Hi, my name’s Randy Olson, and I’m a scientist-turned-filmmaker. Here’s my story …
A few years ago (actually a lotta years ago) I left a tenured professorship of marine biology (did my PhD at Harvard University) to attend USC Cinema School, then worked in and around Hollywood for 25 years making FILMS …
I was an okay filmmaker, though not legendary. But that was fine because I came to Hollywood more to learn how to make films than to join the industry.
My highest profile projects were two documentary features in 2006 and 2008 about the attacks on science.
Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus, explored the attempts of the intelligent design movement to introduce creationism into science classrooms. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and aired for two years on Showtime.
Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy, premiered at the Outfest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and was a mockumentary/documentary about the attacks on climate science. Variety called it, “an exceedingly clever vehicle for making science engaging for a general audience.” (Nature felt the need to give me my only rotten review of my filmmaking career with a review titled, “Climate Comedy Falls Flat” — such is the moral support the science world lends when you try to do something different).
By 2008 I could see the anti-science folks in our society were getting serious about their mission, so it was time to write BOOKS …
I began in 2009 with, Don’t Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style (Island Press, 2nd edition, 2018). The book was primarily an essay on THE PROBLEM of poor communication of science.
Institutions asked me to run workshops. For these I decided to focus on THE SOLUTION which I believe resides in the power of narrative structure.
In 2013 I launched a first workshop called, “Connection Storymaker Workshop,” with two Hollywood actors as co-instructors that gave rise to our 2013 book, Connection. I also gave a TEDMED talk that was the first major presentation of the ABT Framework.
From there I formalized the ABT in 2015 with Houston, We Have A Narrative: Why Science Needs Story (University of Chicago Press, 2015).
From these books have arisen our narrative training programs involving several thousand scientists from numerous government agencies (National Park Service, USDA, NIH, CDC, NASA, FAA, NOAA, USGS, USFWS) and universities as the training continues to grow.
The ABT Framework course has given rise to the series of Narrative Gym books starting with the ORIGINAL version in 2020, followed in 2021 by BUSINESS with Park Howell, and LAW with Doug Passon. Scheduled for 2022 are POLITICS with Dave Gold, ENVIRONMENT with Nancy Knowlton, and FILMMAKING with Matthew David.
In 2020 I was awarded the John P. McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Communication from the Southwest Chapter of the American Medical Writers Association.
Oh, yeah, I’m also a long time surfer, which resulted in my helping produce the 2019 documentary feature film, White Rhino: Big Wave Surfing’s Biggest Year which played at 50 film festivals, is available on Amazon Prime, and kicks ass.