Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Fairy Scientist Returns

Back in February I produced a short film as an entry in Sam Harris' "Project Reason" video contest. My original "The Fairy Scientist" (YouTube) starred my granddaughter, Lydia, as she attempted to employ the Scientific Method to discover if one of her favorite things in the world, Fairies, really exist.

Though the short was selected among nine finalists, unfortunately if was not selected among the top three winners. However, it did receive a lot of attention on the Internet and was featured on the MSNBC and Discovery Channel web sites, to name a few. And it got the attention of the Walt Disney Company!

I received a call from the promotional department at Disney about featuring Lydia as the Fairy Scientist in promoting their new film, "Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue" set to be released on DVD September 21st. The film is about Lizzie whose father is a scientist and fairy non-believer. Lizzie meets Tinkerbell and all manner of excitement and drama ensues between Lizzie and her scientist father.

My initial response was skeptical (no surprises there). I made it clear that we did not want to participate in anything that might convey the idea that fairies were in any way "real". My production company, Skeptical Media, is a fairly small operation; Disney, on the other hand, is a somewhat larger company. This was a first time experience for both companies, contracting with an independent producer for content not created within Disney's studio control.

Negotiations took several months to put together a contract. But due to the looming release date, we went ahead and began filming. We were under a non-disclosure agreement and a remarkable amount of behind-the-scenes regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles had to be cleared. For example, we needed to obtain a work permit for my 7-year old granddaughter to work in the film industry. Disney required assurances that all the legal hurdles were being cleared.

As was the case with our first Fairy Scientist video, the film was not scripted - captured are Lydia's own unique thoughts on how one would determine if fairies are real or not. She develops her hypothesis then searches for evidence while keeping a journal of her findings, much as Lizzie does in the Tinkerbell DVD.

We received great feedback from Walt Disney Entertainment and are proud that Lydia could participate in helping to promote enthusiasm about science among girls. Our short will be used by Disney on marketing and social networking sites to promote the release of "Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue".

Here is Lydia, The Fairy Scientist, in her latest video:

28 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

Ah how wonderful! I saw her on Kara's blog and now's she's promoting a Disney movie! Do you really think she'll stimulate interest in science rather than fairies? That's surely not what Disney are hoping.

Elisabeth said...

Lydia's such a bright little scientist. I love the way large words and ideas pop out alongside the fantasy of fairies. You must be proud.

Jerry said...

I am in awe, not only of Lydia's tenaciousness, but your clever portrayal of the whole process. Disney struck gold when they discovered you and Lydia.

TechnoBabe said...

Lydia's vocabulary is mature for a seven year old which would encourage other little girls to become interested in science and investigating like Lydia. This could be the start of something that would be helpful for little girls images and help them find interests other than the teeny bopper heroes thrown at them all over the media. I sure hope this makes a big impact on young girls and boys too. It has so much potential.

mapstew said...

Wonderful! :¬)

DJan said...

Dang, I'm here in bed with my laptop, hubby asleep beside me. I'll have to wait to watch the video when I get up and move to the iMac. But anything that promotes scientific thinking is, to my mind, an important contribution to science. I would never have thought that it would be fairies that would awaken a scientific mind, but what do I know? :-)

The Mother said...

She's fabulous!

A scientist and a movie star--she may grow up to be our next great science communicator.

Move over, deGrasse Tyson. You have competition.

Marylinn Kelly said...

I cannot remember when I've seen anything so wonderful. I loved the original video you and Lydia made and feel as proud as a surrogate grandparent seeing her recruited to share her scientific approach with a wider audience. Charming in a way Disney would never capture, for how genuine she is, yet they seem to be wise enough to know what a remarkable child she is, intelligent and imaginative. Happy as I can be for all of you.

Madame DeFarge said...

How lovely. I hope she enjoyed the experience. Anything to promote science amongst girls has got to be good.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Bananas Disney is hoping to sell DVDs to little girls nuts about fairies. However the main character, Lizzie learns the scientific method from her father, keeping a journal and all that.

As I said, we told Disney we do not want to promote that fairies are real. Lydia is investigating, she "suspects" they are real but she really wants to know the truth.

Scientists and skeptics both have a fond appreciation of fantasy, creativity and literature. Physicist Lawrence Krauss has lectured on "The Physics of Star Trek" and Stephen Hawking has appeared on the show more than once. Scientists and science fiction very often cross paths.

Anyway, the concepts Lydia has are no more fanciful than mine in truly believing I have a friend who is a Blogging Gorilla. :)

Elizabeth She does have an amazing vocabulary. My wife would love to just have a tape recorder going all the time around her as the most amazing things pop from her brain and out of her little mouth.

Jerry It was a lucky confluence; the girl in the animation looks similar to Lydia, and that they both are wanting to use journals and science toward their end is remarkably coincidental.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Technobabe She is, of course, at that age before the adolescent hormones begin to rage. But she is interested in so many things. Lydia has a butterfly garden and is attracting them, and moths, to her yard... and journaling her findings as well.

Mapstew Glad you liked it.

DJan Sparking the imagination is all about science; that compelling desire to "know". Again, this is why scientists are often drawn to art and literature - it's the creativity and imagination that lends joy to the process.

Dr Mom Isn't that cool! I had hoped that deGrasse Tyson would have filled the shoes of Sagan. But that is a tall order. But yes, it would be lovely to have a woman's face as the spokesperson for science in the public realm.

secret agent woman said...

Nice! I have tried to raise young scientists myself and I am convinced that teaching critical thought and the scientific method is the only hope for all of us.

A blog post I read recently had several gorgeous photos of butterflies and the like with the assertion that the variety and beauty proved there must be a divine creator. That sort of illogical line of thinking makes me crazy.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Marylinn One of the things I had to tell Disney was the Lydia is not a professional child actor, so what she says is what they get. There was no script but they did have a list of items they hoped Lydia would discuss.

I have interviewed scientists before for my Andrus documentary, of course. Lydia took direction as well as the experts; as a director, I was impressed with her sense of communicating concepts clearly. Working with "professionals" makes the directors job much much easier.

M. DeFarge She was very excited about the project, although I could film about an hour and she would get tired. She didn't really understand the scope of what she was involved in... until her friends at school started telling her they saw her on YouTube. Now I hope I haven't created yet another temperamental film star!!

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent As you likely already know, we cannot depend on the schools to teach thinking skills to our kids, it falls on us. It seems now with the Internet there is more accessible "mis-information", so being able to evaluate what we are told is even more critical than ever.

I encounter similar conclusions about the beauty in our world: butterflies, misty mountains, flowers and conclude, since it is so beautiful, it must have been caused by a "Creator". Yet I never find pictures of people ravaged by Ebola virus, devastation from floods, tsunamis or earthquakes, or other natural horrors and have people attribute THAT with "why did the Creator do such an awful thing".

As Bill Mahar says: 186 people die in a plane crash and one survives and they call it a "miracle"!!

Lisa Hoffman said...

This exquisite child leaves me speechless (and Marylinn will attest to the miracle of THAT) and filled with hope that the human race may yet be saved if there are more like your Lydia (please God, let it be so). May I volunteer to be another Godmother? I'm sure that she has a long line of them. Clapping and wiping the eternal smirk off my face, making room for a sincere smile.

Grandma Nancy said...

I'm so proud of Lydia and Skeptical Media for this little production. Good job both of you.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

Wow, wow, and wow again. I loved the first video, and shared in on my Facebook page. I wonder, though, was the Disney movie a steal from Lydia? It seems eerily similar.
Your granddaughter is spectacular. I hope she is keeping her head! Does this pay for her college degree in astrophysics?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Lisa She is a bright little thing indeed. She has two loose front teeth and wanted to be sure that GrandPa had completed all shooting of her before she was free to pull out her loose teeth. What an actor!!

Nancy Thank you for being my very able Production Assistant; it would not have come together without all your work.

BackRow Yes the similarities are remarkable, but no, the film had been completed when they came across Lydia. Her earnings from the project will go into her college fund.

Rain said...

that is so good! my granddaughter believes in them!

Orhan Kahn said...

She has the most adorable strut. And I love how she takes quick deep breathes, almost containing her excitement. A complex imagination too. Good on her!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rain I can think of the many things I believed as a child as well. I was fortunate in that my appreciation of discovering the wonders of the real world became even more fascinating as my childhood beliefs faded. I think this will be true for my granddaughter as well.

Orhan Yes, her breathless enthusiasm is adorable. It makes we wonder when it is we lose that as we grow into adulthood.

Nance said...

Lydia now has a place in my heart. You must be so very delighted with her! And this is fine, fine work. From both of you!

KleinsteMotte said...

She's a smart young lady! It's great to know she actually has some scientific methods to gather her data Her interest in moths and butterflies and attracting them shows she isa capable young scientist. The "fairies"
thing allows her imagination to soar. That's what leads to higher creativity and she's well on the road thanks to her family!!Amazing outcome!!

merrilymarylee said...

The first scientist I ever wanted to hug! I smiled through the film--I loved hearing her talk with such seriousness. What a sweetie! The film is wonderful--I'm sending that link to friends. Lydia is a real delight and I think that tree is magic, indeed.

Years ago This American Life had a wonderful story of a daughter who would leave the fairies in her house little treats. She was so disappointed that they never responded that her father began leaving notes from them. It went on for many months and caused some problems, but it was an enchanting story.

One more thing... have you read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie? Better read it before you buy Lydia a chemistry set.

Entre Nous said...

Oh this is great!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Nance Thank you, Lydia is pretty bright. As I said, she needed little direction, her words are her own.

KleinsteMotte She is really interested in science right now, she wants to know and understand everything. Her parents are really good about supporting her quest to find out things herself.

MaryLee I heard the NPR story. I recall my parents used to leave a snack out for Santa every year. Christmas morning we would get up and see a bite had been taken out of the sandwich for Santa. I was always skeptical, though... how he could get down our narrow chimney and how he could visit millions of houses in one night.

EntreNois Thank you. It was a lot of work.

MarytrMom said...

Not sure where to put my questions but I'm trying to figure out the relationship between you and Mr. Hairy Gorilla. Does he happen to be the father of your lovely Science Fairy? Or does he just love your human females for fun?

Robert the Skeptic said...

MayrtrMom No relationship beyond our having a common evolutionary primate ancestor. Kara is my daughter, she runs the "Condi's Hair" blog and is Auntie to my grand daughter, Lydia, who is the Fairy Scientist.