Sandia LabNews

Actor Charlton Heston lends big voice to Sandia's little machines in new video production

Legendary star responded to an ‘appeal to his patriotism’

STAGE AND SCREEN STAR Charlton Heston welcomes Sandians Dave Sparks (12610), left, and Paul McWhorter (1305) to his Beverly Hills home. Dave directed Heston at the actor’s home for a nine-minute video production about Sandia’s micromachine/microsystem technology. Paul served as technical subject matter expert for the production.

Sandia’s micromachines are tiny little marvels, but now they have a spokesman who is bigger than life.

Charlton Heston, one of the world’s most recognized, admired, and honored actors, provides onscreen and voice-over narration for Sandia’s new microsystems (i.e. micromachines and integrated microelectronics) promotional video.

On the video, Heston taps into a half-century’s worth of performing experience to speak compellingly and convincingly about the role of microsystems in nuclear weapons surety and other, broader applications. He effectively conveys a sense of wonder about the engineering genius behind mechanical devices too small to see but big enough to perhaps change our world. Those who have seen this brand-new video – it was completed just this month – agree that Heston’s involvement in the project lends it a special aura that draws you in and holds your attention. After all, when you hear the voice of "Moses," you listen.

If Heston’s presence adds an unprecedented starry luster to a Sandia video, the way he got involved in the project makes an interesting story in itself.

IN A SCENE from Sandia’s new micromachine/ microsystems video production, actor Charlton Heston displays a silicon wafer that contains thousands of tiny silicon machines.

Paul McWhorter, Deputy Director for Technology in Microelectronics and Photonics Center 1300, explains that Center Director Al Romig wanted a new video that portrayed the vision behind Sandia’s microsystems work.

"Working with Dave Sparks of Video Services [Dept. 12610] we put together a rough cut of a video," Paul says, "but because of the widespread excitement in this technology, Al wanted to see if we could get a high-profile person to narrate it for us."

With those marching orders, Dave and Paul sat down and drew up a list of 50 "big name" people, actors and other celebrities who just about everyone would recognize.

"Our idea was to work our way down the list," Paul says.

They didn’t have to go too far. The very first name on Paul and Dave’s wish list was Charlton Heston.

"We sent him a letter, explaining who we were, what we were doing, and why it is important to the nation," Paul says. "We appealed to his patriotism and advised him that we really couldn’t pay him but hoped he’d be willing to donate his services in the national interest."

Dave drafted the letter, which said, in part: "Concerning matters of vital national importance, you have appeared in programs produced by our sister lab, Los Alamos. We believe you can communicate our message with maximum impact. . . . In a world without underground nuclear testing, Sandia must continue to insure a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile, as it has over the past 40 years, by rendering an ‘exceptional service in the national interest.’ Will you help?"

Somehow, the letter struck the right note. "Within a couple of weeks," Paul says, "he contacted us and said he’d love to be involved."

The initial contact occurred last fall, but because of Heston’s busy schedule, the earliest date that could be arranged for shooting his part of the video was early January.

So it was that on Jan. 13, Paul and Dave, with a local video crew with expertise in precisely this kind of production, arrived at the actor’s Beverly Hills home, where the shoot was to occur. Dave directed the video segment and Paul was on hand as technical subject matter expert.

"Working with Charlton Heston was a dream," says Dave, who has directed a number of Sandia videos. Dave admits to being a bit "starstruck" at first, but quickly found that working with Charlton Heston was "like working with any other actor, except of course that he’s a major movie icon. What you find is that working with a good actor is a lot easier than working with a bad actor, and he is very, very good."

"We were scheduled to show up at 7:30 in the morning," Paul says, "and we obviously didn’t want to be late, so we pulled into his driveway at 7 o’clock." Not wanting to disturb the actor so early in the morning, Paul, Dave, and the crew hunkered down in the van and waited. A few minutes later, Heston emerged from his house in his bathrobe – he had just gotten out of the shower – tapped on the window of the van and invited the team to come on in.

"My anticipation was that we’d go in, Mr. Heston would read through the script a time or two, we’d shoot the video, and that would be that," Paul says.

It wasn’t like that at all.

"He sat down with Dave and me and worked with us on the script. He did quite a lot of wordsmithing; by the time we started shooting, the script was really refined and tailored for Mr.

Heston’s style."

The thing that makes Heston so effective on the video, Paul says, is that he became fascinated with the technology, really amazed with the way we make these things and what they might be used for. That interest comes across on the video."

Paul says Heston’s involvement in the video project has "energized" everyone on the microsystems team.

"To have someone of his stature be involved with us," Paul says, "has really boosted our pride in what we’re doing here."

What was it like to work with Charlton Heston? What was he like?

"He couldn’t have been more polite, more gracious," Paul says. "I would call him a true gentleman."