Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of the Tangled Bank Studios name?

The “tangled bank” reference comes from the poetic final paragraph of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It refers to how all life forms are inextricably bound to each other in a way that can seem chaotic but, in fact, is guided by natural laws. Understanding these laws and making sense of the chaos are the heart of scientific discovery and, we think, a great adventure. Our aspiration is to bring viewers along on this adventure and to make it as real, immediate, and meaningful as it is for the scientists themselves.

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

-Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

The “tangled bank” reference comes from the poetic final paragraph of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It refers to how all life forms are inextricably bound to each other in a way that can seem chaotic but, in fact, is guided by natural laws. Understanding these laws and making sense of the chaos are the heart of scientific discovery and, we think, a great adventure. Our aspiration is to bring viewers along on this adventure and to make it as real, immediate, and meaningful as it is for the scientists themselves.

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

-Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

What is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)? What does HHMI do?

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is one of the nation's largest philanthropies. As a nonprofit medical research organization, HHMI advances biomedical research and science education in the United States. The Institute employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefronts of their fields. HHMI’s science education programs are helping to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is one of the nation's largest philanthropies. As a nonprofit medical research organization, HHMI advances biomedical research and science education in the United States. The Institute employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefronts of their fields. HHMI’s science education programs are helping to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research.

Why did HHMI create a production company?

Television and film are powerful tools for bringing stories to life, and we believe that films about science have the potential to foster public engagement in a significant way. We want to work with the best storytellers and the best scientists to bring science – real, cutting-edge, complex science – to large audiences. We believe there has never been a greater need for this kind of storytelling, given the many ways science and technology shape our daily lives. We also think there is an appetite for it.

Producing films about science builds on HHMI’s longstanding commitment to science education. While our formal science education programs focus primarily on the classroom, Tangled Bank Studios extends HHMI’s reach by engaging more broadly with the public.

Finally, we believe it is important to support both broadcasters and filmmakers who are committed to telling great stories about science with depth and creativity. Commercial pressures and lower budgets have made it harder to produce the best science content at a time when understanding science has never been more important. We also hope we can help filmmakers do their best possible work.

Television and film are powerful tools for bringing stories to life, and we believe that films about science have the potential to foster public engagement in a significant way. We want to work with the best storytellers and the best scientists to bring science – real, cutting-edge, complex science – to large audiences. We believe there has never been a greater need for this kind of storytelling, given the many ways science and technology shape our daily lives. We also think there is an appetite for it.

Producing films about science builds on HHMI’s longstanding commitment to science education. While our formal science education programs focus primarily on the classroom, Tangled Bank Studios extends HHMI’s reach by engaging more broadly with the public.

Finally, we believe it is important to support both broadcasters and filmmakers who are committed to telling great stories about science with depth and creativity. Commercial pressures and lower budgets have made it harder to produce the best science content at a time when understanding science has never been more important. We also hope we can help filmmakers do their best possible work.

Are you planning outreach to support the productions?

Yes. Footage from our films is used to create short films for the classroom as part of HHMI's extensive educational outreach programs; we also network with national and global nonprofit organizations whose goals align with those for a given project.

In addition, we will support and encourage outreach through the web, print and digital media, and partnerships with like-minded organizations.

Yes. Footage from our films is used to create short films for the classroom as part of HHMI's extensive educational outreach programs; we also network with national and global nonprofit organizations whose goals align with those for a given project.

In addition, we will support and encourage outreach through the web, print and digital media, and partnerships with like-minded organizations.

Are you looking for one-offs, series, or both?

For broadcast, we produce both hour-long specials and miniseries. We believe that productions on this scale will have the most impact, especially when supported by outreach. That said, we consider any idea that carries the promise of bringing important science to a worldwide audience.

For broadcast, we produce both hour-long specials and miniseries. We believe that productions on this scale will have the most impact, especially when supported by outreach. That said, we consider any idea that carries the promise of bringing important science to a worldwide audience.

How do you develop ideas?

We generate some of our ideas internally. We also reach out to producers, broadcasters and scientists to encourage them to bring us their ideas and proposals. You may submit a proposal here.

Once we decide to develop a film or series, we work closely with a producer to shape the treatment. We want producers to have enough time and resources during development to hone a creative approach and do justice to the scientific content.

We generate some of our ideas internally. We also reach out to producers, broadcasters and scientists to encourage them to bring us their ideas and proposals. You may submit a proposal here.

Once we decide to develop a film or series, we work closely with a producer to shape the treatment. We want producers to have enough time and resources during development to hone a creative approach and do justice to the scientific content.

What are your production budgets?

That depends on the project and the partners we are working with. When we are committed to a project, we will do all we can to make it happen.

That depends on the project and the partners we are working with. When we are committed to a project, we will do all we can to make it happen.

How will you distribute internationally?

Off the Fence, a distribution company based in Amsterdam, is our international distributor.

Off the Fence, a distribution company based in Amsterdam, is our international distributor.

How do you work with scientists?

We work closely with scientists, both on and off camera, to find the most compelling stories and ensure they are told in an engaging and substantive way.

Scientists and other experts are chosen for inclusion in our productions based on the quality of their work, their work's relevance to the film, and their communication skills on camera. We also work extensively with scientific experts off-camera to ensure that our coverage is deep and accurate. 

We work closely with scientists, both on and off camera, to find the most compelling stories and ensure they are told in an engaging and substantive way.

Scientists and other experts are chosen for inclusion in our productions based on the quality of their work, their work's relevance to the film, and their communication skills on camera. We also work extensively with scientific experts off-camera to ensure that our coverage is deep and accurate. 

How do you guarantee accuracy and balance?

Tangled Bank Studios aspires to high standards of journalistic balance and accuracy. Each of our productions has a panel of expert academic advisors, who work with us from preproduction through completion to help us tell each story in the most balanced and accurate way possible. Our films will be fact-checked to a high standard, with a minimum of two annotated sources for each assertion of fact. For more detail, please see our Guide to Standards and Practices.

Tangled Bank Studios aspires to high standards of journalistic balance and accuracy. Each of our productions has a panel of expert academic advisors, who work with us from preproduction through completion to help us tell each story in the most balanced and accurate way possible. Our films will be fact-checked to a high standard, with a minimum of two annotated sources for each assertion of fact. For more detail, please see our Guide to Standards and Practices.

Are you planning to cover only biomedical sciences, or a broader range of subjects?

Tangled Bank Studios is an initiative of the HHMI Department of Science Education, whose mission is to promote science education in general. As a result, Tangled Bank Studios will cover the broad spectrum of science, from biology to paleontology, from cosmology to archeology, from physics to Earth science.

Tangled Bank Studios is an initiative of the HHMI Department of Science Education, whose mission is to promote science education in general. As a result, Tangled Bank Studios will cover the broad spectrum of science, from biology to paleontology, from cosmology to archeology, from physics to Earth science.