Behind the scenes of Science Fair with co-director Cristina Costantini
Alright, I am Patrick Holland, an editor here at C Net, and I am talking today with one of the directors of the documentary film Science Fair, Cristina Costantini, thanks for joining us.
Thanks so much for having me.
Okay, so right before we roll, I'll tell you a little bit, that I've seen the film now and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Let's just jump into talking about the film if that's cool with you?
So the opening scene is this kid winning the science fair from a previous year, and he's just running and screaming with joy.
His mouth is agape and he's like shocked.
And I thought it's such a wonderful way to just thrust you into the film, into the world.
like how did you guys determine that as the opening?
So, that's always been the opening, I mean, that's how we sold the project.
That clip just embodies what science fair is all about, the energy, you're a teenager, so you haven't quite learned how to Control your emotions yet, and it's just so raw.
I mean he's crying, his mouth is open, I think he falls on the stage and he starts, sorry.
He falls on the stage and he starts praising all of the judges.
It's just the cutest, most heartwarming moment for me.
And that's how I pitched the project and we knew that it had to open up and set kind of the scene for this world.
And then I also like how you kind of used him as a way looking back reflecting on the process of going through high school science fair and then going through the international one.
As kind of like a little guide and as well as like kind of a little like it felt like we were immediately in high school.
Like hey I'm talking to a senior who's done this before kind of thing.
I wonder like as you're going through the film there it'd have been really easy for this to turn into like a reality kind of TV show.
Which there are like moments of that which are great but I'm glad that it didn't really go that way because it felt Is much more heartwarming because of that.
I was wondering, as you and your co-director Darren were working on that, wa that a conscious decision of the style and tone?
Yeah, so Darren Foster's my co-director, co-producer.
We had a very small team, so he's really in the trenches with me.
So I was a science fair kid, which is largely what inspired this Movie so it was the memories, the fond memories that I had of this our world that inspired it I mean we call it a love letter to science fair, but, so we wanted to show kind of [INAUDIBLE] The whole story from Jack's perspective or the perspective of somebody recalling it in these warms ways.
And Jack's the guy, the kid at the beginning right?
Yeah, yeah the kid who is screaming.
Spellbound was a very big inspiraton for the movie.
Spellbound is a documentary about the spelling bee.
And it has this kind of quirky, Christopher Guesty kind of tone to it and that was something we wanted to create.
And it's a celebration of kids, it's a celebration of this world, it's a celebration of people who are doing science at a time when science is not favored by our national leadership so it's for us it's just kind of a ray of hope right now.
Okay, so I got a few follow-up questions.
One is like talking about you and Daryn Foster, because I've done some short films, narrative films, and I've co-directed a couple with Another colleague of mine and it's interesting how you find that dynamic.
How would you describe the dynamic with you and Darren?
Like this one pick up, how did that help you tackle this film?
Yeah, so Darren is the most brilliant investigative journalist in the world.
And we were working on the A very sad story about Fentanyl together, and I told him about this little world, and he became fascinated by it, and I brought him to the 2016 fair and he fell in love with it also, and so, for us this was kind of like an antidote to all the dark stuff we had been surrounded by And we both are very serious people who'd do investigative work.
But we also have a very goofy side which is, we both have a shared sense of humor and that has really helped us.
Work well together and, yeah, it's been amazing.
He's an incredible partner and he's taught me so much, but it's kinda like an older brother, little sister kind of relationship.
That's so cool, and you guys are, you said, investigative journalists.
How do you balance that with being a doctor and being a film maker?
Because those are, they overlap a lot but are also very different.
Yeah, in this movie in particular we kept having to pull back our investigative like tendencies because we're always trying to get to the bottom of why things are the way they are and we had to just let this be a happy movie about happy kids, we struggled with how much The current political climate, do we put in the movie?
And we decided that this was not that space, it wasn't a movie explicitly about politics.
But we've let the kids kind of drive the narrative.
So, you know, for this movie, we really had to hold back our Investigative journalist impulses.
But I think that's kind of another thing I liked about the film you felt that it was commenting on our society right now with the way that people can just disbelief science or disbelief facts at their convenience.
But it was also an anecdote to that in the sencs that it was Speaking to that without exactly saying it.
You felt that that was in the room when we watched the film.
But you also felt like these kids are the hopes or the outcome that's gonna cure some of that in the future.
Yeah, we very much felt like our
Their audiences would go into this movie knowing the backdrop that it's playing in and that you don't have to do too much to make that obvious and reading on the beat the audiences over the head with this messages but.
Rather you know here's a world that is now the science fair is almost I think it's majority female this year and full of immigrants and people of color and these are the characters that it Inhabit this world and so we didn't have to do too much to make those messages come to the surface.
And I think you know you can't do a movie about science without talking about the contributions of Women and immigrants especially.
So this is a world we wanted to celebrate right now when so many of these things seem to be under attack in the rest of the country.
Yeah, I agree.
And I think you showcase like You do see some of the teachers that are helping the kids and supporting the kids.
And you have two great examples of like I think it's the Nebraska football coach.
South Dakota, yeah.
South Dakota, excuse me, Midwest, right?
And then also then you have the teacher from New York.
Serena McCullough, yeah.
Who is just like well, I want my teacher to be like that, were there other teachers that you interviewed or filmed that were featured in the film?
Yeah I think they are both great examples because to give a little backround, Doctor
Is an incredible coach and she runs her science fair team basically like it's a football team.
They work really long hours, she has really high standards and she has the most winning science fair team in the whole world.
And then on the other side, you have coach Schmidt who's a Actually a football coach who ends up being the mentor for Kashfia, who is the only awesome girl in her high school who goes to science teachers and can't find anybody just work her project.
So she ends up in this very unlikely friendship with the head football coach who knows nothing about science but is just very supportive.
He's also the head of the feminist club, you don't see that in the movie and the world religion's club.
He's just If kids need support he's there to support them.
So these are two very different models of what adult support looks like.
There is a, it's funny you mention other teachers.
I think Mrs.
Myers, who's in the movie very, very briefly, from West Virginia is a different model and who is Bobby Barret who is a brilliant number theory genius basically.
He is brilliant at math, but when we met him he was failing out of his math class And he went to his math teacher and said, Mrs.
Meyers, what do you think about number theory?
And she said why don't you focus on today's lesson?
And she says that in the movie.
And I think that is really completely the opposite of Coach [UNKNOWN].
Rather than saying I don't know about number theory, let me go look into it.
She says no, focus on today's lesson.
I'm not going to teach you about it.
So Robbie is an amazing model.
The kid who does not fit into the academic environment at all.
But is incredibly brilliant and he's been doing amazing thing outside of the academic environment, and in fact he's a Mathematical genius who's won his state science fair two years in a row, but is failing out of math on the side.
Well I think you get that spectrum of kids too that you can relate to where theyre like i was like a robbie or I was like this other person.
Or I was the person you never met to Science fair and I'm wondering as far as the production of it cause you said you was a very small crew, it just seems you covered so many stories in that and I'm sure there are other ones we didn't see.
What was that like?
How was the planning?
How did you get through production with such a small team?
Yeah, I mean it was very difficult because we had to cast, that was the most difficult part of the whole equation, it was how do we get a lot of kids who are compelling, who make it to the science fair.
And so we had some early misfires basically with pick kids who are really cool and fun and then they didn't end up doing a science fair.
So the Louisville kid we picked, we went to a school in Louisville that's very good, but we were following a kid down there who we loved named [UNKNOWN] Who was cool and so fun in fact, he didn't do the science fair the year we needed him to do the science fair.
And we got down to Louisville and he was like, I think I should probably tell you I didn't do a science fair project this year.
So we had to scramble and find a whole different set of kids.
And we were so lucky, we found Angole, and Ryan, and Marsha, and Abraham, who are amazing.
Kids, but we had to improvise a lot, in the field and very quickly.
And I think having a small crew, makes being able to change directions very easy.
because the two of you decide that, these are kids now, and then you can Follow them.
And if you had a huge crew it'd be much more difficult.
Yeah and saying going back to the Christopher Guest side of things I think what was needed for me is you see like the story of things like the mono and
stuff like those.
You're like I remember that in high school.
when they go to the dance so you have these moments of like
Pure high school awkwardness and then it's like yeah I'm looking for [INAUDIBLE] which I thought that balance was great, I wonder what have the kids who've been featured in the film, what's their response to the film so far?
I think they are having a great time, I mean we
Get to go to all these events together.
They didn't see it until it premiered at Sundance, and so there was a lot of nerves going into it on both sides.
I wanted them to like it.
I was nervous about all of the thing that they might not like about it.
And then, you know, when they all sort of together, and they all get a standing ovation especially for the kids who do not get the support where they're from.
I think that it's very validating like cashfeare [?] Her first place finish was never announced in her school.
Just announce it.
Go on the speaker and announce it.
We were all rooting for that.
And that's one of the sad moments when you hear that.
It's such a small acknowledgement, but it's so huge.
I mean they have this brilliant person in their midst.
And they're celebrating their losing football team instead of this brilliant child.
But I think for her it's been a validating experience because she's just so many standing ovations.
She's now of course in In a place where her talents are appreciated more, and if she's off to college, but it's been really fun to watch all of their responses and, I think some of them just like love the attention more than others, and so yeah it's been great.
Well and speak of Sundance, so Sudance out of there is so many film festivals
Sundance, obviously one that so many filmmakers want to get in to.
I can't help but wonder the parallels of you guys getting into that and it being kind of like the kids getting into the science fair.
Like can you tell me a little bit when you found out that you guys were accepted to Sundance, what that was like?
I mean it's totally mind blowing, and there's nobody more surprised.
That we got in Sundance and we did, but I had to try to explain it to the kids because none of them has heard of Sundance as they're 14 years old, and so, I told them like, look this is the eye set of film festivals and we got in, and they're like okay than we've got to be there and then we ended up wining the festival favourite award which is the overall award And the overall audience award the first yer that is happened, and I had to tell them that.
It's kind of like the Gordon E. Moore, which is like, I had to put it always in terms that they would understand.
Yeah, they're very cute.
I wonder, too, because you think of technology and art, and then you think of film making, and documentary film making especially, that.
How those two words collided for you.
Cuz you said you're going back to high school.
You had done some science affairs.
When did you get into film making and producing and directing?
Yeah, so my scientific project was behavioral science one and it was about.
Conformity and peer pressure and it was kind of like, if a filmmaker to the science project, they would do something like what I did.
But I think, I've always been interested in story telling and in college I watched a lot of documentaries, I've always watched tons of documentaries.
And actually interestingly enough Darren and Mariana, his wife, their documentaries, I watched them nonstop in college.
And then when I graduated from college, I tried as hard as I could to get to work with them.
And so it's a very strange full-circle thing for me to be working with my idols about something that is so deeply high school for me.
It's all been a dream come true, and I'm Just waiting to wake up.
No I hope you never have to wake up cuz it sounds amazing.
I have a couple more questions for you.
One is like what's next for you?
Like do you have something else in the works?
Well I think Darren and I definitely want to work together again.
We have a few projects in development but nothing like no exciting news to announce.
But I think this like I said everything I've done before is Dark and sad, and so I think that this documentary has made me aware of just how much you can touch people with things that are inspiring and funny and uplifting.
And so I think I definitely want to do more stuff in this space, because it's also just been a blast.
[LAUGH] Well I couldn't help but notice you're from Milwaukee, I lived there for a number of years myself.
But so I have a couple questions.
So first how do we say the name of that city?
How do we say Milwaukee?
Okay, cause I remember some people say Mil-wa-kay or Mil-wok
I think I say Milwaukee.
What about you?
Milwaukee, it's like one syllable.
I do not know how it's turned into it.
Have you ever [UNKNOWN]?
I have actually I have once when I came back from college I went there once after college.
Cuz you went to University of Wisconsin?
No, I went to Yale.
And then I came back and my high school friends and I went out, we weren't of legal drinking age when I lived in Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, mostly doing science fair.
That makes sense probably why you didn't close Welski's.
But actually all the movies that were the inspiration for Science Fair I watched at the Oriental Theater.
And now October 18th I'm going back.
And we're opening Milwaukee Film Festival at the Oriental Theater.
So it's amazing.
I was gonna ask you if you had actually had this screened there.
That's so cool.
Yeah, though it'll be the first time.
I'm super excited.
is there anything else you want to share with us about the film?
So, give us the dates and stuff though
So, the 28th of September it opens in 30 cities, including San Fransisco, and all that is online at sciencefairfilm.com, and I would say it's a good movie for families.
So, it's PG Adults love it and kids love it for a different reason.
So bring your families and all of your friends and really everybody.
Crissy, I was gonna say, thank you for taking time to talk and congratulations on the flim.
Thank you so much.
And I hope it goes really well for you.
Thanks so much.