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The Tesla Memorial Society
21 Maddaket, Southwyck Village
Scotch Plains, New Jersey 07076
William H. Terbo
Executive Secretary
  Maria Godfors
Nikola Tesla: 1856 - 1943

Video Documentaries

Commentary by William Terbo, Executive Secretary

The best way to educate the general public about Tesla his accomplishments and persona is through the mass media. Television is the medium of choice. It is “hot” and reaches the largest number of people. Radio reaches large numbers but it is “cool.” Books and newspapers involve people more deeply but the numbers are smaller – and the medium is “cool.” The Tesla Memorial Society supports documentary production companies with photos, memorabilia, advice, contacts and on-camera interviews. Such cooperation often bears additional fruit. By providing the best and most dramatic Tesla photos to the producers, the promotional efforts for program presentation will feature more images of Tesla than of other program elements.

I’ve made Society resources and myself most conveniently available to serious production companies contemplating addressing the Tesla “mystique.” This gives us an opportunity to correct some of the errors and misinformation about Tesla that has accumulated over the decades. I give particular attention to those producers with broadcast network contracts in hand.

I’ve just selected the most recent documentaries featuring Tesla. My experience is that an introduction to Tesla for producers, writers and directors makes them fans of Tesla and inspires them to do their best. Tesla is addictive!

  • Battle of the Currents, Engstfeld Film GmbH, Germany, 2004, 45 minutes, German; 52 minutes, French; 52 minutes English. The first of a 4-part series on invention. (The other parts address Goodyear and vulcanizing rubber, radar development and the early submarine.) This is a well-funded project. (They came to the U.S. from Germany with a 7-person crew.) The video series was first aired in Germany and France in October 2004. The Discovery Channel is the U.S. network with airdates around December or January 2005. After multiple contacts with the producer, I believe the thrust of the documentary strongly favors Tesla. My two-hour on-camera interview took place beside Edison’s desk at the Edison National Historical Site in West Orange, New Jersey. If experience is any measure, I will appear for one minute or less.

  • Nikola Tesla, Fontis TV Production, Czech Republic, 2002, 22 minutes, Czech. The Czech Ministry of Education became aware that very few students were aware of Tesla, who was educated in Prague, and his contributions to modern society. The video is shown to Czech students at the High School level. The 3-person Fontis crew shot at my home, five locations in Manhattan and Niagara Falls, America and Canada. I did another 2-hour on-camera interview for Fontis and introduced the Manhattan sites.

  • The Top 15 Inventors of the 20th Century, Kralyevich Productions for the Arts & Entertainment Networks, 2002, 59 minutes. Inventors was one of a series of A&E programs celebrating the 15th anniversary of their Biography series. Tesla was ranked 7th, which I thought was about right for inventions patented in the 20th Century! (Experts praised Tesla much more than befitting a #7 ranking.) The concept was flawed in that inventors were included who had no inventions (Ford #12), or that patented nothing of note in the 20th century (Edison #1) while excluding inventors who patented before 1900 (Alexander Graham Bell). Again, I did a 2-hour interview in a Manhattan studio for 30 seconds face time.

  • In Search Of …, KAOS Entertainment for Fox Television, 2001, originally 50 minutes. Originally one of eight segments shot for a return of the long running series bought by Fox. When the return was canceled, the segments were sold, first to the UPN Network and ultimately to the SciFi Channel where it appeared in an 18-minute version with two other segments. My 2-hour on-camera interview resulted in a few seconds of face time (plus some voice-over.)

  • Tesla, Master of Lightning, New Voyage Communications for PBS Television Network, 2000, 90 minutes. This is the standard for Tesla biographies to date. The producer, Robert Uth, spent time on the details and had full use of important archival materials from several sources. In addition to several showings on PBS TV, the video is available to schools through the PBS Educational Co-op Program. My 2-hour on-camera interview resulted in considerable face time.

The Society has cooperated with many other documentary producers over the past four or five years. Tesla has been featured in British, Japanese, Australian and Danish videos in addition to U.S. network and cable outlets like ABC, The Learning Channel and PBS. One of the more memorable documentaries was the 1996 49-minute BBC-TV production Masters of the Ionosphere for their Horizons Science Series shown in North America on the Arts & Entertainment Networks. The program credits Tesla as the pioneer who first conceived of using the effects of the ionosphere for long distance radio (and power) transmission as he envisioned for his Wardenclyffe project.

The Society has produced several history and biography documentaries including the 40-minute 1991 production Nikola Tesla, The Genius Who Lit The World that sold 15,000 copies between 1991 and 2000. My appearance at a 1999 meeting of the New Jersey Antique Radio Club was committed to a 94-minute video production in 2000 and is still current.

The commercial film The Secret of Nikola Tesla, starring Petar Bozovic (as Tesla), Orson Welles (as J.P. Morgan), Strother Martin (as Westinghouse) and Dennis Patrick (as Edison) was produced in 1981 in the former Yugoslavia (in English). In spite of excellent production values, it treated Tesla with too much reverence, stifling the dramatic possibilities. Since then at least a dozen new films have been announced with none yet arriving on the screen. Famous directors and famous actors have been named without a film being started, much less being finished.

William H. Terbo, Executive Secretary


TMSud 2003 Supplemented 5 January 2005.

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