How did you come to meet Sam Berns?
We were put in contact with the family by one of the film's producers, Miriam Weintraub. We sat down and met them for the first time at a Chili's in Foxborough, Mass. Their family slid into one booth, and we sat across from them in the other, and we got to know them. We were just blown away by how much they seemed a team, how much they loved each other. I was nervous about meeting Sam -- how was he going to be? Was I going to be thinking about progeria when I was talking to him? That went away within 30 seconds. Immediately, we wanted to get to know him more and to understand him more.
What familiarity did you have with the topic or medical research beforehand? Was this a crash course in genetics?
We're both closet science geeks -- I went to school for zoology. We were blown away by the minds that we were around. To talk to Sam's mom Leslie and the other doctors about what they're working on, you have to know the language. We dove in and started reading all things about progeria. Andrea always says, when we make a film, we get to go to school -- that's why we love our jobs.
Throughout the film, there are visual interludes to illustrate the science. What thought did you put in about including those?
We thought about that a lot. This film is in hospital rooms, kitchens…familiar, but not cinematic spaces. What these people are working on, it's really about the stuff of life. The DNA helix, gene code, all these things, it's very personal to them. We wanted to come up with a visual way to get inside of Leslie's mind. Each person has a visual theme. For Sam, it's Legos. Legos are almost like your DNA code, these elemental pieces you put together to create. That's where Sam has his thoughts and dreams, and you explore with him in that realm. Leslie works at a biological, a cellular level. That's where we explore her inner thinking.
Ultimately our job is to make the inaccessible accessible. We see all these things happen inside the body and it was very important to us to visualize progeria. As Leslie said, her enemy is a letter; it's a change in a letter. So how do you get the audience to visualize this thing that happened that created all these problems?
One crucial decision Leslie makes is not to administer the drug to a control group.
It makes it really hard when it comes to publication because if you don't have a control group, it makes your peer review that much harder. You have to work twice as hard to explain the result, the lack of result or how you track that result. Leslie needed to be able to do that, that's why they were talking about kids' weight -- they found something they could track without medication.