By Michael Cleland
Nikola Tesla, a once world famous 19th and 20th century American inventor, is practically an unknown in American history. Filmmakers Wilhelm Cashen and Carole Bourgeois are working to bring him back to life on the silver screen with their impending documentary, “Electricity: The Story and Life of Nikola Tesla.”
“The genius of Tesla brought the world from the dark ages into civilization, but sadly he still remains unknown to most Americans,” said Bourgeois.
Who was Tesla?
According to Bourgeois’ research, when Tesla came to America in 1884, he soon started working for Thomas Edison, and helped him with his direct current system. After Edison and Tesla split up over an argument, Tesla began throwing himself into his work. Out of hundreds of patents, Tesla’s major inventions include the alternating current system and the first remote control, which made wireless communication possible. According to Bourgeois’ research, Tesla’s alternating current system and wireless communication invention is the model that is used in modern technology.
This is an electric motor from 1888.
In 1896, Tesla demonstrated the alternating current system in Niagara Falls with the invention of the first hydro-electric power plant. International fame and fortune followed, but Tesla’s lavish spending, costly self-funding of his experiments, stripped bank loans, and stolen patents caused him to become a bankrupt recluse by the time he was an old man. Only a few of his patents were returned to his name after he died, and because Tesla scholars are approaching their eighties, Bourgeois and Cashen are working feverishly to mend his history.
The Making of the Film
For the last 12 years, Bourgeois and Cashen studied Tesla’s life and inventions. They are still filming the docudrama, and have just finished a feature film screenplay that has undergone 16 re-writes. After studying hundreds of historical documents, books, and articles, Bourgeois found information on Tesla’s character nuances, struggles, and personal demons that will reveal new dimensions of his character that few people know about.
“Tesla has been mythologized in many documentaries because little is known about him as a human being. His voice was never recorded. He was private and rarely left his room,” Bourgeois said. “His OCD sometimes caused him to go two to three days without sleep at a time. Our story about Tesla captures his soul. He left behind thousands of documents about his inventions and personal life.”
Cashen used his expertise in engineering, system designs, and motion controls to analyze Tesla’s experiments so that they could be accurately simulated in the film. “Quite frankly, Will is a genius,” said Bourgeois.
Bourgeois and Cashen have invested tens of thousands of dollars of their own money into these projects. Four hundred eighty enthusiastic backers on Kickstarter pledged more than $45,000 of the $35,000 goal, but further interest is needed. The films are more than just a fascinating character study of Tesla; they want to prove to the world Tesla was robbed of his title as the greatest American inventor. When they pitch their screenplay to producers, Bourgeois and Cashen will stick to their vision.
“Producers think it’s a riveting story, but they’re wary about buying a film that clearly makes the point that Tesla was the greatest American inventor,” Bourgeois said. “Tesla deserves to be taught next to Edison in classrooms.”
Tesla and Steampunk
News of the impending docudrama was recently released on the Steampunk Tribune, a website that provides updates on the latest in steampunk art, clothes, literature, and gadgets. Tesla’s dazzling inventions, fame, eccentricity, reclusive nature, and obscure death made him a cult icon for the underground steampunk genre.
“Steampunks are drawn to the gilded age from the late 1860s to 1900,” Cashen said. “Tesla is an iconic hero and underdog of his time.”
Outside of filmmaking, Bourgeois and Cashen are Tesla advocates. Cashen created a website called, Tesla Community: Help Educate the World. Tesla’s patents, inventions, updates on the film, and more can be found at TeslaCommunity.com. Purchase Tesla clothes, bobble heads, DVDs, and memorabilia at The Tesla Gallery.
“It has been extremely challenging to create what is innately a documentary with so much technology and to accurately meld his extraordinary personal life and struggles with OCD to produce an exciting story, all the while keeping the integrity of historical events within a two hour movie and docudrama,” Bourgeois said.
To help complete the film, Bourgeois and Cashen greatly appreciate donations as they continue promoting their life’s work.
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