When a film maker meets an astrophysicist: "Grand Unified Theory"

April 12, 2017

Question: What do you get when a film writer/director/producer meets an astrophysicist/movie buff?

Answer: Grand Unified Theory. Not a hypothesis, but a film, where the quantum state entanglements of subatomic particles share the screen with agitated state entanglements of family, friends and lovers.

The writer/director/producer is David Ray, an Adjunct Professor in the Film Production Program in UBC’s Film and Theatre Department. His latest film – the feature length dramatic comedy entitled Grand Unified Theory" – is set during a fateful weekend when the family of brilliant (fictional) astrophysicist Albert James has a total meltdown. Professor James, his wife, and their teenage kids try to emerge unscathed from their personal chaos. The audience witnesses the humour and drama through a lens focused on the fundamental physics of how order emerged from chaos in our Universe.

Grand Unified Theory will be featured in the VIFF/Vancity Theatre’s National Canada Film Celebration, with screenings on 16 April (with Q&A with director/writer David Ray) and 20 April.

The story unfolds in chapters framed by topics of the final lecture delivered by the film’s astrophysics professor. It was natural that David would seek out a real astrophysicist to keep the cosmic themes grounded in reality. He collaborated closely with UBC Physics & Astronomy Professor Jaymie Matthews to refine the lifestyle of Professor James, to co-write his lecture which unfolds in parallel with the family story, and even to provide extras from the students in his UBC classes to be in the on-screen class.

David recalls: “Writing this movie with Jaymie not only inspired me to no end, but his wild personality reassured me that science is stranger and more wonderful than fiction, and that the most arcane facets of General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory are up close and personal in the people we meet.”

Jaymie reminds everyone: “This is not a documentary about science, but a story about the uncertain science of human relationships, when a family is turned upside down. It’s funny and poignant, often at the same time. David had the refreshingly original vision of framing the frustrations and joys of everyday life in terms of quantum and relativistic physics which seem to violate common sense. That physics may seem exotic, but it defines our everyday lives, which are never common and rarely make sense.”

Grand Unified Theory Trailer from David Ray on Vimeo.

About Jaymie Matthews:

Professor Jaymie Matthews is a faculty member in UBC’s Department of Physics & Astronomy. He is the Mission Scientist leading MOST (Microvariability & Oscillations of STars), Canada’s first space telescope. With MOST and other tools, he, his students and collaborators are searching for, and studying, planets beyond our Solar System. They are looking for Goldilocks worlds – not too hot, not too cold, but just right for liquid water oceans, and maybe life.

Astronomy education and public outreach are important facets of Dr. Matthews’ career. He mentors students, gives engaging and extraordinary public talks, and appears in the media to decode the latest astronomy discoveries. He received the Canadian Association of Physicists Education Medal in 2002, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, and the 2016 Canadian Astronomical Society Qilak Award for education and public outreach. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2006.

About David Ray:

Vancouver-based David Ray is a passionate director with an original voice who combines a love of casting and performance with great attention to detail in the technical aspects of cinematography, elevating traditionally genre specific work with an artistic sensibility and breath-taking authenticity.

Ray’s feature length directorial debut was the dark comedy he also wrote and Co-Produced entitled FETCHING CODY, starring Jay Baruchel (whose credits include TROPIC THUNDER, THIS IS THE END, and GOON), which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before travelling the world and being picked up by Showtime and Netflix (USA).

A stalwart at the SyFy Channel, six of his Movie of the Week screenplays have been produced, as have his forays into animation, including work on the series ANIMISM for APTN and THE HENCHMEN for Bron Studios. No stranger to the gaming industry, David was lead writer on the blockbuster NEED FOR SPEED: CARBON with Electronic Arts.

His commercial work has garnered praise as well, directing campaigns for Vancity, VIFF and ING that have won several Marketing Awards, a Lotus, two Golden Quills and have been short-listed at Cannes.