The first in our series on this year’s group projects by Sci Com students is ‘The Scientist’, a film by Harriet Jarlett and Juan Casasbuenas.
Our project’s aim is to explore the idea of ‘talking in science’ through a short film called “The Scientist”; an adaptation from the recently released film The Artist. By immersing ourselves in the world of silent film we developed a narrative that works on different levels of meaning. Beyond the basic story, our short film reflects several key science communication concepts we learned about in the first term.
Our story follows the life of George Scientiste; an arrogant, successful scientist. He meets a young Daisy Moss and they fall in love. The film follows her rise to success as she promotes public engagement in science. Alongside her rise, we see his fall from grace as he isolates himself from the public. We hope that at this level our narrative is accessible and entertaining to everyone; regardless of their level of interest in science communication.
Science Communication theory
The beginning of the film depicts a deficit-model world where the revered scientist passes information down to the public and works under the assumption that science shouldn’t be questioned. Such a view was heavily criticised by Stephen Hilgartner and we allude to this piece of science communication history by showing him nodding in response to Daisy’s question about public engagement. Throughout the decades, external influences have sought to engage and involve the public in science. Daisy Moss embodies these and her name is a play on the name of the think-tank, Demos; an external influence that wants science to enter in meaningful conversation with the public. We never see Daisy Moss taking a lecture or passing information down; she is always in conversation and uses engagement tools that are now seen as key in ‘upstream engagement’.
In learning about the history of silent film, we discovered an important parallel between the introduction of talking in film and talking in science. Early attempts at using sound in film were deemed clunky, and yet in time, film with sound became the norm. Any new enterprise needs time and effort in order to fulfill its full potential. Similarly, early attempts at public engagement, such as the GM consultation, have been awkward and much criticised. However, with the slightly warmer response that upstream public engagement on nanotechnology has received, we may be witnessing the refinement of a technique that could eventually become the established norm.
Silent film technique
In order to draw on the parallels between silence in film and the supposed silence between the scientific community and the public, we wanted to use as many original and historic silent movie techniques as we could. Before we had finalized a script we began researching silent movies to find out about original low-tech, low-budget ways of creating atmosphere and light. These were particularly interesting and useful as they were often techniques we could employ with ease in order to convey certain moods and ideas. We used vignettes to convey different moods; reflection shots for pensive moments; camera tilt convey distress; careful choice of transitions and wipes to manage the continuity of the narrative; and many others. We also learned a great deal about the type of shots that are effective in order to immerse the audience in the story world; such as point-of-view shots. We hope our editing effort hides the constructed nature of our film.
Overall, we think our film, as well as being an entertaining narrative, is a useful tool in explaining many ideas behind science communication and is a metaphor for the journey science communication has made through history. In particular it is important to show how similar science and art can be, which is how our film was so easily transposed from the story of The Artist. Most of all, it is clear that our film ends abruptly, with no real conclusion to the story. This is a poignant comment on the idea that science, although willing to try, has a long journey ahead before it is completely integrated with society, and we currently have no idea where the journey with public engagement will turn next.
Harriet Jarlett and Juan Casabuenas are Imperial College students studying for an MSc in Science Communication. The next in this series will be posted next Friday.