Discover: How did you come up with the idea to make a movie about the LHC and the Higgs boson?
David Kaplan: I started out as a film major in college. But I decided film was too hard, so I switched to physics. I found it easier. [Laughs.] But I realized the Higgs experiment would revolutionize our field — or prove everything we’ve been doing might be worthless. Film was my most comfortable medium, so seven years ago I started taking cameras to presentations and talking to people like Sheldon Lee Glashow, a Nobel laureate in physics. I soon realized, however, that the film needed to be made with more technical proficiency.
Once you brought on director Mark Levinson, who also has a doctorate in particle physics, and acclaimed film editor Walter Murch, who took home Oscars for both Apocalypse Now and The English Patient, was your role in the movie strictly on-screen?
DK: I’m a physicist, but when it came to being in the editing room, I was there, guiding the scenes to be sure they were true to the events. We wanted to show the real-time experience of being a scientist and of being unsure of the future.
One of the most important things about this movie to me was that it was made by someone active on the cutting edge of physics, someone writing papers, responding directly to data, someone in it emotionally, with strong opinions and interacting with people in the community. I wanted it to really reflect the world as I knew it. I made the film because I wanted it to be made, not because I wanted to make it.