Sunday, July 15, 2018

GOING FOR THE ONE Part 8 - Hello, (again)

I directed and edited a short documentary for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. I shot it with my pal Brian Callier on a Sony digital video camera in Sri Lanka and England. We interviewed AppleMasters Richard Dawkins and Douglas Adams, as well as Arthur C. Clarke. Back in L.A. using FireWire and a Radius Moto DV card, I downloaded the pristine digital video directly to my Power Macintosh hard drive. Then, using EditDV from Radius, I edited the video. This setup was unbelievably cool. I just plugged in the PCI card, attached a cable to the camera, booted the software, and I could move the video into my Mac. We got some footage of gorillas that fellow AppleMaster John Perry Barlow helped us shoot during his recent trip to Uganda. The gorilla clips were pretty short, so we just converted them to slow-motion with Edit DV. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd let us use some of their music, so we digitized it with SoundEdit and slapped it on the gorilla footage. Simple and fun. 
- Mike Backes’s AppleMasters page

An abridged copy of the Endowment Proposal
In February 1998, I hand delivered our appeal package to Nathan Myhrvold in Redmond. It contained Mike Backes’s film Time to Act, a high-res copy of the radar image of the gorilla habitat acquired by the space shuttle Endeavour, and an elegantly bound, 50-page business plan. Our proposal, how $35 million would guarantee the survival of the endangered Mountain gorilla, was well-grounded and lock-tight. 

Next stop Monterey, where the Technology Engineering, and Design conference was underway. TED8 attracted a clique of well-heeled geeks. Tickets went for $2,000 a piece and had sold out in a day. German software designer Kai Krause helped me gate-crash the event. On Saturday, in the simulcast room, following a showing of David Tate’s film about the Pathfinder mission to Mars, they premiered Time to Act. I reckon it had a deliberate audience of about 60 people, including Luis Rossetto, co-founder of Wired. I got five minutes with Larry Ellison, head of Oracle Corp, gave him copies of the film and business plan. Very warm response. I even gate-crashed the “billionaires dinner”, doorstepped Jeff Bezos on a street corner afterward. “My wife handles all our charitable donations,” he said. 

“Does your wife like wildlife?” I asked, as he tried to flag a taxi. 

“She likes jazz,” he said.

Titans of the tech industry we're starting to take notice of our cause, to hear about our endowment appeal. The gorillas were due their day. 

In Berkley with Jane Metcalf, co-founder of WIRED magazine

Jillian with Louis Rossetto, co-founder of WIRED magazine

After four months of being arm twisted, Bill Gates finally asked his father, who was then director of his foundation, to look "into the Gorilla donation in more detail." 

I began corresponding with the dad, Bill Gates Sr. His main areas of concern were the gorilla range state governments. “What can you to tell us about the geography and politics? What countries are involved? What action is necessary on those countries parts to effect your program? What is going on that indicates, one way or the other, that they will co-operate?”

After consulting my gorilla gurus, I sent Bill Sr a comprehensive response to his questions and then pressed him for a face-to-face meeting. I also suggested the fully wired conservation centre we planned to build be named William H. Gates III Conservation Centre. Finally, an email arrived from Suzanne Cluette, assistant director at the Foundation: “Mr Gates has asked that I respond to your request for a meeting in Seattle. We would be pleased to meet with you.” 

Jillian joined me on this trip. We planned to drive down on the Pacific Coast Highway, through Big Sur, and rendezvous with Douglas Adams in Santa Barbara. First stop, Seattle, the lobby of Edgewater, at 9 am on August 12th, for our meeting with the William H. Gates Foundation.

Bill Gates Sr
We sat on soft chairs beneath the balustrade. Elliott Bay was scintillating in the background. Bill Sr, a leggy man in his sixties, had dressed in blue check shirt sleeves and chinos. Suzanne Cluett, a not-for-profit veteran with hands-on experience in the developing world, asked most of the questions,. Bill Sr listened intently to our answers with eyes closed. A hotel cleaner was pushing a vacuum cleaner with the most deafening whine back and forth on the balustrade above. Nevertheless, the Gates Foundation gave us 90 minutes and Jillian and I gave the pitch of our lifetimes.

“We will consider it,” said Bill Sr, shaking Jillian’s hand and mine, “and let you know as soon as possible.”

After they’d left, we high-fived each other. “You know, Led Zeppelin once played footie in this lobby,” I said.

“Really?” she laughed.

“Oh yeah, baby, this is hallowed ground.”

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