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The Making Of 'Bill Nye: Science Guy'

When the opportunity arose for these two filmmakers to make a documentary about one of their childhood heroes, they jumped at the chance.

Courtesy of Brendan Hall

Filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg grew up watching Bill Nye on his popular television program Bill Nye: The Science Guy, and they credit his work as one reason they both became interested in making films about science. When the opportunity arose years later to make a film about the beloved champion of science himself, they jumped at the chance.

The pair of filmmakers first met in graduate school at Stanford University, and together they directed and produced The Immortalists, a film about two scientists trying to find the cure for aging. Around the same time Nye appeared in the public spotlight again in 2014 when he debated creationist Ken Ham founder of Answers in Genesis, a ministry that addresses topics like creation, evolution and science from a biblical worldview.

“We were shocked that Bill was still active and fighting the good fight for science, so we just reached out to him,” Alvarado explained.

The duo was excited about Nye’s mission to restore science to a prominent place in society, but they were also interested in learning more about the man behind the bow tie. What they discovered is that the man they saw on TV as kids years before was not that different from who he is outside of the spotlight.

“The funny thing about Bill is that this is not an act,” Sussberg said. “He really is the science guy. He’s someone who is driven and passionate about his mission.”

The film chronicles Nye’s efforts to increase science literacy throughout the nation, but it also explores his personal life including his relationship with his two siblings who both struggle with a hereditary neurological disorder.

“It was an honor and a pleasure to get to know him not just as a personality that we saw on TV, but as a person,” Alvarado said.

The filmmakers also discovered they weren’t the only ones who admired the mechanical engineer turned science statesman. When they started a crowdfunding campaign online to raise money for production, the response was overwhelming. They set a record for the most money raised for a documentary at the time, and they still hold the record for having the highest number of contributors.

“That was shocking,” Sussberg recalled. “We knew that Bill had a dedicated following of millenials who are science curious and we knew there were other people out there who were just as passionate as us, but we didn’t know that there were tens of thousands of people. We were just shocked that there was this eager, hungry audience that grew up watching Bill and wanted to see what he was up to today.”

For Alvarado, the project also brought him back to his public media roots. After growing up as a “PBS kid” and watching Nye’s program, he later worked for PBS station KERA in North Texas. Now being an independent filmmaker, he said the opportunity to distribute the film nationally through PBS has been very fulfilling.

Bill Nye: Science Guy airs on WHRO TV 15 on April 18 at 10 p.m.

Learn more about the film.