Bill Nye

PBS Premiere: April 18, 2018Check the broadcast schedule »

Film Update

In April 2018, POV asked Bill Nye: Science Guy filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg what's happened since the cameras stopped rolling.

What is Bill up to these days? Has he seen the film?

Bill is changing the world (with science literacy)! He is doing what he's done since the days of The Science Guy show in the nineties: communicating science to anyone who will listen. His Netflix show Bill Nye Saves the World! just got picked up for a third season, he's still writing books (Everything All at Once) and hitting the road giving talks about science. Most significantly, Bill Nye is the CEO of The Planetary Society, co-founded by Carl Sagan, whose mission is to advance space science and exploration. This summer, their spacecraft LightSail 2 is hitching a ride on SpaceX's Falcon Heavy to sail the cosmic shores.
Bill has seen the film many many times. He is a big supporter of the film, but obviously feels very uncomfortable during the more private and revealing moments.
Do you know if Ken Ham has seen the film? Any updates from the Creation Museum?
Our guess is as good as yours if Ken Ham has seen the film.
As for the Creation Museum, Ark Encounter attendance has largely been a mystery to people on the outside because of the facility's structuring as a partial non-profit, allowing then to protect some financial info. The park itself Ark Encounter is a for-profit, but is operated by non-profit Answers in Genesis. We can make assumptions on the behavior of Answers in Genesis that their Ark Encounter attraction isn't doing as well as anticipated. For example, before the park opened in 2016, Ken Ham kept telling the press that they expected first year attendance to be as high as 2.2 million. As the months went by following opening, the anticipated attendance number he gave the press decreased to 1.6 million, and then to 1.4 million. He then claiming the first year was not normal, but the second year of operation would be higher. By the second year it was reported that the city of Williamstown, where the park is, was underwhelmed by the promised traffic and financial boom--the whole reason the town offered incentives to AiG. Williamstown was depleted by the tax incentives they offered AiG, so they tried to regain some through a safety tax of $.50 per ticket, which was expected to be around $700,000 per year. AiG, being incredibly stingy, protested the tax by switching their park to a non-profit to avoid paying up. The state stepped in and declared the transfer to a non-profit to be a breach of their sales tax incentive contract, meaning they'd lose their up-to-$18 million tax break through the state. They then traded the park back as a for-profit and agreed to pay the safety tax. The per-ticket safety tax numbers are a matter of public record, so for the first time we can infer some attendance numbers. Between the months of July and October 2017, there were 425,000 tickets sold. By those numbers, we may assume that's 1.27 million for the second year of Ark Encounter. In reality, that number is probably lower since that 1/3 of the year we captured doesn't include the coldest months, when attendance is likely at its lowest. Estimating high or low, that's far below Ken Ham's estimate of a higher attendance in the second year, which he claimed would be around 2 million. They've also just raised the adult ticket prices, which may indicate they're needing more profit.
Joe Bastardi and his son Garrett present an interesting dynamic; Garrett shares some of his father's skepticism toward climate change, yet is an avid Bill Nye fan. Do you know how Garrett's thinking has evolved since filming?
Garrett is a hilarious (his Trump and GW Bush impressions had us in stitches) and a whip-smart  junior meteorology student at Penn State. Garrett and Joe deserve a documentary unto themselves. Garrett is a passionate young student with a deep knowledge of weather, science, politics and sports. He shares his father's climate contrarianism today, but it's not clear how his thinking will change in the future. Regardless of what Joe and Garrett believe, the science is near universal consensus: the climate is changing and humans are the cause. U.S. politics are way behind the science--we're nowhere near consensus on how to mitigate or adapt to climate change.
There is sometimes pushback against Bill Nye as the "science statesman." The film showed some of his colleagues' discomfort when he debated Ken Ham. More recently, during President Trump's state of the union, Bill Nye was in attendance and some scientists weren't happy about that. What do you hear from audience members about this (if at all) generally?

There's a fair amount of criticism of Bill debating and engaging creationists and climate change deniers. In February 2014, we weren't entirely convinced what Bill was doing was a well-thought out decision. Two things changed our thinking: the 2016 election and the anecdotal stories we heard from audience members. The people in power of congress and the executive branch are scientifically illiterate on climate and evolution (the vice president is a creationist!). Bill is right that we must engage and correct climate deniers--ignoring them and their wrongheaded ideas won't make them go away. And when we show the film to audiences across America, it is not uncommon for people to come up to us after the screening and say that Bill changed their mind on creationism after the Ken Ham debate. Or that watching the film has changed their mind on the link between CO2 and temperature. These are anecdotal stories, but we're satisfied if we changed the mind of a handful of people.

Bill attending President Trump's SOTU is totally benign (in our opinion). He's the CEO of The Planetary Society and was invited as a guest of the future NASA Administrator. Seems pretty reasonable for him to accept the invitation and attend the SOTU--he was there to advocate for science and space on behalf of the American people. Bill's presence at the State of the Union is a boon for evidence, reason and the scientific worldview in an administration that doesn't share those views.

What was it like filming in Greenland? How did you get there?

Greenland was a once-in-a-life-time experience. We could have easily made a feature length documentary on the scientists at Eastern Greenland Ice Core Project science station. Their longitudinal research is one of the reasons we have such convincing evidence on climate change. Watching the ice extraction was amazing. It was really bizarre being there. For starters, the sun never set, so it was really unsettling being in a place that never gets dark. Once you venture beyond the research area, it is dead quiet--no birds, airplanes, cars, voices, just dead silence like you've never heard. And it was beyond cold. Above ground, it was sub-zero temperatures. In the research tunnel, the temperature was around -25 degrees--freeeeeezing. So cold that the batteries in our cameras routinely stopped working and the audio cables failed. It was also heartbreaking seeing the ice calve off right in front of our eyes. The researching scientists were alarmed at what they were seeing.

It might be surprising to read this, but the best food we ever ate on production was in Greenland. There was a French-trained chef who made the most amazing breakfast pastries and delicious epicurean feasts in the evening. This wasn't just the crew's opinion: everyone remarked about how delicious all the food was. I'll never forget about the wild mushroom risotto that I had on top of the world.

Our guide there was climate scientist Dr. Jim White. We met Dr. White in Denver, Colorado, at the National Ice Core Lab where we filmed a scene that never made it into the documentary. After we filmed there, we asked Dr. White if we could tag along and join him in Greenland. To our great surprise, he said "sure!" As producers, we have to be shameless and just ask.
What is the progress of the Planetary Society's solar sail mission?

The Planetary Society is launching LightSail this summer. They are on the next SpaceX Heavy launch, which has a tentative launch date for this summer. As Bill says in the documentary, "It is realizing a 40 year-old dream," fulfilling the goal of his late professor and mentor Carl Sagan. You can follow LightSail's progress here.

What are you working on now? ​

We're keeping busy with a couple of projects in development! One is an independent documentary on the life of legendary counterculture Merry Prankers, founder of the modern environmentalism, technology evangelist and animal de-extincter Stewart Brand. The other is a two-hour documentary special on diabetes in America.

Lastly: Have you ever taken a selfie with Bill?

Ha! We're not just filmmakers of Bill Nye: Science Guy, we're fans of Bill and his work. Of course, we've taken many many selfies throughout production. BUT, here's the weird factoid: it is Bill (not us) who *always* instigates a celebratory selfie.