Hollywood science advisor Dr. Kevin Grazier makes sure sci-fi isn’t way too “fi.”
Any self-respecting geek who’s ever turned on a TV or walked into a movie theater knows that Hollywood and science don’t always get along. In works of fiction, the freedom to reinvent fact comes with the territory — but when basic scientific knowledge is tossed aside for no apparent reason, it can come across as a lack of respect for the audience. And Dr. Kevin Grazier, who has served as a science adviser to the film and television industry for nearly a decade, is on the front lines of this ongoing battle between scientific accuracy and narrative freedom. A former NASA scientist and expert in planetary physics, Grazier has used his expertise to lay the groundwork for theoretical situations and technologies in such shows as Battlestar Galactica, Eureka and Falling Skies. Between advising, writing, producing and conducting his own research, Grazier doesn’t have much time — but Geek managed to pin him down long enough to steal a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of one of Hollywood’s unsung heroes.
GEEK: How did you get involved in science advising?
Dr. Kevin Grazier: While I was in graduate school, a friend and I wrote a script for Star Trek: Voyager — back in the days when they took unsolicited manuscripts. They didn’t use our script because they said it went in a direction they didn’t want to go but eventually did: Klingons in the Delta Quadrant. Though they turned down our script, they invited us to the Paramount lot to pitch other story ideas to their staff writers. When Battlestar Galactica was green-lit as a series, one of the writers I’d met from Voyager — Bryan Fuller — pitched me to friend and fellow Trek alum Ronald Moore as a science advisor. After a very short interview, I was hired, thus beginning my career in entertainment.
What is your role in the productions you advise?
It entirely depends on the series. Sometimes I come in before a season or an individual episode and discuss cool sci-tech concepts. Sometimes I’m given a set of story parameters that we’re aiming for and the goal is to find the tech that makes that work. Sometimes I just get copies of the scripts and send in notes on how we can improve the science.
Do you have final say in the science that’s used or ignored?
There seems to be two misconceptions about science advisors and the productions on which they work. The first misconception is that we have copy editor-like control of the science in the series for which we consult. We don’t. The second misconception is the assumption that documentary-perfect science is even a goal. The writers, producers and directors with whom we work want their vision to be grounded in real science. We want the audience immersed in our universe, not sitting there with arms crossed saying, “Hang on!” when we make an obvious technical gaffe.
Can you give us an example of how your advice has contributed to a show?
One of my favorite contributions was on Eureka for season four. If you’ve seen it, you’ll recall that the entire 10-episode arc was about the Astraeus Mission to Saturn’s moon, Titan. We were in the early stages of planning those episodes. I was at home, about to step into the shower — the water was running, the door was open — and my phone rang. The name that came up, [Eureka creator and showrunner] Jaime Paglia and I figured, “I’d better get that.” The entire conversation went:
KG: Hey, Jaime, what’s up?
JP: What’s cooler than Mars?
JP: OK, thanks.
You also came up with the idea for Battlestar Galactica’s “Faster Than Light” [FTL] drive?
Yes, I created an FTL method that was plausible enough to ground the science for the sake of the story.
Have you helped to devise any story elements or technologies on your latest project, Falling Skies?
The flamethrower in episode 2:07 was my idea; so was the extracorporeal hyperthermia to help cure Weaver’s Harness bite.
Which show did you have the most fun working on?
I had a royal blast on Eureka, relish every moment I get to spend with the writers on Falling Skies and I’m really enjoying Defiance. That said, at our cast-and-crew event on the final BSG episode, “Daybreak,” [executive producer] Ron Moore said, “If this is your first job in the industry… I’m sorry, because it doesn’t get any better than this.” For everybody involved, Battlestar Galactica was like crack: We all got addicted, we all had major withdrawal symptoms when it ended, and we’d all kill to do it again. Many of us have worked together on projects, even multiple projects, in the years since, but I know everybody who worked on BSG would love to do it again.
You now bill yourself as a writer and producer?
Don’t forget science advisor. I’m currently working on both SyFy’s Defiance and TNT’s Falling Skies. But, yeah, “writer-producer” probably best describes how I spend my day — all day, every day. Right now, I’m juggling two books, both very different, both of which fall under the overarching topic of “Hollywood science.” About a year ago, I wrote a pilot script for a space exploration drama that I’m shopping, and I’m also currently working on a sitcom pilot.