Last Thursday night I was on a panel discussion at M.I.T. for Earth Day about communicating science in today’s information-overloaded world. On the panel was John Sterman of M.I.T. Sloan School of Management whom I met last December when he was in Los Angeles giving a talk (somewhat incongruously at the biggest talent agency in Hollywood to a crowd of entertainment industry gadflies). I found his presentation shockingly interesting, so when he invited me on Thursday to take part in his Climate Interactive simulation exercise the next morning, I figured why not.

He’s part of a team called “Climate Interactive” — a consortium including M.I.T., the Sustainability Institute, and Ventana Systems — who have assembled a simulation model about the climate fate of the planet which is simple enough for people to take part in a role playing version that only takes a few hours, yet opens your eyes up to the dangerous dynamics now unfolding in our planetary atmospheric experiment. He was on our Earth Day panel at M.I.T. on Thursday evening and invited me to join his presentation of the role playing game the next morning at a workshop, which I did.

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I know what you’re thinking — you are DYING to see a video about … science camp. Right? More than any other subject in the world. You’re just thinking, “Damn, I need to see me one of them science camp promo films!”

Actually, if you think that’s the last topic in the world you want to see a video about then you have something in common with our editor, Ryan Mitchell, since that’s what he felt when I asked him to view this video about a science camp in New Zealand. And yet … Ryan became an instant fan. Same with Ty Carlisle. Same with me (“the Randy of the group” to draw on the anecdote in my book).

On this website you hear me critiquing the making of films and videos a lot, as well as in my book (a book with the word “DON’T” in the title of every main chapter!). So it’s fair to ask from time to time, “Hey smart guy, why don’t you show us a few examples of what a good video should look like.” Well, here you go — sent to me last week from Steve Ting, a 25 year old filmmaker in New Zealand. He put together this 5 minute video for a science camp for kids in Otago, New Zealand. Check it out.

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For the past five years I’ve been conducting videomaking workshops with the graduate students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. All five year classes of films can be viewed here. In the past year my producer, Ty Carlisle, and I have conducted the workshops with undergraduates at University of California, Merced, and University of Southern California. I mentioned the workshops in my book. Seems like it’s a good time to lay out the details of how we run these events which are both fun as well as a major “awakening” experience for students who have never taken part in video production before. We’re available to run the workshops ourselves (contact us at info AT randyolsonproductions DOT com), or you might just want to use some of what I lay out below for your own workshop. There aren’t any great trade secrets here, so feel free to set up a phone call just to ask our advice.  No big deal. At this point our process is the result of five years of fine tuning, with the most recent one being just last week at Catalina Island with 28 USC undergrads.


USC WRIGLEY STUDENT VIDEO WORKSHOP: Auteur director bends on a knee

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Last week I posted two interviews with professional storytellers Doug Stevenson and Mark Harris. Here I use the four chapters of my book to summarize their main points.



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Mark Jonathan Harris is one of the many amazing faculty to be found at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He’s not just a great instructor and a warm and friendly professor. He’s also one of the most accomplished documentary filmmakers of today, having earned three Academy Awards. Similar to all my other interviews on The Benshi, I spoke to him with a fairly specific agenda, seeking his insights on aspects of filmmaking that are relevant to the world of science. On Monday I’ll give my analysis of both of this week’s interviews, pointing to some of the things Doug and Mark said, and talking further about the importance of storytelling to the mass communication of science.


Mark Harris: First news story as a journalist was about his own car

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Doug Steveson is someone I met just a week ago on the telephone.  It seemed to me that there must be some good storytellers in the world of business, so I did a quick search on Google, and he came up first.  He was great to talk with, and I love the part here where he tells a story of visiting London.  You can see his life has followed a very logical progression, from actor who told stories to salesman who told stories to instructor who now conveys how to tell stories.  Doug’s comments provide another piece in trying to solve the puzzle of why the world of science isn’t better with the art of storytelling.


Fachmesse Zukunft Personal 2007 in Kšln

DOUG STEVENSON: An expert on corporate storytelling and in the use of storytelling in business

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In his review of my book in Science magazine Peter Kareiva (referring to both Cory Dean’s book and mine) said, “Dean and Olson underemphasize the single biggest reason why scientists are often such ineffective communicators. The failure of scientists as communicators is that they do not know how to listen.”




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We had a tremendous Sizzle screening last night in Tucson, Arizona. We had a full house at The Loft Cinema which is an amazing venue — excellent projection with an awesome sound system. All 500 seats sold out and another 50 or so people were turned away at the door. Huge thanks to super-publicist Karen O’Hara and Karl Flessa of Univ. of Arizona who masterminded the event. They even hired an out-of-work polar bear (global warming victim, obviously) to greet the guests.

The movie was followed by a panel discussion that included U. of Az professors of journalism, cinema, and climate science. Fireworks erupted for a while as two very vocal climate skeptics (or were they deniers, or contrarians, or anti-scientists?) launched into the standard talking points, though I finally cut them off when they got to claiming that the entire climate community bought into global cooling in the 70’s (which isn’t true — it was just a small faction, driven by some misguided media), and the loudest skeptic redeemed himself at the end by saying nice things about my mother (told you they’re good at communication) which brought a round of thank-you-you’re-done applause, offseting the previous boos.

It was an awesome night. Tucson is an incredibly good venue. They also turned out a standing room only audience for my talk during the day. Really good folks who are genuinely interested and concerned. What a great way to lead into the month of April!

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