On September 15, 101 DGA members and guests attended the 2012 Directors Retreat. Held at the California Science Center in Exposition Park in Los Angeles, the retreat was titled Science Friction: How New Science Can Spark New Stories, and featured a day of in-depth presentations and conversations with scientists working on the cutting edge of neuroscience, neuroethics, astrobiology and robotics.
The event provided a unique forum for DGA members to learn how the latest discoveries in science are exploding the boundaries of the known and the possible and how these discoveries can provide the potential for new stories, as well as the opportunity to meet the people involved and be inspired by them. Science Friction was presented by the DGA Special Projects Committee in collaboration with the Science & Entertainment Exchange, the organization created by the National Academy of Sciences to promote creative exchange between entertainment industry professionals and top scientists around the country.
The morning kicked off with a welcome from Special Projects Committee member, director Oz Scott (American Dreams, CSI: NY). Scott introduced the retreat’s keynote speaker, Dr. Eric Haseltine, whose presentation focused on the connection between science and storytelling through the biology of the brain; and discussed several hot topics in science ranging from Neuroscience to Cosmology. Haseltine, the former Executive Vice President of Disney Imagineering, and former Director of Research for the National Security Agency, assists intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense in applying cutting-edge technology to counter-terrorism and collaborative intelligence analysis.
Next, Theoretical Physicist Sean M. Carroll presented From Eternity to Here: Time Travel for Beginners, an exploration of theories about time travel, parallel universes, entropy, black holes, white holes, dark matter, “spaghettification,” and much more. Dr. Carroll has served as a consultant for the feature films Thor and Tron: Legacy, as well as episodic television series such as Fringe and Bones. He is the author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, and serves on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology, where his research focuses on the theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory and gravitation, exploring the nature of fundamental physics by studying the structure and evolution of the universe.
Neuroscientist and Neuroethicist James Giordano presented Neuroscience and Neurotechnology: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which asked the question “How does our ever-increasing ability to control human thoughts, emotions, and behavior create ethical challenges for us all and offer dramatic possibilities for storytellers?” A Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Integrative Physiology and the Chief of the Clinical Neuroethics Program in the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, Giordano also serves as Director of the Center for Neurotechnology Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
The search for new life forms was covered in the presentation, Aliens Below and Beyond: Searching for New Life Forms from the Depths of Our Ocean to Deep Space, by Astrobiologist and Planetary Scientist Kevin Hand. He discussed how, using knowledge about life found in extreme environments on earth, scientists are working to find and explore potentially habitable -- and possibly inhabited -- environments beyond Earth. The Deputy Chief Scientist for Solar System Exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Hand has appeared in several television documentaries for National Geographic, Discovery and PBS, was featured in James Cameron’s IMAX documentary Aliens of the Deep, and served as a consultant on Ridley Scott's sci-fi thriller Prometheus.
New developments in the field of Robotics were covered by Roboticist Maja Mataric in her presentation Batteries Not Included: Robots as Caregivers. She discussed how robots are being developed for aiding and assisting children with autism and elderly Alzheimer's patients. With the assistance of two graduate students, she demonstrated how their robot, “Bandit,” interacts with humans emotionally. A professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics at the University of Southern California, and founding Director of the USC Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems, Dr. Mataric was also featured in Michael Apted's documentary Me & Isaac Newton.
Following the presentations, director Jerry Zucker spoke about how the Science & Entertainment Exchange connects entertainment industry professionals with top scientists and engineers to create a synergy between accurate science and engaging storylines in both film and TV programming. In addition to his work as a director-writer-producer (Ghost, First Knight, Rat Race) Zucker serves as Co-Vice-Chair of the Advisory Board of The Science & Entertainment Exchange.
After the lunch break, the retreat attendees were invited to attend breakout sessions with the scientists where they were able to follow up with their own comments and questions in small group discussions. The scientists and attendees then gathered for an all-participant panel with guest speakers Carroll, Giordano, Hand, and Mataric, moderated by Haseltine. The day concluded with a walk-through of the Science Center’s exhibits and interactive demonstrations.