The film is scheduled to complete production in April 2008 and is scheduled for release in 2009.

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Ray Kurzweil being interviewed by Barry Ptolemy on the set of Transcendent Man

Transcendent Man is a feature length documentary film about the life and ideas of renowned inventor, futurist, and author Ray Kurzweil (The Age of Spiritual Machines, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough To Live Forever, The Singularity Is Near. It is being produced by Ptolemaic Productions in partnership with Therapy Studios, and will be released in 2009. The film begins by telling the story of Ray’s early day’s as an inventor, including his influences, successes and accolades, and eventually delves deeply into his astonishing predictions about the future, raising profound questions about our humanity, our divinity, and our destiny.

For the first time a documentary film team follows the great inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil and reveals over three decades of revolutionary thinking and living.

Growing up in a household of artists, the religion of Ray’s childhood home was original thought and creativity. It was this environment that inspired Ray to become an inventor at age 5. Later, a more formal education in Unitarian Universalism taught Ray the idea of “many paths to the truth,” which can still be found in his writings today.

By age 17 Ray had already received his first Presidential medal from Lyndon Johnson and had been showcased on the popular television show, Steve Allen’s “I’ve Got a Secret”. His career went on to earn him two more Presidential medals from Presidents Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. He holds fifteen honorary doctorates and is an inductee in to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His many inventions include the CCD flatbed scanner, the Kurzweil Reader, which was the first reading machine for the blind, and the Kurzweil Keyboard which was the first synthesizer to recreate the acoustic sounds of the grand piano and other instruments (which Ray was inspired to invent by lifelong friend, Stevie Wonder).

Bill Gates who contributed to The Singularity is Near has called Ray Kurzweil, “The best person I know at predicting the future…” Gates has invited Kurzweil to his house on more than one occasion and has said, “I agree with 99% of what Ray says.”

Yet all of these accolades and accomplishments are just the foundation for Kurzweil’s most profound contribution to mankind, his vision of the future.

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Ray Kurzweil contemplates the Lincoln Memorial

Ray Kurzweil theorizes that we will very soon merge with our non-biological creations, computers, in order to become trillions of times more intelligent and connected than we are today. If this idea doesn’t scare you, maybe these facts will: Ray takes over 200 pills and supplements a day in order to re-program his biology and extend his life, he travels around the country and the world on an almost evangelical mission of spreading the word about our exponentially accelerating techology, and he is preparing for the day when technology will allow him to bring back his dead father.

Can Ray Kurzweil be taken seriously? Is his professional credibility undermined by his disruptive predictions?

The filmmakers embark on a journey around the world with Ray to reveal just how accurate or inaccurate he may be.

Barry Ptolemy, a film and television writer, producer and director[, was also a life-long student of the sciences when, in early 2006, he picked up a copy of Ray Kurzweils most recent book, The Singularity is Near. While reading the first chapter, Ptolemy shared the profound ideas of the book with his wife, Felicia, also a producer. The most notable ideas they discussed were Kurzweil’s theory on exponential growth which postulates that we are quickly gaining the technology to extend our lives by hundreds and thousands of years, that our technology is an extension of biological evolution and will continue to exponentially enhance our lives, experiences, bodies, and brains, and that these techological advances will happen in the next few decades. Kurzweil concludes by suggesting that humankind will saturate the universe with our intelligence. Within the next hours, these ideas inspired the Ptolemy’s to seek funding for a feature-length documentary on the Singularity and Kurzweil.

In February of 2007, the Ptolemy’s met with Ray Kurzweil for the first time before he spoke at the 2007 RSA Conference in San Francisco. They proposed the project to Kurzweil and came to an agreement. Two months later, in April, 2007 the Ptolemy’s finalized a deal with Kurzweil in which they acquired the world-wide rights to Kurzweil’s most recent three books and agreed that they and their company, Ptolemaic Productions would produce a film on his life and ideas.

Barry and Felicia Ptolemy began shooting Ray Kurzweil on April 18, 2007 in Newport Beach, California. The production continued to follow Ray around the country and the world through the end of 2007. Production resumes in February 2008. Some of the events the documentary team has filmed Ray at include:

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Barry Ptolemy interviews Ray Kurzweil in Milan, Italy

World Innovation Forum, Newport Beach, California, USA
InterWoven Conference, San Francisco, California, USA
Pennsylvania College of Optometry, Receiving Honorary Doctorate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
US Army’s eCybermission Awards, Washington DC, USA
United Church of Christ Annual Synod (along with Barack Obama), Hartford, Connecticut, USA
Annual National Federation of the Blind Convention, Atlanta, GA, USA
World Transhumanist Association’sTransvision 2007, Chicago, Illinois, USA
World Business Forum, Milan, Italy
ExpoManagement Conference, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Corporation Address, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
American Philosophical Association Debate, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Advanced Equities Venture Capital Summit, Laguna Niguel, California, USA

Transcendent Man has interviewed Aaron Kleiner (CFO, Kurzweil Technologies), Alan Dershowitz, Alvin Toffler, Aubrey de Grey, Ben Goertzel, Charles Kam, Craig Newmark, David Dalrymple, Dean Kamen, Desh Deshpande, Ed Begley, Jr., George Gilder, James N. Gardner, John Parmentola, Kevin Kelly, Sonya Kurzweil, Mark Maurer, Pauley Perrette, Martine Rothblatt, Peter Diamandis, Phillip Rosedale, Ralph Merkle, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, Robert Metcalfe and William Shatner.

Transcendent Man will also feature: Walter Cronkite, Chuck Missler, Stevie Wonder, Jack Welch, and Colin Powell.

Husband and wife team acquire the world-wide rights to the work, life and ideas of the great inventor, futurist and NY Times best-selling author, Ray Kurzweil.

Filmmakers Barry and Felicia Ptolemy announced that they are producing Transcendent Man, a feature-length documentary on the life and ideas of Ray Kurzweil. The film, which has been in production since early 2007, will wrap this spring and is scheduled for release in 2009. Barry Ptolemy is directing the documentary. No distributor is attached at this time.

The film begins by telling the story of Ray’s early day’s as an inventor, including his influences, successes and accolades, and eventually delves deeply into his profound predictions about the future, raising questions about our humanity, our divinity, and ultimately, our destiny.

“We’ve been on this whirlwind tour with Ray,” offers Ptolemy. “He’s become one of the top speakers on the circuit, speaking alongside house-hold names like Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, Colin Powell. And, yet, he’s the one that receives the standing ovations. The public at large doesn’t know him that well, but we plan on changing that. We’re confident that his ideas, as presented in the context of this film, will offer movie audiences a treat they just aren’t going to be expecting.’”

Executive Producer Joe DiSanto recounts the first time he heard of the project, “Barry brought this idea to us… of making a film on, The Singularity is Near. We said, get Ray Kurzweil on board and we’ll do it…and that’s exactly what he did!”  DiSanto is a partner at post-house, Therapy Studios, based out of Santa Monica, California.  He and fellow partners John Ramsay, Wren Waters, and Doobie White are financing the film.

Although many have attempted to bring Kurzweil and his mind blowing ideas to the silver screen, it was the Ptolemy’s who were able to convince him to put his trust in them. “I immediately liked their take on my ideas, and I liked them,” Kurzweil offered recently from his laboratory outside of Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Filmmakers in the past didn’t really get the material. The Ptolemy’s really get the details of my work and ideas.”

Aside from Kurzweil’s amazing inventions and best-selling books, he has become most famous for his disruptive predictions. Predictions that reveal a world so different in twenty five years it has a lot of people scared. One person who is not scared is Bill Gates. Gates has invited Ray to his house on more than one occasion and calls Ray, “The best person I know at predicting the future…” Jack Welch, former chairman of GE, has also invited Ray to his home, where he advises Ray on business ventures and Ray advises Jack on radical life extension.

“When I’m asked about the film, I have to take a big breath, because it takes a lot to describe it,” explains Transcendent Man editor, Doobie White. “I mean where do you begin, with his inventions? His reading machine for the blind? The Kurzweil keyboard? His books? I mean the man’s got 15 honorary doctorates, he’s been honored by three U.S. presidents, and he’s an inductee into the inventors hall of fame. But in this film, all of those things are secondary to his vision of the future and his journey in sharing it with the world at large.”

The film emphasizes Kurzweil’s predictions about the future and the positive repercussions of exponentially accelerating technological change. Kurzweil says the challenges we face today like energy, poverty, war, global warming, disease, and even death will be eliminated in the next twenty to thirty years.

“I believe our film offers something most Hollywood films and documentaries lack today…hope about our future,” says producer, Felicia Ptolemy. “Ray is talking about the technology that we, the human race, have created, as a tool we can use for good, rather than the continual narrative that we are on a path to destorying ourselves. Cynism is so prevalent today, we don’t even notice it. We intend for this movie to change the world.”

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Shooting, Posting and Archiving P2 for Kurzweil Doc

In what could become a trend with mutually beneficial rewards, full service post house Therapy Studios, in Santa Monica, Calif., has teamed up with independent director/filmmaker Barry Ptolemy, Director (Partner, Ptolemaic Productions) for a new documentary called Transcendent Man. The full-length feature highlights the life and innovative ideas of renowned visionary Raymond Kurzweil.

This is Therapy’s first foray into financing and producing a movie on its own, a move it says shows lots of potential for future revenue growth. Once Ptolemy secured the rights to produce the film, the team said they knew they were on to something special. Therapy is also serving as executive producer on the film.

“We’ve teamed up with Barry on some smaller projects in the past and found we worked well together,” said Wren Waters, Online/EFX Artist and partner at Therapy Studios. “We like the way Barry works and his sensibility. Many of the documentaries we’ve worked on have been budget challenged, but this was an opportunity for us to use our resources and make a film without compromises about a subject we really feel positive about. Once Barry secured the rights, we knew we had something special we could contribute to.”

A pioneer in the fields of optical character recognition, text-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition technology, and electronic keyboard instruments, Kurzweil is the author of several books on health, artificial intelligence, transhumanism, technological singularity, and futurism. He led development of the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first electronic musical instrument capable of recreating the sound of a grand piano and other orchestral instruments (which he developed at the urging of Stevie Wonder, who was amazed by his OCR reading machine), and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition system.

Globetrotting with Panasonic HVX200
For the past three months, Ptolemy and his crew have been following Kurzweil around the globe to chronicle his speaking engagements and highly popular seminars. Kurzweil does about three speaking engagements per month. They’re using two Panasonic HVX200 P2 cameras, with three 8 GB cards per camera (20 minutes of record time each), and the lens that comes standard with the camera.

“It was a challenge to get used to the solid-state workflow, but it’s now clear that P2 out performs tape in a myriad of ways,” said Ptolemy, explaining that he’ll continue shooting for a full year, in many U.S. states as well as in Europe.

For lighting, they’re using a very portable set up, which includes a Litepanels LED light for ambient illumination as well as three HMI lights for sit-down interviews. For audio, they carry several Sennheiser lavalier mics and an on-camera shotgun most of the time (recording four tracks of digital audio with the camera).

“We are shooting 24fps native, and we would like to keep the project at the 24fps frame rate, so it will translate easily to a 35mm film print, before going to DVD or whatever,” said Waters. “However, we will most likely be incorporating some SD archive elements, so at that point we might have to think about delivering in 59.94 in order for the assets to all come together well. We’ll see.”

The post house has a couple of editors working on this, as they are expecting about 200 hours of footage before the project is done. Obviously, logistics is and will be a big issue. With so much footage, Therapy was challenged to come up a process of logging and organizing the scenes as they are sent in (on portable Firewire drives) from the road. After every shoot, the portable storage drives are sent to Therapy and the data dumped off to a 6TB Avid LAN Share system.

Ptolemy said the camera and the P2 cards continue to work perfectly every time. “I was the most skeptical of anyone on this project and the HVX200 cameras have really exceeded my expectations,” he said, adding that he’ll shoot a number of green screen scenes on P2 HD to tie the disparate pieces of the film together. Using Therapy’s considerable resources, the doc is being edited on an Avid Media Composer, and will eventually be finished on a Quantel iQ system. The Quantel iQ system will be used to perform final assembly, composite scenes, and to color correct footage. It’s basically where all of the pieces will come together, and they expect many hours in online post.

Native 720/24p HD Acquisition
The decision to shoot and post in the 24p frames per second format was made after a number of tests were conducted at Therapy. Once the HD footage is copied over to the shared storage system at therapy, they do the offline in standard-definition, in order to work faster and have more monitoring options. The final conform will then be up-converted to 720p, which is the native format of the footage being shot on the road. After the data is transferred from the P2 cards at the end of each day’s shooting, the cards are reformatted immediately using a Panasonic P2 Mobile drive and two 1 TB Firewire drives.

“Because most general monitoring is still done in standard def, we did a bunch of different tests and came to the realization that it would be best to shoot the project 24p native, not a flagged frame 24p,” said Therapy’s Waters. “This gave us 20 minutes of HD storage on an 8GB card. It’s a huge difference. We can bring the HD media into the Avid system and it doesn’t regenerate it into new media, it just reads the actual HD data files the camera recorded. We can open that media in a standard def 23.98 project, and monitor it and edit in SD, which allows us to work faster with our dual processor CPUs. It essentially does an on-the-fly downconvert. This also allows us to cut SD 29.97 material into the project. I recommend it for anyone post-production house that hasn’t converted their entire facility to HD, or is working on a multi-format SD/HD project.”

The down side to this workflow, of course, is the large file sizes of HD. “In the past we would digitize at DV25 resolution, and your storage needs would be much less,” he said. “We basically are storing the media in its native 720pHD format because we don’t want to compromise the quality of the footage, but it means we need around 3 TB of storage capacity. We have a 6TB LanShare system, and will probably have to upgrade it soon.”

Data Security Relies On Old Standby… DLT Tape
Therapy’s chief concern throughout the project is how to back up the original media in order to keep it secure, which now exists in one central location.

“Our question is, ‘How do we store it in a stable and secure format without having to stack up Firewire drives?’” Waters said. “In our past experience, having data backed up on a Firewire drive is not the most stable or secure way to handle data for a project like this. And we don’t want to trust our entire investment in this film to Firewire drives. So we’re trying to figure out the best way to aggregate the data.”

They now back up most of their iQ online projects to DLT tape, which holds from 160 GB to 320 GB of data; with compression. In the case of “Transcendent Man”, they will back up the data to DLT tapes, 160 GB at a time, and could end up with about 15 or 20 DLT tapes to store the data for the film. Waters said that in their minds, DLT tape is a far more stable archiving format than disc drive storage.

“If you loose your media, it’s gone forever. That’s one of the downsides of the tapeless workflow right now,” Waters said. “Anyone who’s working with P2 or any tapeless format will tell you the same thing.”