The Tribeca Film Institute today announced the projects that will receive financial and creative support from the TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund, provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This year, four projects which were chosen from 127 applicants from around the world, will be awarded a total of $140,000 and will be recognized at the annual Tribeca Film Festival, taking place April 17-28, 2013. The winning films are: 2030, Newton’s Laws of Emotion, Oldest Man Alive and The Doctor. The projects, which all integrate science and technology themes and characters into their story lines, focus on subjects ranging from climate change and genetic engineering to physics, medicine and invention.
The winning projects were selected by a jury composed of film and science luminaries including actors Clark Middleton (Kill Bill: Vol. II, Sin City), Ron Livingston (Office Space, Band of Brothers), Dean Winters (“Oz,” “30 Rock,” “Rescue Me”), Helen Fisher, PhD, biological anthropologist; and John Quackenbusch, Harvard professor of computational biology and bioinformatics.
The TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund bestows grants to narrative film projects that dramatize science and technology themes in film or that portray scientists, engineers, or mathematicians in prominent character roles. Grant recipients also receive year-round mentorship from science experts and members of the film industry in order to complete their projects. 2013 marks the 12th year of the partnership between TFI and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a founding sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival and TFI. The Sloan Foundation will also present a 20th anniversary retrospective screening and discussion of the internationally acclaimed AIDS film ‘And the Band Played On‘ during the Festival.
We talked with ‘Newton’s Laws of Emotion‘ Writer and 2013 TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund recipient Eugene Ramos about his film, the science behind it and what exactly makes for a successful Sloan Fund Application.
In your own words, can you describe the Alfred P Sloan Foundation Filmmaking Grants? Specifically to your film, how do you find it satisfies the grants requirements?
Through film festivals like Tribeca and the Hamptons, the Sloan Foundation supports films that dramatize science and technology and humanize scientists, technologists, and mathematicians. My script, “Newton’s Laws of Emotion,” takes place during the Scientific Revolution and features many of the scientists responsible for laying down the groundwork for our modern understanding of physics, astronomy, and mathematics. I was reading an article about Isaac Newton and the three-body problem, which involves trying to determine the resulting motion of three interacting bodies — like the sun, earth, and moon. The problem, however, can’t be solved with calculus (unlike the two-body problem), and it drove Newton nuts. The “seeds of chaos,” the article explained, is hidden within the three-body problem. I thought that this was the perfect metaphor for a love triangle. That sparked the idea for the script. And my very next thought was “I have to submit this to Sloan.”
Describe your strategy for success when applying for the grant? What would you tell future applicants?
My main strategy was persistence. I applied three times with the same project before being awarded the grant. It’s not easy. It can be hard to pick yourself up, especially after receiving countless rejections from film festivals and script contests. It’s easy to just throw your script in the trash and give up. One friend told me about how someone she knows applied several times for Tribeca’s All Access grant and finally got the grant on her fourth or fifth try. She didn’t even change a thing from one application to the next! But you also have to learn from each rejection. My first rejection letter from Tribeca explained briefly why my script wasn’t chosen. I incorporated the notes into my script, and the next year I sent in a much stronger application. For my third try, I took the advice of a friend who’s worked for a few film festivals. She told me that film festivals want to give grants to people who will use the money to turn their scripts into films. So with the third application, I asked myself: “What would it take to see Isaac Newton on the big screen?”
What aspect of the filmmaking grant do you find to be the most beneficial for you as a filmmaker?
I think the most beneficial part of Sloan’s filmmaking grant is the ancillary support: the mentorship, the exposure to producers and executives at the film festival, and the visibility that comes with the Tribeca Institute’s seal of approval. It’s not easy to break into the industry as a writer. It’s not easy to get noticed when thousands of people are trying to do the same thing you are. Even as a Nicholl semifinalist with my Newton script, I felt lost in a crowd. My impression is that Tribeca is very active in their support of the projects they select, acting as a conduit for filmmakers to meet producers, executives, and other filmmakers. The Tribeca Film Festival is a unique and exciting opportunity to get exposure for myself and my script.
Your screenplay is entitled ‘Newton’s Laws of Emotion’. Can you give us a brief description of the film? What were some of the literary/film influences behind its development?
“Newton’s Laws of Emotion” begins with Isaac Newton and his friend, Edmund Halley, traveling to London to present before the Royal Society, England’s brotherhood of scientists, in the hope of attaining membership. Unbeknownst to Newton, Halley is a spy for the English crown and is tasked with stealing an equation discovered by Newton that may be able to predict the future. Meanwhile, Newton meets Sophia, a beautiful Prussian royal who has her own aspirations to become a Society member. As he pursues Sophia’s affections, Newton makes his greatest discoveries: calculus, the laws of motion, and love.
My main literary and film influences were Shakespeare’s play, “As You Like It,” and the film “Shakespeare in Love.” Both are fantastic love stories that influenced the narrative and structure of my script. Both also feature a woman disguising herself as a man. In my script, Sophia disguises herself as a male mathematician to try to get into the male-only Royal Society. Like Rosalind in “As You Like It,” Sophia also hides behind her disguise in order to instruct Newton in how to court her.
Carl Sagan’s Comet was also influential. In it, Sagan surmises that Halley may have been a spy based on all of the international traveling he was doing in the name of science. Of course, he was also doing a lot of international sleeping around.
Now that you have received your grant, how do you strategize the future development of ‘Newton’s Laws of Emotion’? How do you think the money and resources are best served during production/development?
The past couple of weeks have been such a whirlwind that I haven’t thought much beyond the film festival. It feels like there are a lot of “What If’s?” at play. I would love there to be, in the not-so-distant future, a feature-film version of Newton. However, the truth is Newton is a big-budget period piece. And getting from here to there is my personal, unsolvable three-body problem. It’ll take someone smarter than me to work that one out.
About Eugene Ramos
After devouring countless Shakespeare plays, Eugene Ramos earned a degree in British Literature of the 1500s from Northwestern University. He later graduated from Columbia University with an MFA in Film. He wrote, directed, and/or produced a number of shorts, including The Concoction and Dandelion Fall, both of which garnered awards and honors at several film festivals. While at Columbia, he also received a fellowship from Comedy Central. In 2009 he completed the NATPE Diversity Fellowship Program and was invited to participate in NAMIC’s Writers’ Workshop. His spec scripts and prose for the TV shows “Battlestar Galactica,” “Painkiller Jane,” “Supernatural,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Star Trek” have won or placed in several competitions. His romantic comedy, Newton’s Laws of Emotion, was selected for the Hamptons International Film Festival’s screenwriters’ lab and reached the semifinal round in the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition. Because of his love for the Bard and science fiction, Ramos has earned the nickname The Sci-Fi Shakespeare Guy.