Carl Sagan was famous for pushing the envelope of scientific investigation. He brought scientific revelation to the layman, approaching science from a spiritual perspective. When he died in 1996, Sagan left behind a legacy that Cosmos Studios – a California-based prodco – aspires to rekindle by creating science docs that appeal to the brain, heart and soul; never one at the expense of the other.
The OneCosmos Network – Cosmos Studios’ largely internet-based parent company – was born seven months ago of a joint venture between Carl Sagan’s widow and business partner, Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan Productions), and internet executive Joe Firmage (former CEO of USWeb). The company launched with US$23 million in seed capital from Softbank Venture Capital and Crosspoint Ventures. Cosmos Studios is the division of OneCosmos focused on producing science-based entertainment content for all media. Kent Gibson, president of Cosmos Studios, refers to Sagan’s philosophy as ‘the church of Mother Nature.’ Says Gibson, ‘the element of spirituality is a key part of our message. The worlds of science and spirituality need not be mutually exclusive. Creating a feeling of belonging in a 21st century universe is not an easy task. Our aim is to fill this void.’
The studio debuted its first film last MIPCOM – the 80-minute The Best of Cosmos, which is a rebuilt collection of highlights from Sagan’s original 1980 series. The Best of is being distributed by Boston’s WGBH International. According to Kent Gibson, there is not yet a final tally, but he estimates the project cost in the region of $300,000 to $400,000. The bottom line is pending on the finalization of music clearances and other rights and considerations. The special has sold to PBS.
The Best of is accompanied by two separate projects involving the original Cosmos series: The Collector’s Edition of Cosmos, a digitally restored, remastered and enhanced version of the original 13 hours, for DVD and VHS; and The Music of Cosmos – Collector’s Edition, an Emmy award-winning two CD compilation of world music from the original series. The combined cost of the projects total $3.5 million.
The studio aims to produce at least four two-hour HD productions per year, striving to differentiate itself through the quality of its output. Gibson explains, ‘People are not interested in pseudo-science, which panders to what a network thinks will be interesting or popular. We want to talk about the truth and ask questions science might not yet be capable of answering.
Our theory is: don’t be afraid to extrapolate, just ensure that your basis for extrapolation is scientifically sound.’ Druyan echoes this key aspect of the prodco’s mission statement: ‘Our objective is to use science as a way in which to reveal an ethical, spiritual and moral perspective. Sticking to the scientific method doesn’t mean you can’t raise goose bumps.’
The studio is primarily interested in producing longer, more in-depth specials. As one-offs are not as marketable to broadcasters as series, Cosmos Studios’ long term plan involves the compilation of a library of two-hour specials to sell to broadcasters as a package. In addition to the company’s seed capital, Firmage has played a big role in financing the production of docs in the studio’s preferred format. ‘It’s every doc-maker’s dream,’ says Gibson. ‘It’s heaven to go ahead and fund $1.5 million into a production before having a distribution home.’ Druyan adds, ‘We’ve all had the experience of pitching an idea to a production company that they just didn’t get. We’ve all felt the deflating effects of this. We aspire to set a new standard – to get in the game with a bunch of shows that are so outstanding, people will look to us for expertise.’
Cosmos Studios is currently in production on two two-hour HD specials: Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt (produced with L.A.-based MPH Entertainment and Last Word Productions in Pennsylvania) and Cosmic Africa. Cosmos Studios funded the expedition for Lost Dinosaurs, securing a five-year permit from the Egyptian government and beginning production before knowing whether the dig was going to yield results. As it turns out, the expedition produced many new discoveries, which have not yet been announced. Cosmic Africa is a film that journeys into the continent’s ancient past, unveiling the deep connection humans have with the cosmos. It is being shot over nine months in 10 different African countries.
Four other full-length HD projects are underway, but the prodco has not released information on these yet, either. Two involve scientific discovery in the space arena – and are sponsored in part by the Planetary Society, which strives to further the search for extraterrestrial life. The studio is also in production on Collision Course, a series of 30-minute bios on the lives of scientists who defied the government, business and dominant religion of their time, in defense of controversial discoveries.
In addition to his legacy, Sagan left behind a virtual gold mine of material. Druyan describes the archive: ‘Imagine thousands of filing cabinets. It’s so huge, it has a Ripley’s Believe it or Not dimension. Every idea was duly recorded and saved.’ Both Druyan and her audience are fortunate to have access to the output of Sagan’s inspired 40-year career. She adds, ‘What you’re seeing now is the palest indication of what is to come.’
The Onecosmos.net portal is scheduled to debut January 1, after which Cosmos Studios will reveal more about productions in progress. Says Druyan, ‘We want to give you a joystick to navigate through the grandeur of the universe – to demystify science and raise peoples’ consciousness so we can have a realistic hope to make this world a better place. The fate of the planet is not just in our minds, it’s in our hearts.’