What other Sloan projects are moving through the Hollywood pipeline? Ismail Merchant has signed as executive producer of The Broken Code, from a screenplay by David Baxter. It deals with Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray images of DNA contribute to the discovery of the double helix by James D. Watson and Francis Crick.
Besides films that Sloan has supported, name a few popular movies that treat science and technology intelligently. I’d name Kinsey, The Aviator, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which is offbeat but quite original in its treatment. From earlier films, I’d select Apollo 13, Pi, Good Will Hunting, October Sky, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, and, of course, A Beautiful Mind.
Didn’t the creators of A Beautiful Mind take some major liberties with Sylvia Nasar’s book? Yes, but that’s perfectly legitimate, within reason. [Director] Ron Howard knew Sylvia’s book back and front, but if you made a literal rendition of the book, nobody would go see the movie. And remember, her book shot to the top of the bestseller list after the movie came out. Hundreds of thousands of people had their appetites whetted by the movie.
You’ve got a very small staff. How do you do it all? A Hollywood director once said he’d have his people call my people, and I said, “I am my people.” Luckily, the screenplays only come from the film schools, so they’ve already done some sifting by the time I see them. And there’s a science advisor assigned to each project. But from the start, I promised the foundation I would personally oversee everything so they would never be caught by surprise or embarrassed by something. That promise has become harder to keep as the program has grown exponentially, but I remember the plot of every script and every play.
What’s the best thing about your job? When you get a really good script, where they’ve just nailed it, you immediately know it. Those moments are rare but unbelievably exhilarating. You just want to share them with everybody.