We're documentary filmmakers, but we're also Bill Nye fans who spent our middle school years learning about the ecosystem and the color spectrum from his trusty VHS tapes. Bill's passion and enthusiasm stayed with us, and when we got older, we started making films about science and technology. When we learned that Bill Nye was doing something new—working outside of the classroom to champion science and space exploration and helping lead the fight against climate change, we knew we had to make this documentary.
As filmmakers, we tell stories about interesting people in the worlds of science, health, information, and technology. Our last film The Immortalists was about the personal lives of two anti-aging scientists. We focused the story more on their humanity, love and death, and less on the technological "how to" of living forever. We take a similar approach in Bill Nye: Science Guy, documenting Bill's journey from popular kid show host to serious science statesman, coupled with intimate access to his personal life. We see the human side of a much larger social friction between science and anti-science.
Bill is a dream subject for a documentary. He is someone everybody knows of, but no one really knows: where did he come from, what were the experiences that formed his worldview, why is he so mission-driven? Bill was absolutely open to every filming possibility we presented—an amazing leap of faith that allowed us to really get to know the man behind the bow tie. We're two relatively young filmmakers, having only made one feature film before, but after an initial meeting with our producer Seth Gordon in San Francisco (Gleason, Undefeated, Mitt, King of Kong), Bill was fully on board to make a cinematic portrait of his quest for science literacy, advocacy for space exploration and mitigation of climate change.
Finding the narrative of the film was a process of discovery, and we were researching as we were filming. After meeting with Bill's nonprofit organization, the Planetary Society, we knew that we could tell the story of launching LightSail, a solar sail first popularized by Carl Sagan, as the spine of the film. We also uncovered the intergenerational relationship between Bill and legendary science communicator Carl Sagan, who was his old professor at Cornell and founder of the Planetary Society. We discovered that all roads lead back to Sagan. There was also a clear ending to the film with LightSail—it would either successfully launch or it wouldn't. But this story thread was interrupted as Bill began engaging anti-science creationists and climate change deniers, a theme which felt particularly topical, political and urgent. There are larger-than-life characters at the center of this: anti-evolution spokesperson Ken Ham and bodybuilding meteorologist Joe Bastardi, both fantastic, charismatic and charming subjects. Bill doesn't necessarily try to change their minds, but instead the minds of their audiences. Both Ken and Joe have huge megaphones for their ideologies. During production, many people in both the science and filmmaking communities questioned why we would give screen time to seemingly marginal and insignificant voices. In recent months, we've seen a surge of anti-science rhetoric emerging not just from the so-called fringes but from those in positions of political and economic power.
We open the film with a quote from Carl Sagan: "Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It's just the best we have. In this respect, as in many others, it's like democracy." This is what we hope people learn from the film. Bill's mission is to proselytize a methodology of finding the truth, not for truth itself. Science is a tool for discovering facts. Today it seems facts and alternative facts can be given equal weight. Confusion, "truthiness" and lies rule our climate and science policies. This is hugely troublesome. We hope people who see this film will want to restore science to its rightful place in society. It isn't perfect, but it's the best we got.
— David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg, Directors