For NASA's 50th birthday in October 2008, Dangerous Films for the Discovery Channel will present the dramatic story of the space agency's pioneering, awe-inspiring missions.
Dangerous Films is a production company based in London. Its production team recently spent two weeks at Kennedy to prepare stories for the six-part series, such as the shuttle's recovery from disaster. The film will also include heroic struggles to break the sound barrier and the Apollo-Soyuz link-up.
According to assistant producer James Leigh, the film company's work for the first part of the project began six months ago. Arranging accreditation for all the Dangerous Films personnel was an early step. Then there were contacts to arrange for interviews, such as with Leroy Cain, Scott Carpenter and Jon Clark, husband of Laurel Clark, who was lost in the Columbia accident. Finally, there were arrangements to be made to film at various locations at Kennedy. That also required the appropriate equipment, most of which was rented in the U.S. In all, the team comprised 11 people for the Kennedy shoot and three vans of equipment.
None of that would have been possible without the help of Kennedy's External Relations Press Site. "Many teleconferences, phone calls and e-mails made it happen, beginning in August," said Manny Virata, lead media projects coordinator.
The company first scheduled scouting trips in August and September to identify sites they wanted to use. Then permissions had to be sought to film there. Some the team handled directly. Most went through the Press Site. Aiding Virata was Mary Hunter of All Points Logistics and NASA's Laurel Lichtenberger, who has the monumental task of accrediting everyone who needs to be on site.
The teleconferences and phone calls eventually hammered out the badging and a schedule of what to shoot, where and when. However, the schedule is a boilerplate, subject to change due to over- or under-estimating shooting times, or people not available when needed. More than one interview had to be rescheduled, even changing venue from Kennedy to Johnson Space Center at a later date.
Near the end of the filming, the photographer decided he'd like to capture some of the historic pads at sunset and sunrise. So the schedule was reworked to include five additional locations before and after the normal work day. The film shoot also was sandwiched around a shuttle rollout.
One of the events on the schedule was filming the interview with Jon Clark, not in a climate- and sound-controlled studio, but at the 195-foot level of the fixed service structure on Launch Pad 39A. That meant hauling a big jib, tracks and camera to that level and setting up in the open with winds of 12 knots. Leigh stated the interview took one month to arrange and one day to shoot, yet probably only a portion of the interview will actually air. The backdrop of the Kennedy environs no doubt was deemed worth the effort.
Other areas the team filmed in November included Launch Pads 5, 14, 19 (the Gemini launch pad), 34 (scene of the Apollo I fire that claimed the lives of Ed White, Roger Chafee and Virgil Grissom), 39A and 39B, the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Columbia debris site, the crawler-transporter, Hangar S and the Launch Control Center where drawings by astronauts' children are displayed.
The production team members were not blase about their job. "Pad 34 was really a remarkable site," said Leigh. "The legacy of the men -- Grissom, Chafee and White -- who died there led to getting a capsule right for a successful launch within a decade. They are heroes of the space age."
Nick Green stressed the project focuses on how all the events of space history came to be, "not just the final outcome. The astronaut interviews are worth hearing because of the more personal, first-person experience being captured."
Dangerous Films will be filming at Kennedy again in 2008 before editing begins in April. It will probably air before October.