This is the first official page of the Bomb Squad case
Hi, I'm Ben Hillman, writer and director of Bomb Squad. We're pleased to have our work featured in NSF's Media & Informal Science Learning website, and hope this discussion will lead to useful feedback for us on it, as well as to new potential collaborations/partnerships for us as we continue to move from development to production and distribution.
I can't get your music out of my head, and so many of the scenes you present in your trailer and pencil tests really ring true, so from my perspective you're clearly on to something. I've got a particular interest in this case b/c about 20 years ago, I wrote dramatic treatments for a Smithsonian/Apple/Lucas/Discovery collaboration about Werner Heisenberg and Albert Einstein (the Heisenberg treatment was fairly straightforward; the Einstein treatment was more high concept [we told the story of his life through the lens of his years in Pasadena and friendship w/Charlie Chaplin]). Needless to say, nothing came of it--too many cooks--and after seeing what you've done, I'm glad we left that door more-or-less wide open for you.Anyway, I wanted to ask you about Heisenberg. I think you've really captured the oblivious side of this guy--he was a classic genius physicist completely out of his depth when it comes to politics and other non-physics endeavors (and too arrogant to realize it). But I want to ask you--in your trailer, you've got him apparently wearing a Nazi insignia in the 20's, like he was a complete Nazi stooge from Day 1. I'm guessing and hoping you did that just for transition purposes in the trailer, b/c my impression of him was a bit more complex (and, as such, I think potentially more instructive in a cautionary way to your audience). On the one hand, he was a very competitive guy, very loyal to his homeland, and as such, driven towards helping the Nazis achieve the bomb (much like many 'my country right or wrong' folks here). On the flip side, deeply committed to his friendships (many of them Jews) and intellectual integrity wherever it leads (as I'm sure you know, he was at least briefly persecuted by Goering in the '30's as a "white Jew"--until his *mother* intervened with Goering's mother).I don't buy the apologists who claim he deliberately sabotaged the Nazi A-bomb project (and significantly, from what I've read of him, he carefully does not make this claim, either--at most he claims, indirectly, that he was so interested in the theoretical side that he completely screwed up on the practicalities of building a functional bomb) but I'm curious as to how he's treated in the story as a whole (to me, ironically, he was the embodiment of his own Uncertainty Principle). I know it can be hard to be nuanced in a musical, but I'd be interested in hearing more about this.
Thanks for your kind words about my atomic musical. I'm glad you mentioned Heisenberg's swastika because I always have mixed feelings about this. I used it in the trailer exactly as you described: to communicate that Heisenberg was loyal to Germany in a split second and make the cut to Hitler. In that sense it works, but it has always bothered me because it is misleading. Heisenberg was not in fact a member of the Nazi party. In the full treatment of the film, the swastika has been removed. However, Heisenberg was always extremely loyal to Germany, despite the blatantly horrific things happening there. On his last visit to America right before the War, his fellow physicists begged him not to return to Europe, knowing full well what he would be up to when he was back in Germany -- working on the "uranium problem" which had caused a sensation throughout the physics world. One of this friends even followed him all the way to the dock in New York, pleading with him not to get on the boat. Heisenberg sailed away, becoming the most potentially dangerous man in the world. Some of his fellow physicists were scared to the point of panic. They all knew that Germany was always at the forefront of physics and the fear that Hitler might get an atomic bomb was both terrifying and real. Back at home, it is true that Heisenberg was persecuted for awhile by the Nazis for doing "Jewish Physics." (Wasn't it Himmler's mother that knew Heisenberg's mother and saved his ass?) He also was accused of being a homosexual -- he liked to camp out in the woods for weeks at a time with his gang of young guys. Despite all this, Heisenberg remained staunchly pro-German throughout the war -- as well as astoundingly naÃ¯ve. When he met with Niels Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark in the middle of the war, he wrote to his wife about how amazed he was that the Danes were upset about being occupied by the Germans -- since they were treated so nicely. He also expounded to his fellow physicists about how some of the occupied countries "don't know how to govern themselves" and were better off under German control. After the war, Heisenberg's doubly self-serving statement about what he was doing working (unsuccessfully) on the Bomb for the Nazis can be summed up like this: "I coulda. But I didn't wanna." This infuriated most of his fellow physicists for many decades afterwords. To me, the idea that he purposefully didn't make the Bomb is completely farfetched. Especially from someone who said "It's too bad Germany lost the war." The most telling statement I ran across from Heisenberg came when he was captured, held prisoner in England, and secretly recorded (Farm Hall.) He was musing about what his scientific role would be after he was released. "Here's how we'll play it," he said. "If the Allies let us do our science, we'll tell our friends back home that they forced us to do it." So Heisenberg could have it both ways. Same thing regarding his justification of working on the Bomb. How will you play it, Werner?
First of all, you're right, it was Himmler, not Goering--my mistake. And I fully agree with you that Heisenberg tried to have it both ways, and that those tapes from Farm Hall were particularly damning in that regard. He is, for me one of the ultimate cautionary tales vis a vis how you can't actually have it both ways (while rationalizing and deceiving yourself that you're doing nothing of the kind), and that you will be judged in the end for trying to do so, especially if one of your hands is busy with an organization like the Nazis.
On a personal note, I had a close relative with a somewhat similar story. He was a well-known Lutheran minister in eastern Germany before the war (sometimes considered the "Billy Graham" of the region), and a vocal opponent of Hitler. Then the Nazis threw him in prison. Like Heisenberg, he had friends in high places (in this case, industrialists) who got him out, but on the condition that he would have to wear a military uniform for the duration. His favorite son, who was a young boy at the time, thought his father enjoyed the uniform rather too much in the end, and never really forgave him for it, perhaps the ultimate price to pay for this kind of lapse in basic integrity.
In any case, thanks for the additional background and clarification.
PS Did you ever run across a guy named David Cassidy in your research?
I did read David Cassidy's book "Uncertainty" which is an excellent and thorough biography of Heisenberg. The book went deeply into Heisenberg's personality as well as his science. When you read about the young Heisenberg in the German Youth Movement whose members long for a once and future White Knight to follow unto Death, it gives you a better idea of where Heisenberg was coming from. I read Cassidy's book after reading "Heisenberg's War" -- the book that postulates that Heisenberg purposefully did not build the Bomb. After reading Cassidy's book, the whole idea that Heisenberg was a secret peacenik became implausible in the extreme. It was actually a bit upsetting to me that "Copenhagen," the play that popularized the relationship between Heisenberg and Bohr was based on the flimsy and questionable premise of "Heisenberg's War."
Wow, this discussion got lively in a hurry--I guess it just goes to show what happens when you combine science with story. Ben, I wanted to ask you about something completely different. I don't know enough about animation to be able to tell from your site how far along you are and what you still need to do to finish. I was curious about how much money you're looking to raise to complete this very worthwhile endeavor, where you're looking for it (the money, that is), and what kinds of responses you're getting--maybe knowing that will help some of us think about how we can help.
Noah - Hi I am Jeff Diamond the producer for Ben Hillman on Bomb Squad. The project is ready for production (aka shovel ready!). This is a feature length animated film with full theatrical (movie theatre) production value. It has gone through development and is in preproduction with a complete script, story boards and early casting targets (voice over). The current budget estimate to complete the project is $3 million plus marketing. We are in dialog with other science education foundations, individuals and have met with both traditional Hollywood Studios and select independent film companies. We are very excited to be represented on this forum and to solicit more informal science education type funding sources. I can certainly field more detailed questions about funding strategy as well as budget.
Hi, Ben. Congratulations on "Bomb Squad!" The animated and musical film will be a great way of engaging young people (and older ones, too) in learning about the making of the atomic bomb. We offer a four-day seminar for high school teachers and have a wiki for teachers and students on the atomic bomb history. This will be a terrific addition. It provides a way to interest many students who love music and animation but are bored by the usual presentations of history and science.
Very clever! Looking forward to seeing the full-length production. --Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation
Ben, Jeff--After looking through the site (congratulations on everything you've done so far!), I found myself wondering about your online/mobile plans. It seems like film producers, even for fairly small independent films, are increasingly moving beyond brochure-ware type websites for their films, and trying to develop offerings (and applications) that complement and promote the film for sure, but also potentially stand on their own as well. Do your current plans (and projected budget) include creating a distinct online and mobile presence? It sure seems like the subject matter would lend itself to all kinds of social/multi-player games, viral applications, and the like.
Thanks, Mike. You're absolutely right. We should really be thinking about Bomb Squad's presence online early in the process.
Hi Ben and Jeff,
I wanted to write from a slightly different perspective. I teach a class called the Advent of the Atomic Bomb here at Colgate University. It's a liberal arts "core" class that deals with interaction of science and society, so obviously the atomic bomb is an ideal topic for this kind of course: controversial, engaging for students, and full of moral and ethical issues to debate in addition to fascinating science. I've been teaching this course for about 10 years now, and am always adding new activities to the course to give students new perspectives on the topic. The course includes semester-long discussions online with Colgate alumni, including WWII veterans and people from an incredible range of backgrounds (and opinions!), trips to Washington DC to visit the DOE and the Enola Gay (with discussions with Air Force personnel about the events), hands-on exercises to illustrate the scientific concepts (obviously without radioactive materials...), projects on cultural issues and the bomb, and on a few occasions, field trips to Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Kyoto to meet with bomb survivors and study the post-bomb and unbombed cities. We use Richard Rhodes' Making of the Atomic Bomb for the primary text, along with Hiroshima's Shadow, a series of perspectives on the bomb published in the wake of the Smithsonian controversy about the Enola Gay display in 1995.
That long preamble was to set the stage for my real comment, not to advertise the course. I learned about the Bomb Squad project from a mutual friend of Ben's and mine, and have already used some of it in the classroom. One of the most important aspects of the course (and its ability to draw students in) is the wide array of characters involved in the story, from Szilard to Oppenheimer, Teller to Bethe, Groves to Truman, all portrayed so colorfully in Rhodes' book. Ever on the lookout for new ways to engage the students and to draw them into the story and its characters, I knew from the minute I saw the clips from Ben's Bomb Squad that this was going to be a huge addition to the class. The scientists and other characters in the "story" are a major hook to pull the students into the details of the story, and this set of clips (alone!) is already going to serve to make the characters all the more accessible to the students. Even if it takes awhile for the funding to come through for the full feature, this work of Ben's has already had a major educational impact in my class; I can only imagine how much discussion will be generated from the full feature, and I await it with great anticipation. Thanks so much to you both (and everyone else involved) for all your work thus far, and please let me know how I can help move the project along.
Ben, most literature on the bomb neglects one of the most exciting aspects in science.it goes something like this "Glenn Seaborg and his team then created plutonium." The the story jumps to Los Alamos. What a shame! Plutonium was the first man-made element. Once Seaborg identified it, he had to produce it. Three scientists working for him experienced modern day alchemy when they isolated plutonium at the University of Chicago. To them, it seemed like a miracle. It was Sept. 10, 1942 in Room 405 at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Project. The scientists were: Michael Cefola, Burris B. Cunningham and Louis B. Werner. Even Seaborg said privately that the Nobel Prize should have gone to Cefola, whose doctoral thesis at NYU shocked his examiners and yet became pivotal to isolating the new element.
Glad to see this discussion happening and even more glad to be involved in the project as a composer. Giving a musical voice to these fascinating people is a real challenge, but Ben has terrific ideas about the style and tone of the piece and it has been great to work with him as always on this. If you haven't seen his other films, do check them out, they're lots of fun. (I'm speaking of Little Red Jiving Hood and Bach of the Antarctic. We are also working on another project about IBM and the Holocaust, which will decidedly not be a fun film.
I have always been interested in the interface between science and the arts, and am frequently in elementary school classrooms helping kids write songs about some aspect of their education, which ranges from fantasy to hard science. I think middle and high school kids will respond very positively to this film.
You will be pleased to hear that in this movie, Plutonium has an entire song to himself. It's called "When God Made the World (He Didn't Make Me)." One of the challenges of Bomb Squad is trying to squash a huge amount of history and scads of characters into 90 minutes. Naturally there are many elements to the story (no pun intended) that I wish could be there, but had to be cut. But Plutonium isn't one of them. There is a brief appearance of Seaborg as well.
will this be a movie designed for the purpose of helping the audience understand physics or more for history/ethics?
The goal of this movie is to tie together all three themes that you mentioned: science, history and ethics. It was an extraordinary confluence of events that led to the discovery of fission just before the outbreak of World War II. This is the story of the best scientists in the world being thrust into the center of world events and forcing them into the excruciating moral choice of building the most horrible weapon the world has ever seen -- or letting fascism sweep over the earth. Each major figure brings their own worldview into the mix, with their own hopes and misgivings. At the last moment, when it is suddenly discovered that the Germans have no bomb at all, the scientists again react in a variety of ways: some insisting that the bomb is no longer necessary, others insisting it is, and still others swept away in the whole thrill of the technical aspect of making the first atomic bomb, never stopping to contemplate what they were doing until the bomb was dropped on the Japanese. This story is where science, history and ethics all come together in the most dramatic way.
Bravo to all for tackling this project. And to choosing Donald Sosin as composer. This is a very important subject that must be addressed!
A note to anyone reading this comment thread from the beginning--Ben Hillman just wrote me about a recent update to the Bomb Squad trailer, specifically that the Nazi insignia briefly seen on Heisenberg in the 1920s (as a visual transition to the Nazi era in the trailer) has been removed (it was never in the actual script or storyboards for the film itself, which is viewed as very accurate by the definitive historian on the subject). So my initial comment about that on 11/17 no longer makes sense (but the dialog about the issue may still be worth reading, since Heisenberg is such an enigmatic and quixotic figure in the history of 20th century physics and its applications)
What a fantastic concept: bringing the atomic bomb to life through an animated, musical graphic novel! I love the blend of historic fact, irreverence, and humor. This could form the basis of a unit for Grade 8 Social Studies/Humanities or Global History.
I would love to see a web site built out with links to historic newsreels, newspaper articles, and source documents.
Bravo to all involved.
As a Technology Integration Coordinator, I see such great possibilities for students to engage with this historic content while using today's tech tools. Is there a student out there who can write a blog from Oppenhiemer's perspective?
Although animated, this doesn't feel like an animated film-- it's so engrossing that one simply enters this world and becomes, if not a part of the story, then a hidden observer in the same area as the action. The physics teacher at my son's high school is also very interested in this-- I am sure that he would want to show it to his classes...
Thank you, Mr. Duck Man. That is an extremely nice review. As far as using Bomb Squad as an educational tool, that is exactly what we are investigating at the moment. We are developing a proposal for the film to be used in conjunction with a curriculum on the subject. In fact, some of the rough clips are already being used in a college-level course at Colgate University. Any educators opinions on using the film as a teaching tool are certainly welcome.
Bomb Squad is a fantastic project which exposes us to an important and
unforgettable history in an ingenious, original and entertaining way.
Getting the public interested in science is very much the order of the
day and this kind of novel approach is exactly what we need to bring
in new audiences. PBS is of course the ideal place for this project to
air in its continued quest to bring informal science learning to the
household and the classroom.
- Alan Foster, President
Executive Program Services
(former PBS Executive)