Special Venue Films for Science Centers & Museums: What makes them unique?

Special Venue Films for Science Centers & Museums: What makes them unique? International Space theater Consortium [ISTC] 1995 Annual Meeting – Galveston, Texas

Transcript – 90 minute Panel Discussion. Created and Moderated by Ben Shedd with Dr. James Peterson, President, Science Museum of Minnesota, Dr. Hyman Field National Science Foundation Informal Science Education Section Head, & Dr. Laura Martin, Director of Education and Research, Arizona Science Center.

DESCRIPTION OF SESSION [from proposal by Ben Shedd]: “The terms and circumstances of human existence can be expected to change radically during the next human life span. Science, mathematics and technology will be at the center of that change–causing it, shaping it, responding to it. They will therefore be essential to the education of today’s children for tomorrow’s world. What should be the substance and character of that education be?” – From BENCHMARKS FOR SCIENCE LITERACY, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the special venue film world expands and splinters into many different types of showcases, what will make the science center and museum special venue films unique? How can a science museum’s mission to expand science literacy be incorporated in the content and design of these films? Are special venue theaters in science museums more like a movie theater or exhibit space? What defines a special venue science film? What defines science literacy? Where do the two areas meet and overlap? What kinds of ancillary educational materials can and should be developed to amplify the content of a special venue science film? How closely should a special venue science film be treated and evaluated like a museum traveling exhibit? Are there other educational uses for science center special venue theaters? How can science centers and museums “walk the talk” of their educational missions and create popular, income generating special venues films with solid science content? How can science filmmakers create special venue films about science subjects which will be relevant throughout the next human life span?

The panel is comprised of a long-time specialist in science filmmaking in both television and special venues, a science museum director, a psychologist specializing in science education and its outcomes, and a National Science Foundation Informal Science Education Program Officer. The goals of the panel are to explore these challenging questions from the views of the museum director, a filmmaker, a research/educator, and a funder of special venue science films.

Transript of Session: International Space Theater Consortium [ISTC] 1995 Panel

BEN SHEDD/Moderator: Welcome to the 1995 ISTC panel on “Special Venue Films for Science Centers and Museums: What makes them unique?

In Benchmarks for Science Literacy, which is one of the books published by the AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, under their Project 2061 program, on the back of the book, it starts by saying, “The terms and circumstances of human existence can be expected to change radically during the next human life span. Science, mathematics, and technology will be at the center of that change, causing it, shaping it, responding to it. It will therefore be essential to the education of today’s children for tomorrow’s world. What should be the substance and character of such an education?” That question led me to start to thinking about how and why, where the special venue film could work, especially as this special venue film world expands and splinters into many different types of showcases, and I was wondering what would make the science center and the museum special venue film unique. I asked a series of questions which I sent to the panelists, and we’re all going to be from our own specialties trying to make some suggestions about what kinds of criteria and perhaps constraints are involved around films which are designed for science literacy. The questions were:

* How can a science museum’s mission to expand science literacy be incorporated into the content and design of these films?

* What defines a special venue science film? What defines science literacy?

* Where do the two areas meet and overlap?

* What kinds of ancillary educational materials can and should be developed to amplify the content of a special venue science film?

* How closely should a special venue science film be treated and evaluated like a museum travelling exhibit?

* How can science centers, museums, and science filmmakers create special venue films about science subjects which will be relevant throughout the next decade of technological change?

As I observe this world of “IMAX, Omnimax, IWERKS, and other brand named giant screen systems”, I see the special venue film market that’s growing and expanding, and as I attend my eleventh ISTC meeting, I’m noticing that there now seems to be what I would think of as many channels here. There are more special interests, there are more sub-groups of types of films, and where this once upon a time in my mind was very similar to public television, the public television channel, I now see that there are channels that might be called commercial channels, religious channels, environmental channels, and science center channels, that are making and trying to make the films, and the question that I’m noticing is that the limitation to special venue films is where are the projectors located. We need a 1570mm projector to show one of these films with a giant screen. And at the moment the dominant place where the projectors are located are in science centers and museums. That’s been the growing core, what’s I think been called the institutional market. And part of the point of this panel is to discuss both what might be the best kinds of films and ideas that should be in those kinds of places where the projectors are located, and especially also how this group can differentiate itself as projectors show up in other areas in the same cities.

One of the decisions about this meeting two years from now is to have it in a city that has two projectors within five minutes from each other so we can handle the expanded crowd. That’s an indication as far as I can see that there are going to be different kinds of venues, and how, as we move along in the next five to ten years can we think about what kinds of films are best used and facilitated in science centers. Particularly because one of the conditions around these whole systems is that any film that fits the projector can run on the projector. Content is irrelevant in some ways.

In film schools we used to have this discussion in terms of form and content. That was the discussion all the time: what is the form? what is the best content that matches that form? .. back and forth. And in this case I see that the form is a large format projector located inside a science center in a museum. And with that I want to suggest that we’re going to have a discussion about what the content can be and why we want it, what kinds of films we want to make that fit inside the science center.

I have been finding as I do my research that I have been using the Benchmarks book and that the AAAS has probably inspired by an issue of from the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Daedalus issue from spring of 1983 on scientific literacy, developed a large program of what science content we should all know at a fundamental level. As well as that the National Science Teachers Association now has a set of Standards they are trying to work on and revise. Both of these incorporate the use of informal science centers as part of education.

With that I also have been personally observing that there’s a large what I would call divergence in education going on at the moment; great expansion with lots and lots of different kinds of public and private schools, some of whom have very, have all sorts of vested interests where it may not be so that we can depend on everybody in our country and around the world having sort of a fundamental education in science as we all I think would generally agree that it would be called. And so I see personally more and more the informal science center possibly becoming a place in the community where science learning, education, curiosity can be quite satisfied. And my own definition of what’s the value of a science center for me, is that it’s a place where I can learn more about self-sufficiency in a complex world. Learn about the way things are and a place to take my questions, and probably find a place to ask them and puzzle them out, and have a dependable place where curiosity and intelligence is nurtured and supported.

I’d like to introduce the panelists and give you a bit of brief background about all four of us, and then we’ll go around, each of us will make a presentation, and then have questions and discussion.

Dr. James Peterson is the president of the Science Museum of Minnesota, a museum which has produced seven IMAX/Omnimax films for science centers, two of which I was able to produce and direct for them. Jim has been continuously supportive of the solid content as the core of a film’s design, and he is an etymologist by training.

Dr. Hyman Field is the section head for Informal Science Education at the National Science Foundation. He is the program officer for several national science foundation grants on IMAX films and other informal science education media. Prior to joining the NSF, Hyman was a producer-director of documentaries and information films for WETA in Washington, D.C. and has received two Emmy Awards for his work. He also spent ten years at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Dr. Laura Martin is a developmental psychologist. She is the director of education and research at the Arizona Science Center. Prior to coming to the science center, Laura was the vice president of production research at Children’s Television Workshop.

I’m a science filmmaker, and producer-director. I was the associate producer on the very first Nova program in 1972, and spent three years at the Nova series, in its first three seasons where I share a Peabody Award with the other Nova producers. I received an Academy Award for a documentary short subject science film, The Flight of the Gossamer Condor’ in 1978, about history’s first human-powered airplane. I have been making IMAX films, especially IMAX science films, for the last decade, as well as researching the aesthetics and filmmaking language of this frameless film space. Two of my IMAX film projects have received National Science Foundation production grants support.

With that Jim, would you begin please?

JIM PETERSON: Sure. When I was in, when I was in college, I had a professor whose name was Dr. O. A. Winfield. I have no idea what his initials stand for; he was such a formidable character that we never were permitted to ask, I think. O. A. Winfield was a very interesting, and interesting teacher and we took a lot of courses from him. He was a philosophy teacher, and I took a lot of courses from him, although I certainly wasn’t interested in majoring in philosophy. And in hindsight, the reason I took all those courses was because I thought he was, his questions, and some of his theorems, he used to call them, I found absolutely fascinating. I never understood much of it, but I was always fascinated, thinking, although I don’t understand this, I think there’s something profound in here, somewhere, so I was always searching for it. Ben Shedd called about this panel discussion, and I was prepared obviously to say no, because I have lots of things going on in my life, as we all do, and I realized while we were chatting on the phone, I feel the same way about Ben Shedd. I don’t understand a lot of the things he says, but I’m always fascinated because I’m pretty sure there’s something profound in there. We have, we’ve had some wonderful conversations, on street corners, and in lots of strange places. In the tropical rainforest when Ben used to ask his crew to take me somewhere else in the rain forest so I wouldn’t bother him. So I’m pleased to join him.

I’m pleased to join the discussion, because in part, it’s an old one. In part it’s one we’ve been struggling with since the first science museum put the first Omnimax theater or IMAX theater into it. Ours has been around for awhile, we’ve been struggling with this question for a long time, and certainly at ASTC {Association of Science and Technology Centers] meetings and through the years at ISTC meetings, as Ben has said, this is an old question too. But it’s also a new question. It’s a new question every year because the technology changes, because science center changes, because learning theory changes. How we run our science centers change. There are all kinds of things going all of the time, and we have to continue to reinvestigate and rediscuss the questions for which there are no answers. Because things change all the time. I’m going to be very interested to hear my partners on the panel here, and as always, Ben’s comments, and then very much interested in the discussion which is always more fun than listening to people talk.

Let me just make a few brief introductory comments from my perspective as a director of a science museum. In terms of what’s unique about special venue films, or science center films, or films that should be successful in science centers or that we hope will be successful in science centers, we need to go back clearly to the notion of what makes a science center unique. What is it about this environment? What is it about this place that’s special to the visitors? That’s special to youth? That’s special to the adults that bring them? That’s special to senior citizens? and so on. What’s special about those visitors? We talk about that for a little bit. What’s unique about those visitors? Well, obviously, one of the things that’s unique, if not unique at least important, and something that needs to be in the forefront of our minds all the time, the first thing of course is mission.

What we are about in the, amongst other types of theaters, theaters in malls, theaters in amusement centers and so on. Our mission is different than those places. As a non-profit, clearly we don’t create service or services to make money. We use money, we attract money, we make money where we can, and we beg for money where we can, we earn money where we can, to create the services. That’s a very fundamental distinction. [I use Omnimax theater all the time, because that’s what we use, so translate if you will to the IMAX industry generally.]

The fundamental reason for our being is very important to the kinds of decisions we make, about what kinds of films are important to us. They are very fundamental to our audiences. Let me talk about that in a minute as well. It is not, it is not in our mission to attract larger audiences, it is not in our mission to achieve a high rate of return on a film investment, or attract a lot of audiences into our theaters, it’s not, it is not our mission to give our customers, our visitors, whatever they want. It’s not apart of our mission. It’s not a part of our mission to provoke emotions, to tell human stories, that’s not what our mission statement says. Contrary to some of the things that were said in the films today. We’ll come back to that in a minute as well. Our mission statement says simply, the mission of the Science Museum of Minnesota is to invite learners of all ages to experience their changing world through science. And you’re going to add technology onto that if you will. It’s that simple. And each one those words means a great deal to us. And it means a lot if we go back and check on the kinds of films that we use, the kind of films that we produce, the kind of films that we’re interested in, and the uniqueness of those films goes back to that mission statement, which for us is unique. It doesn’t differ a lot in substance from any other science center. You’ll find in science center mission statements, education, learning, informal science education, lifelong learning, all kinds of similar words, and those are really fundamental, and they’re very important if we’re paying attention to what we’re doing. That makes science centers unique, or at least very important in that regard.

The other thing is our audience. Actually our audiences are not unique. They’re the same people that go to football games, they’re the same people that go to, sit home and watch television, they’re the same people who do lots of things, but their reason for coming to a science center is something we have to pay attention to. In a sense that’s unique. The reason that they end up in our theater is at least somewhat unique, except for those people who may decide, at eight o’clock tonight, at night, there’s nothing else to do, so let’s go see a movie and then we’ll go home, at the science museum, for instance. The majority of people are not coming to our theaters to be entertained, that’s not the reason that they come. In fact, the, they’re not, as you all well know, they’re also not coming to be educated. That’s not why they choose to come. They’re coming primarily to have a social experience. That’s the fundamental reason that people come to institutions and make visits like ours is to be together. Now why do they choose the kind of experience that we provide them? They choose that because it’s both entertaining, if we want to use that word, and there is a learning function to it, because it’s educational. They expect to learn something, they intend to learn something, they’re open to learning something at least, and they want to share that experience with other people. With a few exceptions, obviously: the homeschoolers, that I assume some of you are experiencing more and more are coming to the museums. They’re coming specifically to learn, and they’re using this environment to do that. A teacher coming with their, with his or her, students are coming specifically to learn something, except in the spring, when they’re coming to get a break from the classroom and the kids go crazy. We hope that that’s decreasing, we think it is at our place, but it, you know that it’s still there.

So that brings us in part to that age-old, the age-old dilemma, the somewhat artificial dilemma of education or learning versus entertainment. And let me just draw something here that is important, too. [Draws chart] How I think about these things, this is something that the, let me start with the other model. This is usually the way we get this thing set up, we put entertainment over at this end of the line, and we’ll put education over here, and then we try to figure out – should we be here? should we be here? maybe we should be over on this side? but now we’re going to lose money if we go over here, nobody we’ll come, so we better move back here a little bit. I did some consulting with a board of a museum not too long ago, where the board chair literally wanted to stand up and say everybody take out a piece of paper, draw this line, put these two things here and here, number from one to ten this way, and put a mark where you think we ought to be. Stop, stop, this is not the way for us to look at what we’re trying to do, not. Here’s a little model that some people have used, that we use occasionally at our place. This is something that I got from a consultant who was doing some planning work with us once. This is, this is an old economics formula of some sort the origin of which I’ve forgotten but it doesn’t make any difference, but we label this thing, let’s put entertainment up here, and education over here, an entertainment scale, and an education scale. What we’ve been trying to do, instead of assuming that you have to be here, with none of this, or here, with none of that, is to just draw the curve differently and look at it this way, so that instead of trying to figure out where on this curve, or just transpose that, or even draw a straight line out of it, is to find the right place on this curve, and the right place on this curve is up there. This is where, this is where we want to be, out here, so everything is always pushed theoretically, everything is always pushed up this way. So, I actually don’t like “entertaining”, I like the word “engaging” because that’s a lot of what we try to do with our audiences, engage them in learning, engage them in curiosity, engage their interest in going further after they leave us, and also, obviously there’s some maximum along with learning going on. We do this with our exhibits; we try to look at them this way all the time.

That’s the idea. Keeps us away from having to do an either or, and saying everything that we do makes such a big a push this, a push that way. When we think about film, I mean it works for exhibits that way, it works for films that way, it works for education programs that way, for us to keep, keep an eye on how it plays out. And what’s also unique about the special venue film, is what we’d like to think of it in a unique way, as unique from other kinds of institutions, and that is that it’s another exhibit. That’s the way we like to think about a theater. As another exhibit, albeit it’s one of the most attractive, it is certainly one of the most expensive to create, and certainly one of the most expensive to operate. It is in fact one of our exhibits, and if we keep that into perspective, that tells us something about what we want to try to create in the films, that tells us something about how we treat the nature of that theater visit, and you can, you can continue on with that. We had to plan the production of films and a system for evaluating films the same way we do exhibits, which is if we’re doing our jobs more than how many people went in and out. We need to judge its success against the objectives we set for it, not just against those objectives that we usually hear, and in fact we talk about just like I assume many of you do, the success of a film. You know, it bombed, it had legs, it didn’t have legs, it increased our attendance x amount, I mean we do that, and you all do that frequently I assume. Instead of evaluating it first against educational objectives and learning objectives.

Another thing, very quickly, with respect to the uniqueness of the special venue film, the science center film, is the context into which it should fit. And that is the visitor experience, the whole visitor experience, because again a majority of our audiences don’t come just to go to a movie. That’s not why they’re coming, that’s not what their expectation is. They’re expecting to have some sort of experience. If they have any experience with our science center, our museum, or yours, they have a set of expectations about that, and what we want to satisfy is that expectation of an integrated visitor experience. What that says about the uniqueness of film it, we don’t look for, well I’ll use the obvious. We don’t expect someone coming out of a Rolling Stone film to move easily into the rest of a museum experience, into an exhibit experience that’s quiet and contemplative. That just doesn’t make any sense, doesn’t make any sense for the nature of the experience. We would not expect some film that relates some great passionate human drama, which may in fact be a great subject for a film, to fit with walking out into an exhibit about dinosaurs. There is a disconnection there that we need to pay attention to with, in what we expect out of our films. With respect to how we insure a supply of those unique kinds of films, those films that we hope will be unique, that we plan to be unique, but some of the, some of these things are obvious, we’ve talked about them before. We need to do a lot more survey and data gathering about the expectations of our visitors coming in; we need to be a lot clearer about the context into which those films will fit. We were just chatting a little bit about the changing nature, and Ben mentioned too, the changing nature of our formal education system, what’s the relationship there between what we do, including our films, and the formal school system? That’s going to change, we need to pay attention to that. Participation and investing in the kind of, of uniqueness that we need is going to be very important. We’re seeing more and more of that by science centers investing in new films, and that’s going to be critical, and that’s going to be critical to the future if we’re going to get what we need and what we think the visitors need and what fits.

Evaluations, significantly more evaluation than we’ve ever done before. We’ve been fairly content in the past to evaluate what we do subjectively and with stories,and we’ll have to continue to do that because it’s difficult to evaluate the impact that we have. But if we’re truly going to make a difference as we say that we do, and if we’re going to convince others, state legislators, funders, all the rest of the folks, we have to be a lot clearer on what our goals are, and what is it that makes these films unique, what do they do, what do they accomplish educationally, not just how many people come in the door. There was a whole discussion about that, and obviously encouraging new techniques and new technology is going to take us a long way and maybe we can talk a little bit about some of those things along the way. Let me just stop there, and we’ll come back and revisit some of these.

BEN SHEDD: Great, thank you Jim. I appreciate your redefining the words engaging and entertainment and education into engaging and learning. My definition of entertainment is anything you don’t ask for your money back. And, because otherwise we’ll keep getting more of whatever there is as long as people keep paying for it, in some ways, so I appreciate the shift in the words. And now Hyman Field, please.

HYMAN FIELD: I share many of the same thoughts that Jim had, let me shift a moment and say, I’d like to do three things: one is to tell you why the national science foundation is interested in IMAX films, because some people do ask me that quite often. Second, what we’re then looking for in an IMAX film that we would support, and third, how we think the film could be produced in order to achieve the goals that we’re looking for.

The National Science Foundation many people think of as a foundation that funds research and that our only interest in education is increasing the pipeline of people who’d go into science research. That was the case for a number of years, but in the last five to six years the education goals have changed tremendously. We now think science is critically important for all sections of students, not just those who are going to be majoring in science, and for all citizens.

We have at the National Science Foundation, a program, one that I direct, called the informal science education program, that’s designed to get science, information about science, technology, mathematics, out to the general public, outside of the formal education system in any way we can. So we have supported in this program museum exhibits, television series, radio coverage of science on National Public Radio, youth programs that are national programs for youth on weekends and afternoons, and some IMAX films. I became interested in IMAX in terms of this program for a couple of reasons. First I thought, here’s a medium that a lot of people will go in and look at this film, regardless of what it is. It is a medium that attracts people, they go in for the sake of just the experience, for the medium itself. And I said gee, if they’re going in there, and we can put some science in these films, and there’s some substance there, a lot people will see some science, maybe for the only time, and pay some attention to it. These are the people who may not look at science on television, they won’t read it in the newspapers, they turn off when they see it and hear it in school, so it really is a chance to get to a new audience. But the more I looked at the medium, I think it’s an ideal medium for presenting science in a way that really gets the public involved. You can show things, you can see things in IMAX that you couldn’t see in any other way, and you can get the audience emotionally involved into, in a project, and increasingly, as science is being developed into a film, you can get them intellectually involved. And I see that beginning to happen more and more in films and I hope that our support has helped some producers think more in that direction.

There are about seven things, seven or eight things, that I think we would see as important in terms of the science content.

First thing you have to do is obviously get their attention, get the attention of the audience, and an IMAX film does that, there’s no problem with that. So I don’t really count that as one of the things we’re looking for, that’s a given.

The first thing we’re looking for really is that it gets the audience to ask some questions. Once they see something, once they see some phenomena, they say why does that happen, how does that happen, why do they know that, that fact or that that brutal information that we just put in there.

Second, once they’ve asked that question I think IMAX is an ideal medium for them to begin making observations related to that question. Now they begin to see how certain phenomena work, there’s time to look at something, they see it in a context that really gets them intellectually involved.

Third, I would hope that, well some questions still remain when people walk out, hope they remain when they walk out of the theater, that in some cases, or at least for part of it, they will come to closure, partial closure, either on their own, or prompted by the film itself. And I don’t mean that as a didactic narration track, that says this is the fact, and now we’ve seen this, and this is what happens, but somehow the film itself, just from the way the visuals are put together, can help them come to closure. “Aha, I now see that, I see that phenomenon and I understand it.”

The fourth thing we are looking for is that we hope the audience begins to understand something about the process of science, how science is done. There are questions that are asked, there are observations, there are hypotheses that are formed, they are tested, they are thrown out, they find something else, there’s some glamour, there’s some tedium to it.

Related to that, the sixth thing we’re hoping for is that they come away from different films with some idea of the different kinds of work scientists do. Not just the process that works for any kind of science, but very specific activities that scientists engage in different disciplines; the context of what they do and how they do it.

We would hope that the films would relate this to their lives, so that they understand this is not an abstract something that’s happening off somewhere else, but is really something that has some meaning for me and some importance for me as an audience.

And then finally, these are sort of in priority order really, finally I hope to come away with a little bit of knowledge of specific facts, but that’s not the most important thing at all. If you try to do a film, I think, that is very didactic and it has all these facts, and you know it’s just going to be another big screen science lecture. Not at all what we’re looking for. And if you stopped to think about that, that’s what we see as a definition of science literacy. People understand the relevance of science to their lives, they know the process of science, they know how to ask the questions, and they begin to know some facts in different disciplines, in a lot of different disciplines so you can’t do it all in one film.

There are people who have come out with some very fine books that talk about scientific literacy, and they say this is what you should know, and they’re facts in chemistry, physics, astronomy, biology, and that’s fine, but that’s what they think everybody ought to and I don’t agree. I don’t think everybody has to know the same thing, but I do think everybody has to understand the process and the relevance of science. We would hope that when the audience walks out of that theater, they’re excited about it, they say “Wow I would really like to know something in addition, I’d like to know more about this.”

And to pick up on what Jim was saying, the projects that we supported, we have urged the producers to think about and create related material. It’s in most of the grants that there will be ancillary material and ancillary excerpts of activities that follow up on these projects, so that when somebody walks out of a film, there’s an exhibit, and they can begin doing some hands-on stuff related to what they just saw. At least the sheet that’s put in their hand, and they take it home, and there’s activities for kids to do and for families to do, and they can continue this experience, and it really brings it home to them.

Just a couple of words about how we think you can get there. And I say this with a little hesitancy because it sound very dry and dull and boring and like it’s going end up with a film that’s going to be a lecture but it’s not at all.

We think in the projects that we supported, that it’s very, very important there be a strong advisory committee that includes scientists, science educators, people knowledgeable of in formal science education and/or the informal education sector, whatever expertise that the producers think will help them come up with a stronger educational experience, entertainment educational, engaging experience at the end. Most projects have had this. It’s not something new, it’s not unique. I think what may be a little shift in the thinking is how you use these advisors. Traditionally television projects, and a few of the IMAX projects that I have seen have advisors, and I say “What are the advisors going to do?” And they say “Well, they’re going to check our scripts and make sure they’re accurate, that we’re not going off in left field.” I think that’s only half of what they should do. I think you should involve them early on and say “What science should we put into the project in the first place and what’s appropriate for this audience and how can we say it in a way that’s going to make it relevant and understandable to a lay public?” So they’re in the development part rather than just sort of a checking, making sure part.

I also think it’s important that there be a scientist who is either on the staff or a major consultant, not just part of the advisory committee, who is involved all the way through the project, in scripting and production and post-production and in promotion to help make sure that the science that’s happening, that’s there is accurate balanced. When you are out on a shoot, there’s a lot of ways to frame a shot, to shoot a shot, and certainly in the IMAX medium it’s important that you understand the medium but a scientist can say “Yes, but what we really need to see is that over there.” And, you know, the cinematographer, the director will say, “Oh I didn’t know that, it wasn’t as pretty, but we’ll shoot it.” And same in the editing, you can pick out shots that really make the science come through, without losing the entertainment and excitement of the film. I think it’s important that at several points in the production the producers step back and say, “Let’s look at the science, where we are with the science at this point in the production. Write down on a piece of paper: these are the scientific points that we’re trying to get across and this is how we’re doing it in the film.” I would do it at the early scripting part, sort of half-way in production, and probably once right at the end just before you go into picture lock and final narration. But you look at it one more time and you take a very overt inventory of the science that’s in there. Now that sounds like I’m trying to get back to the didactic lecture kind of film, and that’s not what I mean at all. Some of the points might be that you want them to understand the process and where it is in the film is from the beginning of the film, all the way through the end, to the end of the film.

And to pick up another point that Jim was talking about. I think evaluation is extremely important, formative evaluation, that you try scripts, that you try some formative evaluation, you can’t really do a rough cut in the whole IMAX format, but you try it out with the target audience and seeing if you are achieving your goals. If it isn’t attracting their attention, if it’s raising the right kind of questions.

To wrap up, I think IMAX films can have more and more substance in them without losing the entertainment and attractive value that have been there since the very beginning. It’s the same, it goes back to Jim’s chart here, I think an ideal IMAX film would be right up on the top of that curve that he drew that had a good balance of substance and education.

Just in closing I think that in terms of the venue, the kind of films that science centers, these are the kind of films that science centers ought to have, and I think they ought to think carefully about bringing in other films that get outside of this kind of a science endeavor. I don’t think they are, I would be thrilled if they were in other venues as well. Our interest is in reaching the public, wherever. (laughter) So if they’re in, if they put them on Broadway in the Sony Theater that’s great, but I do think they belong in the science centers and science centers should think very carefully about the kind of films they’re bringing in.

BEN SHEDD: Thank you Hyman. Laura Martin, please.

LAURA MARTIN: Thank you very much, I’m very delighted to be here. At least I have had some very interesting phone conversations with Ben as well and it’s not often that a program developer and a researcher get to sit back and do a little analysis of our work, and I think that’s very needed for the people who are working in the field.

What I wanted to do today is talk about a little bit about how learning happens in relation to media, paying attention to some of the developmental and general no matter what age you are characteristics of how people process information and to look at that in relationship to the mission which I think has been articulated very nicely by the previous speakers.

Let me point out first of all that there is no good well-known research about science films in large screen science center that I’m aware of although I was told about a dissertation at Harvard graduate school of education but I haven’t seen it. There is however a lot of research about video, film, graphic processing, text with children and adults and how they interpret those, so I’m going to tell you a little bit about that, and we’ll all keep in mind what could that imply for the large screen theaters. Some of that has been done by Gabrielle Solomon at the University of Haifa, the people of the Children’s Television Workshop where I came from, there is stuff out there. And I also want to point out a book by Sheila Grenell who is the head of the Arizona Science Center which really, it’s not a research review, but it raises issues and it talks about all the kinds of considerations that one has to balance in trying to think through the ongoing programming at the science center.

First of all, I’m going to start, the things that I am saying are going to back up exactly what Hyman and Jim and Ben have been talking about. First, the context in which people encounter information or materials determines what they get out of it. And there’s a nice set of studies among children who are looking at television shows in the home and in school, the same television show, different groups of children viewing it, and then being asked what they learned from it, what was it about, what did it mean. Completely different interpretations, and as you can imagine, the kids who view the video in school learn a lot more from the video because they’re in a mode that says school is for learning and this is instructional and I’m tuning in in a different way. So the context, they know where they’re sitting. The other thing is the frame, and I use that not in a technical filmmaking sense but the frame of the material is also important. A study that’s going to be coming out at the University of Kansas has created a car robbery scene, and they were working with a little older children. And they told one group of kids that this was a documentary; no it was a fictional story of a car robbery. Second group it was a dramatic reenactment like 911, reenactment of an actual crime, and then the third was, somebody happened to be, an amazing piece of film, somebody happened to be on the street when this car was being burgled and they caught it on film. And then they did the sort of follow-up, you know, generalization, do I want to react violently? Anybody want to guess what happened? In fact, the dramatic reenactment created the most violent reenactment among the children. The interpretation could be that they’ve been given permission to reenact violent stuff. The real stuff was a little too scary, and the fictional stuff was a little too, you know, you can discount it as a sort of real event. So again the exact same footage considered with a frame, kids know very well what they are going to be extracting out of this. Something to take in mind.

Now my own research at the science center and well, I should also say another set of interesting studies that was done about venues, PBS materials for instance, are unique, considered universally to be educational. You can probably put the same tape on another channel and they won’t be viewed the same way. So again you’ve got this cache, this identity, about the venue. Our own work at the science center seems to suggest that in fact the science center is the 3-D real life equivalent of PBS. It’s considered by parents to be wholesome, to be good for you, to be wonderful, to be a safe haven where I can take my kids among a myriad of activities. It’s considered to be a place where we’re not trying to shake you down for a buck, in the interest, where Disney doesn’t have that clarity. Disney they liken, they will take kids to Disney, but they feel Disney is out to make a buck. And, PBS is not, and I think science centers are not seen that way too. So what this is all telling us is that people coming to the science center, as Hyman said, are tuned in to expect something different.

Now, they’re attending to the material in a different way. That attending can be kind of automatic couch potato, or it can be effortful. And I’m saying this in general. A lot of people claim that viewing images is a passive activity although we, the research disclaims it, counteracts that popular belief. And if you think of a machinist looking at a blueprint for instance, that is actually one of the most complex mental skills going, and very, very hard. It takes years to be able to develop just a static image and trying to do something with it. However, when the form of the image becomes very well known and predictable, the processing goes on automatic pilot. It’s almost like when you drive home and you don’t even know how you got home. You found yourself home but you went by all those streets, and lights and everything, you, it’s such a familiar set of images that you don’t even think about them anymore, so that formulaic sit-com, formulaic documentary, advertisements, you sit back and relax, no effort. The question is do people want to do that mental effort when they’re watching, and it’s a question for us, because science centers are not school after all, we don’t want to make people work too hard. Well one company that will be, remain unnamed, produced a pilot show for children that had a kind of montage of science images, very fast-moving, very multi-layered, very light associative stuff. We tested it with a lot of kids, also with some adults at the production company, did I give myself away? And what we found out was the kids hated it, the kids wanted it slower, they wanted to know more. “Why did you move away?” “I want to get into that topic more, I want to hear more about it.” And this was in an informal setting, it was not in school settings.

People get pleasure from thinking. And particularly when it’s not evaluated. And we actually asked kids in an after-school setting who were using some video materials what they said, it was so much fun, it was so much fun. “What was fun?” “what do you mean fun?” “We got to work with other people.” “It’s a social activity, we’ve got to be with others.” They were working and doing things with the video. “We got to be on our own, nobody was telling us what to do, self-motivated. The afternoon went by and we were so busy.” They were engaged, it’s exactly that. Engagement is fun for most people, and this is including adults.

I also want to underscore what people have been talking about, what one researcher called “wow” versus “aha.” And “wow” is good but it’s not as much as you can get. I think “wow” is a subset of “aha” because “aha” is that essential wonderful clicking that can go on when you have a really exciting mental experience.

So what is it that people would like to see? Now I’m sure you’ve all done market research in various kinds of. Let me tell you about one study in which a fifth and sixth grade kids were asked about, they were asked to keep a journal about what they wondered about. Some of the things that came up were: “What happens when you die.” “How come you get many flowers from one seed? You put a seed in the ground and then you get more than one.” “How do they make Pepsi?” “Who invented school?” “Who was the wise guy who invented school?” All right, notice that they don’t ask about, they don’t wonder about rock stars, athletes, musicians, things like that, I mean movie stars, huh? They already know that, they’re not curious to them. They’re concerned with human dilemmas, with technology, with natural science, with myths of origin, with things that are very much in their everyday lives. They also ask a lot of very painful questions about AIDS, about why their parents get fight and get divorced, why is there war, you know, things like that, but a lot on technology, a lot of why is the sky blue questions genuinely curious about that. They are ready, the older kids, and of course the adults are ready to experience the wild wider world, they can interpret that. But it’s not clear that they wonder about that in their everyday coming and going as they walk around the place, so I wonder about the Himalayas, but not all the time.

Now, this research with kids was also born out in some recent research we did at the science center, asking groups of college and non-college educated adults, in technical and non-technical fields to talk about topics of energy with us. Again, a very non-judgmental setting, we just said we want to know what you know about it, and all sorts of topics: light, weather, wind, temperature, heat transfer, things like that. Everybody had a great time. They loved it, they were so excited, and I even told Hyman afterwards, “Who needs science centers? Just have focus groups on this stuff” because people are so delighted, they say “oo this is great I’m going to go home and read about it”, “oo I forgot this is, I knew that in eighth grade”, “wow”, “oo” “oo.” You know so this is really, they are, if you give it to them, they will bite it.

Now, the world, this is something I always say, and I think it’s true – the world is not a good teacher. It is not, if you go through it you will be fairly ignorant. You’ll know about gravity, but you won’t know why gravity happens or what it is about. Learning environments, and they can be anything from a science center, an apprenticeship, school, it can be a computer micro-world. What they do is unpackage the real world and recombine it in ways that are clearer. So they abstract it, they systematize it, they highlight things that you don’t ordinarily see, they correlate things that don’t ordinarily get strictly correlated. They also introduce new data for you ponder and consider, so if you think about things, it slows them down, it focuses on salient features, as Hyman said the same. They assemble and arrange examples, they reveal patterns, these instructional environments. And we can see, I think directly, how a large screen film is a very, very powerful learning environment. I was thinking of some of the examples like the films that went along with the man, a course of study curriculum, how wonderful those were. Very careful slow, online, just looks at the world of men and animals. Powers of ten, which also looks at the relationship between in scale really in a way you never thought of.

And these characteristics of film have been mentioned today, but think about them in relation to learning. I’ll consider them briefly afterwards. Films compress time and space. That’s useful for learning. It stretches the visual field. It can increase the density of the information. I t can bring concepts to life very vividly, offering scale changes, zooms, those kinds of techniques. It can linearize, if you can say that, it can straighten out sort of a story that makes it clearer. Animation overlays, close-ups and perspective can fiddled to advantage. Films can reinforce verbal messages. The images just in themselves, and we know that that helps memorability of concepts. And films can also in a sense create stars, they can make things salient, they can make new ideas and point to them in a very, very powerful way. So while all this is going on you got another little factor among people, which is how are they interpreting these compressions and these distortions and these learning devices, and we got to be careful there.

Now I’m going to talk about time space causality and point of view very briefly, and the first one has to do with time, and I was thinking of, we once gave kids, little tiny kids, like six, five and six, a chance to write recipes. To look at how did they understand quantity and timing and things like that. So how do you cook a pot of spaghetti? “You put the spaghetti in the pot, and you boil it until Daddy comes home.” That’s causality and time. This is their understanding. So forget it, they don’t get it.

Older kids are all right, though they’re not great on historical time, they don’t know history and scale, but they’re all right on that. But cuts are confusing. The research shows that when you jump – you know when you cut – these are time wise or even perspective wise, they may not know. And this might be something that you’re saying, which is can you get the science advisor to kind of remind you that you’re making a big leap here with the camera and the kid might not make it from one to the other. So the other thing that kids do is that they confuse real time with movie time, so that they might think a process in a movie is exactly how long it actually takes to happen. Older kids, I’m talking about, you know, twelve, still don’t quite get that straight.

Space. Little kids have no idea. When I was little I thought for years that Europe was, I lived in New York City on the upper west side, and the land that was across the Hudson River, I always thought was Europe. And I also knew it was New Jersey, but there was this Holland Tunnel, and I knew Holland was in Europe and so I kept this mental image for a long time, that Europe was in a certain kind of a line, New York approached a kind of a line, the countries up and down the Jersey coast, and then even when I knew it was New Jersey, I still had that image simultaneously, which is another thing that kids do and it turns out adults do, which is they hold two conceptual schemes simultaneously and they might be using one, and they might be using the other and we have to be careful about that. We talk about that there are actually a wide set of studies that map problems that are given to people outside of school and in school and advanced math students will use strategies in school, you know good technical strategies and completely fumble with problem analogs that they encounter outside the classroom. They don’t’ use those strategies at all. So it’s the same kind of holding two things.

But back to space. So little kids have no idea about distance, scale, very crude concepts, they get verbal, you know they hear Holland, and they see Holland tunnel and the verbal comes in and it all messes together, so maps and travelogues are really quite useless as travelogues and maps. It’s nice images, but who knows what they’re getting?

Another set of studies looked at images on film of candy bars filling the screen, same candy bars sitting on a table a few feet away. Which do the kids want? The big one, they don’t know, even though they know they don’t know. They’re very, that’s what advertising is about. Fill the screen with that candy bar and it’s absolutely luscious for the little kids. Now the older kids do understand the zooming techniques, and that’s something to keep in mind because actually you follow to the smaller one, that is a support for understanding what the camera is doing.

And the other kids, older kids, also get to that stage when they really love these astounding facts and figures, you know “How many atoms are in a teaspoon of water?” But we have to be careful there too, because they have no way of judging the kind of scale of the event in the grand scheme of things. And that’s why they develop fears and phobias and kind of overwhelming, you know they can get easily overwhelmed, because they don’t know that this is – I’m trying to think of a good example – I think more of a social example, like war, an event that they hear about in the newspaper, they get very worried, they have nightmares, because they don’t know that it’s okay, you don’t have to worry about it, it’s terrible but, it’s not that terrible. So they overgeneralize. Now in causality we can think about it.

I was also reminded of a very cute anecdote, from Sesame Street A child was being interviewed about who were these Muppets anyway you know, and the child said, “Oh I know Big Bird he’s not really real, inside it’s just a regular bird.” So that’s the kind of thing, I mean. Now older kids, it’s sort of the equivalent in a sense. A lot of research for one of the shows that Hyman was kind enough to fund, called “Crow” which was a Saturday morning science show. We did some background research there, and we found that in fact kids just do not, older kids, quite older, do not understand causal mechanisms of a lot of mechanical devices and things like that. So if you say, it’s not even that they don’t understand, they overlook. You say “How does a laundromat work?” “How does a laundry machine know to change cycles? You know, why does it spin, rinse, all this stuff?” And the answer is, “Because the dial tells it what to do.” That’s a good answer, but it’s not the real mechanism. So we have to, that’s a place where we can. MAN’S VOICE: It doesn’t work that way? LAURA MARTIN: Right.

So all right, so that’s the kind of, again we have to think about exposing these things. I’ll try and be quick and wrap up, shortly.

The expository can be well done. I think we need explicit labels and we need some kind of ways of making salient in a good order. Now, all learners, again I’ll make this point later is, we need connections between events and instances. And the more explicit we can be the better it helps them.

Point of view is a very interesting area of research. People have found in problem-solving, conflicts problem-solving among adults, among kids, when people get stuck in a problem they tend to put themselves into the problem. And you can see it with people who are asked to explain a sewing machine mechanism, “Did you ever try that?” “How does it do it? They’re only coming in one side. How does it get a stitch that’s complete?” People have been asked to do that, people have been asked to explain how machine tools work, people have been asked to explain a lot of things, the cannibals and missionaries problem, I’ve got a boat and you can’t put two people in the same boat, how do you start? Okay when you see the thinking gets stuck, people put themselves in the boat. They say “oo I can see on that shore there’s a cannibal sitting and on this shore there’s a missionary” or on the sewing machine, “I can see the thread coming down and I…” They actually take that perspective when they get stuck mentally and then they can go outside of it to then figure out where they are in the problem and move ahead.

This relates to the thing Ben and I were talking about, the shrinking of the viewer in relation to a large screen, maybe that’s suitable for solving problems, get inside a sewing machine needle eye, maybe that will help them understand it rather than, you know, an animation or something like that.

And another thing that I don’t think has been, that hasn’t been explored in relation to media, is the flying effect, which I also think, the bird’s eye view probably also has some very important psychological function. Because I think it’s innately appealing and it gives you some kind of perspective of interest, but I don’t know what it is. Something to think about. And you know that it’s appealing, and things like reducing to little scale, that’s very appealing to kids, so there’s something about that, I’m not sure what it is.

I would disagree with the idea that we don’t need narrative in trying to understand things. I think what we, you know I agree we don’t need costumed drama necessarily. What we’ve found through research in children’s television programming also with adults, is that if you imbed technical information into a very compelling plot line, people will follow it, understand it, and be able to tell it back to you. So it actually can be a very powerful device for helping people process technical information. If the technical information doesn’t have to do with the resolution of the plot conflict it’s not seen, but if it has to do with “I better understand this in order to solve the mystery, to get the hero or heroine to be safety people do get it so use it.”

Kids, you know there are many devices that attract kids attention but they want that deep enjoyment which is what I think what everybody’s saying here. Kids also like to see other kids and people that they admire and relate to on the screen. Watching other children doing things that we want them to do is very powerful for them, other kinds of role models as well.

One more point I’d like to make about learning is that again that for all ages, connections between experiences is vital. There is a lot less transfer between instances among adults than we had believed. We thought you learn it in school, and you do it outside of school. That seems to be not the case. Physicists don’t generalize outside the physics lab; mathematicians don’t generalize outside the classroom. That kind of thing, there’s a lot of very interesting research to show that. I mean I think we’ve all been caught being illogical in our lives. How come? We all went to college, you know. So connections help people learn.

I want to also underscore a point that I think Jim raised, which is just because a theater is a separate economic unit in a science center, it shouldn’t be a separate conceptual unit. The economic second nature of it shouldn’t be driving the content of what is in there, it should connect to what’s going on inside the center. And I think, I’m looking forward to this Swedish show water foundation project that sounds really sensible. Where you leave the theater as you said, you’ve got materials, you’ve got things to do, you’ve got back-up and reinforcement for what you just experienced. So again, be careful of the economic segment defining that space.

I would also say that educators who work in science centers would be very welcoming of materials that would go along with films.

Finally I just want to say that we don’t have to be restricted by traditional forms. The science center is about getting past surfaces to essential meanings. And I was reminded that, as I was reading an interesting book about, it’s sort of the equivalent of history is not costumed dramas, it’s about critical thinking and reflection. And it’s the equivalent in a science center. This isn’t about little images of science. It’s about what does the world mean? And we need to, even though film is ephemeral and film can chop and compress in unreal ways, it doesn’t have to be without depth. So I encourage us all to try and think of ways to do that. Thank you.

BEN SHEDD: Thank you Laura, wow. I’m so glad I organized this panel, this is fascinating.

I’d like to comment for a few minutes on what I see as a central concern, that the form of this particular medium is not just big TV. This format is in my mind a new media form that we haven’t encountered before the last twenty-some years of having the IMAX-Omnimax giant screen, what I’ve come to call, “frameless film experience.” I’ve observed, having spent fifteen years working in television and then coming across to this format, that I no longer have a frameline in which to work. I have exploded the frame away. It’s gone. My experience in the giant screen theater as audience is a direct experience of being in the place. Place becomes for me part of the essential story of what these films are about.

I also have observed that there’s been a significant shift in the relationship between the audience and the ideas on the screen. When we all watch a television show, as I also learned in film school, basically we become an invisible voyeur. Right, Imagine watching some couple doing something on TV and we’re kind of watching in these series of shots, and we are in some ways a third person, but invisible in that experience. When we are in one of these giant screen theaters, we are there with three-hundred other people, we know everybody else is there. The three-hundred of us together are having a group experience. Three years ago, Bran Ferran, two years ago, spoke at the ISTC meeting as the keynote speaker, and said that the single thing that this whole format has over every other kind of media, is that it’s a group experience. And I think that kind of, that has an implication for the story telling and the kinds of experiences that can be created in this format.

It’s my personal opinion that the audience sitting in the theater is the main character in the films, and that we as a group go through a series of new experiences now in terms of a story which I contextualize as a cyclic story where we actually start in the theater seat, go to some place, that place being a mental place, a physical place, an emotional and experiential place, and then need to find our way back to this seat by the end of the film, so that we can leave the theater. And in some ways that’s like saying that the story, instead of saying beginning, middle, and end, is middle, end, beginning, middle, as a story telling technique, which then I think has a wide number of implications for what could be a good story emotional experience in these theaters. Because it’s been my experience that the emotions that are happening – hopefully the emotions happening to the audience – the feelings we’re having in the audience.

I think in the frameless film experience, as a filmmaker I have to constantly be considering what I call “accuracy in perception.” There are so many events in terms of the filmmaking that can modify what we are experiencing on the screen, from the choice of lenses, the lighting, the time of day, the way action happens, how close, how far away it is, how big the people are on the screen, which are all modifying the perceptual experience of the audience in a way that I think is possibly counter-cognitively productive to accurate science. Science as a process is a process of being accurate, of trying to find things that are real and there’s all sorts of things, all sorts of events that the film crew is going to alter by the very experience of being in the filmmaking situation. Since we are going to alter these events in filming, I think it’s really prudent that in the film itself it declares that it’s an alteration. It was very intentional in the film “Tropical Rainforest” that the first word of narration in the film says “Imagine.” It says, “Imagine we are travelers in time” because I couldn’t possibly film real events of 400,000,000 years with this equipment. The equipment has too much, it intrudes too much into the real experience. And if any of you have traveled in any sort of natural situation, if you want animals up close, in focus, on screen so that there’s no filmmaking effects in the experience, so it’s like you’re being in the rain forest, you have to fake it. It’s a movie. We have to bring the cameras to the, the animals to the camera, have to do two and a half hours doing the set-up, have to make sure that the toucan stays in the shot for long enough to do it. That needs some manipulation. That’s not a toucan in the forest. It’s real close if we work on it.

And to back this up and make it so that it’s a scientifically accurate observation, for me, is one of the important things that these films should be considering as they are getting made. I think that it would be really, that the theater itself in fact is an observational platform where we can actually accurately just sit and watch stuff and perhaps even use it as scientific research platform. One of the events that we often all like and seems to be one of the things that people are drawn to the giant screen, is this feeling of speed, of movement, that the theater is moving. And we seem to be finding more and more shots that fly faster and faster and faster.

I’d like to posit that we’ve already seen the fastest shots we will ever see and experience the speediest shots we’ve ever ridden in these theaters in two films that have existed for quite some time, and there’s going to some more of these in the film “Stormchasers.” Anytime we see a time lapse shot of clouds rolling, which appear all the time, we love them, “Chronos” had them, “Seasons” has them, “Rainforest” has them. That’s a compression of time. And it’s very likely, what those shots are actually showing, is the earth’s rotation, that’s the only movement that’s in that shot. Where I filmed at the equator, and filmed some time lapse shots, that’s the equivalent of, at the equator we’re travelling a thousand miles an hour, I collapsed an hour into ten seconds so, that’s a six-thousand mile an hour shot. Did you all feel that in the theater? I mean watching clouds move through time is travelling at ten to twenty times the rotation speed of the planet. Zipping along. Nobody grabs their seat when there’s a shot travelling that fast. I also think that the shot that’s in the film “Destiny in Space” which shows the shuttle against the earth, is the fastest travelling shot we’ll ever see in this format. Three hundred miles a second that shot’s travelling. That’s seventeen-plus-thousand miles an hour. That elegant, still, quiet shot, is just fabulous.

From that I would suggest that we do need to have in these films, movement, because audiences expect it, it’s an epinephrine rush, I mean it’s an adrenaline rush, it lasts for about twelve, fifteen minutes. There’s a decay time. You don’t need too many of them or people will go into a hyper-vigilant state from all these adrenaline shots they’re getting in the theater, but everybody wants em. And we have to find ways of using it, but I think we have understand as well that we need to have a realistic sensibility about the presentation as it goes along.

One of the suggestions that I want to make in this panel is to actually consider thinking up an alternative, occasional alternative use of the theater as a science observation platform. When I saw Peter Parks 3-D close-up stuff of the egg embryo last year, which I think he’s also showing again tomorrow morning at 7AM, I was stunned by this slow zoom in on this live action egg embryo. My daughter was also at the ISTC meeting. She just finished her degree in biology, and she came out after seeing that film clip and she said, “Dad, in all the time that I went to all the labs at the University of Chicago, and looked at all those slices of all those things, I never saw some of the stuff I saw today in that minute and a half.” This was startling. “I never saw it in live action, I never was able to observe it that clear, that big, that three-dimensionally.” I would like to suggest that there’s possibly an alternate use of these theaters from time to time as a science research site where you show footage like that, rent the theater to a university class for an hour as a lab class once a week, and have people come in and do observational science of areas that they’re studying as a learning place.

Looking at time lapse clouds probably is showing some sorts of motion in it, that I don’t know if everybody in the field of weather has actually been able to observe before. It’s like being in a real place with time altered. I think there’s a number of alternative uses of the theater, which possibly even have rental use, which might be inside the context of a science center’s informal science education program as a way of using this great huge frameless visual space, and I intentionally bring that up as a concept here in this particular panel to suggest that one of the things that makes the science center film unique is being able to have a personal direct observational experience with the material that’s on the screen. I suggest that it, that puts a huge pressure on filmmakers to try to consider often how much our filmmaking work is altering the experience, and then finding ways to either be very direct about that in a film that’s a science film, so that we know that. In John Weiley’s film “Imagine” his narrator says “We’re sitting in a theater here, watch what we’re going to do, we’re going to do an optical trick.” It’s a direct conversation with the audience. It’s not trying to be out there that’s mysterious, and it’s totally engrossing and involving.

And I’m thinking and finding more and more that as I consider the audience as the main character in the films that we have to be basically having a conversation with, the films have to have a virtually a conversation with the audiences where when I’m in the audience I’m thinking that the narrator should probably be saying things very similar to what I’m thinking, but maybe like the person next to me who knows a little something more, a little different, and that I’m almost in conversation with that person.

I think that these films need to consider having a ten year shelf life for them to be economically viable, basing the way the market works, and I think that has an implication for the kinds of science stories that are being told, because if something is going to show up on the screen any time in the next ten years, it’s going to have to kind of take into account the change in history. And that means for me that the stories need to cover much bigger chunks of time. And the chunk of time that I think is maybe the minimum that Omnimax/IMAX/IWERKS giant screen frameless films should talk about is probably a thousand years of history. If it, so that it can sort of, because I, I see a number of paradigm shifts that have changed through science history, and we need to kind of consider the fact that science is this ongoing thinking process that we’re all going through, and that we rely on certain specialists along the way to find information for all of us in our inquiry, but it’s based on a long history, and for us to, you know, to sort of be have a thousand year look back with kind of a fifty year imagined look forward to consider how this, where this story that we’re telling shows up in time.

I think it’s going to be the kind of films that will be useful in the next twenty-five years as the technology in the world and as the population in the world changes. And as science centers have growing constantly changing needs as to providing science education. Thank you.

We have about fifteen minutes now. If there’s some questions I would love to have you ask them of the panelists. Yes.

Question [inaudiable]

BEN SHEDD: Within that, Sheila, is the puzzle of what is the place of a narrator in these frameless films? Historically narrators in my mind come from public speakers, who come from radio, who come from documentary, and there’s a historical precedent.

I spent four hours with Simon Campbell Jones the narration writer for “Tropical Rainforest” in a discussion about “Who is the character of the narrator in a giant screen film?” and we came up with seven or eight different versions. You know, “Is it the voice of, something, is it the voice of authority?” “Is it the person sitting next to me?” “Is it a storyteller?” “Is it a poet?” “Who is the voice in this particular format?” Because it’s different than the television documentary.

The feedback I’ve gotten from a number of my good friends, who always tell me exactly what they think after they’ve seen one of my works, they say to me that they usually hear the narration on about the third or fourth pass in the movies because they are so absorbed in this visceral visual audio experience. That tells me that we can’t rely on narration as the information tool in these films at a first level. That they’re, and we also have to figure out who the storyteller is so that we are all joined in together.

(Audience comment inaudible)

BEN SHEDD: Yep, yep. Thought I already had, Sheila. That’s why we’re having this panel, is to partly set these questions up to yes.

DAVID ELLIS [FROM AUDIENCE]: Ben, I was interested in your comment about the different films and the word “Imagine.” One of the things I noticed in a couple of your films is, at times there’s so much, there’s almost too much there. And frankly I would ask you the question around “Tropical Rainforest” does saying “Imagine” at the beginning, is it that important? Or is it something that perhaps even gets lost by the visual experience, though I’m wondering if operational in terms of results, it could really achieve that?

HYMAN FIELD: Can I react to that? Because I have always thought that’s a great first beginning of this film, but I didn’t know it was there because Ben wanted to use it as the disclaimer, that it wasn’t really the real stuff. I thought he was getting the audience engaged into, ah think about it, imagine, and it got me involved.

BEN SHEDD: I was getting the audience involved too, Hyman. I mean it’s a real interesting puzzle, and let me just specifically say that I actually came to that because I got so boggled up in the designing of the film trying to think about four hundred million years of evolution. I mean I just got paralyzed, literally trying to grasp in my head that kind of time, and I found this wonderful John McPhee quote that says something like that humans can deal five thousand ten thousand years of time, but you get over 50,000 years, it paralyzes the imagination, and that’s what he said, and I said “oh okay let’s set this whole thing in our imagination” because … it also is a part of the fact that as a child I was a working magician. I find it really interesting as an adult that what I do is cinema veritie‚ documentaries. I create illusions of reality. I’m an illusion maker, I’m not, I’m not reshowing the reality, I’m creating a reality for the viewer that hopefully has certain levels of invisibility to it. I think that’s the issue.

Audience member: (inaudible) That’s not a tree up there, that’s a picture of a tree.

BEN SHEDD: Right, but the issue I think in Omni, especially Omnimax – and I use Omnimax a lot cause it’s so wrapped around us – is that I think it becomes the appearance of such a real place that it’s cognitively hard, there’s no place to disengage from the imagery, so in some ways I think there’s some kind of a, I’m probably not going to use the right technical psychological term, but I think there’s a sort of a transference of whether, there’s a difficulty in describing whether it’s a real place or an imaginary place.

DAVID ELLIS: Aren’t you sending a little bit of a mixed message?

BEN SHEDD: Ask me more David.

DAVID: It seems to me you’re saying on one hand “imagine,” (BEN: yeah.) and on the other hand here’s this image you want us to be immersed in, (BEN: right) and certainly film deals with suspension of reality and all that, so I guess I’m just intrigued by the word imagine, and how much you want this in the audience. To think of as simply imagination as opposed to something more. I don’t know, just a comment. (BEN: let me think about that)

(Audience question mostly inaudible.)

BEN SHEDD: I find that part of the issue, because part of, I’d like to respond to both of you, is that my science advisors on my team showed me this fern forest and in our discussions, these two evolutionary biologists said, these kinds of trees have fundamentally existed on the planet for four or five hundred million years. There’s like this group of trees has slipped through time and right on growing, and it occurred to me that I could take my camera and point it through time, point it at these trees, and you really couldn’t tell based on the best research we know, what time in the world you’re in. I mean that’s it. And now what does it sound like, is another little whole puzzle, I that, you know, isn’t as easy as pointing the camera at the picture side of it. We had to come up with an audio version of what it sounds like four or five hundred million years ago.

But that is, that actually came out of my discussions with my science advisors as they all kept talking and walking around and they suddenly got in this one particular forest and they said we could be any time in time in the last four or five hundred million years in this place, and I just found that absolutely fascinating. And then i, but then I couldn’t put it in the screen and say this is real, just because that’s exactly the point, it’s not real, it’s right now, it’s a physical technological, high tech image of this thing.

And so in some ways part of what I’m discussing in the last few minutes here is this whole idea of being honest with the audience about we’re representing on these screens because of all the abilities of the technology to have a, you know I mean, to impose different, different realities into what we’re seeing on the screen. In some ways the surface of the screen is actually the surface of the film, and right behind the surface of the film is a whole film crew doing all sorts of things to that particular image. Yes.

Audience Question: (inaudible) You were talking about the environment and learning whether (inaudible) in schools, (inaudible), and if they see it in school then obviously more they agitate, was there any follow up on (inaudible) like on the video, did they follow up on the future? (inaudible) why that would be?

LAURA MARTIN: Oh, no that was controlled for. It actually wasn’t so much that more was retained. It was different things were retained and what children expressed as what was this about was more there’s a lesson here and this is what it was, so they sort of expressed, yeah.

Audience question: (inaudible, tape end). to watch the science progressive, the films become more and more fantastic as filmmakers and researchers look more (inaudible) they are more fantastic, and (inaudible) technology’s growing, but I was wondering do researchers, and scientists and the filmmakers that are working with them, are they perhaps leaving behind part of the audience, and getting away from some basic points that weaving(?) and grasping(?) but still the younger audience, because there’s still a lot of adults who aren’t getting (inaudible).

HYMAN FIELD: I think the answer’s yes.

BEN SHEDD: There are all kinds of things being left behind.

HYMAN FIELD: I think that a filmmaker has to be careful that they don’t leave everybody totally behind, but I think that it’s absolutely appropriate that they challenge some people and perhaps go beyond them, some part of the audience, in terms of the conceptualization, but I think that there has to be a basic understanding all the way through.

Audience question (partly inaudible): What I was, I tried to arraign to was the second factors (inaudible) that you were talking about. The problem of trying and getting people interesting and people involved with. It’s one way to get them involved into a (inaudible) and to the science center every day (inaudible), while they came (inaudible) dividing(?) the ocean is wonderful, reaching the stars is wonderful, (inaudible) think it would be a little bit beyond their (inaudible) relating to it?

HYMAN FIELD: I think it depends on how the film is put together. I think some films have done that in a way that you actually see someone working in the field. A film on the bottom of the ocean, you’re going to see scientist working on top of the ocean to get to the bottom. Hopefully a fifth are adults who’ll come away saying gee now I understand how they know this and how it does relate, and maybe there are unanswered questions, and I maybe that can be one of the ones to go out and find some of those answers.

LAURA MARTIN: Generally speaking what you want to do…

HYMAN FIELD: Every film can’t do everything by the way. I’m sorry.

LAURA MARTIN: You want to start with the here and now for the little kids and then expand the universe, but you know, help the kids with putting it in perspective, so for instance, “Whales” is an incredibly appealing topic to older kids, as are other topics that have to do with mysteries, that have to do with huge scale, or microscale, these kind of extremes, you know Ripley’s Believe It or Not is the favorite book of the sixth grader. These kind of “oh my gahd,” you know, so. And whales are mysterious and huge and everything, so we can start with that motivation and then show how, you know, how do people study whales, how do they do that, where do they, you know where do you find them, where can you go to find them. Connect them to the kid’s life, in some ways, and in one case the “Voyage of the meany(?)” whales were connected through a dramatic story to kids’ lives. So you know it’s not to, as you were saying, not to restrict their universe, to expand it, but to help them make that bridge, to make it mean…

Audience question: (inaudible) about perspective on film, how can you take, it’s easy to make the perspective of size, but how can give a child a perspective of time?

LAURA MARTIN: Oh well, it’s hard.

HYMAN FIELD: It is hard. The cosmic voyage film is wrestling with that idea right now, and how to, because the last part of it deals with the universe and creation of the universe as we know it now, and the time factor, and they’re really wrestling with this, it’s difficult.

LAURA MARTIN: I was going to say also, on a certain positive note, kids have a high tolerance for ambiguity and for not knowing what’s going on, as opposed to adults, so they don’t expect to follow it, which is terrible to say, but they don’t really expect to understand everything, so you can get away with stuff.

BEN SHEDD: Hyman has a comment here.

HYMAN FIELD: Oh I just want to disagree with something Ben said. And it’s purely a personal reaction to it. And I don’t know whether others have this reaction or not. But you made the statement that an IMAX, that going to an IMAX film is a group experience. I don’t find it that at all. I find it a very personal experience; I forget the rest of the audience is there when I see an IMAX film. And it’s me and the film, but nobody else is there, and I’m almost surprised at the end of it to find other people sitting around me. (BEN: Wow.) So it’s a very different experience. It’s not group at all, for me. I’m sure we’ll continue this discussion, in the meantime…

Audience question: You know I used to, I was thinking of the same thing. You were talking about social, the deeper social experience (inaudible). for me, IMAX films have been social experiences. For what’s happened with 3D is suddenly I’m back into being a boy. (BEN: Yeah, it’s a real puzzle isn’t it?) That’s a tremendous sense of manipulation, and I find that hard to deal with, you know. The artifice of it becomes extremely (deferring<-?).

BEN SHEDD: I personally have this very distinct recollection of being in the “Dream is Alive” Space Shuttle film, and the boot of Italy comes on filling the screen, and I turned to whoever I was next to and went like that, and that person was going like this, like this to me, and I’ve been in the projection booth numerous times while I’ve been watching the film, and every time that shot comes on, if you’ll watch the audience, every single person in the audience goes like that, and they’re talking to the, and then I consider that the nature of the group experience.

Audience question: (inaudible) science observation funds. A professor at the Harvard medical school uses his class to show “To the Limit” (inaudible). I think there are a lot of interesting ways we could develop that idea. Maybe if we could find ways to use pieces of films but not always whole films.

JIM PETERSON: Point of view is really, what Ben was talking about what’s coming up in the future. A lot of what we’ve done so far in the past, in many cases successfully, is put people in places where they can have a point of view on something that they can’t otherwise. There are thousands and thousands of miles ahead of us in being able to do that. I loved going down the trachea or whatever tube we went down, I don’t even remember what it was now, but it was inside, man I’ll never be able to do this, wow is that something. I wanted to go into the stomach. I wanted to go into the kidney and the liver, take me down there too, the point of view. And I love the example of a sewing machine. I’ve no idea how that needle works. I have not a clue. (LAURA: Get on it.) Put me in a little camera or something with a needle and I’ll go aha. And it doesn’t take very long either, probably take about thirty seconds, and then give me another one, do it again.

BEN SHEDD: The idea, I think this idea that what happens in my perceptual view when the frame is gone is that we no longer have close-ups and wide shots. What happens is the audience grows and shrinks. I mean, if the theater is tipping and turning, everything has, all the action in these films happens on the audience’s side of the screen. And if you see a big thing like the needle of a sewing machine, what’s happened is we’ve become microscopic and we go down, and we have these really interesting abilities of time compression and magnification in this format, that’s magnificent, visual magnification like we’ve never had the capacity anywhere else, and we won’t have it for a few more years in video. We will have it in a few years, but we don’t have it for a while. And I just partly want to suggest, we haven’t already reached that, getting close, but we’re not quite. But that we have the, that there are other ways of using the theater. I’m suggesting perhaps using a five minute piece of film over and over for a half an hour, not show a movie, but actually use some of Peter Parks’ stuff by itself. I have found a couple of times that people have shown their footage silent in preview screenings and with a little red laser pointer kind of pointed at it, which is enthralling. This morning in group A for those of you who were there, when we had a slight projector delay, we had a five minute lecture on whales by Roger Payne. (HYMAN: Great, he was wonderful.) I was just awestruck. I mean he was there to sort of introduce the piece, but then in the mean time he had a few minutes to talk and here’s Roger Payne talking about whales, for goodness sakes, and I would have preferred to just to watch the footage and had him keep on talking with a red pointer. And I mean I have found those kinds of pieces really interesting and it’s, I’d just like to suggest that there may be some other ways of using these theaters. Perhaps when a science group is in town, a specialist group is having a small convention in town, and a piece of footage about there stuff is found in our collection of footage, and you rent the theater to them for the evening and they all come and watch this for an hour and see stuff they’ve never seen in slides they’ve been looking at for their whole life. Just other ways of doing it.

Audience question (partly inaudible): This has actually happened, in medium (inaudible) is going on undocumented, so we don’t hear about Peter Parks (inaudible), we don’t hear about our professors’ using it, and I’m sure in (inaudible) et cetera people use this all the time, and it’s because the power of the medium is one of, I don’t (inaudible) arguments about personal (inaud) social, but it is what Doug Trumbell was talking about applying it in 3D, I thought he was wrong there, but in terms of applying it to IMAX, it makes you need to (inaud, BEN: absolutely.) that you’re directly there. It doesn’t have to be 3D. 3D is, I think totally different, become a priority, (inaud) totally there, and people, some people react to this point and some people react to this about and get overwhelmed. But this is a powerful means of getting people to do what science does, which is observation, and discovery through self or socially. (inaud) the two of you have different (BEN: oh yeah). I’ve seen an article in (inaud) not everybody (inaud), a lot of people just sit there, and they’re totally introspective. It’s a personal experience. Exactly what Hyman was saying. and then there are others that come in and just, they’re talking the whole time. Annoying people and (inaud). I think that in terms of, Laura, what you were talking about, I tell you there’s a lot of research subjects in this, and the fact that no one’s done large (LAURA: I know, it’s a gold mine.) It’s one of the very, (inaud) in the last couple of years I think Imax, (inaud) films, kind of assisting method as we do, and that others are looking at these other things and kind of the case, same thing as (inaud – exhibits?), we still don’t know basic course(?) of how to do this. How does this stuff work? I would close with this, that we, we have right up now on deavonworth(?), on of the astronauts, and his first name is Newman, he took a plywood Rueben fleet space theater, (inaudible), because he was inspired by the stuff that he saw when he was a kid, (inaud) opened up a theater (inaud), and I think that something that I (inaud) the panel leaving out, and that you’re talking as if knowledge is kind of this one dimensional how much do I know I wonder how the universe (inaud) inspirational notion we have, that part of it which gets, is difficult to quantify and therefore we can’t talk about. In a (inaud) IMAX audience, this is what kids are relating(?) to and adults. So I think research in this area, for instance (inaud).

BEN SHEDD: I have two research groups who are interested in finding some theaters to do some research, but so I… I would find it really useful perhaps we should maybe suggest doing some kind of a survey of the variety of uses of how these theaters, besides, besides what we get here, which is primarily the thirty-eight minute film use, but that the conditions of making films aren’t always about making observational materials.

LAURA MARTIN: Can I make a comment related to your comment to that? The “imagine” stuff. Which is that there is a kind of movement now to introduce media literacy curricula into the, into schools. I don’t know where it’s going but that’s, it’s important. What’s interesting is what kids don’t understand about how one takes photographs, and things like that. And I think of two instances. One was, I was sitting in an eighth grade science class, and there’s a photograph of a galaxy on the wall, and the teacher said to the kids, “Is this a picture of our galaxy?” Kids had no way of guessing if that could have been a photograph of our galaxy. They just didn’t know. “Can we go that far out to take a picture?” They didn’t know. And the other thing was actually interesting at the science center, we have a down link to a weather satellite and we get the images everyday on the screen, and we asked some children visitors, also how do they get those pictures. No idea, and you know the best guess was an astronaut goes up and gets them every day. So media literacy will also help with the imagined parts so that the kids can’t suspend belief, which is what they do, but also know how you got there.

Audience question: Well, I just guess what really concerns me is as we are able to manipulate images more and more and more, what is that going to do?

BEN SHEDD: Yep. A real interesting puzzle. And you are going to start seeing all those on the IMAX screen real soon, too, we’re not just taking the camera outdoors anymore.

Audience question: I have this, this question this debate about “imagine.” It gets back to the scientific process, which you talked about. Because that’s the first word. (MAN: Start there.) of the scientific process. That’s the basis for scientific curiosity. Let’s try to imagine how this works, what and then you go forward from there. (BEN: Right.) So it’s a wonderful word as far as film. It’s interesting, I can, different people interpret why you used that word.

BEN SHEDD: Well, I used it for all those reasons. I mean. (Commotion of many voices, and laughter.) I have thought of all those things.

HYMAN FIELD: Ben’s thought of all of those things.

BEN SHEDD: I had to. I didn’t have a choice.

I thank you all for the time you spent preparing this and each bringing your expertise to this discussion, and all of you for your questions, and participating with us. I’ve learned a whole lot, thanks very much. And, if anybody has anymore conversations, will you come see us during the rest of the meeting, or we’ll continue this discussion probably next year with another panel. Thanks now. Wow, thank you, thank you, thank you, wow, wow.

Uploaded 08/Dec/2013