Neil Armstrong's sons Mark Armstrong and Rick Armstrong said that First Man (2018) was the most accurate portrayal of their father and their mother, Janet Armstrong.
In the breakfast scene just before Apollo 11 launched, the artist sketching Armstrong was played by Chris Calle, son of the NASA artist Paul Calle. Chris was playing his father, who actually sketched the crew that morning.
Common errors were avoided in this film: Earth and the moon are always lit by the sun at the same angle, no clouds appear at high altitudes, the paradoxical nature of accelerating and braking rockets in orbit, the oxygen fire causes an implosion, not an explosion, no obtrusive lights hidden inside astronaut helmets to show off their faces, and there is no ambient sound in the vacuum of space.
Ryan Gosling suffered an injury while filming one of the many shuttle sequences. His partner, Eva Mendes, told him to go to the hospital after noticing the bizarre behavior of his passionately ranting to her about national doughnut thieves. It was later discovered that he had suffered a concussion and Mendes had unknowingly saved his life.
Actor Ryan Gosling first discovered Neil Armstrong's love of the theremin during his background research with Armstrong's family and friends. He brought it to Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz's attention, who later chose to include the strange instrument in the score.
Director Damien Chazelle was particularly attached to making his film as authentic as possible. This care for detail was maintained, until it came to the reproduction of the space capsules. He and chief designer Nathan Crowley agreed that no ship would be enlarged by more than ten percent, even if it sacrificed the comfort of the actors. This also caused complications for framing. The solution was to create a decor that fit in several detachable parts. In fact, the technicians had to break the seats in two to be able to integrate the cameras with the capsule.
When Neil Armstrong talks about taking his daughter to Saskatchewan to try to have her treated by the man who developed the technology, he is referring to Dr. Johns, who developed Cobalt-60 radiation treatments at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
The original music composed by Justin Hurwitz featured various uncommon instruments, including theremin (which Hurwitz had learned to play and his performances are in the final score), Moog synthesizer, and an Echoplex, which give the score its uniqueness. He also rerecorded a string orchestra being played back through a Leslie rotor cabinet to create special sound effects.
Damien Chazelle's first choice to play the role of Neil Armstrong was always Ryan Gosling. Gosling was even rumored to be attached to the project during its development stage, but nothing was officially confirmed. It was not until after Gosling did La La Land (2016) with Chazelle that Gosling would officially sign on to do the project.
The Adler Planetarium in Chicago gifted Ryan Gosling certificates for two stars named after his daughters in the constellations of their birth signs, as a thank you for his work on the film.
To prepare for his role, Ryan Gosling unearthed Lunar Rhapsody, a piece for theremin that Neil Armstrong loved and listened to during the Apollo 11 mission, as well as Egelloc, a musical he had written at the university.
James R. Hansen, biographer of Neil Armstrong, co-produces the film. It is thanks to him that the project was able to succeed. Indeed, the astronaut had full confidence in the one who became his friend over the years. "For Neil, as long as you followed Jim's path, there was no problem in making this movie," said producer Wyck Godfrey, who had the chance to meet Armstrong before his death on August 25, 2012. After his death, it was essential to have the support of his family. His sons met the screenwriter Josh Singer and the director Damien Chazelle and were convinced by their concern for accuracy and authenticity.
The filmmakers used the original blueprints of Neil Armstrong's house to replicate the look of his house in the film.
James R. Hansen, the author of First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong (Simon and Schuster, 2005, 2012), is a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in History. His 1995 book Spaceflight Revolution: NASA Langley Research Center from Sputnik to Apollo was nominated for the Pulitzer by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the only time NASA ever nominated a book for the prize.
Not content with training them at NASA, Damien Chazelle sent each of his actors YouTube videos of the person they embodied so they could learn to reproduce their phrasing and tics of language. In addition, the director provided a list of books and films to consult. Literary suggestions include titles such as 'Carrying the Fire' by Michael Collins, 'Deke!' by Deke Slayton and Michael Cassutt, and 'First Man' by James R. Hansen. On the movie side, there's For All Mankind (1989), Moonwalk One (1971) and Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (2017).
Apollo astronauts were considered government employees, with most at the rank of captain. Regardless of their substantial education the average yearly income of these astronauts in the 1960's was $17,000 ($100,000 in 2012 money) solely based on military rank. They also were not payed any hazard pay. Additionally the astronauts were paid per-diem of $8 extra a day ($50 in 2012 money) for each day they spent in the shuttle. However their per-diem was "pre-deduction" and they were deducted for living expenses when aboard the shuttle, as food and a bed was provided for them.
The opening scene shows Armstrong's infamous mishap when flying the X-15 supersonic vehicle, but merges this with a later incident involving Chuck Yeager for economy. Armstrong was flying in a T-33 with Yeager, testing X-15 landing sites when the T-33 became stuck on one lake bed, stranding Armstrong and Yeager in the desert. These early incidents in Armstrong's career became part of the test pilot lore, although Yeager supposedly found the T-33 fiasco hilarious and enjoyed ribbing the younger pilot about it.
Damien Chazelle was approached to stage the film once Whiplash (2014) completed, while he had not yet realized La La Land (2016). The director wanted to approach this story as a thriller and make the public feel the dangers faced by the astronaut team.
The film is based on James R. Hansen's book "The First Man: Discovering Neil Armstrong" (Robert Laffont Editions). After writing a thesis in the history of science and technology at the University of Ohio, and spending more than twenty years writing and teaching on the themes of history and space, Hansen decided to start writing his first biography. In 2000, he contacted Neil Armstrong who, reluctant to give interviews, declined the proposal. In the end, it took Hansen two years to convince Armstrong, with the support of his family.
Ryan Gosling and director Damien Chazelle visited the Armstrong Air and Space museum in Neil Armstrong's hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio to do research on Armstrong and the Gemini VIII mission.
This was the first film directed by Damien Chazelle where he did not write the script.
Pablo Schreiber played Jim Lovell, another pilot of the Gemini program and Apollo programs, a character that audiences had already met in Apollo 13 (1995), as portrayed by Tom Hanks.
All of the residential scenes were filmed in the "Saddle Creek" neighborhood in Roswell, Georgia in the United States. Neil Armstrong's house was built on a vacant lot in the subdivision, which was surrounded by 1960s/1970s-era homes.
Segments from the last voice transmission from the space shuttle Challenger, sent just before it exploded during launch in 1986, were used in one of the trailers.
If Nathan Crowley, the head designer, was already used to working on space films (Interstellar (2014)), it is the first time in his career that he had to film the Moon. A challenge he had long pushed back, aware of the puzzle that it represented. He and Damien Chazelle chose a quarry at Vulcan Rock Quarry in Stockbridge.
The lunar sequence was shot on 70mm IMAX cameras and would have expanded aspect ratio during select sequences exclusively in IMAX theaters before Universal decided not to make any 70mm IMAX prints for distribution.
American flag controversy: On August 31, 2018, it was reported that the film would not include a scene of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag on the Moon. Florida Senator Marco Rubio described the omission as "total lunacy". Chazelle responded with a statement, saying: "I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but the flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments (...) that I chose not to focus upon. To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is no. My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America's mission to the Moon." Following the film's below-expectations opening of $16 million, some analysts speculated that the flag controversy was in part to blame.
This was director Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz's fourth collaboration together, with the first three being Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016).
During the Apollo 11 landing sequence, the actual historic recordings of CAPCOM Charles Duke (Charles "Charlie" Duke) were used for the communications audio from Mission Control.
The song "Whitey on the Moon" during the protest sequence is a cover of the famous song by singer/poet Gil Scott-Heron. It stands as a critique of the economic priorities of the Space Race for many of the economically and social disenfranchised at the time.
The movie included an excerpt of an educational film about the planned lunar mission, as well as an end credit screen saying, "A Presentation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Pelican Films Inc. HQ88."
After extensive research on the history of NASA, Damien Chazelle initiated operations at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral and Johnson Space Center in Houston. The same goes for the cast of astronauts who followed a training camp.
The film brought together several Academy Award winners: director Damien Chazelle, screenwriter Josh Singer (Spotlight (2015)), director of photography Linus Sandgren (La La Land (2016)), editor Tom Cross (Whiplash (2014)), composer Justin Hurwitz (La La Land (2016)) and producer Steven Spielberg.
Jon Bernthal was cast but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. He was replaced by Christopher Abbott.
Actor Jason Clarke, who played Apollo 1 astronaut Edward H. White II (Ed White), was born on July 17, 1969, one day into the Apollo 11 mission.
This was the only film nominated for Best Sound Mixing at the Academy Awards for the year that was not also nominated for Best Picture.
The film had a four-minute IMAX preview that played before Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018). This was the second occasion where a Universal Pictures film had an IMAX preview after the 3-D re-release of Jurassic Park (1993), which had a four-minute preview that preceded Oz the Great and Powerful (2013).
This was Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling's second collaboration together, with the first being La La Land (2016).
Jason Clarke appears in the film as Edward H. White II. Clarke had previously starred as Sen. Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick (2017), which chronicled the Chappaquiddick incident that happened around the same time as the Apollo 11 moon landing. In Chappaquiddick's opening scene, Senator Kennedy is seen talking about JFK's promise to send men to the moon. The scene is followed by shots of a Saturn V/Apollo launch.
Ryan Gosling's character in Murder by Numbers (2002) had a scene where he is buying drugs and says, "For four hundred bucks an ounce, it better put me on the moon."
The third consecutive film by Damien Chazelle to be Oscar-nominated. However, as of 2019, First Man has the lowest Oscar count of any of his films. It also marks the first time he was not personally nominated , nor any of his actors, or many of his frequent collaborators (cinematographer Linus Sandgren, film editor Tom Cross, and composer Justin Hurwitz).
Leon Bridges has a small role in the film. Coincidentally, Ryan Gosling hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time with Leon Bridges as the musical guest in 2015.