Based on James R. Hansen’s book “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong,” Universal Pictures’ First Man reveals intimate insights into the global hero’s private life and previously unknown character-defining moments.
Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) approached the film from interior angles in order to immerse audiences in this impossible journey.
Chazelle’s fascination with the messiness of mastery drew him to Armstrong’s story. As well, his interest in injecting into a massive period movie—one filled with action set-pieces—a genuine sense of raw spontaneity felt like a natural evolution. While the director admits that type of filmmaking is usually impossible within the constraints imposed by scale or big technical effects, he felt that a tight collaboration with Ryan Gosling—extending to their bond with their fellow production team—would make it feasible.
“Before I began work on First Man, I knew the textbook narrative of the mission to the moon—the success story of an iconic achievement…but little else,” Chazelle says. “Once I started digging, I grew astounded by the sheer madness and danger of the enterprise—the number of times it circled failure, as well as the toll it took on all involved. I wanted to understand what compelled these men to voyage into deep space, and what the experience—moment by moment, breath by breath—might have felt like.”
Intrigue of the fascinating details and by Armstrong’s instincts drove Chazelle to dig deep and research. “To grasp, I had to explore Neil’s home life; this was a story that needed to hinge between the moon and the kitchen sink, the vast expanses of space juxtaposed against the textures of quotidian life,” he continues. “I chose to shoot the film in vérité, playing fly-on-the-wall to both space missions and the Armstrong family’s most intimate, guarded moments. My hope was that this approach could highlight the heartbreak, joy, lives lived and lost in the name of one of history’s most famous goals: setting foot on the moon.”
Although the director initially saw the movie as documentary in style, Gosling pushed him to take that term more literally. The First Man star asked his director to present a full picture that would capture every little detail, as well as all the in-between moments, that led to the moon landing. Sums Chazelle: “Ryan pitched it as ‘the kitchen and the moon,’ which in turn became the mantra I used to describe First Man to every department head, every craftsperson and performer in the film.”
Although the outcome of the Apollo 11 moon landing is well known, the rigorous and dangerous steps leading up to the mission—as well as the endurance and determination of the man who took the first step—are to most, a mystery. “For the most famous event in world history, it’s shocking how little known the particulars of the event actually are and how little is known of the man who took those first steps,” says Chazelle. “It blew my mind that an event of this magnitude hasn’t been portrayed in a feature film before. We want to emphasize how scary it was to go up into space; it literally was like a rickety tin can or a coffin.”
The director’s goal is to give audiences a firsthand perspective of what it required to train for this type of mission, as well as be the one inside the first cockpits of this type. Chazelle was inspired to capture just how visceral, difficult and terrifying this journey was…as well as the sacrifices required to become the first man on the moon.
“There are many other stories that tell about the moon landing, but I wanted to know what it felt like in all the years leading up to that first footstep on the moon—as well as what it felt like to be that man who put the first footprint on the moon,” concludes Chazelle. “Only a handful of people in history have ever gone to the moon, and Neil Armstrong was first. Even more importantly, it’s an emotional story of a guy who’s trying to be a father and husband while undergoing this cosmic journey.”
In Philippine cinemas October 17, First Man is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.