Pittsburgh filmmaker uncovers some truths about Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla sparred with Thomas Edison, rubbed J.P. Morgan the wrong way and counted the likes of Mark Twain and George Westinghouse as close friends. His inventions came so fast and furiously that people began to doubt they were even real. Throughout history, he's been described as everything from “The Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived” to the “True Father of the Electric Age” to, simply stated, a “Badass.”
Tesla, the man, the myth, the legend, is the subject of a biopic being written and directed by Pittsburgh's Michael Anton. Once cameras start rolling, filming will take place here, as well as in Belgrade, Serbia. During the course of his research, Anton found himself doing what a lot of people do once they get to know the eccentricity of this so-called “mad scientist”: crushing on Tesla. It's easy to do. The quirks of the Serbian-born genius have a way of making you fall in love with him.
Although fans will have to wait for the release of the film (projected as sometime late 2014), a red carpet event Oct. 18 at 301 Fifth Ave., Downtown, will promote the project and raise awareness of the life and works of the mad scientist via a “mini-Tesla museum.” (Tickets are available via Showclix.com).
Anton will be a featured guest at the ComiCon event being held at the Monroeville Convention Center from Sept. 27 through 29.
Question: Nikola Tesla has been dubbed the “True Father of the Electric Age” by many, yet he didn't seem to achieve the notoriety that Edison did. Why?
Answer: I always say you end up going through a process, when you start researching Tesla, of realizing that you really aren't taught everything there is to know about science and about who really invented different aspects of the 21st century. It's quite fascinating … and that was my passion going into the film — having the same burden as most Tesla supporters of “Why doesn't anyone know this guy?”
The truth is, it has a lot to do with disassociation. He wasn't from here. The first person he worked for was Edison. I would put it under the preface of basically picking a fight with a rock star. At the time, Edison was significantly tied with politics, he was one of the most powerful men in the world and he happened to be doing something that was what everyone wanted to see and that was invention. At that point in time, what was in the papers was what new invention would come out, what was the hottest thing, and Tesla threatened that. And also, he was not one to really boast. He was definitely out there and could be relatively eccentric in that he would just say what he was thinking. In the war of currents, Tesla won, but he lost in the court of public opinion. He was such an unbelievable person in regards to what he created that people just stopped believing in him. That's really what happened. … It's kind of amazing.
Q: How intense did the Edison-Tesla rivalry become?
A: It was absolutely ruthless. I understand where Edison was coming from. At the time, he invested his entire life savings in direct current and that is what he focused on. He had, obviously, the monopoly on that. So, basically, in my opinion, (Edison) was trying to protect the empire he created. And because of that, he tried to make (Tesla's) alternating current illegal. He tried to say it was dangerous. The very first electrocution in the electric chair in the United States was a failure. Not a lot of people talk about it. Although Edison and H.P. Brown were the ones that helped build and design that chair, they were using alternating current, and I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but it took seven minutes for the first execution, for the person to eventually die. So basically, he was burning and cooking from the inside, and Edison utilized that. And no one blamed Edison, who helped design the chair . They ended up blaming George Westinghouse, and they ended up blaming Tesla. So, it was nasty. It was a nasty battle.
Q: Was Tesla his own worst enemy when it came to promoting his ideas with the world?
A: Absolutely. He was unreserved, and he was honest. But he was honest about what he felt of the potential of things. He talked about the idea of us being able to communicate, send a message to Mars. Of course, that turned into, “Tesla speaks to man on Mars.” The way people look at him now and compare it to what we're used to in modern-day society, we would have absolutely loved him. We would have loved him for his quirks and for his honesty — he would have been a great interview. And he still was, he was a very articulate man, and people really did respect him. But, when he was angry or upset, he would let you know it, and he wasn't afraid to challenge anyone and everything. And J.P. Morgan was one of those. And when you challenge Edison, that's one thing, and that's a battle that was nearly impossible to win. But, when you challenge J.P. Morgan, it's another.
Q: Was there something about Tesla that surprised even you?
A: I think the relationship with Mark Twain and also Westinghouse. Tesla was very loyal, and I always thought that he was this loner, and he really wasn't. He really coveted his friendships. And these are such unique characters. I talk about Tesla and the project, and what's been fascinating to me is the amount of passion people have for Tesla, who've known about him, who start to learn about him. You start to understand in researching how people could fall in love with Tesla because he really is so unique.
Q: He's been called everything from “The Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived” to “Mad Scientist” to a “Badass.” What would you call him?
A: “Father of the 20th Century.” I like that one the most because it's so true. If you go down the list of what he created … it's amazing. He shaped the 20th century. He even talked about text messaging, obviously, before we even had that option.
Kate Benz is the social columnist for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-8515.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- McCullers’, McLendon’s prowess in clogging trenches crucial to Steelers defense
- Rossi: Looking at the next great Steeler
- Steelers swap draft pick for Eagles cornerback
- Reds solve Cole, stave off Pirates’ 9th-inning rally
- After early criticism, Haley has Steelers offense poised to be even better
- Rainy summer delays paving projects in New Kensington
- Former South Park coach Loughran optimistic about Fox Chapel’s prospects
- O’Neil jumps right in to AD duties at Kiski Area
- Winfield Community Park restroom project stalls over high contractor bids
- Porter’s passion for discus places him among nation’s best throwers
- Roman Catholic Church in midst of culture clash over gays