Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Help for a Filmmaker - What's Your Lab Like?

Good evening, chemists everywhere! I've recently received an email from a gentleman interested in writing screenplays about organic chemists (Finally! What took so long???)

I've extracted a few of his remarks, below.
"...I'm an independent filmmaker currently working on the first draft of a screenplay. The story is essentially about two pharmaceutical researchers...I could easily invent what I imagine the laboratory environment is like, but I think [I'm] simply rehashing tired stereotypes." 
"What I want is a level of realism that respects the science and presents it in an honest way...I have a couple of questions about life in the lab (do you listen to music, what are supervisors like?, etc)."
(Like any good pharmaceutical researcher, I'm looking to 'outsource' my answer to all of you!)

Ideas? Comments? Anyone want to describe their lab environs? Any cool things you'd always wished would be on camera - bright neon-orange crystals, towers of foam, metallic mirrors? Have any fun scientific toys? (flow reactors, robots, lasers...).

I hope to collect your responses, along with my own, and toss the whole bundle his way. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

See you in Hollywood! (or at least direct-to-DVD...)


  1. Dear Anonymous Screenwriter:

    For the attitude and style of one small company, I suggest reading "The Billion Dollar Molecule" by Barry Werth. Vertex is quite successful now, and probably a lot different. But a lot of small companies start in somewhat similar fashion. Also, I suggest watching the documentary "Naturally Obsessed" for how young scientists act.

    If you are willing, I would suggest going to local researchers and asking the owner of the company or the head of the institute if he or she would be willing to allow you to do some documentary filming (after you signed the appropriate non-disclosure paper work.) If it's a small enough company/institution and you seem trustworthy enough, you might be able to embed yourself into the place and learn quite a bit about the private dramas of biomedical science.

  2. Truth be told, life in a typical pharmaceutical lab is nowhere near as interesting as the story in Billion Dollar Molecule. I've worked in big pharma and at a relatively new biotech company and the environments weren't really all that different. Run reactions, buy supplies, go to meetings, spend endless amounts of time on PowerPoint, SciFinder, ACD.

    If you followed me around for a week, you'd be so bored that you'd scrap the notion of making a moving centered around two pharmaceutical scientists. Watching me purify something, especially running TLC plates, would probably be the tipping point in convincing you of this. Best to go with the mad scientist/Iron Man stereotype of a scientist. It is a lot more interesting...


    1. Even thought that's the day-to-day of your life, that's not the dramatic part, is it? Receiving Excel spreadsheets from the biologists, I would assume, would be part of the drama? (I hope?)

    2. Depending on the data, it could shift the movie from a PG to an R rating...

      I've learned over the years not to get too high or low based on the current data set.

      I read Billion Dollar Molecule every couple of years and always feel like a slacker for not putting the time and energy those guys did. Then again, they were mostly uber type-A hyper ambitious folks with dreams of glory and a huge financial windfall driving them. Times in biotech have changed a bit since then.

  3. Explosions, the new camera they have in Europe (Lysio? - IIRC, the name of the blog is Everyday Science, author is from the UK) that can take multiple pictures of a laser light source and put them together, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, Derek Lowe-type things I won't work with (especially stinky/ugly stuff)...