Category Archives: Demo: The Movie

Identity and the structure of argument

Maria Konnikova has a terrific article in the New Yorker which should be required reading for anyone involved in science communication. It’s a quick overview of recent research into what sorts of messages ‘land’ with an audience and actually impact their thinking.

“The goal was to test whether facts, science, emotions, or stories could make people change their minds.

The result was dramatic: a whole lot of nothing. None of the interventions worked.”

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DEMO: The Movie – User’s manual

It’s all well and good that we made a film, but what are you supposed to do with it?

Take a look at the discussion notes compiled by Alom and Mary Whitehouse at the University of York (PDF link). That document also includes a bunch of references (the film isn’t just us making stuff up you know, there’s research and everything!) along with Alom’s practical tips for performing demos.

DEMO is really intended to be watched in your own time, as a pick-me-up when the day-to-day grind has dulled your enthusiasm, or to reinforce and help clarify how you think about demonstrations. It’s a bit long, perhaps, to watch in a staff meeting or training course, though we’re already hearing reports of it being used that way.

With Alom’s previous film Why is Science Important? one thing that proved useful was having the film chunked up into individual scenes. DEMO has so many forward- and back-references we’re not sure that would be appropriate, however if you’d really like a specific scene pulled out, drop us a note in the comments here and we’ll see what we can do.

Alternatively, you can dissect the film yourself on YouTube. If you’re signed in, below the film you’ll see a button labelled ‘Remix this video!’. By the magic of Creative Commons licenses, pressing that button will pull the film into YouTube’s editor, allowing you to chop it up to your heart’s content. All we’d ask is that you include a link back to in your film and its description, so people can find the full story.

DEMO: The trailer

Alom and I made a movie, as the regular reader here might have worked out.

On Monday March 10th we’re having premiere events in London and York. The London one is invited guests only, sorry – but you can still get into the York screening at the National STEM Centre (free popcorn!). The movie will be online around the same time.

If you can’t make it to York… enjoy the trailer, and we hope you’ll find the film itself useful.

How Should We Teach Maths?

Our film, Demo: The Movie, touches on ideas about how to teach science, but Jonathan and I would really love to make a documentary with the title “How Should We Teach Science?” Alex Bellos is a populariser of maths who’s been lucky enough to make a Radio 4 documentary exploring how maths is taught in our schools today and looking at the science and evidence which supports different approaches. We’re jealous. You can listen to it by clicking here.


When we last left the Demo documentary film I’d just reached ‘first cut’ – the film was watchable though very much unfinished. Very unfinished.

That first fully-assembled version was ‘cut 03’, and we’re now on ‘cut 08’. In between, the film got longer. We had a viewing. It got shorter. We re-shot one of the scenes (for technical reasons, happily – editorial reshoots are always harder). It got longer again. I found a duplicated sequence I’d stupidly left in there. It got shorter once more.

That was the easy stuff, though. With a film like this there’s not a great deal of scope to reorder or second-guess oneself. The die was pretty much cast once we’d finished the script, and while we made plenty of changes as we filmed there were relatively few decisions left for the edit. With most documentaries you agonise about big structural changes for days and weeks, but we simply couldn’t afford any of that. We’d shot what we’d written, which at least makes the edit simpler.

No, the time-consuming part has been, for want of a better term, polish. Most scenes have seen at least two completely different colour treatments at different times. Sensor noise has been processed out of a significant number of shots, eating dozens of hours of processor time. There are graphics overlays of one sort or another on a couple of dozen shots, which took anything from a few minutes to sort to the better part of a day. At one point I found myself painting out a fly, frame by frame. That nobody will ever notice is rather the point.

Are we done? Almost. We’re now at the stage where we’re arguing about individual shots, and whether things should go a little quicker in places, or need room to breathe, or whether this shot needs a graphic and this one doesn’t, or vice-versa.

We’re polishing.


Robin Millar on Radio 4

Last week, Alom was on Inside Science – the new Radio 4 science strand, hosted by Adam Rutherford – talking about practical work. He wasn’t wildly happy with the way the piece turned out, but apparently the public response to the item was terrific. Which, you know, could be taken either way.

Anyway, this week the show has Robin Millar from the University of York speaking on the same subject. Before we headed to the US, we stopped off in York and interviewed Robin and his colleague Mary Whitehouse for the Demo Documentary – we’re very happy with the way that interview turned out, Robin and Mary are real gurus of this stuff.

If you’re in the UK you can do the ‘listen again’ thing: Inside Science, Thursday 12th September 2013.


Traditionally, video production is split into three phases, imaginatively called ‘pre-production,’ ‘production’ and … wait for it … ‘post-production.’ For a field which depends on imagination, film-making jargon can be spectacularly tedious, so we try to make ourselves feel more important by corrupting our own jargon. Thus, you’ll often hear the phases referred to as things like ‘prep,’ ‘shoot’ and ‘post,’ respectively.

So it comes to pass that I write a blog post titled ‘Post.’ Oh ho ho, how terribly droll.

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Demo: The Movie – Production Blog 11

Thought we’d wrapped shooting last night? Nope. It’s never that simple.

Day 11 – Saturday 24th August – San Francisco and home

We’d filmed every scene in the script, every bit of dialogue (well, apart from the bits we crossed out, rewrote, abandoned, or generally disregarded. Which is normal), but we’d known for a couple of weeks that we had a hole to fill: the odd schedule dipsy-doodle around Las Vegas, where we filmed the magicians, ditched my beloved Jeep thing, then flew to San Francisco in the nick of time to film at the Exploratorium had left us with a problem. In the grammar of the film, how had we travelled to San Francisco? It’s not an irrelevant problem, in that one of the stories the film tells is of Alom’s Summer holiday road trip. How does that resolve?

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Demo: The Movie – Production blog 10

Like the previous Monday, we’d schedule today as a day off. Also like the previous Monday: aye, right.

Day 10 – Friday 23rd August – San Francisco

We headed back to the Exploratorium to pick up all the shots we didn’t get the previous day. But I already showed you those yesterday, by accident. Oh, go on. One more:

Alom tickles a Mimosa plant in the Exploratorium
Alom tickles a Mimosa plant in the Exploratorium

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Demo: The Movie – Production blog 9

Our destination all along had been – and this isn’t really a spoiler, honest – the Exploratorium in San Francisco. My previous visit to the Western US had been effectively a pilgrimage to their original building, and this was my first glimpse of their new digs. I was excited.

Though first we had to convince the staff we weren’t going to burn the place down, or at least: if we did, that our insurance covered it. That was a bit nerve-wracking as the way location insurance is done differs somewhat between the US and Europe. We finally received the ‘You’re all good’ confirmation only when we were in Las Vegas, which was… a little close for comfort. But hey, as long as the camera gets to roll, that’s a win, right?

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