The Svalbard Seed Vault and the Golden Record: Ask the Filmmaker

Svalbard seed vault

Recently, a Facebook friend, ‎Sascha Krader, whom I have never but as the following  will reveal knows me pretty well, asked me this question:
I was talking with a friend today about Norway’s Svalbard seed vault. I had a fragment of a memory that some message beamed into space (i.e. Golden Record, Arecibo etc) had included a map to Svalbard — or they’d considered including one, then decided not to. But when I tried to look it up, to hammer out the details, I couldn’t find a thing. Does this sound familiar to you? I might have dreamed it, but if it’s real, it seems like it fits in the Venn diagram overlap between two of your interests — so I thought you might have heard it before.

Here is my somewhat researched answer, with some footnoted amendments.

I’m very interested in both, you’re right, and if the Svalbard seed vault was mentioned on The Golden Record, that would be way cool. I haven’t heard anything about that connection, though.

Looking on Wikipedia now:

“The Nordic Gene Bank (NGB) has, since 1984, stored backup Nordic plant germplasm via frozen seeds in an abandoned coal mine at Svalbard, over the years depositing more than 10,000 seed samples of more than 2,000 cultivars for 300 different species.”

“…ceremonially laid “the first stone” on 19 June 2006.”

Voyager and The Voyager Interstellar Record were launched in 1977. I have a book about the making of the Record somewhere, but I can’t find it.[ref]Found it!

I own this book about The Golden Record
I own this book about The Golden Record


In any case, the dates tell me that the Record doesn’t contain info about the Vault.

I know there were very few messages directed into deep space, [ref]From Wikipedia
The Morse Message

In 1962, a radio message in Morse code was transmitted from Evpatoria Planetary Radar (EPR) and directed to planet Venus. The word “MIR” (Russian: Мир, it means both “peace” and “world”) was transmitted from the EPR on November 19, 1962, and the words “LENIN” (Russian: Ленин) and “SSSR” (Russian: СССР, acronym for the Soviet Union (Союз Советских Социалистических Республик)) on November 24, 1962, respectively. All three words were sent using the Morse code. In Russian, this letter is called Radio Message “MIR, LENIN, SSSR”. This message is the first radio broadcast for extraterrestrial civilizations in the history of mankind, it was also used as a test for the radar station (but was not used for measuring the distance to Venus because for distance measurements the EPR uses coherent waveform with frequency manipulation): The signal reflected from surface of Venus and was received 4 minutes 32.7 seconds (Nov 19) and 4 minutes 44.7 seconds (Nov 24) later.[/ref] (as opposed to radio and tv transmissions, which can’t travel very far)[ref]From  BBC News Magazine,
Can our TV signals be picked up on other planets?

But ordinary television and radio broadcasts can also travel out of Earth’s atmosphere and through space, albeit quickly becoming mind-bogglingly diffuse and hard to pick up.

Space scientist Dr Chris Davis, of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, says it is possible that television and radio signals from Earth could be picked up on other planets, but it isn’t easy.

Some radiowaves, such as those of a short-wave frequency, bounce back off the ionosphere and are therefore poor candidates to be picked up in space. But waves like FM radio or television signals can pierce it and travel through the vacuum of space at the speed of light.

“There are two things that you would need to get a signal [to other planets] – firstly, it has to be able to leave our planet, secondly it would have to have as much power as possible,” says Dr Davis.

“As you go into space that power would dissipate. They would need more and more sensitive equipment to pick it up.”

“But television and radio broadcasts are omni-directional – albeit focused as much as possible towards the horizon – and that means a lot of diffusion.

Assuming the energy spread out equally in a sphere, and that the receiver on Gliese C was as big as the planned Square Kilometre Array of antennas on Earth, the television signals reaching the planet would be a billion, billion, billion times smaller than the original signal generated on Earth, says Dr Maggie Aderin, a space scientist at technology firm Astrium.

‘Detecting a signal like this with lots of background noise would be incredibly hard, but what they would look for is a pattern in the signals to show that they were not naturally occurring.'”[/ref]  and someone did send something from Acrecibo, but I think that was before 1984, too. [ref]From Wikipedia
Arecibo Message

First message sent into deep space.
First message sent into deep space.

The Arecibo message was broadcast into space a single time via frequency modulated radio waves at a ceremony to mark the remodeling of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico on 16 November 1974. The message was aimed at the current location of globular star cluster M13 some 25,000 light years away because M13 was a large and close collection of stars that was available in the sky at the time and place of the ceremony. The message consisted of 1,679 binary digits, approximately 210 bytes, transmitted at a frequency of 2,380 MHz and modulated by shifting the frequency by 10 Hz, with a power of 1,000 kW. The “ones” and”zeros” were transmitted by frequency shifting at the rate of 10 bits per second. The total broadcast was less than three minutes.[1][3]

The cardinality of 1,679 was chosen because it is a semiprime (the product of two prime numbers), to be arranged rectangularly as 73 rows by 23 columns. The alternative arrangement, 23 rows by 73 columns, produces jumbled nonsense (as do all other X/Y formats). The message forms the image shown on the right, or its inverse, when translated into graphics, characters and spaces.

Dr. Frank Drake, then at Cornell University and creator of the Drake equation, wrote the message with help from Carl Sagan, among others. The message consists of seven parts that encode the following (from the top down):

  1. The numbers one (1) to ten (10) (white)
  2. The formulas for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA (green)
  3. The number of nucleotides in DNA, and a graphic of the double helix structure of DNA (white & blue)
  4. A graphic figure of a human, the dimension (physical height) of an average man, and the human population of Earth (red, blue/white, & white respectively)
  5. A graphic of the Solar System indicating which of the planets the message is coming from (yellow)
  6. A graphic of the Arecibo radio telescope and the dimension (the physical diameter) of the transmitting antenna dish (purple, white, & blue)

Because it will take 25,000 years for the message to reach its intended destination (and an additional 25,000 years for any reply), the Arecibo message was more a demonstration of human technological achievement than a real attempt to enter into a conversation with extraterrestrials. In fact, the core of M13, to which the message was aimed, will no longer be in that location when the message arrives. However, as the proper motion of M13 is small, the message will still arrive near the center of the cluster. According to the Cornell News press release of November 12, 1999, the real purpose of the message was not to make contact but to demonstrate the capabilities of newly installed equipment.[/ref] And last year there was a big debate about deliberately sending messages into deep space. That’s when Stephen Hawking said it would be dangerous — inviting aliens to take over earth, etc.

So, perhaps you dreamed it? Or heard something on TV?

Thanks for the awesome question, Sascha.
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Ask the Filmmaker a Weird Question

Longtime friend and supporter of A Life’s Workblog contributor, and all-around awesome guy Haroon Butt recently sent me an email. “Weird question. How did you decide the colors of your website? They really fit.”

Color WheelNot a weird question at all. In fact, a very good question! I wanted colors that suggested concrete buildings, because in my mind that suggested longevity; buildings often outlive us. So the grays were all about that, the grays around the images, too. Blocks of concrete. Building blocks. I could have chosen greens to represent trees and nature, but I thought that was kind of trite. I also really like those shades of gray and have had apartments painted those colors.  So they were pleasing to me. And that’s a reason not to be dismissed. (In college I had an art teacher who made abstract sculptures. One was titled “Cutty Sark.” I asked him why he called it that and he said, “I like Cutty Sark.” That was very liberating!)

The brown color of the links was once darker, but it wasn’t that much different from the non-linked font, so I went a little lighter. But I couldn’t go too light. So that was a practical decision. The brown of the “contribute to the film” button is similar to the links, but a darker because I wanted it to pop out a bit. Text in that button is the same as the background. The idea here was the brown was chiseled away, like the date in a cornerstone. It also just made sense. All of the colors could be considered “Earth tones” and I like those words together. Earth. Tones.

So it was a combination of running with an idea, liking the colors, and practicality.  I’m glad you like the color scheme!

Obviously, color choice is a huge consideration in film, especially in narrative films where you have more control of your surroundings. I remember having extensive conversations about colors with the cinematographers and production designers I worked with on both of my films. “This shade of blue or that shade of blue.” And though it might seem not to matter,  it does matter. It’s a choice and shouldn’t just be random. There should be a reason behind it, even if the reason is, “I always find that shade soothing.” Color helps deliver the message in a big way.

Thanks for asking. It was fun thinking about it again. I selected the colors so long ago I had kind of forgotten why I chose them.

Do you have a question for the filmmaker? Well do you, punk? Go ahead and leave it as a comment or email it to me: d a v i d {@} b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t} c o m


“What’s This ‘We’ Stuff, Filmmaker?”

Dear Filmmaker,

I like your Facebook page and I’ve noticed that sometimes the posts and statuses use the first person singular and sometimes the first person plural. So, what’s this “we” stuff?


Dear DR,

It’s so nice of you to like A Life’s Work on Facebook, thanks.

It’s true, sometimes the first person plural is used. A couple of examples, “You know we’re all over this!” accompanied a link to the latest news about Voyager 1 officially leaving the solar system. “We like Tesla!” accompanied an infographic about Nikola Tesla.

You might also notice that some posts originate “near Roanoke, VA.”

Have I finally cloned myself and one of us relocated to the “Oke”? Or am I just going mad?

I’m afraid it’s nothing quite so spectacular. I am simply not the only person posting stuff on the A Life’s Work FB page. I have inveigled the awesome William Heffner and the awesome Christine Lofgren to help, and they do a wonderful job posting links, photos, and videos pertinent to the film, its subjects, and its themes. In addition to finding all this great stuff that I don’t seem to find, they bring new life and voices to the page, and by extension, to the project.

Though many people have worked on A Life’s Work, and many more will in the future, at times it is a very lonely endeavor. Among other things, William and Christine remind me that I’m not doing this alone, that there is a community interested in this work. And that’s invaluable. And I hope you don’t mind if Iuse this post to thank them.

Two flowers to thank you two.

Thank you. You two are awesome!

And thank you, DR, for the question and for liking. You are awesome, too.


The Filmmaker

If you’d like to join in the fun, send me an email [ d a v i d at b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {dot} com ] and we’ll make it happen. And like I’ve noted before, there are many ways to get involved with the film (including posing a question to the filmmaker), so why not consider becoming part of our little family. We ask next to nothing of you, unlike your real family.

Email to an Aspiring Filmmaker

[Note: There is an update to this story.]

Recently I received an email from a friend’s younger brother. KN, whom I had never met, contacted me wondering if I could offer him an internship. Unfortunately, I don’t have work  for an intern, and if I did, right now I don’t have the means to hire one. (Don’t get me started on the intern controversy!)

Here now is KN’s email, which he graciously allowed me to use for the blog. I’m omitting the first two paragraphs wherein he showed himself to be polite (he watched my films and commented thoughtfully on them), resourceful, and eager.

…Your documentary has caught my interest, I had never truly considered that there were people out their who had devoted their whole life to projects they would never see to completion. It’s such a spectacular, almost romantic, concept in the fast paced society I have grown up in.

As for myself, I have a strong passion for writing and dream of becoming a screenwriter. However, I have began to dabble in independent production, trying to self teach Final Cut Pro and other basics in lighting and cinematography. It would mean so much to me if you could share your experience starting out in the film industry as I have no idea what to expect as a pre-amateur filmmaker.

Thank you for your time,



Thanks for taking the time to watch my films and write such kind words about them. I’m glad you enjoyed them.

First, I must tell you, I’m not really in the film industry. I’m not a player and I’m not someone with tons of industry contacts. I know a few editors and cinematographers and directors, most of them NYC-based.

That being said, I am a filmmaker and I guess I do know a thing or two about making films.

I always loved films, but artistically, I started out as a writer of short stories. I then drifted into screenwriting, and then made my first film 8 1/2 x 11, which was really where I learned about MAKING films. It was my film school. One big lesson learned: work with the best people you can and try to learn from them. Watch what they do and how they do it. Talk to them. Don’t be afraid to show your ignorance, it’s the only way you’ll learn how to do something the right way.

I think learning how to tell a story is the most important part of filmmaking. I personally think the best filmmakers are usually good writers. They know what makes a story and character compelling. You can create the most eyepopping visuals in the world , but if you don’t know how to tell a story, it’s just candy.

The big challenge is figuring out how to tell a story visually, with moving pictures. I think this is a lifelong task. Watch other films. And watch the ones that move you again and again. Try to figure out what the filmmaker is doing that’s making you love that film.


Nowadays, one person can do it all. Write, shoot, direct, edit. I think it’s good to know these skills, but I think it’s best if you can work with people who specialize. When that’s all they do, they really know their stuff. And when that’s all they do, they are good collaborators, and film, despite the digital revolution, is still a collaborative effort.

So there’s that. But I must say, if I were young and was interested in film, I think I’d just get a camera and make a film. I would give it my best effort, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be a masterpiece. You will make a lot of mistakes. And that’s okay. The next time you do it you will do it better. And the next time better still. As you make them, and show them to your friends, people will want to work on them with you. You will have a crew of people you can call on for feedback and help. Be good to these people and never forget them.

Okay, this was a bit of a ramble. I apologize. I do wish I had some work for you, but at the moment I don’t.

If you have specific questions, feel free to ask. Also, consider subscribing to my blog.

Or like the Facebook page. On the blog I write about all sorts of things related to the documentary I’m making, but there are many posts about the art of filmmaking. (click the “Process,” “editing,” and “cinematography” tags.)



For a much more snarky missive to a  young filmmaker, read this.

[Note: There is an update to this story.]

What About Death? Ask the Filmmaker

It’s time for another installment of “Ask the Filmmaker!”

JC asked this on the A Life’s Work Facebook page.

Dear Filmmaker: Just wondering how Paolo Soleri dying will affect your very interesting film A Lifes Work?


Paolo Soleri discussing the plans.
Paolo Soleri discussing the plans.

Soleri’s death in April, 2013 saddened me a great deal, but life, and the film, goes on.  And since the film is about WORK that people won’t see completed in their lifetime, Soleri’s death concretizes this idea in a very real and dramatic way. I hope that doesn’t sound cold, but that’s what I’m left with given the circumstances.

Jeff Stein answers a question.

It also makes Soleri’s successor, Jeff Stein, AIA, a more prominent figure in the film. I always thought a major theme was “standing on the shoulders of giants,”  and now I have the opportunity to show that. I had a feeling when I interviewed Stein in December, 2012  that he would play an important part in the film. Now I’m sure of it. Which is not to say I know at this point how to use his interview most effectively. I’m still trying to work that out.

Thanks for the question, JC. And thanks for your support.


(a.k.a. the Filmmaker)


Ask the Filmmaker: Why Didn’t You Shoot That?

Dear Filmmaker,

It seemed like there was big news recently involving the Milarch’s and the planting of some redwoods they cloned in Oregon. I noticed that you put a link to the event on the A Life’s Work Facebook page, but didn’t blog about it. Does that mean  you didn’t shoot the event? 


(yeah, me, one in the same)

Dear Filmmaker,

It’s true. I did not shoot the planting in Oregon.

Every time one of the subjects does something that makes the news (and this happens quite a lot), my first instinct is to go and film. But as I’ve written before, production is over (sort of). I feel like I have shot the stuff necessary (mostly) to tell this story.

That being said, I will be shooting another interview very soon. More on that in the coming weeks. I will just say it’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

But there is another reason I didn’t rush out to Oregon.

This planting was a media event. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s all it was, it was another example of the Milarchs’ important work. But I’m not interested in shooting any more media events. I’ve shot all the media events I need.

Another reason I’m not interested in showing up to media events is it’s nearly impossible to get time with the subject at these things because they are swamped by the TV crews and they , understandably, take precedent over what I’m doing because they’re airing their stories that evening. Me? Well, you know, I’m not airing it the evening of. (To hear NPR’s story about the event and a brief interview with David Milarch, click here.)

And there are budgetary considerations, too.

So, those are the reasons why I didn’t fly out to Oregon.

Thanks for playing Ask the Filmmaker, Filmmaker. I hope it eases our mind some.



The Filmmaker

You, too, can play Ask the Filmmaker. Just leave a question in a comment and I’ll answer it as best I can.


Where Are the Experts?

Dear Filmmaker,

Are you interviewing experts who are critical of your subjects’ work? If yes, who? If no, why not?



This is an excellent question. I am not interviewing experts. I decided early on that though the projects are important, no question, in many ways they are beside the point. The real story of A Life’s Work is the human urge to do something lasting, to contribute to something larger than ones’ self. Introducing talking heads who extoll the theories of Paolo Soleri, or critics of SETI, for example, detracts from that story and puts the focus of the film on the nuts and bolts of the project. The film then becomes more journalistic, and I’m not interested in that at all.

Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV)

That being said, I hope to include footage of a certain senator who was instrumental in eliminating SETI from the federal budget back in the early 90s (SETI was under the aegis of NASA), forcing them to regroup and seek funding from the private sector. This is a major event in the SETI story, and tells us a lot about the tenacity of Jill Tarter and her colleagues.

Thanks for the question.

If you have a question for the filmmaker, just leave it as a comment. If I use your question, I’ll send you an origami animal of some kind.

Crowdfunding and A Life’s Work: Advice from a Consultant

Back in the summer of 2010, when the A Life’s Work blog was just a mere baby blog, a reader took advantage of the Ask the Filmmaker feature to ask about crowdfunding:

Dear Filmmaker,

Have you considered using Kickstarter for A Life’s Work?


I get asked this about once a month, and the answer I gave then and the answer I’ll give now, even after working as a “crowdfunding consultant” on two films, Out on a Limb and Humble Beauty: Skid Row Artists (happening now!  campaign ends 11:59pm, Sept 15, 2012!) are pretty much the same.

Yes, but…

I still believe people are more willing to help out when the film is closer to completion. Or perhaps even completed and marketing and distribution funds are needed. That stuff costs a bundle and filmmakers are notorious for not budgeting for them. And the amount I need to get the film near completion is well above what I can raise via crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding Lessons Learned
David Licata, crowdfunding consultant
David Licata (right), crowdfunding consultant.

When I tell friends about my crowdfunding consultant hat (I’m available, email me), they often comment that I must be learning a lot that will come in handy when  I’m ready to fire up A Life’s Work’s campaign. And they’re right, I have. Here’s the short list.

  1. Start early. Like, yesterday. The one good thing about the pace of A Life’s Work is that it has allowed me to build an audience. (You, dear reader!) It’s also given me time to collect materials and jot down ideas that I might use during the campaign.
  2. Don’t even think of doing it alone. Enlist three, four, or more people to help, and those people should have skills that fill certain needs. Get a person who’s good on the phones to make calls to foundations and corporations. They sometimes have discretionary funds and if your project fits nicely with their mission, you might get lucky. Get a social media wizard, or two. These people know how to spread the word. Get a writer who can produce updates and eblasts (this is usually my role). All of these people  should be social media savvy and have large networks they can appeal to. And please pay these people. Well.
  3. Give away good perks. Every filmmaker gives away DVDs and posters. Try to think beyond that. A sci-fi graphic novel I recently gave to offered to name characters after donors of a certain level. A friend of mine who crowdfunded an upcoming artist residency to the Arctic Circle offered to send postcards from exotic stops on her way to the top of the world.
  4. Use a lot of images. On your fundraising page and in your pitches on Facebook, etc. A captivating image is more likely to be shared on FB than any text. The writer part of me dislikes this. The filmmaker part of me thinks this is just fine.
  5.  Make a great pitch video. Don’t be afraid to show your personality. Don’t go over five minutes. Do tell the viewer why your project is different and awesome and what the world needs now!

This is my starter list. More to come in a future post.

And Remember

Even though A Life’s Work is not crowfunding at the moment, you can still support the film monetarily. You can contribute as little as $5 and as much as $15,000 online, and since A Life’s Work is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, whatever amount you contribute is tax-deductible. To donate, click here. It’s super easy. Any amount is greatly appreciated and helps in many ways. And I’ll send you something nifty in return.





Ask the Filmmaker: A Typical Day at an Artist Residency

Dear Filmmaker,

I’ve been reading your artist colony posts. What’s your average day like at  an artist residency?


Dear KG,

Playa Summer Lake Artist ResidencyThanks for the question. My life is really quite boring when I’m at an artist residency. The days are all pretty much the same. I lose track of the date and what day of the week it is. It hardly matters.

Here at Playa Summer Lake I’ve been writing — working on a short story collection that’s been a part of my life for a long time. Here’s my regimen:

  • Wake up around dawn.
  • Stretch.
  • Breakfast (a mix of cereals, raisins, a banana with milk, coffee with milk).
  • Free write three pages in a notebook.
  • Work — write 1,000 focused words at the computer. (This is well above the norm for me when I’m wearing my writer hat at home.)
  • Revise older writing.
  • Lunchtime.
  • Afternoons here have been spent working on a grant proposal, adapting a play for a possible film project, playing guitar.
  • Maybe go for a walk.
  • Dinner.
  • Check email, Facebook, upload stuff to the blog etc.
  • A movie or read some, maybe write a blog post. Possibly ping-pong if I can talk someone into it.
  • Go to sleep around 11pm.
  • Wake up the next morning and do the same thing.

It’s a quiet life, but I like it.

And KG, your question has me thinking about what I do here that I don’t do in my real life and vice-a-versa. I see another post…

Ask the Filmmaker: The Hero’s Journey

I recently posted an article about Robert Darden on the A Life’s Work Facebook page. (There you will find news that is relevant to the subjects of the film but are not inspiration for blog posts. If you haven’t “Liked” A Life’s Work yet, why not consider Liking it now?) Anywhoozle, in the article Darden mentions the Hero’s Journey, an archetypal story Joseph Campbell went on about and when I posted it to the Facebook page, one of A Life’s Work’s biggest supporters asked this:

Filmmaker, has a hero’s journey story inspired or influenced you?

I thought long and hard about this one and I’m going to go with …

From the filmmaker's vinyl collection.

Don’t laugh, it’s a great song. According to Wikipedia there are 220 recorded versions of it in seven languages.

A big part of the hero’s journey is overcoming self-doubt, getting to that place where you believe you have something valuable to say or do and then getting to that place a little further on where you find the courage to say or do it. This is a journey I’ve been on my whole life.

Come they told me,
A new born King to see,
Our finest gifts we bring,
To lay before the King,

Little Baby,
I am a poor boy too,
I have no gift to bring,
That’s fit to give the King,

As a child I related to this song on another level — the gift doesn’t matter, it’s about giving what you have and giving it with your heart. As an adult who is not materialistic, and doesn’t really have the money to buy things, I find I often express my affection for people by giving my time, by making them laugh, and/or by playing music for them. Not too long ago I offered a friend a choice of housewarming presents: an inexpensive bottle of wine or me playing some music in her new home. She said, “Do you even have to ask?” I was thrilled to play twenty minutes of music from my repertoire.

Shall I play for you,
On my drum?

Mary nodded,
The ox and lamb kept time,
I played my drum for Him,
I played my best for Him,

Then He smiled at me,
Me and my drum.

Here’s a few seconds of Jimi Hendrix playing the song. There’s your proof that it’s a rockin’ song.