He was the landslide winner of the 2012 Cyberscreen Science Film Festival, but you may not be aware that his prize winning film 'Mission Impossible - Graphene' is just one of a huge collection of Derek Muller's online videos. His youtube channel, Veritasium, has close to 30, 000 subscribers, and it's easy to see why. Muller has a natural gift for being on-camera, and for creating unique science-themed films that are both entertaining and educational. I caught up with Muller for a little chat this week, and I'm pleased to feature some more of his fantastic work.
CB: You are a physicist by training, where did you go to school?
DM: I have a B.Sc in Engineering Physics from Queen’s University, and a PhD in Physics Education Research from the University of Sydney.
CB: You grew up in Vancouver, BC. What brought you to Australia?
DM: The Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) has an excellent reputation globally. I wanted to attend from the age of 17 but first I needed to move to Australia and then I needed to get enough experience that they would let me in. The latter never came to pass. I grew up in Vancouver but I love the warmer climate in Sydney. Also, since the US is not right next door and the accent is different, Aussies make a lot of their own TV and films – a career path I was always interested in taking.
CB: What kind of video/film training do you have?
DM: I took a course in “fundamentals of film production” at Queen’s in 2002. Here I learned the nuts and bolts of filming, composition, editing, etc.
CB: Do you have help to make your videos or are they a one-man operation?
DM: Usually they are a one-man operation. This can be frustrating because it’s tough trying to focus on yourself when you’re behind the camera. Then when I get to watch the footage, sometimes the sound is terrible or missing, lighting is wrong, shots are out of focus etc. Particularly tricky when trying to interview people – then it’s best to have an accomplice.
CB: I see that you are branching out from pure physics videos – where do you get your ideas for short films?
DM: I’ve always wanted to do more than just physics. The original idea of my youtube channel was to start with the atom and work forward, with each video leading into the next. Predictably this turned out to be too hard so I just make whatever interests me at the time. I have a backlog of things as a physics educator that I always see people mixing up – or things that have mixed me up. I’m most excited about creating videos about this stuff.
CB: What are your ultimate goals for the films and for your career?
1. To get better. It really helps me to think of each film as a stepping stone – as a chance to learn more about the craft and improve my process. I look back at the early films and think I’ve come a long way.
2. To make science more beautiful. That was actually one of my main goals – to show its relevance, comprehensibility, and lack of dry, boring, textbook-style exposition. For example I have always wanted to demonstrate properties of waves on a still lake in the bush – hopefully I’ll get to do it one day soon.
3. For my films, I just want them to reach a wide audience, to encourage people who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in science to take a more critical eye to their surroundings, and to revel in the things they can learn.
4. For my career I would like to make documentaries, longer form work for TV and festivals. I am happy presenting for science TV shows as I am in Sydney but I would also like to make things with a longer lead time. I think the big goal is to question the assumptions that everyone holds about life and the world around them.