Sometimes, science happens in movies, someone has to deal with it, and who ya gonna call? If you want it to make sense, you call Rick Loverd and the Science and Entertainment Exchange.
The aim of the Exchange is to connect filmmakers, playwrights and anyone else in entertainment with real experts ready to make sure their story’s science is as sturdy as it can be. Founded in 2008 by the National Science Foundation, a government agency that fosters research and education, the Exchange announced itself as any proper Hollywood player would — with a swanky soiree, sponsored by Naked Gun director Jerry Zucker and hosted by Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane. Loverd and company continue to press the flesh with industry insiders, holding about 25 swinging events a year. You could call them the Jäger Girls of science.
“I don’t know about that characterization,” Loverd says after laughing, although he does admit that Exchange parties almost always feature an open bar. “That’s a cornerstone of any good Hollywood event,” Loverd says.
A big opening was important for the Science and Entertainment Exchange, as no one could be sure how in-demand the service would be. “We really didn’t know if the phone would ring,” Loverd says. But despite Hollywood’s reputation for caring more about catering trays than the accuracy of the science their tales depict, shifting attitudes have made the Exchange successful. “We’ve done over 1,500 consults on film, television [and] video game projects,” Loverd says. “It has definitely proven to be a service that Hollywood wants.”
“I think one reason is that we’re living in the future,” Loverd says. Now that we all have supercomputers in our pockets, a film’s science and technology might look quaint and dated if it lacks at least a little verisimilitude. But that can’t be a creator’s main goal. “It’s not Hollywood’s job to create content that’s as accurate as a documentary film,” Loverd says. “It’s Hollywood’s job to tell a good story.”
Jon Spaihts, screenwriter of Dr. Strange, hosted an Exchange-sponsored event on the science of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016
So Hollywood relies on Loverd and his massive Rolodex of over 2,000 scientists, each of whom has been carefully vetted, personally interviewed and is on board with some public outreach through fiction. And the Exchange’s door is always open for more. “Not everybody wants to jump on the phone with a Hollywood writer [and talk] about the physics of a superhero,” Loverd says, “but there are enough people that really are interested in that conversation that we’re never hurting for amazing volunteers.”
Not content to simply facilitate better science in places like the Ant-Man film and Big Bang Theory television series, Loverd took matters into his own hands in 2016, writing a four-issue mini-series for BOOM! Studios called Venus. Prior to heading the Exchange, Loverd’s film degree got him six years of television writing work, including a stint on NBC’s Friday Night Lights, and that experience made BOOM! president of publishing Filip Sablik think his pitch about trying to survive on Earth’s twin was a winner.
The going wouldn’t be easy for Loverd’s cast of characters, as they had to face the harsh conditions of Venus’ runaway greenhouse effect and sulfuric acid snow, all dutifully depicted thanks to his own conversations with scientists, who were also given space in the books to sound off. “I wanted to give the scientists who had given me input on the project a space to, first of all, call me out, go for it, let ‘em know what I’m getting wrong,” Loverd says, “but also what’s exciting about space travel.” That chance to inspire is the main reason Loverd wrote the series. “Perhaps if I’m really lucky, one day I’ll have some person walk up to me, when I’m old and gray, telling me that reading Venus was part of the reason they decided to start working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” Loverd says.
And now Loverd knows, firsthand, the struggle Hollywood endures to reconcile science and story. When the climax of Venus required a character to glide away on the planet’s super-dense atmosphere, Loverd felt the need to call Jet Propulsion Lab architect Randii Wessen and ask if the thick clouds could ever completely stop a person from falling. “He just laughed at me,” Loverd says. “Apparently that was a ridiculous question.”
Got a project that needs a scientific consult? Call the Exchange hotline at 844-NEED-SCI!