After I left the interview I went to buy the book E=mc2 and I read it completely, including the Notes and the Guide to Further Reading. Below is my first brainstorm on the subject and what I think. I have other interesting books about Einstein that I am going to read (Relativity and The Meaning of Relativity by Einstein, Einstein by Peter D. Smith and Time Travel in Einstein Universe by J. Richard Gott).
First Feedback after reading the book
The book reads very well, it is as I suspected like a novel but set in the world of science. So Faraday, instead of finding the girl of his dream and stealing her from his mentor Sir Humphry Davy, goes beyond the research of Davy and discovers Energy. The consequences are a bit like if he had stolen Davy's potential girlfriend or fiancée as the rest of the story is about hate, jealousy and back stabbing.
In fact, most of the book is a story about back stabbing and betrayals in the world of science. You read this and you feel how horrible this universe must be and you do not wish to be there with them competing to find a theory of relativity that works and can be proven, or understand how the Uranium nucleus can be hit by neutrons and earn your Nobel Prize.
When comes the time of the Second World War story and the race to get the atomic bomb to explode, it is like the concrete expression of that hate and competition between the scientists of the world. It does not even appear to concern politics or countries, but only the world of scientists: the rejected ones against the ones in power that have all the credibility sometimes for the wrong reasons. I am surprised the bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I feel it might have been more appropriate just over Leipzig and Los Alamos, which were probably the real intended targets the scientists had in mind in order to wipe themselves out of existence and get the credit and prizes that would come with it.
Anyway, no scientists are better than the others, even though some of them showed a conscience, it still did not stop them from building the bomb and kill thousands of people. The justification is that it was a necessary evil and perhaps it was true, who knows the state the world would be in today without those two bombs being dropped even though the intelligence at the time was saying that it was not necessary to drop those bombs. Japan had already lost the war since the allies had already burned 58 main cities with napalm and gas (and with the radiation from the sun to light it up, who needed an atomic bomb anyway?). Of course, it brought that sort of balance of power, but ultimately it could bring our entire destruction.
The book is as much about these tensions, competition and wars than it is about the biography of the equation. And if a very simple book without all the drama had been written about the biography of the famous equation E=mc2, I don't believe your producers would have bought the rights of the book as it would have had no interest in gripping people to their chairs.
I think you should not be doing a documentary about E=mc2 but instead a story about this war of Egos ready to reject to truth to save their reputation. Science has always been an ugly world, narcissism appears to be the law governing it. Everyone is working independently and only releasing bits of their discoveries when they feel there is nothing left to be discovered and that their Nobel Prize is guaranteed, a sure way to discover nothing without the sharing of information. It has not changed today, only when a virus like SARS, as strong and dangerous for the whole population of the Earth, we do see some sort of cooperation between the researchers of the world. This is what needs to be denounced in the documentary.
Perhaps we should forget about the fact that some lunatics believe that the equation E=mc2 may be wrong but I would at least say at the end that Einstein was working into finding another revolutionary equation that is the Theory of Everything (TOE), in order to link up the equations of Quantum Physics (the world of the very small, the atomic world) with the ones of Relativity (the world of the very large, the stars and the planets). And this new equation he was looking for might have replaced E=mc2 and still might in the future.
One day we might understand everything there is to know about physics and maths, once that elegant and simple equation is found. Superstring theorists might be the closest to that solution or they may be very far still, we just don't know. Einstein died before finding out that unified field theory and it might take us another century before we find it. This is the price to pay for not having any more genius mind around, it takes years to get to the truth with many normal scientists finding bits and pieces of the truth over time as long as they work together and share information. No one appears able, as Einstein and Newton did, to suddenly make sense of it all in one time swoop by seeing the global picture.
I think the book is very well separated in parts and the documentary could follow the same path with screens telling you where you are: E, =, m, c, 2, Germany, Norway, America, Japan, and then everything gets mixed up and you go from Germany, to America to Norway and back, and it all ends over Japan. Important parts should also be what else Einstein did and the other technology that came out of E=mc2 as a note of hope that it was not only destruction: computer chips, the Internet, traditional television screens and GPS - global positioning system. E=mc2 was necessary to calculate the Energy needed in order to get the electrons to do what we wanted them to do and to adjust for the time difference when dealing with particles, radio waves and light waves suffering time dilation as they race at the speed of light. So I would not separate myself too much from the book for the documentary.
Of course, beyond putting the emphasis on the warlike and narcissistic attitude of the scientists, there may be yet a way to turn an ordinary documentary into something special, something that has not been done by Channel 4 and BBC main science series. At the very least you cannot do less than them and you will need to watch them to see the level of technology that went into visualising what they talk about. And there would be no point in doing a documentary about energy, mass, the speed of light, the Uranium breakdown and atomic bomb without showing nice images of all of this to help represents in the mind of the viewers what it is all about. That is the advantage and main reason to go beyond the book into a cinema screen. I also think that "E=mc2" as the title with the subtitle "The World's most famous Equation" are very effective to make it sound better and different from other science series.
Cool dramatic music, good writing and again a star as the voice over would also do it. The BBC for "The Planets" got Samuel West as the narrator. Perhaps Catherine Diaz could be the narrator this time since the book has been written because she said in an interview she wanted to understand what E=mc2 meant. It would be a nice poetic justice to get her to do the voice over. And of course, try to get Stephen Hawking, I am sure he would want to be part of this.
On the back of The Planets it says: "Employing state of the art computer graphics, unseen space race archive and testimony from leading scientists. The Planets is the most comprehensive and spectacular account of space exploration and discovery ever made." From this I can add that you would need those state of the art images of the science involved, unseen footage if possible of the war, and great reconstructions of the events. Also testimonies from the scientists involved who are still alive today. It was about the right time for the documentary as most of those scientists are dead from radiation poisoning and the survivors must be very old. I have seen a documentary about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the pilot who dropped one of the bombs is still alive and well, still part of the4 US army I believe, and he went back to where he dropped the bomb to tell us that he did not feel bad for what he had done and he would do it again. That guy could be found along with some other important scientists involved.
Last minute idea: I know how you will get another Oscar for this. Your narrator will be a kid, a sad and serious one, with a dramatic tone, almost like if he was passing judgement on it all especially when comes the time for dropping the bomb and explain the technicality of it. Also it will be a great test, if it is too complicated for him to tell it, then it is too complicated for your audience. And I know just the kid, the one that does one of the Orange Mobile Phone commercials. You can see his picture on their main website and publicity boards around London:
His photo: http://web.orange.co.uk/
If that last link does not work when clicking on it, copy it into your browser.
Otherwise, either Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) or his girlfriend Hermione Granger (Emma Watson II on IMDB) would do very nicely. Emma Watson sounds just like a genius precocious kid and she is charming and lovable. Having the story told by a child that sounds like he or she is very intelligent, like a potential Einstein or genius, will bring the gravity, the objectiveness and the innocence of it all. It has never been done before and will distinguish you completely from what the BBC and Channel 4 did. It will win the heart of everyone who will watch it. I would show him or her speak in front of the actors, like they used to do sometimes in plays. You have a narrator in front of the stage explaining what is going on while it is going on. I know you might reject this idea, but think about it and watch TV for that commercial where you see the kid explaining the new deals of Orange in front of a chalk board. Or watch Harry Potter again and I think you will understand the potential the documentary could have with one of them. If you can afford it, the three kids from Harry Potter would be great, the last one being Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley.
Let's keep this British as the whole history of science has been developed mainly in the UK (and France and Germany). That point about the US being very late in the course of research for science and today stealing the best brains from around the world with great money package should also be addressed clearly in the documentary as this is important. Any country that values science can afford the best brains in the market, only if they value it.
I will stop here before you tell me that what I am saying is obvious and you already thought of all that. I hope you did as I know you are very good at what you do. Let's just say that this was only a first feedback and if you hire me I can come up with much better in the details as we go along.
I am sending a second email about basic information that you might need to know about Physics before jumping in this documentary.
I would be pleased to meet again to do more brainstorming sessions.
Roland Michel Tremblay
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