WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THE FILM? WHY DID YOU WANT TO TELL THIS STORY?
We think that most people who are familiar with the way in which an Apollo moon mission was structured – three astronauts go to the moon; two men get to land on the moon; the third man is required to stay in orbit while the other two explore the lunar surface – have thought about how frustrating it must have been for that one guy to go all the way to the moon, but not get to walk on it. Those guys left in orbit must have suffered the ultimate case of FOMO in recorded history, don’t you think?
So, the question for us as storytellers was, how much FOMO must a man endure before he thinks it time to set things right? It’s an important question because, through our access to other people’s lives through social media, we’re a culture in a near-permanent state of FOMO.
FOMO might be healthy in small doses, to the extent that it prompts you to do something you might not have done otherwise. But there’s no way all this FOMO – seething jealousy, for example, over someone else’s vacation pictures – can be good for a culture. The Landing may be seen as an allegory for the effects and consequences of that phenomenon.
As for why we wanted to tell the story, it’s here that two worlds collide: the desire to explore the mind of the “man left behind” and the particular tools now available to tell a certain kind of story. That is, we live in a documentary-saturated world; we need to be conscientious consumers of all these stories because they’re not all being told by people with the best interests of a democratic world at heart. The Landing is a cautionary tale for all of us as media consumers. We’re told a lot of stories every day. We must apply fearless critical thinking to all this information.
HOW DO YOU RELATE TO YOUR CHARACTERS OR SUBJECTS?
We mentioned FOMO, so we think that everyone can relate to the feeling that others are living lives at the glorious extremes, wonderful and perfect in their Instagram-filtered magnificence…while we sit at our desks at work waiting for lunch at Chipotle to brighten our day. (Disclaimer: Mark loves Chipotle.) It’s toxic, really, the messages we are ingesting through the social media accounts of celebrities and people wealthy enough to live lives that appear to be perpetual vacation on the Mediterranean.
The irony is that such lives are most certainly not the Platonic ideal of bliss that we imagine them to be. Nevertheless, we project emotional perfection onto these half-known other lives and often the result is gnawing resentment. Whether you feel that resentment for a brief flicker on any given day or you live your life in a constant state of bitterness, we think that most people can at least understand the person who lets a suspicion that other people’s lives are inordinately blessed get the best of him. That’s probably what happened to Bo Cunningham and we can all relate to that.
WHAT ASPECT OF THE STORY CHANGED THE MOST DURING WRITING AND PRODUCTION?
Because the story, in essence, is documentary, the story was subject to the same process of discovery that exists when people are interviewed and communicate their own version of events.
For example, interview subjects often would raise issues that we had not thought of, which would lead us to explore new ideas. During his interview, the Flight Director mentioned that he felt that Bo Cunningham could only have accomplished his goal with the help of the Russians. We had not considered that possibility. And that simple idea sparked a vast amount of new research, which led to the Russia question taking its place as a critical piece of evidence.
WHAT WAS THE MOST COURAGEOUS DECISION YOU OR YOUR CREW MADE DURING PRODUCTION?
This is a difficult question to answer without ruining the experience of seeing the film. So we will just say that the act of telling this story in the manner that we have told it does not necessarily contribute in a positive way to our new world of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” In that context, the courage, we suppose, might be in the decision to risk making things worse, while hoping, instead, to send up a red flag telling people that a storm is coming and we need to prepare.
WERE THERE ANY RISKS THAT YOU FACED DURING PRODUCTION AND HOW DID YOU FIND A WAY TO EMBRACE THEM?
We don’t want to put ourselves into the company of those who literally risk their lives to document the effects of war, poverty, extremism, and political conflict around the world. Such people demonstrate a level of courage and commitment that few filmmakers will ever know.
There are some risks that all storytellers face, of course; chief among them the possibility that they will not be understood. For The Landing, there is a very real danger that some in the audience will misinterpret the context in which the story is being told. There are good reasons why that should be worrying, and we will leave it to audiences to sort those questions for themselves.
Having said that, we concluded that the value of demonstrating the ease with which unscrupulous actors can poison collective knowledge was worth the risk of negatively contributing to an unsettling media environment.
WHAT INFLUENCED THE VISUAL STYLE OF THE FILM?
The “talking head” documentary style is a language unto itself that now is instantly readable by almost everyone in the world. Its conventions and clichés are legion, and we wanted to put that lexicon to subversive effect. So that was our visual dictionary.
WHAT RISKS DID YOU TAKE TO TELL YOUR STORY?
If the story told were not seen as absolutely credible, the film would fail. Finding the line between extraordinary and real was a constant challenge. The risk was in walking the high-wire where a familiar set of facts, on one hand, and other facts almost too incredible to be believed, on the other hand, could be balanced and the story could move steadily and plausibly to its conclusions about the lives – and deaths – of three Apollo astronauts.
HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO TELL THEIR STORIES OR MANAGE THROUGH THE PROCESS OF SCREEN WRITING OR FILM PRODUCING?
We would encourage others to go to bed early and get lots of sleep. You’re going to need it.
Click here to learn more about The Landing
Grab your badge or film pass today to see this film and many more at this year’s Austin Film Festival!