Over at Shifting Baselines, Randy Olson posts a comment suggesting how to combat anti-science movies like Expelled:
You want to know how to start — why doesn’t somebody run a film festival for pro-evolution films? THAT is how you reach out to tap into new voices, new blood, new perspectives. THAT is what is desperately needed. Efforts to fan the fires of creativity and innovation. THAT was how I got started as a filmmaker — winning awards at the New England Film and Video Festival while I was still a professor. That festival, and others, drew me into the world of filmmaking. But right now, if a high school kid makes a really great video about evolution, where is he or she supposed to send it? And more importantly, the presence of such a festival becomes an incentive to draw new talent into the subject.
Predictably enough, this draws a bunch of comments of the form “If you’re so smart, Mr. Movie Guy, why don’t you do it?”, and he demurs, saying he’s too busy to organize a real film festival. But, really, the idea is a good one, and I don’t see why it couldn’t be made to happen. In fact, we have all the necessary ingredients right here.
OK, fine, we don’t have celebrities and connections and distribution deals. But as we’re constantly being reminded, this is the 21st century, the age of blogs and citizen media and YouTube– we don’t need any of those things to make a start.
There’s absolutely no reason we couldn’t launch the ScienceBlogs.com Online Film Festival right now.
I mean, look at what you need to make a film festival, and look at what we have here.
First and foremost, you need a way for people to make films and get them to you. Well, we’ve got that, in the form of YouTube. We could take our cue from the Nanobowl contest run by Physics Central a while back, and have people submit entries by posting them to YouTube with a particular tag.
Next you need a way to draw in quality entries. This requires the two things that aspiring filmmakers want, both of which we have:
- Money: We have upwards of seventy blogs as part of ScienceBlogs, all of whom presumably have some interest in promoting science to the general public. If, say, 60 of those bloggers were willing to contribute an average of $100 each (that’s an average, mind– I know that some of the bloggers are students for whom $100 is a non-trivial sum, but I’d be willing to kick in significantly more). That’d be $6,000 in prize money right there, without going outside the circle of bloggers.
- Exposure: The other thing aspiring filmmakers want is exposure, and even beyond our tens of thousands of blog readers, we’re sponsored by a media company for God’s sake. Generating publicity is what they do– if we could get Seed on board with the idea, that would easily provide enough potential publicity to bring people in.
So how would this work? Well, we would announce the ScienceBlogs.com Online Film Festival, seeking short films promoting some aspect of science to a general audience, with entries to be collected via YouTube and a deadline of, say, Labor Day (to give students and academics a chance to take the summer to work on their submissions). We watch the entries, narrow them down to a short list, and post them all on some common site for people to watch. Then we choose a winner, or several winners.
$6,000 in prize money would let you do multiple categories– Life Science, Physical Science, and Science and Society, say. Call it a $1,000 first prize for each, with a $500 second prize, and a $500 Audience Award, voted on by readers. If the Corporate Masters would be willing to, say, profile the winning directors in a future issue of Seed, that’d be plenty to sweeten the pot.
There are lots of other ways to expand on this, too. You could imagine connecting it up with the World Science Festival or something similar, arranging to have the winning films shown as part of the festival. I’m sure it would be possible to get more money to offer in prizes, as well, if we were to expand beyond ScienceBlogs.
It would be a good deal of work, to be sure, but nothing remotely like what Randy’s original comment suggestion would involve. And it would require some investment on the part of bloggers, but we’ve managed that before, raising tens of thousands of dollars for DonorsChoose, and coming tantalizingly close to arranging a science debate among presidential candidates.
Yeah, we wouldn’t be able to put up enough to get slickly produced two-hour movies about the wonders of evolution to go head-to-head with Expelled. But you have to start somewhere, and we could start by getting lots of ten-minute short films promoting science. In some ways, that might be even better. Best of all, there’s no reason we couldn’t make this happen.
So what do you all think?