Science in film

A different kind of post today, because i’m taking some time out to talk about this odd organism (myself) and what i’ve been up to of late. So please, look away now if you’re after something with super venom or an odd number of genitals, as I have neither.

What I do have, is a tale to tell and tips to share, all concerning the magical pairing of science and film…

As of last Saturday, I wrapped up my role as travelling science communicator (a.k.a. gypsy science speaker) for Sci Film, a big film competition happening right now in Western Australia, where anyone (solo or with pals) can enter a three minute film featuring science. The top 15 films will be played in cinemas around WA – and there are cash prizes too. Yay money! Yay fame!

To help promote Sci Film, I co-ran some film making workshops with my fabulous, filmy friend Adrian (a producer from Albany, responsible for Film Harvest) all around the state. Starting in Geraldton, then heading to Merredin, Kalgoorlie, Albany and Bunbury – hello to anyone who met us along the way!

In these workshops we shared tips to making films (without fancy equipment) and on communicating science in those films. As part of my role as gypsy science speaker, I came up with my top tips to communicating science in film and i’d like to share them here too – especially because there’s still loads of time to enter Sci Film (entries are due on the 22nd July), so hopefully this helps anyone looking to enter or anyone interested in making films with a science spin in the future.

Sci Film

Start here!

What is your key message? Sadly, we humans don’t remember everything we’re told or shown – so think. If you had to choose, what’s the one thing you’d like your audience to take away from your film? That’s your key message! Shape your film around that key message so there’s no way your audience can leave without remembering that at least.

Some example key messages might be:

Tip #1 – Make it relevant

Science can be obscure and complex, so make your audience interested and help them understand, by making it relevant to them. A great way to do this is to make comparisons to everyday things your audience is familiar with.

For example, instead of saying:

‘The blue whale can reach 30m in length!’

Something like the below, does better at helping your audience visualise just how freakin’ huge this whale is:

‘Look at the blood vessels in your wrist… see how tiny they are? The blue whale’s largest blood vessel is so big, a human could fit inside!

Tip #2 – Make it memorable

How can we help your audience remember that key message, and anything else you’re communicating in your film? Here be some ways!

      • Repetition: Obvious yes, but in film you can get creative. Maybe we see a shot twice, once at normal speed and once in slow motion so the audience really absorbs what just happened. Or, perhaps you start and finish with the same shot? You could easily use this in the narration/presentation too!
      • Wow facts: What’s unique and exciting about the science you’re showing? Give us something to WOW at and whip out later as a fun fact at parties so everyone thinks we’re well read.
      • Emotions: Make us feel something! Do we laugh? Do we get warm fuzzies? Do we get angry? Making the audience feel something can help them process your science film more deeply, so they’re more likely to remember your content.

For a fun example of these techniques in use, check out this video of Deadly 60’s adorable Steve Backshall in action:

Tip #3 – Make it smart

You don’t need to ‘dumb down’ your science for your audience to understand, you just need to smarten up the way you explain it. Tips 1 & 2 help you do this, but it’s also important to avoid complex words (or explain them if you need to use them) and to keep it simple! Especially in a short, three minute film, you don’t want to overwhelm your viewers with information.

TOP TIP #4 – Make it into a story

One of the best ways to help your audience understand and remember your science film, is to shape it into a story! Stories are the bomb, so make sure you have a strong beginning, middle and end and perhaps create some characters, explore relationships or take us on a journey. These can help make a great story.

An excellent example of a science story on film is the documentary March of the Penguins. Hugely successful, it earned over $77 million at the box office, and one reason why – is that it told a great story.

To wrap it all up

Now, March of the Penguins and the Deadly 60 team had big budgets to work with – but don’t be discouraged! You can still make engaging films that successfully communicate science for zilch. And it’s heaps of fun. Have a look at my Odd Organisms attempts below: the first was filmed on my iPhone and the second, on my digital camera. I then edited both on iMovie, which is free on Mac computers but PCs have a similar free program called Windows Movie Maker.

The animations were drawn by myself, scanned onto my computer and animated on Keynote (the Mac equivalent of PowerPoint). Here you can export the animated pictures as a .mov file, and then import that into iMovie. I’m fairly sure the same can be down on PowerPoint too though – maybe someone can report back if they’ve tried it?

So have a go at home! You’ll be surprised – you can make great films with the tools you already have.

Now to actually wrap up: Please share your own tips to science films in the comments below or leave any questions you may have there too. And finally, if you’re interested in entering Sci Film – do it! I can’t wait to see what you all come up with.



    • Hahaha I find the busier I am the more I get done 😛 Sadly the competition closes tomorrow!! But if you’re keen, i’m sure they’d accept submissions a few days late, just send them an email (I actually know someone else who’s submitting late) – if you have footage from your trip that you could edit together quickly that would be awesome 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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