Making a movie about Neil Armstrong may not necessarily be on par with, say, landing successfully on the moon, but the pressure involved is not a big jump either.
There are astronauts who were there, for example, in Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, in addition to all the people who were on the ground at NASA ready to jump over any inaccuracies.
There is the almost mythical weight that has the achievement of being the first man to walk on the moon. For fans of cinema, there is the factor "2001: a space odyssey". And then there is the fact that Armstrong, who died in 2012 at 82 years of age, although he was a measurer of facts, did not want to talk much about himself, not even about his own family.
But it was a challenge that director Damien Chazelle ("La La Land") and screenwriter Josh Singer ("Spotlight") were willing to take on. Chazelle envisioned a documentary-style approach to telling Armstrong's story in "First Man," which now plays nationally, with Ryan Gosling in the lead role. I wanted to remove the brilliant romanticism of the first space voyages and talk about real men, with real families and the real danger of this dream of going to the moon.
"If & # 39; 2001 & # 39; is the treatment of the great movie-movie of space and the best possible version of that, you will never get over it," said Chazelle. "(We thought), could we do the documentary version of that? Could we make the gritty, the camera on the shoulder, 16 mm, the cinematic version of the space and make it look like DA Pennebaker has gotten into the capsule with the astronauts? ? "
To achieve this goal, production designer Nathan Crowley ("Dunkirk") and his team built large-scale replica capsules of the Gemini and Apollo missions, the X-15 aircraft and the multi-axis trainer: practical games for Chazelle I can put your star. , the camera and the audience just in claustrophobic action and shake them all a bit in spatial images that are reproduced outside the windows on LED screens.
"Contrary to what you might think was fun," Gosling said with a chuckle.
Beyond the physical challenges of paper, Gosling also had to incarnate man, without much to work with.
"Even though it was difficult to learn personal things about him, I respected him every step of the way, he was the most famous person on the planet and somehow managed to keep the focus on the missions themselves, on the hundreds of thousands of people. helped make it possible, "Gosling said.
"I do not think it was just to be evasive, I feel like I have this incredible ability to see everything in its broader context, I could see a big leap in one small step."
They were not flying blind either. They had the official biography of James Hansen, "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong", to work, but there were many screenings that had to be done to find the story.
"The good news for Jim is that the book has everything right, the bad news is that it is a little encyclopaedic," laughed Singer. "It's not the easiest reading."
So Singer set out to distill and dramatize (but still accurately represent) a seven-year period, beginning with the death of Neil and Janet Armstrong's 2-year-old daughter, Karen, and ending with the lunar landing. Singer realized that the tragedy surrounded Armstrong. He would lose several friends and colleagues in a short time, from plane crashes to the fire of Apollo 1, and had some near-death experiences, including the less remembered Gemini mission.
"We are trying to play a narrative that has been around NASA for a long time and said that this was easy or that it was a matter of superheroes," Singer said. "No, this was a normal American man and his ordinary American wife trying to get through this incredible and challenging moment."
A key factor was getting the support of Armstrong's sons, Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong, who were always available to Singer and Gosling and anyone else who had any questions about them, his mother (played by British actress Claire Foy) and his father.
"One of the film's biggest challenges was knowing that they would eventually see it and that they would not see a movie about historical figures, that they would see their parents and themselves," Gosling said. "It was also an invaluable asset to have them there, I really can not imagine doing it without them."
Rick and Mark Armstrong were relieved that the filmmakers cared about accuracy (technical and emotional) and helped provide crucial details for one of the film's most heartbreaking scenes, when Neil Armstrong tells his young children that there is possibility that I can not survive. But they are more excited about the public seeing something else: their father's mood.
"He was a very funny guy and I'm really glad that happened," said Rick Armstrong. "He had a very dry wit."
As Gemini and Apollo coach Frank Hughes described Singer, "if you were not paying attention, you would miss it."
One of the funniest scenes was not even initially in the movie. It was Gosling who stumbled upon the fact that Armstrong was a fan of musicals and even wrote one at the university. He asked Singer why that item was not in the script. After 10 minutes of writing, it was.
"I felt that it helped add color to a person who was very, very layered, complicated and fascinating and who was too humble to share that," Gosling said.
There was also an army of astronauts ready to verify the facts on the road. In the first draft of Singer, he invented "all kinds of things in the moon landing.
"(The astronaut) Dave Scott got very angry," Singer recalled. "As Rick Armstrong likes to say, you get into canonical history at your own risk".
So he went back to the drawing board and the 1,000 transcript pages and took another pass. For Singer, Chazelle, Gosling and the hundreds of people involved in the production, precision was their first mission.
Follow AP film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr