Phil Loarie was sitting outside of a closed coffee shop, using the shop's free wireless Internet with a borrowed laptop. It was a night in January and the longtime UC Berkeley employee was ready for his close-up, as it were. He was picking up a live stream of the premiere of "Life In A Day" from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The opening credits rolled, then, for three seconds, a shot of the moon moved across the screen.
Loarie filmed those three seconds.
Loarie watched with tears welling in his eyes. Then, a few minutes later, the battery in his borrowed laptop died. He jumped in his car and drove to a Starbucks where he could plug the computer in and watch the end of the movie. And see his name listed first in the credits.
"Tears really were coming down my face," Loarie said. "It was like your first born."
"Life In A Day" is a project of director Ridley Scott and Kevin Macdonald. The veteran filmmakers came up with the idea of soliciting amateur submissions through YouTube and putting them together in what they called the world's "first user-generated feature-length documentary." Filmmakers were asked to film from midnight to midnight on July 24, 2010.
Loarie, who works in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department, was the perfect candidate. Before embarking on a career in computer hardware and systems administration, he was once a student in cinema at Southern Illinois University.
In fact, he designed with his adviser a program that combined film and music, dubbed, "cinemasonics." Loarie made several films in college, two of which are at the Pacific Film Archive. Those were the last films Loarie made until a family art show organized by his sister back in Chicago in 2008.
Loarie's father had worked in advertising but had also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and was an amateur painter. His mother was a journalist and the two passed a love of creating art on to all five of their children.
Four generations of the family were exhibited at the Beacon Street Gallery. Phil Loarie brought a small digital video camera with him and shot some clips.
"I came back and said, 'Oh my god, you've got a documentary film here,'" he said. "I cut about an hour's worth of clips to 15 minutes. I put some music to it, subtitles, made a DVD and sent it to the family and they all loved it."
His love of film was reignited. Loarie began filming again and by the time he heard about the "Life In A Day" project, he had a digital high-definition camera. Loarie had been shooting the moon a lot, so he figured he'd start his day with that.
"First thing I did was 3 in the morning, I was waiting for the moon to show itself," he said. "I could get a pretty darn shot of the moon and it didn't look pixilated. I did three or four takes. Then I did a bunch of things on that day. Then I got the moon at 9:25 that night."
Loarie was in Richmond near Craneway Pavilion. The wind was blowing and Loarie was using a "spider-pod," a thin-legged version of a tripod, wedged into his car's windshield.
"I did about three or four takes and then the battery went dead," he said.
Sound familiar? Anyway, Loarie spent a few days and ended up submitting 11 entries. Eight weeks later, he received an e-mail telling him that two were being considered — the one of the moon and one he filmed of fog near the Chevron refinery.
That's all Loarie heard until January, when he received an e-mail telling him he made the final cut and that the premiere would be available to watch online. That left the tech expert who doesn't have an Internet connection at home (or a cell phone, for that matter) needing to scramble to figure out a way to see it.
Loarie has worked at UC Berkeley since 1987. Before that, he spent a few years indulging his artistic pursuits by writing and working on music. It also included some extra work on movies. He showed up in the background in "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom," along with noted directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
"I'm hanging with Spielberg and Lucas and there's Harrison Ford and I'm in heaven," he said. "They finished up at midnight and served everybody steak. It was wonderful."
He also worked on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Director (and Spock) Leonard Nimoy would perform rope tricks for the extras in between shots.
"That was as close as I ever got to the movies until this thing happened," Loarie said.
Loarie is now 59. He enters a Vimeo contest called "The Weekend Project Group" and puts his videos up on http://vimeo.com/schmueyvision.
He said he's doing a lot of trains in his work now.
And he makes sure to have extra batteries with him every time he goes out.