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TO THE MOON: MPI GRAD SCREENS @ SUNDANCE AND LANDS IN IMAX THEATRES WITH APOLLO 11

To The Moon: MPI Grad Screens @ Sundance and lands in IMAX Theaters with Apollo 11

When we think of hitting it big in the film festival circuit we think of the  SUNANCE FILM FESTIVAL in Park City, Utah. When we think of making it to the big screen, there is none bigger than IMAX. Add to this mix a national theatrical release, interviews on CNN, MSN, and PBS and you've got the bucket list for every living breathing filmmaker on the planet. That's exactly what Todd Douglas Miller has achieved in his years since graduating the Motion Picture Institute's comprehensive one year filmmaking program (www.mpifilm.com). 

TO THE MOON:  MPI GRAD SCREENS @ SUNDANCE  AND LANDS IN IMAX THEATRES WITH APOLLO 11 - MPI News -  Motion Picture Institute in Troy MI - TODD2

Todd Miller Filmmaker Magazine Interview  

The following is an interview Todd recently did with Filmmaker Magazine. In it he mentions MPI fondly and how he went from an aspiring filmmaker to a bonafide success by screening at Sundance and directing the critically acclaimed documentary APOLLO 11 that's playing across the nation in IMAX theatres. TO THE MOON:  MPI GRAD SCREENS @ SUNDANCE  AND LANDS IN IMAX THEATRES WITH APOLLO 11 - MPI News -  Motion Picture Institute in Troy MI - sundance

TO THE MOON:  MPI GRAD SCREENS @ SUNDANCE  AND LANDS IN IMAX THEATRES WITH APOLLO 11 - MPI News -  Motion Picture Institute in Troy MI - TODD4

 

Check out Todd's full interview below:

Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11, which premiered at this year’s Sundance, originated from the simple idea of using archival footage to revisit, in time for its 50th anniversary, the first moon landing. For those who’ve grown up watching the same images trotted out over and over—Neil Armstrong bouncing on the moon, a burning ring of fire propelling itself backwards toward Earth as Apollo leaves the planet—the premise seems tedious and redundant, an ossified staple of Baby Boomer montages regularly intercut alongside clips of Woodstock and the Vietnam War, now freshly recharged by nationalistic rumblings about a space force. And as far as feature documentaries go, this ground was covered 30 years ago, when it was only the landing’s 20th anniversary, in Al Reinert’s For All Mankind. What else could there be to see? As the archival assembly of Apollo 11 demonstrates, plenty.

Miller premiered his previous documentary, 2014’s Dinosaur 13, at Sundance after a break from feature filmmaking. During this time, he’d started a production company, Statement Pictures, and was working on a short for CNN about the final moon mission, Apollo 17. That project coincided with the rediscovery of a trove of 70mm Apollo 11 footage, the bulk of it previously unseen by the public, that had been shot during the mission. The footage had once rested in NASA’s storage facilities, and while some of it had been used (albeit cropped from widescreen to a 4:3 ratio) by Theo Kamecke’s 1970 documentary Moonwalk One, the bulk had been relocated into the National Archives’ vaults, unseen and semi-forgotten. At the same time, thousands of hours of audio recorded on 30-track recorders from Mission Control had been sorted through by Stephen Slater, a 31-year-old independent archivist whose labor of love was to try to sync this audio (recently digitized by engineers at UT Dallas) with silent mission footage.

Edited and directed by Miller, Apollo 11 begins in the immediate hours before liftoff, as the rocket is towed out toward the landing pad. The massive visual scale of the enterprise is restored, the sound all-encompassing, reawakening a whole dimension of spectacle that’s been removed through overfamiliarity. In montages crafted from newspaper headlines and stills, Miller tersely fills in the backgrounds of the three astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the perpetually underrecognized Michael Collins—but focuses on the experiential aspects of the event rather than the psychology. (For those haunted by recent footage of Aldrin standing behind President Donald J. Trump and barely keeping his face from collapsing into disgust during a recent press conference about Making NASA Great Again, the footage of Nixon calling and congratulating the crew on their accomplishment is a useful reminder that perhaps not much has changed, merely worsened in the same ideological direction.) Talking heads are not an option; graphics are limited to a single recurring illustration of the spacecraft’s trajectory to the moon and back.

Made with the help of NASA and the National Archives, Apollo 11 evolved from just a documentary into a full archival digitization project that’s also an unusual example of an American public–private partnership, in which the corporate monies used to restore and freshly digitize footage on a variety of formats serves the public end of preserving the footage for future citizens. A Midwesterner who now lives in Brooklyn, Miller spoke about the considerable archival challenges of assembling Apollo 11, now in release from Neon/CNN Films.

Filmmaker: I looked at your IMDb resume this morning, which specifies that your first film, from 2001, had a $12,000 budget. I don’t know where that number came from. 

Miller: I didn’t even know that was on there.

Filmmaker: After that there’s a narrative film, then a gap during which you started a company that works on short films, archival, IMAX. You came back around to features with Dinosaur 13 and now this. So, your entire production model has changed, and you assimilated a lot of skills working with archival and large format over the years. Can you talk about that trajectory?

Miller: The first documentary I did was Gahanna Bill. It started in film school, at the Motion Picture Institute, outside of Detroit. I went to Eastern Michigan University, and it was a lot of film theory. We’re talking about the late 1990s, the last century. They shut down the production department, got rid of all the Bolexes, Rex 16s. There were a couple of filmmakers, local guys who worked with Sam Raimi, one of whom was Douglas Schulze, who opened up a training school. It was one of the few, back before there were a million of them, and it was great because they had all new equipment, new lights, new cameras. We were shooting on 16 at the time, and had a bunch of Arri S’s. Gahanna Bill started on 16, [then] we shot a little 35. I followed a middle-aged, mentally handicapped guy in Columbus, Ohio, the town I’d grown up in, for about four years. He was kind of the town mascot, and it became this community inclusion piece. We went from a somewhat big film school–esque crew to everybody wearing every hat. By the time I’d finished, the VariCam had come out [and] the Sony CineAlta, so we were finishing on video and digital with some of the first big boy cameras. Long story short, it was a good little film to learn how to make movies on. 

I really wanted to be in narrative, so my next film was Scaring the Fish. We shot it in six days in upstate New York, from a script that we’d gotten through a theater company, MCC, written by Ben Bettenbender. We wanted to shoot it with two cameras and just go, so we shot very quickly, like 20 pages a day. It was a fun thing and really didn’t go anywhere. We just did it as an experiment to see if we could do it. And then, I always have to eat, so I’ve been doing freelance directing and producing gigs along the way for years. I’ve done stints at various production companies where they have large format films [and] shot large format digital for a lot of corporations. Being in and around Detroit, there was a lot of car shooting that went on, both on film and in large format, so I was always exposed to that side of the industry. 

Dinosaur 13 was an attempt to make an art film about paleontology that evolved into following one particular paleontologist’s story. Plus, it was a great excuse to get out of New York City for a while and live out of a tent in the Badlands of South Dakota and Wyoming. After Dinosaur 13, we were approached by a lot of people to do things. I’ve had Statement Pictures with my producing partner, Tom Petersen, for a while now. We really like doing our own thing; we’re quality over quantity kind of people, so we knew our next project was going to take years. At the same time as I was working on Dinosaur 13, I had a couple of other space-related projects. One was a CNN short film called The Last Steps [about the Apollo 17 mission]. And we were working on another space-related documentary, but we needed to let the story play out, so it was going to take years. Doing that film, we needed to find the provenance of one particular moon rock collected on Apollo 17, the last mission to the moon. That gave us an entry into the archive system with NASA, the National Archives, and also I was introduced to archive producers and archivists.

In the time we were working on that film, CNN had approached us: “Hey, if you want to do any short, any idea you want, we’d be interested.” And we came up with this idea to do Last Steps, just because we were exposed to this wonderful archive. The archive producer I was working with out of the U.K., Stephen Slater, had done all the synced sound stuff with 17. So, once we finished that, he goes, “Look, I’ve got a ton of stuff synced for 11.” I initially said “No, I’m done with space because I’ve been doing it for a couple of years,” but I looked at a lot of his stuff. After seeing some of the things that we could use to supplement his synced project, I realized that there hadn’t been a major effort to rescan any of the original materials, whether they were ground based or space related, in more than a decade. That’s how the project really started.

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