Rubin: Our place in the universe – in seven minutes

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

You are not the center of the universe.

Neither is Alex Gorosh. He understands that. But he also understands, far better than most of us, how far it is from the center of our solar system to the edges.

In a Ford Explorer, it’s 3 1/2 miles.

That will make abundant sense if you watch a splendid 7-minute film he and co-creator Wylie Overstreet launched on the Internet four weeks ago.

Lots of things will make abundant sense, Gorosh hopes, including the folly of fighting over patches of territory and the arrogance of assuming we matter all that much on our little marble floating in the middle of nothing.

“To Scale: The Solar System” is almost certainly the first accurate model ever created of the Sun and the eight planets orbiting around it.

Don’t blame your middle school textbook for misleading you. To truly portray the vast distances on a page, the planets would have to be microscopic, which largely defeats the purpose.

Gorosh, a University of Michigan alumnus, and Overstreet found a slightly larger canvas for their project: a dry lakebed at Black Rock Desert in Nevada.

The Earth was represented by a marble. The Sun, proportionally, was 59 inches across and 579 feet away. The outer planets were absurdly distant: 1.1 miles for Saturn, 2.1 for Uranus, 3.5 for Neptune.

To show the full orbits took seven miles of emptiness — and it’s a good thing Pluto has been demoted to dwarf planet, or the filmmakers would have been out of the lakebed and into the surrounding mountains.

The film has already been viewed more than 6 million times. Gorosh has heard from NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and National Geographic, and he and Overstreet are chatting with several cable networks about expanding their few-thousand-dollar project into a series.

It has already been an astonishing experience. But Gorosh, 30, on the phone from Los Angeles, remains down to Earth.

“Are you starting to get the color change yet?” he asks. “I miss that.”

Heading out west

Gorosh grew up in West Bloomfield, annoying his neighbors by filming them without permission and dreaming of making a difference in the world through movies.

OK, that was the late-teens dream. The earlier dream was to be a cameraman, “because whenever you see videos of people jumping out of planes, that means the cameraman gets to jump out of planes, too.”

He learned his craft by approaching organizations like his old summer camp and offering to create promotional videos for a few hundred dollars.

After majoring in film studies and creative writing at UM, he moved west. Through skill, persistence and good old-fashioned luck, he’s making a living directing commercials and documentaries, ideally for “people and organizations I care about.”

Gorosh met his fiancee in L.A. — he and Marisa Rico, a Pilates instructor, will marry Oct. 24 — and among his new friends is Overstreet, a writer best known for “The History of the World According to Facebook.”

One day Overstreet dropped by with an idea. Now he and Gorosh are, relatively speaking, stars.

Working ‘To Scale’

With three friends and three rented vehicles, they drove eight hours to Black Rock and then spent 36 hectic hours turning their vision into something fresh, factual, funny and photogenic.

Overstreet was on camera and Gorosh was behind it. Creating time-lapse video in desert darkness, Overstreet walked the close-in orbits carrying a high-powered LED. For the larger orbits, they simply used the headlights on the Explorer.

“To Scale” is visible with the naked eye at Next, Gorosh hopes, will be a cable series in which he and Overstreet create scale models of “aspects of our universe either too big or too small to wrap our heads around.”

In a banner moment for information over ideology, the film was featured on Fox News and National Public Radio on the same day. Gorosh had worried that it would only resonate with science nerds, but on that score, he was incorrect.

With the right presentation, it turns out, an interest in what’s around us is universal.