The First Man Scenes That Were The Hardest To Shoot, According To Damien Chazelle

Recreating the past poses challenges. There’s period accuracy, for starters. And when you tackle a monumental historical event — like, say, walking on the moon for the first time as a country — then there are beats a movie has to hit or else it will be criticized. And yet, when CinemaBlend spoke with First Man director Damien Chazelle about his production, we discussed at length about the sheer obstacle of filming inside of a tight, almost coffin-like capsule, especially when you have chosen not to cheat with green-screen effects. Explains Chazelle:

Well, I certainly underestimated how hard it is to shoot in really, really tiny spaces. I had an incredible production designer, Nathan Crowley, who built all of these capsules basically from scratch, as exact replicas of the actual things. And not only that, but they were all functioning. The lights would work, the suits were all functioning — oxygen flowing in, and the cooling tubes. And the capsules would be on motion control systems that would move in front of LED screens, so you could see out the window what the astronauts would be seeing. …

So everything was practical. Everything was physical. I was thrilled with what we were getting in camera. But, that physicality, you know, posts some challenges. And there would be times where I’d kind of realized as we were shooting, ‘Oh man, this is why it’s not normally done this way. This is why they usually CGI the [astronaut’s] visor, or they just do half a spacecraft and then kind of CG in the rest. Or they make everything bigger than it actually was so that you can fit cameras in. We were pretty adamant about having everything be exactly what it was, scale wise and detail wise. And so yeah, it was tricky. It would take half an hour to just sort of get in and out of one of these things each time in between shots and to… every time we’d have to move the camera, we’d have to sort of unscrew a door, or unbolt a wall or something so that we can kind of get the camera out and then back in. So yeah, it was a long, laborious process, but luckily not half as hard as what the astronauts themselves went through.

Damien Chazelle strikes us as one of the most innovative filmmakers working today, and he chose to come off of us Best Director winning La La Land to tell an historical docu-drama about Neil Armstrong’s quest to reach the surface of the moon. But because Chazelle isn’t Michael Bay, he eschewed the tricks and tools that would make such a replication easier, and chose to shoot First Man as practically as possible. Yes, that meant no green screen, instead relying on massive LED screens projecting images of space as his backdrops. And it meant filming in tight quarters.

But you won’t actually appreciate the effort Damien Chazelle and his team went through to accompany Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and the other members of the Gemini and Apollo space mission teams until you get into the cockpits with First Man and blast through the stratosphere. It’s a creative choice made by Chazelle, to put the audience into the astronaut’s seat, and assume the POV of a person about to embark on a life-altering journey.

The claustrophobia facing the men on these missions comes through the screen, and aids in the atmosphere of First Man and its tensions.

See for yourself, now that the movie in in theaters. First Man is playing in multiple formats, but if we could recommend IMAX, it is worth going out of your way to see Damien Chazelle’s accomplishments in that larger-than-life arena. And if you need to know all of the other movies coming to theaters in 2019, make sure that you bookmark our Release Date Schedule for the upcoming year.

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