THE MARTIANWorking on a movie set is not typically part of the job description for a Cisco technical marketing engineer. So, I was pleasantly surprised when, back in October, an invitation popped in my inbox to spend a couple of days in Budapest on the set of the latest Matt Damon movie. I was asked to help build some video conferencing systems, which were to be used in the movie, but I would’ve been happy to even get coffee for the movie’s world-renowned director, Ridley Scott.

The plot, as we can tell from the trailer, finds Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) stranded and alone on Mars, and presumed dead by NASA. He must figure out how to survive on the hostile planet and to signal Earth that he is alive. It’s only 140 million miles away, but that’s no problem for our video conferencing technology, I thought. Already, I had found a way to be an integral part of this story: Tobias Brodtkorb, video conferencing TME to the rescue.

My active imagination immediately started working on ways I could land a role. I could help Matt build a video conferencing system from scratch, or as a last resort, sneak my way into the background as an extra. As it turns out, neither scenario panned out, since they were not planning to start filming until a week after I had installed the Cisco systems. So, I did not see any celebrities, but I did take a picture of myself next to a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Matt Damon. But that’s not the end of my brush with fame.

Kristin Wiig’s character, Annie Montrose, has a call with the NASA jet propulsion lab using Cisco video conferencing.

I worked on several sets in Budapest. The first was a modern glass building with steel structures. This was going to act as NASA’s mission control on Earth. It was really impressive to see the amount of work required to prepare a film set. Here, I set up an MX300 room conferencing system and installed ten DX80 desktop video units. Off to the next location at Korda studios, which is in the countryside west of Budapest. It was almost surreal: a big, modern facility in the middle of nowhere. Outside, they had different themed back lots — medieval, New York, Renaissance and what looked like something from central Europe WW2. They looked completely real on one side, but only were empty shells with scaffolding and planks on the back.

Cisco DX80 desktop collaboration system in call with with Kristin Wiig’s character, Annie Montrose, at NASA HQ.

After nosing around a bit, it was time to be productive. We unpacked and installed the MX700 and MX800, Cisco’s large room video conferencing systems. At that point, a small group of people walked past. It seemed like a tour of the prop room for some VIPs. I heard the guide mention Cisco, gesturing in our direction. I was sure he was referring to the debonair TME who could assist Matt Damon in making contact with Earth. After the entourage left, one of the guys helping us asked, “Did you know who that was?” Clearly, I did not, and it was definitely not Matt Damon, but possibly even more impressive by Hollywood standards: It was Ridley Scott, himself. Here was my chance!

As I suspected, Mr. Scott (or should I say Ridley, now that we are friends) would immediately spot raw talent when he saw it, because he came back and sought me out. Well, I couldn’t convince him to give me a part in the movie, but I did give him a run-down of the MX800. He was really impressed with the video quality and that the unit was able to automatically track people based on their voice. I was especially proud of the products, myself; they were beautiful and fit in perfectly with the sleek, space-aged environment of the set.

So, that was another day in the life of a Cisco video TME, and one that I will remember for a long time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent Cisco and our products in such a special environment and setting. And Ridley, if you read this, please remember to call me when you’re planning the lead actor in Gladiator 2.

P.S. As it often happens in the movies, the MX systems got left on the cutting room floor, but keep an eye out for our DX80s when you go see the movie (opening in theaters October 2, 2015). There’s already a lot of Oscar buzz bantered about “The Martian.” Maybe the DX80s will get nominated for best prop or set dressing?