How would you like to meet a leech specialist who is searching for a rare leech that lives only in the backsides of hippos? Or a scientist that plays in a rock band called “Harry and the Potters”? How about an engineer who is an All-American pole-vaulter and Free Runner?
Thanks to NOVA’s new web-only series The Secret Life of Scientists, you can meet all these fascinating people and more. Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Secret Life of Scientists will highlight a total of 32 scientists and engineers over the next two years. Series producer Joshua Seftel had this to say about creating the series: “I was making a film about cancer research a few years ago and I was meeting these scientists, these researchers who were incredible. They were Noble Prize winners and making great breakthroughs in their fields. And I thought, ‘why don’t I know anything about these people?’ … Yet I know the kind of iced tea Tara Reid drinks. No offense to these people … I just feel like we consume so much info about (celebrities) yet we know nothing about the scientists that are making such huge contributions to our world.”
With an eclectic background of documentary film, television, radio journalism, commercial directing, and now web content creation (this being his third web series), Seftel also brings experience in the subject matter to the project, having been a science major and physics teacher before becoming a filmmaker. “I love being able to combine these two … maybe this is my secret life.”
Shot simply as a series of short episodes in which the scientists stand in front of a black background and speak directly to camera, segments include “30-second science,” in which the experts talk about what they do in half a minute or less, and “10 rapid-fire questions,” where they share how they came to do what they do, how their secret passions and day jobs work together in their lives, and why they love their careers. “(We wanted to) keep it as simple as possible,” said Seftel. “We want it to feel intimate …like you’re spending time with this person. The idea is to pare away everything else and get the essence of the person. We keep everything else to a minimum … you feel like you’re talking to them at a cocktail party.”
Seven scientists and engineers have already been shot and will be released bi-monthly from now until November. Seftel hopes to travel farther to meet with subjects for subsequent seasons.
The Secret Life of Scientists isn’t PBS and NOVA’s only foray into the New Media realm. The WGBH Lab, which asks the general public, independent media makers, and emerging talent to craft unique videos, and share their “life stories” with the world, media makers are being invited to submit completed video shorts inspired by NOVA’s upcoming line-up of evolution themed programming. Entrants are asked to submit completed videos of no longer than three minutes and The Lab will post submissions and ask viewers to select their favorites. Winning shorts will be featured online and may be broadcast on other PBS stations nationwide. More complete entry information and details can be found at the WGBH Lab Website.
Writers Note: A very special thanks to Josh Seftel for graciously speaking with me early in the morning and providing me with behind-the-scenes photos for this article.