Scientists may toil in the hallowed halls of academia, but finding the brilliant heads that help strengthen a show sometimes requires grass roots tactics. This is precisely the approach producer Rich Blundell took for a 30-minute pilot called Science Out There (w/t).
Coproduced by Boston-based Chedd-Angier Production (Scientific American Frontiers) and Blundell’s Maine-based Omniscopic Productions, the show shadows three scientists as they conduct research in their respective fields. One is a marine biologist who studies gulls, another an expert in ancient technologies who explores the use of handmade yucca rope to access cliff dwellings, and the third is a bat biologist who searches for the furry, misunderstood creatures in abandoned mines.
To find these experts, Blundell designed and conducted a broad recruitment strategy that included a website where experts could register to be added to a database. With the aid of a US$50,000 planning grant from the National Science Foundation, Blundell widened his hunt for potential on-camera experts using Internet research, scientific journals and query letters in which he asked specialists about their studies – those amenable to appearing in the show made it into Blundell’s database. He furthered his recruitment by posting flyers at universities and attending science-focused gatherings, where he included a brochure about his website in the literature distributed to attendees.
After gathering a list of about 150 scientists from around the world, Blundell followed up with the roughly one third that looked most promising, then narrowed that number down to three, all of whom were in the U.S. because of budget limitations. The New Mexico-based ancient technologies expert was located via a National Geographic article, while the other two scientists ‘were much more under the radar and hadn’t written anything for the public,’ says Blundell. He found them through Web searches and recommendations. ‘Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s someone’s colleagues throwing recommendations that really pays off,’ he says. For instance, when Blundell found the marine lab off the coast of Maine where his featured gull biologist works, the lab’s pr woman said, ‘I know exactly who you should use. She’s fun, she’s vibrant – you’ll love her.’ The recommendation was bang on, reports Blundell.
The personality of the experts was key for Blundell, who acts as host of the show. They needed to be charismatic, passionate about their work, and people with whom he had good chemistry on camera. Since his target is the 18- to 35-year-old demo, he also wanted them to be fun, ‘because the whole point of this show is to shed a fun light on science and to inspire young people to pursue science as a career.’ Although the experts aren’t paid for their involvement, the respect they earn with audiences may be reward enough.