Drifting and spinning dry ice: detail of an exhibit at the Exploratorium

Demo: The Movie – Production blog 9

Our destination all along had been – and this isn’t really a spoiler, honest – the Exploratorium in San Francisco. My previous visit to the Western US had been effectively a pilgrimage to their original building, and this was my first glimpse of their new digs. I was excited.

Though first we had to convince the staff we weren’t going to burn the place down, or at least: if we did, that our insurance covered it. That was a bit nerve-wracking as the way location insurance is done differs somewhat between the US and Europe. We finally received the ‘You’re all good’ confirmation only when we were in Las Vegas, which was… a little close for comfort. But hey, as long as the camera gets to roll, that’s a win, right?

Day 9 – Thursday 22nd August – Exploratorium

On our initial props-and-groceries shop I’d picked up an emergency can of coffee – the horrid condensed-milk pseudo-Starbucks weirdness that’s marginally more palatable than Red Bull. In the US the cans are, predictably, larger than in the UK, but that was fine since the whole point was “emergency caffeine.” This morning I drank it. In a cab, on the way to Las Vegas McCarren airport. At half past four in the morning.

It was horrid.

I didn’t care.

With the timing of our interview with the magicians the day before we’d had no option but to ditch the Jeep thing and jump on the early plane to San Francisco. I can’t remember anything about the flight, though I do remember struggling to find the right place to wait for our shared-ride van pickup once we’d found our luggage. First-world problem.

There was no way we could check into our hotel at 9am, but we could repack from ‘travelling by air’ mode to ‘shooting’ mode, and they looked after our remaining bags while we scooted to the Exploratorium for a recce. So: things to know about the Exploratorium:

Alom (extreme right) walks into the new Exploratorium site.
Alom (extreme right) walks into the new Exploratorium site.

The Exploratorium is cool. Like, really cool.

OK, so I’m a geek, and to most people I suppose it’s another science museum. Only… it’s not, really. It doesn’t have a collection in the conventional sense, and exploring what it is – and more importantly why – is pretty much why we were there. So I’m not going to spoil that just now.

The new building captures much of the atmosphere and odd juxtapositions of the old, and feels almost as cavernous. There’s much more space given over to making/tinkering/building, which continues to feel like the future of such places – a thread I’d very much like to pick up, but perhaps that’s for another film *cough*Engineering*cough*.

The Exploratorium is also beautiful:

Drifting and spinning dry ice: detail of an exhibit at the Exploratorium
Drifting and spinning dry ice: detail of an exhibit at the Exploratorium

…arresting…

Mirrors on a concave surface – an exhibit at the Exploratorium
Mirrors on a concave surface – an exhibit at the Exploratorium

…and not just about physics:

A shoot grows on a tree trunk: detail of an exhibit at the Exploratorium
A shoot grows on a tree trunk: detail of an exhibit at the Exploratorium

However, we had one purpose for being at the Exploratorium on this day: a one-hour interview window with one of the directors, Dr. Rob Semper.

Dr Robert Semper, Executive Associate Director, Exploratorium
Dr Robert Semper, Executive Associate Director, Exploratorium

Rob’s been at the Exploratorium since 1977, and like many people there his thinking about what the place is for, and the lessons it holds for the wider education community, is both insightful and subtle. As with the magicians in Las Vegas, he’s thought deeply about his craft and how it relates to similar fields, and is a passionate, engaging and concise speaker.

This was the key interview of the film, and Rob absolutely nailed what we wanted in two ten-minute takes. Job done.

In principle we should have hung around and shot pretties of the Exploratorium. It was only two o’clock in the afternoon, but we’d been on the go for ten hours already and we were wiped. Having seen how small-scale our production was (I think the comms office quite reasonably didn’t believe me when I first described, in email, how we work), the Exploratorium folks were happy enough to invite us back the following morning. So we retired gracefully to the hotel, had an early dinner as the only patrons of a spectacularly good  Thai restaurant, and fell asleep. Early.

Oh, and I’ve just realised that a bunch of the frame-grabs above are from tomorrow, in the timeline of these blog posts. Ach well, that reflects the addled state of my brain, two weeks ago, when all this happened.

Miles travelled: does flying count? I think I might stop the clock, now.
Footage shot: 00:24:51 / 4.3Gb (total 13:43:51 / 142.8Gb)

 

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