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Science

Production Design

The Apollo 11 plaque

With our next testing date for First Signal coming up in a week, my attention has started to turn to production design. Last year I went through the script page by page to see what we needed for props along with thoughts on the overall look of the film from a production design point of view. Fortunately, our primarily location at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discover Center provides the perfect backdrop.

One item I just ordered was a reproduction of the Apollo 11 plaque. Unlike what has been seen in some films, the plaques weren’t placed on the surface of the Moon, they were attached to the ladders of the descent stages. Although it’s just a reproduction, I can’t wait until it arrives. To know that the actual plaque is on the Moon is a testament to the achievements and dedication to the men and women that worked at NASA during those years.

The sad part of our present reality are the growing voices that believe manned missions to the Moon were a hoax.  Let’s be clear on this; a civilian agency formed in 1958 that employs tens of thousands of scientists and engineers, has launched over 200 crewed missions, countless unmanned missions and has built facilities around the world or partners with other space agencies to facilitate these launches. When I posted this past week that I found it necessary to block someone on Facebook owing to their ignorance on this matter, thankfully there was resounding support for my action. Claiming manned missions to the Moon was a hoax, is akin to claiming that humans don’t live on Earth.

Henry Fonda (r) and Larry Hagman (l) in Fail Safe (1964)

Although First Signal is science fiction, one of my goals is to spotlight science fact. From satellite technology to the Apollo 11 missions, to the museums that educate the public, the aim is to present First Signal’s story alongside the history of the space program and related technologies.

The clock in Fail Safe

But it won’t be all about space, it’s also about coming up with ideas to enhance the story. By example, I thought of a particular pose a former President has in a portrait that will find its way into the story. Then there is the Doomsday Clock that will appear in one of the scenes. The Doomsday Clock has been featured in many movies. Look for it in Fail Safe (1964) in the scene with the President (Henry Fonda) and his translator (Larry Hagman).

What’s exciting about producing a film, is creating the world in which it lives. From costuming, to props to sets, it’s about bringing a story to life through the magic of filmmaking.

Images.

The Doomsday Clock
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First Test

Setting up a test shot.

The date was set weeks ago – January 26. It was the day we were holding auditions for the final two characters in First Signal. From the moment I posted the auditions, I was encouraged by the quality of responses. When the day came the actors didn’t disappoint. I was uniquely impressed that many of them were off book. Impressed, because the sides I send aren’t just the standard two pages you usually receive for an audition (one of the sides even included a monologue). Frankly, I’ve never understood why so many auditions are based off the two page side. It’s even worse when those two pages only have like three or four lines for the part you’re auditioning for. Regardless of what side of the camera you’re on, I don’t believe you can properly ascertain a project based off a two page side.

Patience McStravick in the observatory.

I have some cardinal rules I follow when holding auditions. First, you send sides well in advance of the audition. Two, you include some background on the character with the sides. Three, and this is perhaps the most important, you don’t change the sides in the audition room (there is one local casting company that does that regularly and it infuriates me–I’ve stopped auditioning for them).  For me, it’s about respecting the actor’s time and preparation. As a director, it’s about seeing a quality audition.  To learn more about the cast (and some of the crew) of First Signal please visit our IMDb page.

The following day Daniel Groom (Director of Photography), Patience McStravick (Producer and Major Sampson) and I went to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center for our first day of testing. After a successful day of auditions, we were all in good spirits driving up to the Discovery Center as we knew we had the actors we wanted. We now could get down to the business of pre-production. For First Signal, we’re taking extra steps in pre-production to insure, to the best of our ability, a smooth production.

It’s one thing scouting a location, it’s another to film in it. From interesting angles, to lighting, to electrical, there are so many numerous things that go into the pre-production process.  Since I knew we were going to film First Signal at the Discovery Center, I’ve had so many ideas come to mind to bring this project to life.

Daniel Groom and Patience McStravick

In First Signal the Discovery Center will act as a European air force base. When General Reager arrives we will see a full size replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket. Once inside he passes by an XF8U-2 Crusader Jet. Considering that the First Signal story is rooted in the space program of the 1960s and two of its main characters are in the air force, the Discovery Center is the perfect backdrop.

Daniel Groom and Patience McStravick

But it’s not just about what’s best for First Signal, it’s about promoting the Discovery Center itself. Long after the final “cut” is called, the Discovery Center will forever be featured in a film that will be seen for generations to come.  Those that know me, know I’m a passionate believer in the space program and all those that make “space” possible. That, in so many ways, is what makes the Discovery Center so special – it’s about discovery.

T-minus.

A drone shot I took of The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH.