MacGillivray Freeman Films
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Narrated by Academy Award® winner Jeff Bridges, Dream Big: Engineering Our World is a film for IMAX® and giant screen theatres that transforms how we perceive engineering. From the Great Wall of China and soaring skyscrapers to underwater robots and smart cities, Dream Big celebrates human ingenuity behind engineering marvels big and small. Inspiring stories of innovation with extraordinary visuals reveal the compassion and creativity that drive engineers to build better lives and sustainable futures for all. Dream Big is the centerpiece of an educational campaign, including lesson plans, hands-on activities, webisodes, and a Girls Night Out programs, used by museums, teachers and engineers.
Filmmaker Q&A - Mary Jane Dodge
● What inspired this story?
The inspiration came from the American Society of Civil Engineers. There was a problem in the engineering community. Not enough students were considering careers in engineering. Even though there were countless engineering firms offering great jobs, not enough students were trained for those jobs. The other problem was the image of engineering. Too many people had the idea that being an engineer would be boring, or worse yet, they use math calculations all day. So, the goals of the film were carved out of a great need: to inspire kids to go into careers in engineering and to change the image of engineering. ASCE came to MacGillivray Freeman Films and said we want the public to know that engineers are changing the world. They are the ones that are tackling the biggest challenges of our time – building a sustainable world, providing energy and water and food to an expanding world population. Engineers are working to make this a better world. They used the example - when you think about what a doctor does, you don’t think about what subjects they studied in school, you think a doctor saves lives. That’s what they wanted people to consider when they think of an engineer – not to think about what math or computer classes they took. But rather think about how they are making this a better world. And with that - the film Dream Big was born!
● Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film.
The biggest challenge was how to make an entertaining and engaging film about engineering, that would draw in an audience to buy tickets and would be one that young students, especially girls, would want to see. Even the museums and science centers who are involved with STEM programming, were not convinced that a film on engineering would draw an audience. We knew we had to strike an emotional chord with the audience. We had to find stories that would pull on the heart strings of not only adults but students of all ages. On top of that, we had to make a film on engineering that girls would want to see as well! After many months of research, we found great stories of heroic engineers that are changing our world. We found the story of a woman engineer who gave up a high paying job to start a non-profit organization to build bridges in developing countries, so kids could get to school. We found another engineer who at the age of 13 survived an earthquake in her home country of Turkey and then went on to become an engineer to build safer buildings to withstand earthquakes. After the first rough cut screening held for 40 museum theatre directors, the comment we heard most was “I can’t believe I cried at a film about engineering!“
The other challenge, of course, was shooting a film with the IMAX camera. We had to re-create the story of an underwater robot competition with 20 different underwater robots, including Stinky the Robot, the “star” of the film. Everything had to be re-created and shot with the 15 perf/70mm camera, which only holds 3 minutes of film at a time. That was challenging.
Another major challenge was filming the Great Wall of China. Just getting the permits and paper work to get a massive amount of IMAX camera equipment through customs into China took well over a year to plan.
● How do you approach storytelling?
There are two approaches. One is to tell an emotional story that the audience will relate to. For this film, that required finding inspirational characters with stories that would change the audience’s view of what engineering is. We wanted the audience to form an emotional bond with an engineer building a bridge and then see the good that will come from that bridge being built along with the science and engineering facts behind how they are building that bridge.
The second approach is to use the power of the giant screen itself. We were making a Giant Screen Documentary film, where the IMAX screens can be 5 and 6 stories tall. So, the audience can “experience” what it’s like to be in a unique environment. When you are flying over the Great Wall of China, a place not many people will get to see on their own, and you’re learning how the ancient engineers designed the wall, the images help tell the story as much as the characters. You see the Great Wall and your curiosity is heightened and you really want to know everything about it. That way students are ready to learn, so when we present the scientific and engineering facts or principles, they are inspired and want to know that information. They are ready to learn it.
● What impact do you hope this film will have?
Our goal was to change the public’s image of engineers and what they do. We wanted students, especially girls, to leave the theatre thinking - I want to be an engineer. And in general, we wanted the audience to leave the theatre with a positive image of engineering and that engineers are making the world a better place. To make sure this happened, we had a very robust 3-year evaluation program that tracked and studied every aspect of the project. We held focus group tests with adults and kids on the rough cut of the film and on the final film. We also tested all the educational materials as well.
The results of that study showed an incredibly positive outcome. We found that 86% of people had a more positive view of engineering after seeing the film. We learned that 72% of kids surveyed were more interested in considering a career in engineering than before they saw the film and an astounding 85% of parents said they thought they kids were more inspired to go into engineering. And the film itself was rated extremely high. The average rating was 8.9 on a scale of 1-10.
We created a “Girls Night Out” program where girls, see the film, then meet a woman engineer and participate in hands-on-activities as part of a mentor program. After that program, 75% of girls agreed that engineering and technology are good career choices for girls.
The best results are the comments we received from the kids themselves. Mya, age 11, from Charlotte, NC, said, “I wasn’t interested in engineering before I saw the film, and now I think this could be my future!”
● Were there any surprising or meaningful moments/experiences you want to share?
The response to the film has been so positive, it went way beyond our expectations. The audience comments over and over are about how emotional they felt during the film, and with young people we heard over and over how inspired they were to want to be engineers after seeing the film. That, by far, is the most meaningful experience. We have school districts that have come to us and say they want to show the film to their entire school district. We have had engineering firms come to us and want to play the film for their employees. We have had international engineering organizations play the film at their conferences and then want to take the film back to their countries to play for their schools to inspire kids.
In terms of the filming, one memorable experience was the re-creation of the underwater robotic competition that happened over 20 years ago. We had to re-create the entire experience. Two of the characters, Fredi, the Robotics Club teacher, and the female student, Angelica, played themselves in the film. But the boys were now too old. They were in high school and that was 20 years ago, so we had to use actors. But at the award ceremony, we had two of the original boys that won sit at the awards table and to see them re-live the unbelievable moment when they beat MIT, was really memorable.
● Anything else you would like people to know?
- There is more to the Dream Big project than the film itself. The Dream Big film is the centerpiece of an entire campaign and a massive educational outreach program that is geared for three audiences – museums & science centers, engineers and teachers.
- Engineers love to experiment, build things, test them, if it fails, build it again. We wanted kids to have that same experience – so we created 50 hand-on activities on all kinds of fun topics … like how to design a roller coaster and how to build a pinball machine and or how to design a shoe. We also created 3 Design Challenge exhibits for the maker spaces in science centers that are very popular.
- We created an Educator Guide with 12 Lesson Plans for K-12 that were linked to the Next Generation Science Standards to make it easy for teachers to fulfill their curriculum needs.
- We created 26 educational videos to go along with the film. 10 are longer webisodes that expand the stories in the film.
- All of these materials are all in one place – online so teachers, engineers and museum educators can go to one place to have access to all of these materials.
- The signature program is the Girls Night Out program where girls see the film, meet a woman engineer and participate in hands-on-activities as part of a mentor program. Grants were given to museums to host the events. Dream Big is also used in the National “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” Program.
We are in the process of planning an extraordinary next step for Dream Big. We are planning to put a DVD of the film in every school in America. Grants to do so have already been secured and work has begun to do just that. We plan to reach 100,000 schools. There are so many people and engineers in locations that did not have an IMAX or giant screen theatre, that wanted to see the film. So those locations will receive a DVD for every school. Then after the film concludes its run in cities that have giant screen theatres, a DVD will eventually be sent to those schools as well.