films here on the blog for you to look at, once that date has passed.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

No, That’s the Other Guy…

sam_jackson_tvNo, I’m not Neil deGrasse Tyson. Yes, we both talk about science on TV. Yes, we both happen to be black… but no, we are not the same guy. Also: No, I am not Jim Gates. He also sometimes shows up on TV talking about physics, and he is also black.. but no, he isn’t either me (Clifford) or Neil… He’s Jim.

This attempt at humour is inspired (in part) by real conversations I’ve had (less so in recent years, thank goodness – people are maybe better about googling first?). But mostly it is inspired by this (familiar) sad, funny, and stunningly awkward conversation from Monday* (the first 2 minutes 10 seconds): [...] Click to continue reading this post

Why Do I Study Physics?

why_do_I_study_physics_stillI was sent* this delightful short film recently. It is by Shixie (Xiangjun Shi) done as a graduation project at Rhode Island School of Design. It seems that it won prizes – quite understandably! – at a number of short film festivals, including one about science communication (which reminds me of the one I run). The film is entitled “Why Do I Study Physics?” and it is a lovely piece of writing and hand drawn simple animation that’s very […] Click to continue reading this post

Fail Lab Episode 7: Tribalism

fail_lab_ep_7_still

Fail Lab, the web series on Discovery’s TestTube channel that I’ve been telling you about, is growing in popularity. People are hearing about its unusual charms as an edgy, funny, quirky, smart vehicle for some food for thought and are going to see. That’s great. There was a review on VideoInk today that seems to “get” series creator Patrick Scott’s “Zoochosis” point of view that informs his particular style of filmmaking, and that was good to see (although I don’t agree that the hard science can get lost sometimes – this is the online world where the viewer can take charge – if you miss an idea, just scroll back and watch it again. That creates opportunity for density in making intelligent programs, and hopefully steers us away from shallow, lowest-common-denominator programming).

Anyway, episode seven is now up, and fueled by a remarkable video it delves into ideas about how we relate to each other, within and without social groups. Here’s the embed: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Fail Lab Episode 5 – Rodents!

Tuesday means there’s a new episode of Fail Lab, the online series on the Discovery channel Test Tube that I’ve told you about! (See several previous posts, listed below.)

fail_lab_ep_5_still

Today’s excellent episode is about rodents. This is a subject I care about a bit since I’m in constant battle with them in the garden, as some of you who follow that part of the blog know… This might be why I think the actual “fail” video this episode is based on is hilarious!! Have a look at the episode, which is a lot of fun:
[...] Click to continue reading this post

Fail Lab Episode Four!

fail_lab_ep_4_stillThis is by far the most provocative (and cleverly playful with your expectations) of the episodes so far. See my earlier posts for background on this creative, playful, and grown-up web science series. (List of posts below.) Have a look at the new episide, and stick with it all the way through before passing judgement. Warning – if you’re of the squeamish persuasion, maybe don’t look at it over lunch.

Well done, once again, everyone involved!

Episode embedded below: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Interview about Science and Film

cuatusc_interviewI did an interview last week Tuesday with the channel CU@USC. It is a chat show, and so I did the sitting on the couch thing and so forth. All very amusing…

…And hopefully useful. I am spending many hours each day building awareness for this year’s USC Science Film Competition, an annual project you might remember me starting back in 2011, and stressing over a lot. And then again in 2012. It continues to survive for another year. This is year three, and although it has given me many grey hairs, I fight on, because I think it is of value to get students from all fields, whether scientist or engineer, writer or filmmaker, journalist or artist, to learn to collaborate in the art of telling a story that has science content. (Actually, learning to collaborate to tell a story about any issue of even moderate nuance is an important skill, science or not.) Anyway, the interview material is now up online and so you can have a look here. (The site uses flash, so might not work on some devices.)

I speak about the competition and also my own take on bringing science to film both fact and fiction (which for the latter especially is probably different from many others in that I don’t think it is always productive for a scientist in a film project to be [...] Click to continue reading this post

On CU@USC Tonight

By the way, I’ll be on the local TV show CU@USC tonight (6:30pm – live), talking about things like communicating science, science and film, and of course the USC Science Film Competition that I run that I’m trying to let students and faculty know about as much as I can. (Perhaps we’ll talk about other topics as well. We shall see.) I’ll also be joined by Simon Wilches-Castro, a student who was in the competition two years ago. He did the lovely animation for the film on fractals, called Yaddda Yadda Yada.

If you watch (live stream here), I hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the film: [...] Click to continue reading this post

CicLAVia Today!

ciclavia_june_23_2013So I am late in noting that there is another (much sooner) CicLaVia today! And it is the one I always thought should happen, right from the beginning – it runs right through the center of the city, down Wilshire Boulevard. (Well, my hope is that one day it can run all the way to the beach down Wilshire, but maybe that’s in the future). I note that the times have been improved, by the way. It is from 9:00am to 4:00pm, which is great. So it seems that this is one of the major things they did to improve the event. (See my post from April about various issues that came up.) Fantastic! See the website for [..] Click to continue reading this post

Small Short Film

A creative team at IBM made a rather elaborate little stop motion film recently*. “Little” is a key word here. The moveable elements are atoms (well, actually CO molecules), moved with a scanning tunnelling microscope! They are calling the project “Atomic Shorts”, it seems. (Pause…) Yep, on reflection, I think I will stay away from all the obvious juvenile jokes that spring to my mind…

See the film here:

There’s a “making of” film (of course), which you can find below, along with some [...] Click to continue reading this post

Science on Screen – Primer

Well, that was a hugely fun evening! The Cinefamily screening of Primer was sold out to a packed and enthusiastic audience. (That alone was worth it…) I met Shane Carruth back stage for a few minutes and immediately was impressed. I like people who take the time to think carefully about what they are going to say before saying it, visibly carefully weighing what was just said in the conversation and then adding to it in an interesting way. He’s one of those people. So I knew that the panel discussion was going to be great.

[caption id="attachment_13780" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Hadrian Belove, Shane Carruth and Clifford Johnson at Cinefamily screening of Primer. (Photo: Charles Constantine)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13782" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Hadrian Belove, Shane Carruth and Clifford Johnson at Cinefamily screening of Primer. (Photo: Charles Constantine)[/caption]

We started off with an introduction from the executive director of Cinefamily, Hadrian Belove, who introduced us and asked me to say a few words before the film began. I kept it brief, and started by congratulating Cinefamily on doing the Science on Screen series, saying that it is an important thing to do (which it is -it is part of a Sloan funded national program; more here) and then went on to say [...] Click to continue reading this post

Primer, and More…

I learned last week that there’s a new regular item in the New York Times’ science section where Jascha Hoffman does a round up of a few notable Science events, books, etc., around the nation. It is noted this week that Cinefamily starts up its new Science on Screen series (funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) starting starting Wednesday night with the excellent film “Primer”. (Photo is from the website.) If you don’t know it, and if you’re in the area, go and see it! As a bonus, you’ll have the writer/director of the film, Shane Carruth, present for introductions and Q&A. He’ll be accompanied by some scientist dude called Clifford V. Johnson who, according to the website, will [...] Click to continue reading this post

Interview!

A while ago I got an email out of the blue from an enthusiastic young fellow who wanted to do an interview with me on camera for his YouTube channel. After we bounced emails back and forth a bit and I got a sense that this was both legitimate, worth supporting, and that I had time to do it, we agreed that we’d meet to do it. So we met at the excellent Mystery and Imagination bookshop in Glendale, and he set the camera running and threw a bunch of questions at me. We talked about all sorts of things from dark matter, the LHC, supersymmetry and string theory to trumpets, jazz clubs, and noir films.

It was fun, and you can find the results on his YouTube channel (here), that he hopes to populate with more interviews with people working in science and other topics. He’s got an interview with mathematical physicist John Baez up there already, so go and look.

Below, I’ve embedded the interviews with me, for your convenience.

Enjoy! [...] Click to continue reading this post

USC Science Film Competition 2013 – Results!

There’s a news article out about the results of the USC Science Film Competition that you might like to read. It is by Susan Bell and it is in USC Dornsife News here. In there, you’ll find interviews with one of the winning teams of students, as well as with me. I talk about my reasons for running this competition each year and what I hope to achieve. (Photo courtesy of USC Dornsife.)

The showcase and awards ceremony, held on January 23rd, was a success, and it was a pleasure to meet with many of the students who participated, and feel the buzz of excitement in the room. Thanks everyone who participated, including the panel of judges for their hard work. Once again, the Anton Burg Foundation supported the competition (funding things like the large prizes I had the pleasure of giving away) and we’re all very grateful for that.

Ok, well of course you want to know the outcome, right? Well, here goes. I’ve included the titles and membership of the interdisciplinary teams below, along with [...] Click to continue reading this post

Frankenweenie is a Love Letter to Science!

…Well, it is a lot of other things too, all marvellous, but it was quite a surprise to me that science, the love of it, (and to some extent, the method of it) is so overtly celebrated in the film. I’m a huge Tim Burton fan, and so that was a bonus for me since I was already predisposed to like the film, when I went to see it several weeks ago. I love the depictions of the suspicions and the misunderstandings, the boy hiding away and doing his [...] Click to continue reading this post

Showcase!

The showcase and awards ceremony for the Science Film Competition is tomorrow (Wednesday)! It’ll be in the film school, at the Stark Family Theater (SCA 108), at 7:00pm. I’ll be screening films that were entered into the competition, and then at the end of the evening, giving out large prizes! $3000 first prize, $2000 second, and $1000 third. Should be a fun evening, with refreshments after the ceremony!

Come along and bring friends. [...] Click to continue reading this post

Merry

I hope you’re having a really great and peaceful holiday time, whatever tradition you use to celebrate the season. I’ve been rather taken up with a number of things, including a bit of family travel, and family visits, which meant that I lost some blogging days. Sorry about the quiet.

Is anyone else hoping that (when they release it in the future on DVD/Blueray) the director’s cut of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” will actually be 40 minutes shorter than what’s out in cinemas now?

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Premiering…!

You might remember that during the Spring and early Summer I was deeply embroiled in making a film. (See several earlier posts, e.g. here, here, here, and here).) It was a short film to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Aspen Center for Physics, and I was keen (in my role as filmmaker) to give it a treatment that benefits from my being a theoretical physicist, and one who is familiar enough with the Center, all in order to get the right tone of the film. (Jump to the end of the post if you want to see it without more background thoughts.) There’s a spirit of the Center that is quiet, reflective, and inspiring of thoughts that need time to be explored, so I definitely did not want the usual loud, buzzing, overly busy type of film that you often see about science activity. It did not seem appropriate. Working with Dave Gaw (who was an awesome principal cinematographer and editor for the project) and with Bob Melisso (who shared some of the production and direction work with me), I think the result strikes the right note overall. A fun side note: I got to design a number of unique (and definitely handcrafted) elements for the look that I think you’ll like and recognize from other visual work of mine you’ve seen on this blog, and just as with my earlier film projects from 2009 (see here and here) it was a real buzz to help figure out how to make them fly, and then see the elements come together in their final form up on screen.

People really seemed to like the film a lot, from what I’ve heard. (It was shown extensively at many of the Summer events celebrating the 50th at the Center.) So while it did take a lot of my time, it seems like it was time well worth spending since [...] Click to continue reading this post

While Appearing

Well, yesterday evening turned out to be very interesting. I went to two things, my main mission being to get the chance to stand up in front of the groups of students and tell them about the USC Science Film Competition. The first was at the Academy for Polymathic Study (what better set of students to interest in this than the ones signed up to do things in the spirit of polymathy?), during the late afternoon “Polymathic Pizza” series. (I’ve presented in that very series myself, talking about the idea of “Play” in science and how important it is for creativity and discovery.) Happily, my friend and colleague Tara McPherson from the School of Cinematic Arts was presenting, and so after I told the students about the competition, I sat and listened to her presentation, since I had some time before the next thing. It was marvellous, and the students were very engaged. Tara took them through the arc of her academic interests over the years of her career, showing how she morphed from (mostly) traditional humanist to someone who researches and explores the role of all kinds of media in popular culture, helping to explore and create new forms of journal, new ways of presenting data, and studying the impact of media. I recommend looking at the journal Vectors for an example of a journal that is designed to present works that would not work as well in traditional print (e.g., being able to have a scholarly discussion of a piece of video media is helped a lot by being able to show it alongside your argument – not so easy in a print journal), and then head over to Scalar, created by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture (which Tara directs) which is collaborating with a number of University presses on various approaches to new platforms for new media in academia. She also mentioned various examples in the scientific side of things with regards using distributed media for things like crowdsourcing important data.

I had to leave before she finished, so did not get to ask her the question on many of your minds: what is the origin of the (playful?) choice of names Vectors and Scalar?

Then I went over the School of Cinematic Arts to meet another friend and Colleague, [...] Click to continue reading this post

USC Science Film Competition – A New Year!

…And here we are again! I’m launching the second year of the USC Science Film Competition as of, well, a few seconds ago. Please go to the website to learn more. You’ll find a collection of links at the very end of the main page, along with a slide show, talking a bit about last year’s successful inaugural competition. I’m hoping for a competition at least as exciting and interesting (er, in all the good ways!) as last year.

If at USC, spread the word, please! I especially need faculty to help encourage [...] Click to continue reading this post

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the…

On Tuesday I headed to Santa Monica. Two dear friends of mine had invited me to a private screening of a film they’d just completed, one as writer+director, the other as producer. The film was a labour of love, and I’d not heard much about its progress since earlier in the year, and so I was delighted to be back in town to go to it. I took a friend along, and we decided to leave early enough to go to the beach for a little while – the traditional antidote to the high heat of the last several days.

To cut a long story medium, at some point I was wading up to my knees in the water. I’d just replied in reassurance that I’d be quite fine still wearing my glasses (with sunglasses attachments on) since I was not going to swim when a larger than average wave surged forward and knocked me off my feet with such stunning force that I thudded to the bottom on my knees, and my face and hands got tangled up in seaweed! Moments later, the undertow pulled everything back I and I was standing back up, fumbling with seaweed, and missing my glasses! This began a period of considerable activity at the sea, with large surges and strong pullback so that it was difficult to stand still to look for anything, and moreover, it was impossible to see anything since the sand was churning around too much.

It all seemed very funny to me. It was clear after a while that there’d be no reappearance of my glasses. No amazing story where the sea threw them back out after a while, twisted, maybe missing the arms, but at least useable for some kind of vision… There were simply no glasses to be had. Luckily, my friend had driven us, so I did not have to worry about that. There was little time to dash back home to get an old pair and return for the screening. I’d have to figure out how to manage without them. Now bear in mind that I am very short sighted indeed. If I was sitting five feet [...] Click to continue reading this post

Nostalgia for the Light

Have you heard about the film “Nostalgia for the Light“, by Patricio Guzmán? As you know, one of my main cares in the business of communicating science broadly is having it be mixed up nicely with the rest of the culture (not making it a lecture all the time). This helps reach broader audiences, for a start. In a sense, this looks like a film that is doing that. It seems it was released in 2010, but is appearing on some big screens for the first time this year, in some places. I’ve not seen it, but it is soemthing I intend to see, based on the synopsis alone. I thought I’d mention it to you.

The summary from the Guardian film site says “Drama in which a group of Chilean astronomers’ search for the origins of life is contrasted with local womens’ efforts to find the bodies of loved ones killed by the Pinochet regime.”

There’s a trailer here:[...] Click to continue reading this post

On Screen!

I had a pleasant surprise yesterday. I went along to the public lecture of Ralph Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Science, since on the one hand his talk was entitled “Contemporary Climate Change as Seen Through Data”, so it was interesting to me, and on the other hand I was to be part of a group taking him to dinner later on. I went into the auditorium and lo and behold there was Rosie Wyse (Aspen Center for Physics President) up on the screen…! They were showing the film (what film? see e.g. here, here, and here) in the time leading up to the start of the lecture, as people were arriving. It was nice to see it up on a large screen being enjoyed by an audience…

Overall, the reports back are that everyone seems to love it, and that it has been [...] Click to continue reading this post

Valerie Weiss on Women, Science, and Film

You’ll recall me mentioning filmmaker Valerie Weiss from earlier posts this year about her debut feature film “Losing Control”. Well, she wrote a guest post* for the website Women and Hollywood this week. It was about a recent film made for the European Commission to encourage girls to go into science. Apparently it was awful. (I’d heard about it from someone else too, but did not get to see it.) Valerie shares some thoughts [...] Click to continue reading this post