Saturday, February 16, 2008


Moving Forward!

I suspect many of y'all have already seen this, but if not, you'll no doubt be as surprised and pleased as I was. We amateur astronomers tend to feel isolated and insular most of the time. Nobody knows about us or about our magnificent obsession. Obviously, that's not true or is changing. Not that we will be as prominent in the public's consciousness as say, NASCAR, anytime soon, of course, but I do sense we're getting a little more exposure in the media once in a while and are now at least a tiny blip on the public radar screen.

Note that if you have trouble viewing the video, it's a Flash video, and Microsoft Edge doesn't like that. I can view it perfectly well on Google Chrome, however.

Thank you Toyota!

Here are the rest of the details on the "Star Party" commercial from Tim
Thompson of the LA club:

It was Saturday, Dec 15, 2007, at a place called Club
Ed ( ), outside
Lancaster near Saddle Back Buttes State Park ( ). Pam & I were
"principles", which means we got to talk on camera.
Laura Danly was there from G.O., along with other G.O.
staff folks I didn't recognize. We had our telescope,
the production people brought some, and they hired
telescopes & astronomers from the Antelope Valley
society. We got there about noon, and left just after
midnight; they had to stop at midnight because they
had kids, and their work permits expire at midnight.

The idea was something like "people who do this drive
Toyotas". I drive a Ford, so they had me move my
conspicuously placed car out of camera shot, and
replaced it with one of several Toyotas they just
happened to have hanging around. There were new
Toyotas, but also some really old stuff, like an old
Land Cruiser and an even older camper on an old
pickup. It's part of a larger commercial campaign with
people doing all kinds of weird stuff like astronomy,
and rolling down hills inside big plastic balls (which
is what they were shooting the day before, according
to the crew).

They wanted a "real" star party. The catch of course
is that they need to film it and they don't do that in
the dark. But they did have a neat way of lighting up
the area with powerful omnidirectional lamps suspended
inside balloons raised on tethers. The result was way
too much light to see anything except the moon and
Mars, but it was an even light, not harsh, and did not
cast noticeable shadows because of the large size of
the illuminated balloons. The crew, staff, production
folks, everybody just wandered around like a real star
party, chatting with the astronomers. A number of the
crew and other actors had not looked through
telescopes before, and we probably introduced several
to the subject. I talked up the LAAS to the mother of
one of the girls who took a great interest in looking
at the moon and Mars, and M31 when they shut off the

After the star party scene, the actors moved to a camp
fire scene where under prodding from the director
people got disgustingly sappy about the spiritual
nature of the one sky shared by the world and why
can't we all just get along? I don't go for the
philosophical angle I'm afraid, but they didn't ask
me. I did try to explain the concept of seeing the
history of the universe on display in the sky, on
camera, to a 9 year old who finally said she didn't
really get it. Too bad, I gave it my best shot.

The little kids really loved Pam's little 4 inch
SkyQuest from Orion, a Dobsonian that is no bigger
then they are. Once they realized she would let them
touch it they swarmed all over it looking for this,
that, and the other thing. The camera guy assigned to
them had a heck of a time keeping them in the camera,
they were too fast for him.

Just off set they had the Chuck Wagon set up with
snacks, veggies, and lots of coffee. It got really
cold, surely into the low 20's, and the coffee was
popular. There was a dinner break, and I have to
admit, it was the best Catering Truck food I ever had,
real stuff. At least you eat OK on one of these jobs.

We got the job because James Levine, from TypeCasting
( or ) came to Monterey Park
and videoed everybody who would stand still long
enough. He told me that night they would call for me,
and they did. Pam was not there, and I told them she
really didn't like the idea of being on camera, but
they insisted on the both of us. So we wound up at the
310 casting studio where we stood like deer in the
headlights and talked astronomy. That's when I got
them to explain that they wanted to stage a star
party. For me, the casting was just like hanging
around Monterey Park or a public star party. They
asked about astronomy, and I gave them answers they
couldn't understand, and the fools ate it up.

The director for the commercial was Lance Acord ( ) who did a pretty
good job I thought. One of the things I found to be
different from expectation was that the set, and
everybody on it, including Lance, were very relaxed
and low key. It was actually fun, everybody was
cooperative, the set crew knew exactly what to do, and
there was an assistant director assigned just to take
care of the actors. The set crew were happy to look
through the telescopes, as were other non-astronomer
actors (like the hippie dude guitar player and his

Whether or not any of the commercial ever makes it
into view is an open question. We had a lot of people
hanging around for 12 hours that I was there, and
these commercials are never more than 30 seconds to a
full minute, so something is going to get trimmed. But
I wouldn't mind doing it again. Since we spoke on
Camera, and got paid for the privilege, Pam & I are
now eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild. I don't
know if we will, because you have to pay for that
privilege, but we'll see.


Tim Thompson
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