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Categories: Interviews

Joseph Sikorski is an award-winning writer/director/producer whose independent works have been screened in festivals all around the world.

His writing / directing credits include the low-budget cult independent features Arbor Day and The Return of the King?. He co-wrote, directed and produced the off-Broadway production Tower of Babble which had an extended run in NYC’s West Village. Joseph also produced, directed and edited the first season of the weekly television series SUBURBAN ADVENTURES for the Sportsman Channel. His project FRAGMENTS FROM OLYMPUS was a quarter finalist in one of the largest screenwriting contests in the country; “The American Screenwriting Competition”. Afterwards, FRAGMENTS FROM OLYMPUS was chosen as Best Screenplay at the 2010 Long Island International Film Festival.

Sikorski then created a teaser for the screenplay featuring veteran character actor LEO ROSSI (Analyze This, The Accused), which despite its micro-budget, became a Semi-Finalist in the “2011 INTERNATIONAL MOVIE TRAILER FESTIVAL”, where it competed with finished million dollar productions. Over the past two decades, Joseph’s work has been consistently covered by all platforms of media, from print to web, to radio and television- both nationally, and worldwide. He has been featured on CNN’s Showbiz This Week, Producer Magazine, The New York Times, Newsday, on the cover of Vesti and even Russia’s biggest paper PRAVDA to just name a few!

Sikorski recently made news when he used all of his film’s seed money to make a $33,333 donation that put the Oatmeal’s Tesla Museum crowd-funding campaign past its goal. The donation freed up a state matching grant that allowed the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe (a local non-profit organization) to purchase the laboratory site for a museum. Sikorski’s latest project is a documentary about Nikola Tesla’s time at Wardenclyffe called TOWER TO THE PEOPLE-Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues, which also chronicles the efforts to save the historic site.

How did you become interested in Tesla?

I first became interested in Tesla when reading accounts of the “death ray” he might have created. As I dug into hundreds of then recently declassified FBI documents which referenced this work, I became fascinated with the enigmatic genius. As I learned more about his life and contributions, I was shocked that I never even heard the name “Tesla” throughout my whole education. This inspired co-author Michael Calomino and myself to tell the amazingly triumphant, and ultimately tragic story of Tesla in a feature screenplay called FRAGMENTS FROM OLYMPUS where Tesla’s life story unfolds through the posthumous FBI investigation into his death ray research. We thought this would be a subtle way to inspire a knowledge of Tesla, and science in general, through the entertainment of a true-life mystery thriller.

What are your feelings about the product you have after all of these years of work and dedication to your goal? 

I am very excited about this documentary, particularly that we could even complete a 2 hour film of this scope on personal credit cards. We worked extremely hard to create an informative piece that would appeal to Tesla fans, as well as those who never heard of the genius inventor. We also wanted to make sure that we were contributing something new to the current collection of Tesla source material. By focusing just on Wardenclyffe, we were able to delve deeper into what we felt was one of the most important parts of Tesla’s life. The history, science and economics of why Wardenclyffe did not succeed during his time holds an important, timeless message for the ages.

And yet, what could have remained a tragic story for humanity’s progress has evolved into a new hope almost a century later. With the internet (which was basically Tesla’s concept at Wardenclyffe: to connect the people of the world through electronic information) coming to the aid to vindicate a nearly forgotten inventor and saving his historic lab from destruction, the tragic has become the inspirational. For this reason Wardenclyffe is the perfect symbol for a united world. And Wardenclyffe is the perfect example that ideas of this magnitude created by “eccentric” visionaries can often take generations to fulfill. That’s why the mission of saving Wardenclyffe has always been more important to us than just creating an informative film.

And that’s why we gave all the funds from our feature to the Crowdfunding effort. It has been such an amazing phenomenon, and soon after we realized the beauty of the world saving a piece of history one click at a time- we thought it should be documented. And like the Oatmeal’s Crowdfunding campaign, it was the cooperation of so many great people coming together that helped us achieve what we set out to with Tower to the People. Unprecedented support by the Serbian Government and Tesla Museum in Belgrade have made a huge difference and helped us shed more light on Wardenclyffe tower. As a result it is our hope this film will raise more awareness and financing for the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe so the deteriorating site can be transformed into a world class museum worthy of Tesla. And the larger goal is to have Tesla’s unfinished research continue. We hope films like Tower to the People in addition to an interactive museum at Wardenclyffe can continue to inspire the innovators of the future.

Beyond the history, what do you think will interest viewers of Tower to the People the most?

We have a lot of wonderful elements to the film. One is the beautiful music of Emmy-Nominated Pianist/Composer Marina Arsenijevic which gives a moving texture and emotional bond to the events documented. It was an honour to be able to include these compositions.

We also think people will enjoy seeing the tower, risen again on screen. And if emails in the past have been any indication, there will be a great deal of interest in the ground penetrating radar investigation of the Wardenclyffe grounds we did to see if the mysterious “tunnel” legend regarding a series of subterranean passages extending outward from the base were true. Tesla’s claims of this tunnel network under Wardenclyffe have been scorned and ridiculed over the years, so we were excited to be able to conduct the first investigation ever of this kind.

We also have some great interviews with people like Penn Jillette, the Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman, Peabody Award-winner/Author Jack Hitt, as well as many Tesla experts like Dr. Marc J. Seifer – that provide though provoking commentary as well as an entertaining historic perspective.


Do you feel that this film and your feature Fragments from Olympus would be the only two projects for Tesla?

I feel there is still much to explore with Tesla. It is a multi-tiered mission and each project has a different goal of advancing the cause. Firstly, we plan on continuing to document the evolution of the Wardenclyffe site until the Stanford White laboratory is fully restored. I would also like to give exposure to some of the great scientists who are continuing Tesla’s work and help them to receive the grants & financing they need to innovate. As for our feature Fragments from Olympus this has always been intended as an “introduction to Tesla” to help his contributions become more known in the popular culture. I believe Tesla’s full narrative story can only be achieved through a series or miniseries. We believe after the public becomes more aware of Tesla and his incredible story, the interest will be generated and demand created for such a series. It is our hope to be at the helm of such a project to make sure it is executed truthfully and responsibly.

Our goal is also to integrate some of the entertainment aspects with a more traditional educational program. We are developing a stem program called the Tesla BOLT Initiative (Benefit of Learning Tesla) which applies Tesla technology and philosophy to current school curricula.

Is Wardenclyffe completely renovated? How much you were able to preserve from the original look? 

The transformation from overgrown, industrial waste site to what Wardenclyffe is today is truly inspirational due almost entirely to the support of a group of dedicated volunteers. There is still a long way to go though. The actual lab has not undergone any real restoration yet beyond the wellhead removal (the decorative spherical ironwork that caps the chimney). It is the Tesla Science Center’s goal to get it done “right” not “fast”. They are working studiously to see that the building is restored as close to the original architecture as possible. As much as I want to walk through the doors tomorrow, I understand that this is something that will be worth the wait.

What are the things you learned to value the most after completing Tower to the People

Have more than three hours of sleep. But seriously I would have to say that to an extent there is a renewal in my faith of human nature after seeing so many people acting altruistically to undo a historical injustice and create positive change. You take someone like Wardenclyffe supporter Jeffrey Valez.  I met Jeff during Wardenclyffe’s “forgotten” period, seeing him at civic meetings and conferences to raise awareness of the property’s plight.

Here is a guy, who like so many other Tesla enthusiasts, probably gave a lot more than he or she could afford to support the Crowdfunding effort, volunteers every week maintaining the Wardenclyffe grounds, and  literally passes out Tesla dollars bills – real Serbian currency, to virtually everyone he meets just to raise awareness of Tesla. He does this with no agenda or motive – he does it simply as an act of pure joy and goodwill. It blows me away. Then there are people like Joe Kinney (Engineer at the New Yorker Hotel) and Nikola Lonchar (President of the Tesla Science Foundation) who go so far out of there ways to help others, it is just awe-inspiring. And of course there would be no Wardenclyffe today without the tireless work of Jane Alcorn and the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. There are so many others. I guess the uniting spirit of Tesla has created a wonderful community.

Could you explain a little bit about your learning curve while doing your research? What were the most surprising things you discovered about Tesla and Wardenclyffe?

Not being an electrical engineer, there was quite a learning curve for me to understand some of the science and principles Tesla was implementing. Thankfully, I had wonderful teachers like Gary Peterson, Physicist Sebastian Whiteand author Marc Seifer who helped bring me more up to speed and interpret Tesla’s Colorado Springs notes and other writings. Believing many people to be more visual learners, as I consider myself, we use simple demonstrations and animations to convey some of these principles.

There was also a discovery element to the research process. One thing that surprised me is how so many of the articles at the time contradicted each other. In addition, many articles with inaccuracies at the time were quoted in other publications that came later. A sort of primitive “telephone” game was created, making it harder to distinguish truth from legend. Parsing through all this material and comparing it to Tesla’s own writings was a gruelling process. On a documentary, all of this is pre-work that doesn’t necessarily end up on the screen, but is a vital backstory to the correct narrative of the film.

Also, by having access for the first time to the Wardenclyffe blueprints, we were able to have engineers and architects help us bring forward some new information about elements of the tower and building construction. Some of these are small, interesting details that help give a better picture of the historic site. Others are more significant. By piecing evidence together with rare, high resolution photos (courtesy of the Tesla Museum in Belgrade), we’ve learned of some details I had never read in any previous publications. In general, it was interesting to see how Tesla’s plan evolved from the initial stages to the final construction.

A lot of people are not able to fundraise money with Crowdfunding. Do you think this was based on luck, advertising, or something else?

I believe the success of the Crowdfunding effort was due to a few things. Most importantly, it was the Oatmeal, who was able to articulate to his audience the plight of Tesla’s legacy in simple, poignant and hysterical terms. He was able to generate this viral campaign that spread to all of the previously disconnected Tesla enthusiasts worldwide.  I don’t believe it was luck, or advertising – it was the right person (the Oatmeal, a genius in the age of the internet and social media), at the right time (the perfect moment where the Crowdfunding concept had earned credibility & legitimacy), to the right target (millions of Tesla enthusiasts separated all over the world), for the right cause (correcting a historical injustice by saving the last lab of Nikola Tesla).

I do believe it is a formula that can repeat itself, but it is a rare juxtaposition of these elements. Sadly, it’s led to many trying to recreate the success, and has become a source of skepticism with savvy Telsa admirers. It seems so many Tesla-related Crowdfunding projects have taken the money and ran so to speak, with no actual product emerging from these campaigns. Some I’m sure were well intentioned. Others leave me more cynical as I think many in the broader Tesla community believe.

Have you landed a distribution deal?

Our plans right now are to retain the V.O.D/DVD rights and self-distribute, since our history of helping the Tesla movement has created a large network of loyal supporters who are interested in our film and its success. Broadcast rights will be available, and we will be approaching international markets individually. This of course can change, but right now (as with the creation of the film) we are implementing a strategy that is in our control to execute, and not dependent on the intangibles of the industry. We’ve already had people in Spain, Greece, Italy & Canada reaching out to us, so we’re very excited this interest will help get the message out worldwide.

If you were to meet Tesla, what would’ve told him?

“Thank you”. And “I’m sorry”.

The “thank you” would encompass all the gratitude in having him care more about scientific progress than his own material wealth. It would encompass appreciation for the brilliance and dedication that transformed our world, and allowed it to evolve into the modern age. It would encompass praise for his courage that allowed him to strive beyond convention, to risk everything for the betterment of mankind. It would encompass gratefulness for his foresight and talent, from which he was able to achieve the “impossible” time and time again despite the perpetual belligerence by the powerful and influential that preyed upon him.

And I would apologize for the way he was treated. I’d express sorrow for being a part of an industrialized world he helped create, yet a world that would allow him to die penniless, ignored and alone. And I would express shame for the way his ideas were stolen, the way the credit he deserved was transferred to others and the way he has been almost erased from history.

What is your message to all Teslaphiles and the readers of The Spread?

My message to Teslaphiles would be to keep up the good work in raising awareness of the innovator through blogs, social networks and even the educational system. Don’t let a teacher or professor get away with talking about Edison and Marconi without mentioning Tesla. Make sure a local library has some of the great works about Tesla. It is because of the Teslaphiles that Tesla’s last lab on the planet was saved from destruction. It will also be because of them that Tesla transforms from more of a cult hero into a mainstream icon – and then the hope of continuing his research can begin.

Maybe I would encourage some of the Tesla community to perhaps not get too bogged down in the more science fiction elements of Tesla, but to appreciate the incredible contributions that are documented and propelled humanity into the modern age. It’s really amazing enough, and focusing on these will help remove some of the barriers to the inventor’s greater acceptance. And then the real work can begin. I think readers of The Spread probably have a large cross-over into the Teslaphile category. They are interested in the creative forces that move the world and emerging talent. Tesla fits that description perfectly, since his real impact on the world is just being discovered by the vast population. And his work today is continuing to innovate, inspire and emerge as possible solutions to current challenges like renewable energy sources. Interestingly enough, Tesla realized his visionary work would not be accepted in his time. He once said that his work was, “…like that of a planter, for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and to point the way”.

Well I believe it may finally be harvest time.

For more check out the website: www.TeslasDream.com


Marija Makeska is a writer, poet, filmmaker and a visual artist living in Detroit, USA. She enjoys spending her time with people from different cultures while working on various projects with pagan, or gothic themes.

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