Monica, my co-director, is perhaps the best gift-giver I know. She's given me antique movie cameras, and one Christmas after shooting Marcela Carena's tango club, she gave me ... a tango trophy. First place, no less.
I think I mentioned the TV party we had to watch The Atom Smashers at the Caro D'Offay gallery. Caro and Annie Stone built a cardboard "console" for my modern-looking TV and I projected a video fireplace on the wall next to it, so we all felt as though we were watching TV down in the den. All we needed was some shag carpet.
There's a quick scene in the last quarter of the film where the physicists are discussing why they got into physics. Robin is hanging around in John Conway's office, chatting with John's working group and says she got into physics "because of Carl Sagan." It's one of those nice moments where I think, for once, they truly forgot we were there. She said she had a "mickey mouse" physics class in high school, which didn't inspire her, but once she saw "Cosmos," she was hooked.
She wasn't the only one --- Cosmos riveted me as a kid. I'll be honest: I think Cosmos has been quietly swimming in the back of my mind the whole time we've contemplated making science documentaries. It is clearly a product of a different time, and could never be made today, because ... it's ... slow. Beautifully slow, unhurried, measured, calm, thoughtful. Profound, contemplative, awe-inspiring. Mention any of those words to a documentary distributor or sales agent today, and quite likely you're in real trouble. Mention them in conjunction with the word "science" and you'll get the conversational equivalent of a door slammed in your face.
Our documentary is nothing like Cosmos in that we don't have a narrator or an on-screen presence (Carl Sagan), and we're following a story rather than contemplating the universe at large. But I'd like to think we have a small connection. But before I elaborate, back to my story:
So, we're in the gallery getting ready for the TV party. The cardboard console (complete with big cardboard knobs) is being built, and I'm putting the finishing touches on the video fireplace. Monica arrives, followed by Andrew, who is carrying a FedEx package for me and one for monica. They're from PBS, and we open them to find a nice letter and a box of chocolates! Very nice, and a sweet touch. Then Monica gives me a wrapped package which I immediately open, and find ... a hardbound copy of "Cosmos," by Carl Sagan. Written on the front page:
The Atom Smashers 11-25-08
I got into science because of Clayton Brown! Here's hoping our next story is just as much fun!
Tonight I opened the book for the first time, and in Sagan's introduction, a passage leaped out at me. It says:
Cosmos is dedicated to the proposition that the public is far more intelligent than it has generally been given credit for, and that the deepest scientific questions on the nature and the origin of the world excite the interests and passions of enormous numbers of people.
If there was ever a motto for my feelings about our group, 137 Films, this is it. These two beliefs make the backbone of our philosophy, and why we had the nutty idea of making a film about one of the most esoteric, hard-to-fathom scientific concepts out there, brazenly assuming both of Sagan's declarations were true!
I feel like there is a lifetime of exciting work ahead.
So, thanks, Carl Sagan, and thanks, Monica!
See why I say she's such a good gift-giver?