Television

Got Expertise? Get a Hollywood Gig As a Technical Screen Consultant

Lights. Camera. Action! If you're a quiet, bookish sort of person who looks enviously at the glamor of Hollywood, there's a little-known way you can participate in the excitement of a big-budget documentary, feature film or TV series: serving as a behind- the-scenes, off-camera technical script consultant.

Even when movies and TV shows take place in the realm of fantasy, they usually strive for some degree of authenticity and grounding in reality, and that is where they hire (and pay) authors, experts, professors and practitioners possessing unusual skills or backgrounds.

One Northwestern University professor who specializes in robotics and artificial intelligence, for example, served as a script consultant for a series on the Syfy channel about battling robots. He brainstormed plot concepts with the show's writers, tweaked dialogue and suggested corrections for technical accuracy.

A Mount Holyoke College history professor got tapped as a resource for the BBC America series "Copper," which dramatizes incidents involving the New York City police department during the Civil War. Producers even flew him to Toronto, where they shot the whole series, so he could continue to help make the characters, stories and action as realistic as possible.

A neurosurgeon who teaches at the University of Arizona offers medical ideas to "Grey's Anatomy" and helps fine-tune the show for plausibility. He tells the writers whether a character should say "Give me the forceps" or "Give me the Number 10 Scalpel Blade."

You don't have to be a college professor or published author to quality for this kind of work, however. A guy I know teaches outdoor survival skills in the woods of Maine. Because he used to live in Alaska, he had the opportunity to advise a Discovery Channel outdoor adventure show on how the hero could make his way from the wilderness back to civilization without food, water or tools.

A practicing attorney in Los Angeles has script consulting credits for four TV shows: LA Law, The Practice, Boston Legal and The Paper Chase. As you can tell from the other examples above, though, you do not have to live in California or near Hollywood to become eligible for technical script consulting work.

If you're interested in experiencing and contributing your expertise to these kinds of entertainment productions, look for movie and TV industry directories where you can list your qualifications. There are dozens of them. In addition, you can attract attention from the right kinds of people by blogging from your expert point of view about inaccuracies you see and story themes you appreciate in movies and TV shows. Do so respectfully, of course, rather than scoffing at the bonehead stupidity and ignorance of the writers and producers.

And while you will probably enjoy your brush with glamor, don't make any prima donna demands yourself. Those you are working for expect a cooperative, go-with-the flow attitude from you. Tim Smith, the survival skills expert I know, told me, "Remember that it's all about the show, not about you. They need you to be a team player."

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