Scientists who help write the movies


The Wall Street Journal had a piece Monday on the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a group of 2,700 scientists who advise Hollywood productions on how to make their more fantastic plots at least plausible-ish, scientifically anyway. The first academic quoted is fellow blogger Clifford Johnson, the USC professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy who blogs about art, science, film and Los Angeles at Asymptotia. I've picked up some of Johnson's posts through the years: about CicLAvia, his joy of being able to ride the new Expo Line to campus, and his drawing of the KRKD radio towers over downtown, among other interests. In the WSJ piece by Erika Schwartzel, the British-born physicist helps screenwriters Will Matthews and Jeffrey Addiss come up with a cinematic method to end the world that won't make all the college graduates in the theater roll their eyes or laugh out loud.

They found an accomplice at a loft party here last fall. The two screenwriters approached a theoretical physicist, Clifford Johnson, explaining that for a screenplay they wanted ideas for offing Earth in Hollywood fashion—“in a popcorn way,” Mr. Matthews told him.

A black hole, the physicist replied, would do nicely.

That phenomenon was “much more interesting” than anything in most movies and could be explained scientifically, offered Dr. Johnson, a University of Southern California specialist in quantum fields and gravity.

It was just the kind of matchmaking that is the aim of the loft party’s host, a behind-the-scenes organization that links scientists with writers who want a dose of scientific accuracy in their movies, television shows and books.

Mr. Addiss says Dr. Johnson’s black hole is now the script’s likely scenario. Regarding Earth, “he showed us how we can really mess it up.”

The hotline for the Science and Entertainment Exchange is 844-NEED-SCI. Members have worked on something like 1,300 projects and don't get paid, often not even getting into the credits, per the story. Recent projects include "Ant-Man," "The Avengers," "The Good Wife" and "The Big Bang Theory." They also have events in LA, including gatherings at Soho House. The exchange is funded by the National Academy of Sciences.

Johnson, by the way, appears to be helping out the ABC series "Agent Carter" with some physics calculations. "I’ve had to blur pretty much everything on them," he writes in a post that shows the work. "Since...a few of you might be able to read the equations and with a bit of educated guesswork perhaps figure out elements of the show. I don’t reveal details of that sort without permission, as you know by now."

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