A 914 EV Cameo on Fox’s Cosmos
Following one particular Saturday morning run on the beach and breakfast with my pal Fordy, I returned to find this handwritten note under the wiper blade of my 914EV:
I called the number on the business card, and connected with Seth Reed, who introduced himself as a film and television Production Designer. He explained that the “science documentary” mentioned in the note was the National Geographic/Fox remake of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, hosted by the great science communicator, PBS Nova host, and director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
.Carl Sagan is famous among teeners for driving a Porsche 914, and Seth wanted to feature mine in the show. It sounded like fun, so I signed up. Click on the picture above to see the blog of Sagan’s son, Nick, whose voice appears on the Voyager spacecraft’s golden record, saying “Hello from the children of planet Earth.”
We arrived at the Paramount backlot on the afternoon of the shoot, and positioned the car in advance for filming later that night. The scene is a recreation of a bus station near Sagan’s home in Ithaca, New York. The 914 would be sharing the screen with a classic old passenger bus that was also hired for the shoot.
The DP directed me to inch the car back and forth as he set up his angles for the shot. The above camera is a fully digital Arriflex Alexa, if I recall correctly. Just click on the above picture to appreciate the sheer complexity of this rig. Inside that black box is where the magic is made.
We were reenacting a cold winter evening in upstate New York, so after protecting all the car’s open grills and vents with sheet plastic, the prop department began applying “snow.” It was a very flaky and convincing superabsorbant polymer that is incidentally also used in disposable diapers.
As night fell and lights were positioned, the car and entire set were blanketed in polymer flake. The propmaster artfully created the illusion of engine heat melting some of the snow on the front hood, although the original 914 engine was in the back. I was tempted to bring this to his attention, but the lack of a gas engine altogether forced me to bite my tongue and chuckle quietly to my comrades. Notice the prop vintage NY license plate for which Carl Sagan was famous. It reads PHOBOS, which is a moon of Mars.
We were permitted to hang in the digital tent and watch set ups on the eye-popping ultra high-def displays. Here we see the actors for the young Sagan and Tyson being lit for the shot, with the 914 in the near foreground. As a high school student, Tyson had applied and been accepted into Cornell, and Sagan personally invited him to visit his lab in support of Tyson’s decision to enroll. The scene is a reconstruction of the parting moment between the two after Sagan had driven Tyson to the Ithaca bus station on that snowy night.
Once the camera and lights were set, they brought in the big guns. Here we see the actual Neil deGrasse Tyson regaling Cosmos viewers with his account of that fateful meeting, which fueled his career in science, and made him the obvious heir to the Cosmos reboot. I had the privilege to hang with him between shots, and he perfectly lived up to his reputation as curious, interested, personable, and approachable. Also on set, I had the great honor of meeting Ann Druyan, the wife of Carl Sagan, who cowrote the original Cosmos, and who served as executive producer of this remake. She was warm, gracious, and very complimentary of the Porsche EV.
Here is the end product – A dreamlike memory of an epic moment on a snowy evening in upstate New York, where the torch of cosmic wonderment was passed to a new generation. It was such an honor to participate in this legacy.
The episode, called A Sky Full of Ghosts, was broadcast on Fox and National Geographic on March 30 and 31, respectively.