Director Todd Douglas Miller and Composer Matt Morton held a talk after a screening of their film, Apollo 11. The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, chronicles the 1969 Apollo 11 mission from days before takeoff to after the astronauts returned home. It includes original footage from the expedition and celebrates the 50 year anniversary of the historic moment in American history and was formatted to be viewed in 65mm IMAX.
During the talk, Miller and Morton both gave interesting insight into how the film came together. Miller mentioned that NASA provided the production with over 11,000 hours of audio, but with no transcripts. Ben Feist, a software engineer involved with the project, helped design software to clean the audio so it would be usable for the film. In addition, to help from NASA, the director had access to astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and their families as well as the family of Neil Armstrong. “Kind of like the project came to us,” said Miller when talking about the relationship he and Morton built between themselves and NASA. When asked about his favorite shot, Miller described footage of Buzz Aldrin getting behind the camera himself. “What’s a better shot in cinematic history than Buzz Aldrin flipping on a 16mm camera?” He showed his admiration for all of the astronauts’ camera skills later by also saying, “Now I know why they are American Cinematography Society members…because they earned it”
Composer Matt Morton had a lot to say about his involvement in the film as well. In fact, most of the film was pre-scored, and then footage was added in to fit with the score. “I wanted to underline the danger. I wanted you to really think about the fact these men were on the top of this …missiles” The director added, “We wanted it to feel like Dunkirk in space”, in reference to the 2017 Oscar-nominated film by Christopher Nolan that was also shown in IMAX. To accomplish this feat, Morton was adamant about only using instruments that would have been present in 1969. The main instrument is a very unique synthesizer which he chose because of its parallelism to the development of NASA tech then and tech now. “It’ll never leave me now” he shared after gushing over the special machine.
Apollo 11 is available for digital download, DVD, and Blu-ray.