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August 1st, 2008
Spark Blog: Initial Thoughts on Filming with Alan Alda
Alan Alda Walking and Talking

Filming Alan Alda’s conversation in motion, Director of Photography Larry Engel is guided backwards by Producer Graham Chedd.

Today was the first day that I worked with Alan Alda. All I could do was keep thinking of his work on M*A*S*H, one of those TV shows that sticks with you over time.

We packed a lot of shooting into the first day and only after do I have a chance to reflect on it. First off, Alan, who’s worked for more than a decade with Graham and therefore has a great relationship with him and the former crew of Scientific American Frontiers, is patient, generous, and engaging — on both sides of the camera. While I’ve been making films myself for more than three decades, it’s my first encounter with Alan and his cohorts in science filmmaking. That puts me in an awkward situation — the newcomer. But both Graham and Alan are taking their time and allowing for our collective learning curve.

Alan Alda on the Computer

Alan Alda, surrounded by production gear, grabs a rare quiet moment on the computer.
Photo © Larry Engel, 2008

Alan, unlike many so-called “hosts,” is truly interested in speaking with and hearing from researchers at the cutting-edge of science and human understanding. He is honestly fascinated by their work and involves them in a true dialogue as he shares his own musings on the subject of human origins and that spark that happened so long ago. Alan is eager to enter into a true dialogue with these great minds. Several times over the course of the day I had to remind myself that I was filming the scene, not simply listening in on a great conversation. I think that this will make The Human Spark particularly compelling; we’re not just telling an important and wonderful story, but we’re sharing Alan’s quest to uncover and understand it.

Alan is tall; I’m short. I have to be careful as I film him not to get too close and create too low an angle on him. He’s trim, and carries himself with a slight lean forward — exactly as I remember him in M*A*S*H. Another adjective comes to mind: gracious.

More later, and thanks for reading.

Larry Engel
Director and Director of Photography

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