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Re: Seven Rules for Making a Science Documentary

In a message dated 2/19/2006 10:34:43 AM Eastern Standard Time,  
kent@cs.uoregon.edu writes:

< 1) science sells [= attracts science-predisposed viewers, call  that  
set S].  S is a subset of V.  That is, some members of  V are not  
really members of S, but landed on a given channel and think  Nigel is  
fun to watch.  They are really members of set P (see  below).  Note  
that to the extent that science sells, dinosaurs  really sell. >
Note similarities between that and The History Channel's "Digging for the  

< 2) personality sells  [= attracts some other set of  viewers, call  
that set P].  Note that sets P and S are distinct,  but not disjoint,  
i.e. some members of S are also members of P, but  |P| >> |S|. >
The producers also want someone who can show and not just tell.

<  3) sex sells.  That's always there in show biz.  Just think  about  
"derring do", of wrestling crocodiles, and pith helmets, and  safari  
jackets, and of course, some people find intelligent, witty  people  
attractive.  But it might really be just the safari  jackets.>
One participant was told to prominently display his wedding ring lest he  get 
< Producers understand that as the scientific content (selling point  1,  
above) is increased, |S| tends to increase but |V| tends to  decrease,  
other factors remaining  constant.  Too much  science puts off some  
people.  In the limit, as the scientific  content is maximized, V  
reduces to roughly S (where |S| = |DML|  approximately).  So science  
is introduced, but in  moderation.>
The flights of fancy are what are retained by the audience, such as what  
happened in Walking with Dinosaurs.  Many V can't distinguish  between what is 
real science and what is story narrative. 
And the producers are still putting all that  
squawking/hawking/squealing/roaring into the background.

< Producers know what they are doing.  As a consultant/talking  head in  
a dozen dinosaur-related documentaries (BBC's WWD, Discovery,  NHK,  
etc.) I have found that most (but not all) producers are open  and  
explicit that their game is to maximize ROI.  While the sound  guy  
threads the lapel microphone inside my shirt, I've been reminded  to  
keep it simple, not use big words, and always look excited  and  
dramatic.  "Give the viewer no reason to go to the  refrigerator" was  
a recent admonishment.>
I think that the trend to show the participating paleos with stern/serious  
expressions/arms folded in opening sequences is amusing (note the current  
face-off programs).