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Bees in Rain: exploring the intersections of science and film

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Bees in Rain: Exploring the intersections of science and film. Image of Robbie I'Anson Price, PhD and Co-founder

Preface: Visual media has taken over in how we absorb information, so how can researchers use film and video to communicate science? We asked Robbie I’Anson Price from Bees in Rain Science Film Studio about the future of sci-comm and how he approaches creating films that share research with different audiences. We learned how impact on the audience and telling a story are very important, as is portraying the humanness of science with honesty. This interview is a part of our ongoing series interviewing innovative companies that support researchers!

Can you tell us what led you to start Bees in Rain Science Film Studio?

With pleasure! I am a scientist and an artist and I believe that good science communication has never been more important. At Bees in Rain we also know that it has never been more challenging. We are very aware that every video we publish will have to compete with millions of other videos that are uploaded to the internet each day, each vying for attention. For this reason Bees in Rain was created with a very clear process for film production. It is centered on making our work relatable to the intended audience and publishing each piece with a long-term dissemination strategy. We know that if our work is not seen, no matter how good the work, the project cannot be considered a success.

What audiences watch your science films and what sorts of places have they been shown out in the world?

Aha! The important question of ‘audience’! It completely depends on the project and its goals, this will guide our storytelling techniques, visual style, or where we publish the work. At the end of the day, it’s about tailoring the product to those for whom it will have value. I, personally, have had more artistic leaning films shown at festivals around the world. This kind of dissemination doesn’t necessarily reach the target audience, or even a large audience, but it is validating to see the work on the big screen.

How do science films strengthen the relationship between researchers and the public?

It’s a good question because not all science films do. Many institutions are still making corporate videos in which a scientist talks to the camera about their work while we see b-roll of someone on a computer or in a lab. These videos have their place and can be very interesting, however, they aren’t strengthening relationships in my opinion. In recent years there is a new wave of science communication being created by scientists who, empowered by the increased accessibility of new media, tell the story of their science and their experience as scientists. These videos, along with the accompanying discourse, provide the public with an opportunity to truly engage and understand the experiences of researchers and the world of scientific inquiry.

Is there anything you consider to be most important in communicating research effectively in a science film?

Clarity in the goals of the work is so important. Without this you may end up making a great film, but it’s unlikely to be impactful. When budget and time are tight, as they often are, clear goals will also guide you on how to best use your resources.

How do you approach bringing abstract or invisible concepts like bacterial communication or physics to life?

We always look to balance relatability and originality. With the more abstract concepts, finding relatability is especially important, so we spend time finding the right analogy that will resonate with the target audience. Sometimes we begin with sounds or music that we feel captures the subject, other times we look to an improv game in which we go around in circles completing the sentence “bacterial communication is like…”. It produces a fair amount of nonsense but gets our imaginations flowing. We are also really lucky to be able to call on our diverse sets of artistic skills when in the design stages of a project, not being limited in how we can bring an abstract idea to life comes in very helpful.

You have been active in communicating your research on film. What was the response like to showing your science?

Haha, yes, hidden away in the depths of the internet there are the first videos I ever made. These consisted of me talking about my ‘day in the life of a scientist’ as I filmed myself carrying out experiments for my PhD. I was studying the honeybee waggle dance so at least the subjects of my work were charismatic. The response was positive because I was fortunate enough to be around positive people who could see the learning journey I was on. I highly recommend trying something like this during a PhD; it was a formative experience for me, though not something I would typically show to clients.

How do you see the role of film media in the future of sci-comm?

I believe that it will continue to be very important, but the ways in which we are creating and disseminating film media are surely going to change. In the past year we have started seeing the potential of AI and I am excited to see how it is transforming my processes for writing, video production and how I share my work. We are already seeing some impressive text to video software that potentially removes the need for a camera and studio…pretty exciting! However, in science and science communication, precision is an imperative and generative art is still some way from the level of detail needed to demonstrate the intricacies of cell membrane function, for example. For now and, in my opinion, for as long as we are communicating science, there will continue to be a necessity for collaboration between scientists, science communicators and artists if we are to do justice to this vital process.

Acknowledgment

We would like to thank Robbie for sharing his insight!

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