February 25th, 2010
Margaret Nagle is a Hollywood screenwriter whose 2005 HBO movie, “Warm Springs” (which, by the way, is one of my favorite movies of the past decade) won the Emmy for Best TV Movie. Nagle also won the Writers Guild Award for that screenplay. In the movie she told the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s struggle with polio — how he left his upscale, Victorian life in New York City, moved to Warm Springs in the backwoods of Georgia for several years where he witnessed poverty, racism, and illiteracy the likes of which he had never imagined and eventually managed to return to his political life and become President. In a fascinating HBO interview Margaret tells about how she grew up with a brother who was disabled in a car accident at an early age — a part of her background that gave her a connection to the FDR story. Last year she wrote the script for a television pilot called, “The Eastmans,” in which Donald Sutherland played a heart surgeon. My film school classmate, best friend, and co-star of my book, Jason Ensler, directed the pilot. I spoke with Margaret recently and she mentioned that she was working on a new script involving quite a bit of medical science, so I thought it would be interesting to have a chat with her about the interface between science and cinema.
February 22nd, 2010
In 2006 Newsweek published an article about the frustrations the U.S. military was encountering in Iraq with a decades-old tradition — the “Tuesday Press Briefing.” Since the Vietnam War, the release of information by the military to the press would take place mostly at the once-a-week press conference, but it was a concept that had evolved in a world without the internet, Youtube, social networks, and now even Twitter. The problem with the Iraq war was that things had changed. By the time the general stood up to the podium to tell the press what’s up each Tuesday, pretty much everything he had to say had already been blogged and Youtubed about and thus was old news. The media environment had changed, the military needed to adapt to the new environment. The same is true for the world of science. It’s what I was saying in my movie, “Flock of Dodos” — that the media environment has changed, but the science world is dangerously slow to respond. Now I’m saying it even more loudly with the train wreck that has been Climategate.
#14) MIKE MANN Part II: INTERVIEW – Who will provide communication expertise and leadership for the science community?
February 18th, 2010
On Monday I posted the CBS News clip which I felt represented poor journalism by the once famous and even virtuous CBS News Department. Here’s the clip again for your viewing, so that you can see what they did — rather than just mentioning that a defamatory music video had been made about Mike Mann, they showed large parts of the video which were accompanied by the lyrics spelled out.
In this interview I speak with Mike about this news clip, the media in general, and a number of other topics. My feeling is that the takeaway message of what he has to say is that: 1) there is now a war being waged against climate scientists, 2) the scientists are receiving very little, if any, professional media assistance (and I mean from professionals who are used to dealing with combative media, not just university outreach types), and 3) there are no new actions being taken yet to deal with what is obviously a very aggressive attack on climate science.
February 15th, 2010
Two years ago we had a great screening of my movie, “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy,” at Penn State University which featured among the post-screening panel discussion members climatology professor Mike Mann. Unlike some climate scientists two years ago who were still trying to follow Gore’s attempt to put on blinders and pretend there was no significant climate skeptic movement, Mike was very realistic. He said he enjoyed the movie and felt the focus on the complexity of communicating climate science was reasonable. He visited me last fall in Los Angeles and we got a chance to talk at length about these issues. His textbook on climate change, “Dire Predictions,” is excellent and given his history with having developed “the hockey stick graph,” and testified to Congress about it, he is one of the central figures in both the world of global warming science, as well as unfortunately the world of global warming politics that has emerged over the past decade. More importantly, and more recently, his name ended up at the center of the Climategate controversy that erupted this past December. In this two part essay I want to first talk about the recent CBS News segment about Mike, then on Thursday will present an interview with him about his recent experiences with the media.
February 11th, 2010
INNOVATION. It’s becoming a bit like “greenwashing.” Everyone is discovering it’s easy to say you support it — “Yeah, we’re all about innovation here.” Nobody is going to test whether it’s true. And you’re not likely to find any organizations who are willing to say they are against it — “No, we do our best to squelch innovation here.”
But if you truly believe in innovation, then you should be a huge fan of improv acting. I know I am. As soon as I moved to Los Angeles in 1994, a friend took me to an improv comedy show at the Groundlings Theater on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and I was smitten. I began attending their shows regularly, and seven years later introduced myself to Jeremy Rowley as well as other members of their main stage cast. Jeremy is one of the all-time greats, having been a performer for many years as well as a veteran instructor. The repertoire of characters he created as a Groundling is among the best — right up there with Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Phil Hartman, Kristen Wiig, and all the other legendary comic actors who have passed through the Groundlings in the past few decades. He’s a popular comic actor on television, appearing frequently in everything from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” to the wildly popular kids show, “iCarly.” On top of all that, he’s very smart and through years of conducting improv workshops with corporate leaders has learned exactly how powerful this training can be, even to non-actors. Even to scientists.
When I was a graduate student I once asked the great evolution popularizer Dr. Stephen Jay Gould about his monthly column in Natural History Magazine — how in the world did he manage to come up with a new topic every month? At the time of my question he had been writing the column for five years. He said that when he first made the deal with the magazine to write the column he presented them with a list of twenty five essays he wanted to write, but that five years later he still had not written a single one of them. In fact the list had grown to more than fifty because every month when he sat down to write he already had several new topics that had come to mind. Well, I’m no Steve Gould, but I’m starting to feel the same way with this exercise. I have a growing list of things to address, and more importantly, interesting people to interview. But I also continue to see on-going elements of previous essays. So for today I want to run through three examples in recent weeks of previous essays brought to life in our society.
February 4th, 2010
Chris Keane was the starting point for my journey into the world of narrative fiction. In October of 1989, when I was an utterly movie-clueless professor of marine biology at the University of New Hampshire, I began developing an interest in feature filmmaking. Back then there existed in Boston an amazing (but now gone) resource called the Boston Film and Video Foundation which was a cooperative that hosted workshops and provided resources to struggling filmmakers. I took a couple of workshops there and heard everyone buzzing about Christopher Keane’s Weekend Screenwriting Workshop. Without a clue of what it might consist of, I just blindly signed up, paid my $200, and showed up early Saturday morning for two very long days of lectures and exercise by the man. It was truly amazing. Best workshop ever. And when I headed off to USC Cinema School in 1994 I did the math — if I learned that much in a two day workshop, imagine how much I would learn in 3 years. But last year I flashed back and realized there was never another learning experience as great. Part of it probably had to do with my mind being a blank slate, but most of it had to do with Chris being an outstanding instructor.
Last March I tracked him down, twenty years later, and we team taught a workshop on storytelling at The Monterey Institute for International Studies. He’s tremendous and the students loved him.
February 1st, 2010
This Sunday will be the 44th annual Super Bowl, the most widely viewed television event of the year. What that means for advertisers is lots and lots of “eyeballs,” as they like to call it. Traditionally it’s the ultimate testing ground for television commercials, but in recent years, people with agendas have slowly woken up and said to themselves, “Hey, if corporations can ‘message’ about their beer or soft drink, why can’t we also ‘message’ about our political issue?” In this essay I share a few thoughts on this, going back to 2002, when the environmental world could have had a chance to make a mark, if there had been anyone with the money brave enough.