Some of the voices heard in the film are actual recordings from the space program. For example, when Apollo 11 lands on the moon, the reply from Houston is the original. It's the voice of astronaut Charles Duke, who had the job of communicating with Apollo 11 during the landing. Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) says "Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle Has Landed", then Charlie Duke says "Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."
In the breakfast scene just before Apollo 11 launched, the artist sketching Armstrong is Chris Calle, son of the NASA artist Paul Calle. Chris was playing his father who actually sketched the crew that morning.
Actor Ryan Gosling first discovered Armstrong's love of the theremin during his background research with Armstrong's family and friends. He brought it to Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz's attention, who later chose to include the strange instrument in the score.
Common errors beautifully avoided by this film include: the Earth & Moon are always lit by the Sun at the same angle, no clouds appear at high altitudes, the paradoxical nature of accelerating & braking rockets in orbit, the oxygen fire causes an implosion not an explosion, no obtrusive lights hidden inside astronaut helmets to show off their faces, and there is no ambient sound in the vacuum of space.
Ryan Gosling suffered an injury while filming one of the many shuttle sequences. His partner Eva Mendes told him to go to the hospital after noticing the bizarre behavior of his passionately ranting to her about national doughnut thieves. It was later discovered he had suffered a concussion and Mendes had unknowingly saved his life.
Damien Chazelle was particularly attached to making his film as authentic as possible. This care for detail was maintained, until it came to the reproduction of the space capsules. He and chief designer Nathan Crowley agreed that no ship would be enlarged by more than 10%, even if it sacrificed the comfort of the actors. This also caused complications for framing. The solution was to create a decor that fit in several detachable parts. In fact, the technicians had to break the seats in two to be able to integrate the cameras with the capsule.
When Armstrong talks about taking his daughter to Saskatchewan to try to have her treated by the man who developed the technology, he is referring to Dr Johns who developed Cobalt-60 radiation treatments at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Damien Chazelle's first choice to play the role of Neil Armstrong was always Ryan Gosling. Gosling was even rumored to be attached to the project during its development stage but nothing was officially confirmed. It wasn't until after Gosling did La La Land (2016) with Chazelle that Gosling would officially sign on to do the project.
Original music composed by Justin Hurwitz features various uncommon instruments including theremin (which Hurwitz had learned to play and his performances are in the final score), Moog synthesizer and an Echoplex which give the score its uniqueness. He also rerecorded a string orchestra being played back through a Leslie rotor cabinet to create special sound effects.
Armstrong's famous quote as he stepped on the moon is the subject of historical controversy. The movie quotes accurately what was heard on Earth and in all recordings: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong later revealed that he intended to say "... one small step for [A] man ..." and that he thought he did, but all efforts to extract this from the recording, even with electronics, have been inconclusive.
Not content with training them at NASA, Damien Chazelle sent each of his actors YouTube videos of the person they embodied so they could learn to reproduce their phrasing and tics of language. In addition, the director provided a list of books and films to consult. Literary suggestions include titles such as 'Carrying the Fire' by Michael Collins, 'Deke!' by Deke Slayton and Michael Cassutt, and 'First Man' by James R. Hansen. On the movie side, there's For All Mankind (1989), Moonwalk One (1971) and Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (2017).
James R. Hansen, biographer of Neil Armstrong, co-produces the film. It is thanks to him that the project was able to succeed. Indeed, the astronaut had full confidence in the one who became his friend over the years. "For Neil, as long as you followed Jim's path, there was no problem in making this movie," said producer Wyck Godfrey, who had the chance to meet Armstrong before his death on August 25, 2012. After his death, it was essential to have the support of his family. His sons met the screenwriter Josh Singer and the director Damien Chazelle and were convinced by their concern for accuracy and authenticity.
To prepare for his role, Ryan Gosling unearthed Lunar Rhapsody, a piece of theremin that Neil Armstrong loved and listened to during the Apollo 11 mission, as well as Egelloc, a musical he had written at the university.
The depiction of the astronauts' quarantine in the finale is accurate - most of their time was spent in the spacious and private Lunar Receiving Laboratory, not the infamously cramped trailer they used to get there - but the face to face meeting with Janet Armstrong did not occur.
James R. Hansen, the author of First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong (Simon and Schuster, 2005, 2012), is a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in History. His 1995 book Spaceflight Revolution: NASA Langley Research Center from Sputnik to Apollo was nominated for the Pulitzer by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the only time NASA ever nominated a book for the prize.
'First Man' is from James R. Hansen's book 'The First Man: Discovering Neil Armstrong' (Robert Laffont Editions). After writing a thesis in the history of science and technology at the University of Ohio, and spending more than 20 years writing and teaching on the themes of history and space, Hansen decided to start writing his first biography. In 2000, he contacted Neil Armstrong who, reluctant to give interviews, declined the proposal. In the end, it took Hansen two years to convince Armstrong, with the support of his family.
Damien Chazelle was approached to stage First Man once Whiplash (2014) completed, while he had not yet realized La La Land (2016). The director wanted to approach this story as a thriller and make the public feel the dangers faced by the astronaut team.
The opening scene shows Armstrong's infamous mishap when flying the X-15 supersonic vehicle, but merges this with a later incident involving Chuck Yeager for economy. Armstrong was flying in a T-33 with Yeager, testing X-15 landing sites when the T-33 became stuck on one lake bed, stranding Armstrong and Yeager in the desert. These early incidents in Armstrong's career became part of the test pilot lore, although Yeager supposedly found the T-33 fiasco hilarious and enjoyed ribbing the younger pilot about it.
All of the residential scenes were filmed in the "Saddle Creek" neighborhood in Roswell, Georgia, USA. Neil Armstrong's house was built on a vacant lot in the subdivision, which was surrounded by 1960's/1970's era homes.
The lunar sequence was shot on 70mm IMAX cameras and would have expanded aspect ratio during select sequences exclusively in IMAX theaters before Universal decided not to make any 70mm IMAX prints for distribution.
If Nathan Crowley, the head designer, was already used to working on space films (Interstellar (2014)), it is the first time in his career that he had to film the Moon. A challenge he had long pushed back, aware of the puzzle that it represented. He and Damien Chazelle chose a quarry at Vulcan Rock Quarry in Stockbridge.
American flag controversy: On August 31, 2018, it was reported that the film would not include a scene of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag on the Moon. Florida Senator Marco Rubio described the omission as "total lunacy". Chazelle responded with a statement, saying: "I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but the flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments (...) that I chose not to focus upon. To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is no. My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America's mission to the Moon." Following the film's below-expectations opening of $16 million, some analysts speculated that the flag controversy was in part to blame.
After extensive research on the history of NASA, Damien Chazelle initiated operations at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral and Johnson Space Center in Houston. The same goes for the cast of astronauts who followed a training camp.
The song "Whitey on the Moon" during the protest sequence is a cover of the famous song by singer/poet Gil Scott-Heron. It stands as a critique of the economic priorities of the Space Race for many of the economically and social disenfranchised at the time.
Includes an excerpt of an educational film about the planned lunar mission, including an end credit screen saying: "A Presentation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Pelican Films Inc. HQ88".
Apollo astronauts were considered government employees, with most at the rank of captain. Regardless of their substantial education the average yearly income of these astronauts in the 1960's was $17,000 ($100,000 in 2012 money) solely based on military rank. They also were not payed any hazard pay. Additionally the astronauts were paid per-diem of $8 extra a day ($50 in 2012 money) for each day they spent in the shuttle. However their per-diem was "pre-deduction" and they were deducted for living expenses when aboard the shuttle, as food and a bed was provided for them.
Jason Clarke appears in the film as Edward H. White II. Clarke had previously starred as Sen. Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick (2017), which chronicled the Chappaquiddick incident that happened around the same time as the Apollo 11 moon landing. In Chappaquiddick's opening scene, Senator Kennedy is seen talking about JFK's promise to send men to the moon. The scene is followed by shots of a Saturn V/Apollo launch.
The exact personal items that Armstrong took on the Apollo 11 mission - his Personal Preference Kit or PPK - have never been disclosed by NASA, and Armstrong provided only a few remarks on the subject. (Parts of the Wright Flyer, donated by and returned to the US Air Force Museum; his fraternity pin; and "some Apollo 11 medallions, some jewelry for my wife and mother [a pin for each], and some things for other people".) Janet Armstrong does not believe that he carried any items for his sons. The book and the film speculate about what remaining items there might have been, however any such information will likely continue to be private.
Damien Chazelle keeps up his signature style of closing a movie with lead actors tangibly looking at each other without speaking. Both of his previous movies, Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016), had similar endings.
When the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, it faced controversy for not featuring the iconic planting of the American flag on the Moon during the Lunar sequence. Ryan Gosling defended the omission because, "it transcended countries and borders...I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that's how we chose to view it. I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible. I might have cognitive bias, [but] I don't think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil." The biography upon which which the film is based recounts the astronauts' struggles with the malfunctioning flagpole, which "nearly turned into a public relations disaster", in some detail.