The Next MacGyver Competition continued its year-long effort toward
increasing the visibility of female engineers in the media with an afternoon of
pitches, panels and a celebration of the five winners of a two thousand contestant challenge.
Julie Ann Crommett, the pioneer of Google’s efforts toward
improving the perception of engineering and computer science in the media, kicked things off with the opening remark that “the number two reason why
teenage girls, both in high school and college, weren’t pursuing the career was
their perception of it. Not surprisingly, they were least likely to follow it, because of the stereotypes that they were seeing on screen.”
Changing these perceptions into those aimed at inspiring and
motivating young women toward entering the field would be the focus of the
afternoon’s pitches. The five best went on to receive $5,000 and the help of a Hollywood producer or production company to bring the projects closer
The hour-long session of pitches brought forth characters
from a self-aware android to a high school beauty queen to the legendary computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, in worlds
like the World War II-centered 1940s or a dystopian tech-enhanced human future. None of the 12 were anything short of imaginative and extraordinary, providing the judges with a challenge of their own in selecting fewer than half of the finalists’ ideas.
Check out the concepts here.
A special panel session titled “From Script to Screen”
kept audiences in the atmosphere while the judges deliberated, featuring Ann
Blanchard (CAA), Marci Cooperstein (ABC Family), Danielle Feinberg (Pixar
Animation Studios), and Ann Merchant (Science and Entertainment Exchange) in a
discussion of what it takes to turn a TV pitch into a viable pilot. The panel was moderated by Bloomberg Associates’s Katherine Oliver.
You can watch it all below, but here are some highlights:
TV has the power to change perceptions of engineers for the better.
Finalist (and winner) Jayde Lovell relayed an anecdote about
her perception of engineering with the story of when she approached the engineering table at her high school career fair. Upon asking what the field would
be like, Lovell was made to think that the entirety of engineering surrounded
physics. “And thus ended my engineering career.”
Danielle Feinberg addressed the problem surrounding engineering’s bad rap by saying that “I think that one
of the things that’s become really clear, going out and talking to girls all
over, is that there are a lot of misconceptions about what a computer scientist
does or, if you’re a scientist, what you do, what an engineer does. So I think having
those characters to dispel those myths and to give them something else that
they can see is a huge, huge thing.
“If you study code or if you study engineering, instead
of shutting down what your possibilities are in life, you’re actually opening up
a very broad range of things,” she added. “So I think that getting these characters on
screen, so that girls can see that it’s really possible and they can do all
these different things is really kind of the secret sauce to getting more girls
Most writers don’t know engineers — male or female.
While television has turned into a medium in which we see many complex, empowering women leading the action, the majority of these roles fall to politics, law or medicine. Roles for leading women in engineering are fewer and farther in between, which often goes to the idea that, as Ann Merchant put it, “Writers are taught to write what they know, and we
often find that they don’t necessarily a lot of scientists, they don’t know a
lot of engineers.”
Marci Cooperstein couldn’t be any more excited about the pitches coming to ABC Family surrounding women in the sciences. According to her, it’s not about the lack of interest, but the lack of content coming in.
Merchant continued to note that the goal now concerns putting more women scientists and
engineers in front of content creators, so that they can begin to know them. The key is to create a community where people can interact.
there, and built up from that.
Blanchard put it perfectly when she replied to Katherine Oliver’s query about the image of the female scientist, and the difficulties of getting them onto the screen because of the preconceived notions of what they should look like. Blanchard commented that:
“We should celebrate the fact that the ‘CSI’s, the
‘Bones,’ the ‘Homeland’s – this is all a form of women doing science. So I also
think it would be good for us to say ‘here are the great characters’ – the ‘Grey’s
Anatomies.’ I mean, I’m sure if Shonda [Rhimes] were here she’d be saying, ‘Wow I’ve had
female scientists on my show — the number one show in America — for 10 years.’
So I think, the other thing we can do is celebrate what’s there and then build
from it… Really, the floodgates are open.”
Cooperstein echoed Blanchard’s comments by saying that, “The more unique, the more specific, the better. There’s just more pressure, excitement, stakes to really break out. So those stories that haven’t been told, and the specific characters that you haven’t seen are more appealing than ever.”
Stories make a difference.
“Television is a form of accidental curriculum. Whether we want this to be true or not, people learn an enormous amount from what they watch on television,” said Ann Merchant in her closing statements. “Stories are indelible, they stick with us. Those moments, those things that you see on TV, you pick up stuff from them, and those stories make a difference.”
At the core of this competition is the idea that stories matter beyond the surface narrative, and Merchant went on to stress that writers should keep this in mind when crafting their ideas.
With that, the panel wrapped up and made way for Lee Zlotoff
to congratulate the winners with their mentors and, perhaps more exciting, a roll of official “MacGyver” duct tape.
Though the competition may be over, the real challenge begins with
getting these projects rolling. Here are the five winners, together with their mentors.
Beth Keser, “Rule 702”
Mentor(s): Lori McCreary, CEO and Founder of Revelations
Entertainment; President of Producer’s Guild of America (“Madam Secretary,” “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman”); Tracy Mercer, VP of Development,
Jayde Lovell “SECs (Science and Engineering Clubs)”
Mentor(s): Roberto Orci, Writer/Producer (“Star Trek,” “Scorpion,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Fringe”)
Miranda Sajdak, “Riveting”
Mentor(s): Clayton Krueger, Senior Vice President of
Television, Scott Free Productions (3001: The Final Odyssey)
Craig Motlong, “Q Branch”
Mentor(s): Anthony E. Zuiker, creator and executive producer
of the “CSI” franchise
Shanee Edwards, “Ada and the Machine”
Mentor(s): America Ferrera, actress/producer (“Ugly Betty,” “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”); Gabrielle Neimand, Take Fountain
Check the entire event out below.