It was only about ten years ago when a stunning announcement came from the west end of the campus of the University of Wisconsin: In the wake of the cloning of Dolly the Sheep, UW scientists had successfully created a cloned cow egg. Well, it was a no-brainer that we at Wisconsin Public Television would go all the way across campus to cover this momentous event. And we weren’t alone.
Luckily for me, we arrived first. Not long after, a crew from the Chicago bureau of a Big 3 broadcast network showed up as well. Wanting to be a good neighbor (and forever cognizant that a resume’ from me might someday cross one of their desks,) I did my job in a quick, workmanlike manner. I set up the interview in your typical lab, using soft, overcast daylight streaming in a window as my key, a 500 watt tungsten as my backlight, and a little fill. The interviewee sat with a lab bench and racks of test tubes and such to his left, slicing diagonally across the frame. A nice, casual setting for a nice, casual interview. In about 15 minutes we were done, but I took the time to hang around and see what the big-city guys were going to do.
Can you say “Frankenstein?”
The big boys had actually engaged a grip truck for this gig, and by the time they were done lighting you’d think they were shooting a horror movie. Duvatine covered all the windows, obliterating any natural light. Neon green fill covered the back wall. Loud red-orange slashes sliced across the glassware. The interviewee was lit in a way which could politely called “sinister.” All that was missing was a fog machine spewing over the desk and a Jacob’s Ladder snapping in the background. In other words, they had created a visual image of what they thought Science looked like, and it wasn’t very positive. And it couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I think about that shoot often, usually when I see stories on television about Science, because almost to a one they look exactly the same. The lighting I described is a quick visual shorthand – it warns the viewer that:
a) Science is going on here;
and b) Science is DANGEROUS STUFF.
Please. We’d do the world (and scientists) a favor if we didn’t make people instantly uncomfortable whenever actual thought is necessary. From the research being done at the UW that day, a whole new branch of agribusiness grew, and so far I haven’t heard of any cloned cows growing to 50 feet tall or wreaking havoc on Tokyo.
Although…that might make a great horror movie!