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Real Science on Screen

Bo Yoon (Amber) Ha wears a UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television baseball cap in action on a set.
Bo Yoon (Amber) Ha received an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation fellowship to promote science fact in film.

What do screenwriting, an education in human rights and ethnic studies, time spent in Uganda, and a fascination with the use of xenon gas to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have in common? Answer: UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT) graduate student Bo Yoon (Amber) Ha and her screenplay Lamara.

Ha received a $30,000 Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in Film Production for her screenplay, which juxtaposes the treatment of a former Ugandan civil war rebel fighter suffering with PTSD against the backdrop of a love story. This summer, she will travel to Africa to begin filming.

Ha first read about the use of xenon gas to treat PTSD in a Newsweek article, and her idea for the story began to take hold.

Encouraging Experiments

The screenplay also took hold of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, whose fellowships promote science fact in film and television — rewarding scripts that demonstrate examples of real or plausible science in their themes. The foundation distributes its grants to support the writing and production efforts of students at several universities. UCLA is the only public university to receive such funding.

“Applying for the fellowship was an opportunity to explore themes I would not be brave enough to explore on my own,” says Ha.

Projects That Reflect Progress

Every year for more than a decade, the foundation has funded winning student projects originating in UCLA TFT’s Department of Film, Television and Digital Media with a film production grant and two screenwriting grants. Last year, they added new funds earmarked for the writing of a winning script for television.

Before the final judging, 20 semi-finalists are paired with science mentors from UCLA and elsewhere to ensure the scientific accuracy of their scripts. Ha’s mentors were the actual Harvard University scientists working on the revolutionary new use for xenon gas.

Ha’s Lamara is just the latest example of real science and excellent cinema born of UCLA TFT with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Published March 2019

More Stories: Students, Arts & culture, Science & technology, Students & campus, School of Theater, Film and Television

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