Have you ever watched a thriller or science-fiction movie and wondered how much of it is based in reality? Actually, quite a bit of the science and technology is drawn from key information provided by experts, thanks in part to ZoomWerks Media Group and Warren Betts of Pasadena.
More than 16 years ago, Betts was working as a publicist for a Ron Howard film. The director remarked that Betts was unique because of his physics and astronomy background and encouraged him to form his own public relations firm dedicated to movies with scientific and technological themes.
The idea, paired with the awareness that bloggers, podcasts and social media were changing the ways news outlets and media organizations share information, prompted Betts to forge ahead.
Betts is now the chairman and president of communications for Warren Betts Communications and the co-founder of ZoomWerks Media Group in Pasadena and Sierra Madre.
Formed in 1996, the company has a long list of clients, including 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Pictures, Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Pixar, Paramount Pictures, Dreamworks, Warner Bros. and 3ality Technica, along with NASA, Google, Apple Computer and Microsoft.
ZoomWerks' publicity efforts are aimed at specific audiences, such as readers of Scientific American, Popular Science and Popular Mechanics and fans of the Discovery channel and other science and technology sources.
Betts and his company also put together panels for clients with leading experts in the films' subjects, whether science, technology, aviation or defense, to educate the press on the reality behind the tale.
"The whole point is to build credibility for the film's story," Betts said. "A lot of the movie-going audiences today may not be aware of the most current findings or research going on in science and technology that may be reflected in the story of a given film, so we want to make the public aware of the credibility."
ZoomWerks also teams up with scientists and other experts from around the world to work with filmmakers while movies are being made to ensure accuracy.
"It's more interesting when you deal with real science because real science and physics is very very strange and mysterious," Betts said. "Real science is more interesting than made-up science.
"Filmmakers more and more want to build authentic science into their stories, making sure audiences know this is based on something real ... that is going to make audiences more interested in the film."
For example, in the 2012 science- fiction film "Prometheus," the space crew explores a planet where it discovers evidence of alien life. The planet portrayed is similar to astronomers' recent find, Kepler 22B, which orbits a star and is believed to be Earthlike and able to support life.
Being based in Pasadena is a boon for ZoomWerks because of the crossover of creativity and technology there, especially with JPL and Caltech.
"Pasadena is a great hub because we have some of the world's leading institutes out here," Betts said.
ZoomWerks worked with NASA on the Mars Science Lab landing earlier this month, and invited filmmakers to JPL to bring Hollywood up to date on current space research and what NASA expects to find on Mars.
Betts revels in his job, as he studied physics and astronomy at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. He had left science behind after college to intern for George Lucas on the Fox lot in Century City. The stint led to a position doing publicity for Fox and a string of public relations jobs.
Betts still dreams of space, hoping that NASA will select him for a mission even though he knows the opportunity is limited.
"Just like a school teacher going up for the first time, I'd like to be a publicist to go up for the first time," Betts said. "NASA could assign me tasks to do" in space.
ZoomWerks is finishing out a busy year with campaigns going for "Looper," "Hotel Transylvania," "Gravity" and the new James Bond film, "Skyfall," as well as more NASA events.