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Sequences on the Silver Screen

Steven Soderbergh says he really wanted to get the science right when making Contagion, the forthcoming Hollywood movie that chronicles a global pandemic resulting from the intercontinental outbreak of an unknown virus. "I don't know how you could make a film about a subject like this without wanting it to be accurate," Soderbergh tells The New York Times this week. For that, he consulted Columbia University's Ian Lipkin, who tells the Times that "there isn't anything in the laboratory part of the film that hasn't either been done with a bona fide surrogate or assembled from something that was real." In a statement, Lipkin says he accepted the filmmakers' request for technical advising because he was sufficiently persuaded that "this was an effort to accurately represent the science and to make a movie that would entertain as well as educate." Lipkin spent weeks on the Contagion set, and coached the cast. "Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle visited the Center for Infection and Immunity to learn the mechanics of being a bench scientist, working with the lab's equipment to do technical procedures," Columbia says in a release. The Times adds that Lipkin and his staff awarded both actresses mock diplomas once they completed their training. At one point, Lipkin's technical advising led him to suggest changes to the screenplay. The Times adds:

The filmmakers came to depend on Dr. Lipkin as a fact checker. Scrolling through his e-mail, he turned up an exchange with [screenwriter] Mr. [Scott] Burns about an added line of dialogue involving Mr. [Matt] Damon's character, who has an immunity to the virus and raises the possibility of using his antibodies as a cure. Mr. Burns' suggestion read, "Blood serums are very expensive and they don't always work." Dr. Lipkin said: "It's not that they're expensive, but that there aren't enough antibodies in this man. So I had them change it to, 'You don't have enough blood to save the world.'"

Contagion opens in US theaters September 9.

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