Wanted: Someone to play TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth

Published: Thursday, Jan. 5 2012 4:12 p.m. MST

Philo T. Farnsworth works with an image dissector camera, part of early television technology.

Corbis Images

PARK CITY — The producers of "Televisionaries," an independent feature film based on the true story of the battle of the birth of television, are holding a casting call for an actor age 11-14 from Utah or Idaho to play the teenage Philo T. Farnsworth.

Ten finalists will be invited to audition and screen test during the opening weekend of the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Landmark Inn.

"Televisionaries" is based on the life of Farnsworth, who was born and buried in Utah and grew up on his family's potato farm in Rigby, Idaho. Farnsworth was inspired one day in 1921 by the parallel lines in the field he was plowing. The 14-year-old farm boy imagined that lines of electrons would scan and paint moving images on screens in every home.

Writer Evan I. Schwartz came across Farnsworth's story while researching technology and tracked Farnsworth's widow down in 1999. Schwartz's book, "The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit and the Birth of Television," came shortly thereafter.

"A lot of people have said to me over the years that it sort of reads like a movie," he said.

Schwartz met producer Jonathan Sheldon at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. Sheldon said he was drawn especially to Farnsworth's character, which he described as genuine and hardworking.

"That kind of character just spoke to me," he said. He described Farnsworth's life story as truly American — an uplifting classic that has been largely untold.

And it's vital, both Schwartz and Sheldon believe, that the actor playing the young Farnsworth be a resident of Utah or Idaho.

Schwartz pointed out that Farnsworth was not only born in Utah, but also returned to his roots after the whirlwind experience produced by his invention. Farnsworth lived his remaining days in Provo.

Sheldon said having a Utah or Idaho native play the role would provide "an authenticity that you can't manufacture."

They need someone who understands the culture and history of these places, Schwartz explained. Farnsworth, whom Schwartz called an obsessive genius, had his "eureka" moment in a potato field, after all.

"Television, in many ways, came out of the soil," Schwartz said.

Independent film veteran Michael Polish will direct "Televisionaries." Polish's twin brother, Mark, came on board to co-write the screenplay with Schwartz.

Already well on its way, the film has received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation as a 2011 winner of the Tribeca Film Institute's Sloan Filmmaker Award, which encourages science in cinema. Film Independent, a Los Angeles-based organization that oversees the Spirit Awards, also selected the screenplay for the 2011 Producers Lab.

To respond to the casting call for the role of the young Philo Farnsworth or to learn more about "Televisionaries," visit televisionaries.com. The 10 finalists will be notified by Jan. 15.

Email: hbowler@desnews.com

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