Featured Interview: Titanic, Forrest Gump, Roger Rabbit, Twister, Now …



He worked on framing “Roger Rabbit,” helped sink the “Titanic,” summoned the tornadoes in “Twister” and … put the visual chill in “Polar Express.” Also, along the way he’s worked on some of the highest revenue-producing movies in history, including;  “Deep Impact,” “Back to the Future parts II and III,” “The Mummy,” “K-19: The Widowmaker.” and “Forest Gump, ” among many others.

Most recently he was on the Crew that morphed Jim Carrey into Ebenezer Scrooge in the 2009 film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1843 “A Christmas Carol.”

Who am I talking about? Mr. Tim Eaton. He’s a visual effects editor who helped those pictures become so successful. Tim helps create the “oohs” and “ahhs” that makes film-goers happily pay their hard-earned money to see the latest in high-tech on-screen wizardry.

Tim has a new personal film project that he’s going to talk with us about. It’s a real-world story of myth. Of wondrous magic. Of an unrelenting altruism and a complete failure in business.  He’s working on a film story that will tax even all of his special effects creativity.

And take some …

WIZARDLY WIZARDRY

Yes, wizardly wizardry, and that’s where we’re going.  But first we have to dive deep into an obscure historical black hole – one that misrepresents and misleads. One where dividing by “zero” makes more sense than the absence of this person’s name from the history books. A person, that were the fruits of his labor withdrawn immediately from today’s world – the wheels of society would come off and slide to a complete halt.  Who is this person?

HE’S THE INVENTOR OF …

The rotating magnetic field (precursor to the gyroscope), the AC polyphase system. electric power transmission, the light bulb,  the induction motor, the radio, laser beams, X-rays, Radio tubes -the precursor to TV tube and also precursor to fax machine, –  oscillators, selective tuning, wireless communications, wireless power transmission,  framework for sending voice and pictures by means of wireless and … (e-breath here) the remote control, e.g., garage-door opener, remote-control toys, ozone-producing machines, bladeless turbines and pumps, reactive jet dirigible (precursor to Harrier jet), Hovercraft Flivver plane (precursor to Osprey helicopter/aircraft).

This guy was mucking around with wireless fluorescent lights, neon lights and fax machines in the 1890’s.

AND HE’S LOST

Lost is the one place in the history books he’s secured. Look … you won’t find him.  Who are we talking about? A man, who in his time counted as friends and confidants such luminaries as Mark Twain, George Westinghouse, John Jacob Astor, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and J.P. Morgan?

NIKOLA TESLA

Nikola Tesla: Wireless Light circa 1890's

I first wrote about Nikola Tesla in an article titled “An Inconvenient Genius.: The Timeless Legacy of an Untimely Man” with Marc Seifer,  the world’s leading authority on Tesla, and author of “Wizard: The Life and Times of  Nikola Tesla.”

GUESS WHAT?

Tim Eaton and Marc Seifer have formed a team to bring the real story of Nikola Tesla to the big screen in “Tesla: The Lost Wizard.” And what a ride it will be.

WHY IT MATTERS

The stunning brilliance and inventive, almost otherworldly genius that Tesla displayed all his life in the service of – and for the betterment of mankind – is wizardry that Harry Potter would be hard-pressed to match.

Unfortunately, Tesla had one big downfall – his approach to business.  It didn’t make much business sense. Tesla considered himself a “Planter of Seeds.” He let others raise the crops. From Tesla’s point of view, he was a creator of new principles.

DOWNFALL – $$$

New principles don’t make much money without products and solutions to sell to a marketplace that wants or needs them. Others made millions off Tesla’s generosity.

THE BUSINESS OF GENIUS DOESN’T PAY THAT WELL

Tesla should have been a billionaire, but died penniless on January 7th, 1943, at the age of 87 in a drab and dreary room in the Hotel New Yorker in Manhattan. Why? Mainly because he just wasn’t a good businessman. Tesla was altruistic – preferring to try to better humanity’s lot and improve living conditions for all human beings.

BUT THE BUSINESS OF MOVIE MAGIC SHOULD

The clash of genius and money – love and loss – leads us to “Tesla: The Lost Wizard.”

ENTER TIM EATON

Some background on Tim. It all came easy for Tim Eaton. He just fell out of the sky and landed as an overnight special effects wizard sensation.  Overnight, that is, if you don’t count 30+ years of hard work and dedication to his craft. Throughout it all he has had one driving passion – to bring the story of Nikola Tesla to the big screen. Tim’s story behind the story is fascinating. And it involves, go figure, some seriously hard work. Even some cold-calling for you sales folks out there.

INTERVIEW

Steve: Did you ever dream when you were a kid that you’d be involved in creating such wondrous and ground-breaking movies as Roger Rabbit, Forest Gump, Titanic, Twister, Men in Black … ?

Tim: No. And it was an improbable journey at best.  Like you said, I was an overnight success … if you count in Mayan Epoch years.

Steve: How did this improbable journey begin?

Tim: Like a lot of proto-nerds in the 60’s I tinkered with basic electronic kits and audio gear like building a then “state-of-the-art” Dyncao SCA-80Q “Quadraphonic” amplifier. My Dad was always filming home movies so when I got my hands on a more advanced Super 8 at my High School Film Club I got the filming and photography bug.  I entered a short in some kind High School Student Film Contest promoted by Kodak I think, which won an Award and was screened in Toronto at a Complex called “Ontario Place.”  This seemed impressive at a time when the “means of production” weren’t as accessible as they are today with the ubiquity of desktop video editing apps. In fact, I remember using two pencils as film spool holders when I was doing my first 8mm editing.

NO HEAVY LIFTING REQUIRED – WELL …

The other appeal of this field was that I expected it wouldn’t involve much heavy lifting, as I’d had enough of that at my summer job working at a Molson’s Brewery. Now that’s hard work. Even for a kid.

Steve: I’ve found hard work quite inspirational … avoiding it that is.

Tim: Ha, yes.  But little did I know then how heavy lugging twelve reels of 35mm Print and Mag Track to screening booths would be for Double System Projection would turn out to be.

WHATEVER IT TAKES

“Film School” wasn’t quite a normal career path at that time – as my parents explained clearly to me. But, since I’d grown up seeing National Film Board movies I reassured my parents that I could at least maybe get a Government film job. Then after my Thesis Film, “The Prophet Nostradamus” won Student Cinematography and Editing Awards, I figured it was the door-opener I needed … so I decided to do whatever it took to make a go of going pro.

COLD CALLING FROM WAY BACK

I then set out to physically cold call all the Film Production Companies in the Yellow Pages that I could reach via the Toronto Transit System. For some reason there was “considerable resistance” to hiring young college grads into a business where most of the production community had started out from definitely non-academic ranks. At that time there were, in fact, a lot of people who’d been in military film units during World War ll.

ENTER TESLA & A THIRTY YEAR QUEST

Steve: When did you first hear of Nikola Tesla?

Tim: It was just after we finished the sound mix for that thesis film, “The Prophet Nostradamus,” that I picked up an issue of New Age magazine that had an article by Christopher Byrd on Nikola Tesla. Little did I know then that this article would start me on a 30-year-long quest to make an epic Tesla Biopic (although some days now I wish I’d never heard of Tesla.)

Here I was, a recent University Grad with interest in History and Science, and I had never heard of this important historical figure. How did that happen?  Then I thought to myself, wouldn’t the image of him sitting in his Colorado Lab with an electric vortex be cool in a movie!?  I started doing some rough script outlines after reading “Lightning in His Hand” by Hunt and Draper, and O’Neil’s first Tesla Bio, “Prodigal Genius.

ESOTERIC OBSCURITIES – THE LOST GENIUS

Books and material on Tesla were only available then in “esoteric” bookstores that dealt with obscurities. Now you can find thousands of articles on the Web, which is really quite astounding and a thriving testament to the timeless allure of Tesla’s story.

WHERE’S THE STORY?

My biggest impediment to the story was that with such a long time span, what were the pertinent narrative parts? How to flesh it out?  It also seemed that to do a historical piece properly it could help to have a literary property attached to give it credibility. Years later, through synchronicity, luck or random chance, I met Marc Seifer, the author of the acclaimed biography “WIZARD: THE LIFE & TIMES OF NIKOLA TESLA.”  Click – the end of the beginning.

ENTER ORSON WELLES

But, I soon heard that “The Secret of Nikola Tesla” with Orson Welles was going into production, which caused me to shelve the pursuit of the Tesla story for many years.

EXIT ORSON WELLES

I saw it later at the World Premiere at the Toronto Intl Film Festival, and although it was a noble attempt it just didn’t have any oomph to it.  It was just so static – not helped by Orson Welles insistence on remaining seated at that time in his career.

Steve: And during this time you were continuing to learn the business.

Tim: Yes. Actually I was learning …

HOW NOT TO MAKE A MOVIE

I got a break when I heard through the grapevine that a former Instructor of mine was editing what had been an ultra-low budget sci-fi movie. It had gotten financing from some wheeler-dealers who were using a Canadian tax shelter program, which at that point gave investors a 200% deduction on film investments. To say that this was my first lesson in how not to make a movie (but not my last) would be an understatement.  I’d actually worked on this project for one day making plaster cast dummies that were supposed to be used for a mass grave scene where victims of the Evil Alien’s suicide death ray would be dumped.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

The “Director” was a total madman who had come in on a weekend and had begun editing before the Film and Magnetic audio track had been “edge-coded” which allows “sync” to be maintained.  In fact I walked in to find mounds of trims on the “cutting room floor.”   My first job was to piece all these film and mag track bits back together into proper dailies rolls.

That’s like putting back together a novel that had been through a shredder.

Long story short, the director was locked out, the original editor was fired because as Star Wars had just come out, the producers wanted to up the ante. They hired a Hollywood editor and writer to come in to tweak the project.

Thus “Legion of the Winged Serpent” became “Alien Encounter” with Christopher Lee, Robert Vaughn and the talented Penthouse Playmate of 1977, who Christopher Lee disrobed with his evil telepathic power. I then got to work with editor Dave Rawlins who next went on to cut “Saturday Night Fever,” “Urban Cowboy” and “China Syndrome.”  So all in all I got the low-down from a top line Hollywood Editor.

A little luck. A lot of muck. And … always hard work.

Steve: I’m noticing a pattern. Hard work. Years of it.

Tim: Yes.  A few years later a friend hired me to work on Lucas Television “Ewoks” cartoons, which lead to “Roger Rabbit” and a prolonged stint at Industrial Light and Magic.

Steve: Why are you so passionate about the Nikola Tesla story? What intrigues you about it?

Tim: Good vs. Evil. Right vs. Wrong.  Historical malleability. The winner writes history.  Tesla won at the game of genius – but lost the game of business. Big-time. But in his mind he never was in it for the money. It was about inventing devices and principles that would better humanity’s lot.  Tesla was a truly noble human being.

Steve: Ah… then comes the fall.

Tim: Of course. He got screwed. Tesla has been written out of the history books. I, consider Nikola Tesla inventions a hidden beacon of hope for mankind.  Imagine – clean, renewable energy at a very low cost. It’s not a dream. Tesla achieved it over 100 hundred years ago!

Tesla was a man who had forsaken so many aspects and opportunities of what we consider to be a “normal life”.  A man who was so committed to working for higher goals, almost like being on a “Mission from God” to borrow a “Blues Brothers” phrase, and it really makes him stand out as one of the greatest untold stories of all time.

Tesla was a ‘Planter of Seeds” with a simple mission, “to elevate the condition of humanity.”

“Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life.” Nikola Tesla

There is a recent and entirely apt quote by Producer Gary Goetzman about a new series “The Pacific” which says it all about why Tesla fascinates me:

“The Truth is always much more amazing than any story you can make up. You gotta find the truth, you‘ve got to dig for the truth, but it’s always a better story.”

Steve: Why does the Nikola Tesla story have to be told – and told by you and Marc Seifer?

NOBODY CARES ABOUT A DEAD INVENTOR WHO GOT SCREWED

Tim: Tesla: The Lost Wizard is quite simply the greatest untold story of the past century. And … we are not only going to reveal and uncover it, the world will end up being a better place for it. The Lost Wizard will open eyes and make a real difference. And, as a special treat, I will quietly (maybe not) and humbly (maybe not, again) relish the thought of sitting in the audience and texting one particular agent who stated,  “Nobody cares about a dead inventor who got screwed.”

Steve: What’s Tesla: The Lost Wizard about?

Tim: It is the true and tragic story of the brilliant, eccentric, Serbian-born inventor Nikola Tesla. It’s set in turn-of the century America during the height of the Gilded Age.

A  multi-tiered epic, Tesla: The Lost Wizard first centers on Tesla’s incredible scientific achievements – his partnership with George Westinghouse (to light of the Chicago World’s Fair and harness Niagara Falls) and the intense competition against, and betrayal by, two of the most powerful and well-known “robber barons” of the U.S. industrial age: J.P. Morgan and Thomas Edison.

Along the way you get swept into into Tesla’s magical life and personal friendships with Stanford White (considered by many to be the greatest architect of his era, who would be infamously murdered as a result of a love triangle), Mark Twain (in cameo appearance), Robert Johnson (editor of the Century Magazine), and the women in his orbit, all of whom harbored unrequited love for Tesla: Katherine Johnson (Robert Johnson’s wife), the playwright and pianist Marguerite Merrington, and Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. Morgan. Tesla:The Lost Wizard is replete with universal themes and is perhaps the Greatest Untold Epic of the past century – a resonating story of triumph, love and heartbreak, deception and madness.

Steve: Are you going to go into Tesla discovering a way to provide unlimited wireless energy – at little cost  – to anywhere in the world?

Tim: Yes. And more. Consider, after Tesla sold his AC patents to Westinghouse in the early 1890’s for, in today’s money, well over ten million dollars, he moved into the Waldorf-Astoria at the height of the Gilded Age. A megastar at the time, many of the glitterati rushed to Tesla’s lab to witness his fantastic electrical experiments, such as the invention of cold wireless fluorescent lights. He also had the fantastic ability to send hundreds of thousands of volts through his body to prove that his AC invention was safe, and that Edison’s DC invention was inferior.

Tesla’s move to Colorado Springs is a visual feast of electrical pyrotechnics as he creates 120-foot-long lightning bolts and attempts to send electricity around the globe. His return to New York City in 1900 to race against Marconi to be the first to send a wireless message across the Atlantic, and his partnership with J. Pierpont Morgan with plans to create a world-wide wireless telegraphy center, called Wardenclyffe, is one of the greatest untold stories of modern times, and certainly, more fantastic than any tale of fiction.

Steve: What are you looking most forward to recreating?

Tim: What am I not looking forward to? There are always objections to period pieces, especially due to perceived costs. Now, we all know that you can digitally re-create these kinds of environments, but it has to be meticulously planned to be cost-effective. It’s much easier and cheaper to blue screen in actors to a CG environment than to physically build sets of the Chicago World’s Fair / Columbian Exposition, which occurred at an amazing time in history – the dawn of the Modern Age. The buildings and grounds were amazing, designed by Frederick Olmstead, who did NYC’s Central Park, the park at Niagara Falls and the Emerald Necklace in Boston. Here was a man who was well aware of ecology and the impact that a natural environment would have on the psyche of man.

Tesla’s Colorado Springs Laboratory at the foot of the Rocky Mountains has not yet been done justice. It was in this lair that Tesla’s famous and engrossing shots with bolts seeming to engulf him while he was reading were taken.

It is notable that these were after all “trick” double exposures, which are a direct precursor to the concept of Visual Effects Compositing in use today.

Then there is of course his final but unfinished legacy, namely his “Wardenclyffe Tower.”

Steve: Will you cover The War of the Currents … Edison Vs. Tesla?

Tim: Yes. What a great back-story that is. Our construction of the narrative is in three acts which are in summary: Tesla vs. Edison / Tesla vs. Marconi / Tesla vs. J.P. Morgan, so yes, “The War of The Currents” is covered in Act I.  It really sets up the fact that Tesla is a maverick who is fearless in his pursuit of the truth and attaining the visions he sought to achieve.

Steve: Will you be able to realistically recreate “the times?”

Tim: The most valuable aspect of working with researcher & author Marc Seifer is the consummate expertise that he provides, both breadth and depth, due to the immense amount of historical documentation with which he is familiar. The dynamics and foibles of the characters can be more detailed from facts and events he has unearthed.

No one on earth knows Tesla’s story better than Marc Seifer.

A lot of the dialogue is real and culled from various historical letters between the principals. It allows us unparalleled access to integrate the real workings of their thoughts and feelings into The Lost Wizard.

We’re trying to create and bring to the screen a real story, a true story, that will satisfy both an audience which we already know exists with a depiction that we know they want to see, as well as introduce the Tesla story to an audience that doesn’t know anything about him  … and will be completely surprised, even wow’ed, and edu-tained by the story of the world’s greatest lost genius.

TIMELY & TIMELESS

Steve: Finally. What are your hopes and best aspirations for “Tesla: The Lost Wizard?”

Tim: I’m a great believer in Edu-tainment. Not all, but many audiences want a story that reveals the unexpected, and not all movie-goers want a movie to be taken on a “ride”.

Tesla is long overdue for his historical recognition. He needs to be put back in the history book. His inventions and principles can help mankind right now.  Marc and I envision The Lost Wizard – not hagiographically – but as a portrait of the man in his time, shown both in a timely and timeless fashion. If anybody is the patriarch of our Modern Age, it is Tesla.

Steve: Thanks Tim. Good hunting to you and Marc. Can’t wait to see it. I’ll be the first in line.

Tim: One special note. We just launched, today, a website for “Tesla: The Lost Wizard.” It’s a beta-site, but a lot of interesting things are going to be added soon. Keep in touch.

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