A Masterpiece From The Archives: ‘Apollo 11’, The Documentary
July 20, 1969 was one of the most memorable days in the history of humanity.
NASA estimates that 530 million people tuned in on this date to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon for the very first time, making the moon-landing one of the most widely seen television events in history.
The Apollo 11 mission was not only an achievement of NASA or the United States but an achievement of humanity.
‘Apollo 11’, the Documentary
The Apollo 11 documentary is a work of art that allows you to take a step back into 1969.
The film was pieced together brilliantly by manually scrutinizing and selecting relevant content from nine days worth of 16mm and 35mm archival data that NASA kept in pristine condition for the last 50 years. There were also 177 re-discovered 65mm Panavision reels from the National Archives and Record Administration that were refurbished using modern technology. Each moment in each scene was intentionally interwoven into this 90-minute feature release to be played in traditional theatres.
Jennifer Walden of Sound & Picture states that “The pristine footage contained shots of the launch, the inside of Mission Control, the capsule recovery, and post-mission activities. The 65mm collection was digitized at Final Frame, a post-production facility in New York City that helped create a custom, high dynamic range scanner capable of scanning at resolutions up to 8K. At Final Frame, they also re-scanned the existing Apollo 11 16mm and 35mm materials. Altogether, it’s the highest resolution, the highest quality digital collection of Apollo 11 footage in existence.”.
For an event this monumental, narration would do it an injustice. Todd Douglas Miller brilliantly takes you on a journey through the events of those eight days, three hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds, without words. He weaves the storyline together through nothing more than the meticulous use of visual and audio archival data.
The profound emotions of the millions of people watching the Saturn V rocket ascend into space are felt as Miller invites you to experience the anxious excitement of the crowd through your very own living room.
The entire narrative is solely based on Miller’s ability to edit the audio and visual footage into a comprehensive storyline, which is why the audio is so important. No-one is telling the story for you as it naturally unfolds around you. Like reading a book, your imagination is ignited as you intrinsically experience the depth of each trial and tribulation.
Who Had a Hand in the Film
Todd Douglas Miller was wrapping up the production of 'The Last Steps’, (a documentary about Apollo 17) when British archivist and film editor Stephen Slater planted a seed about a 50th-anniversary film celebrating Apollo 11 in a similar documentary format. CNN Films saw an opportunity to commemorate the historic event and became a partner in the film as they centred it around a direct cinema approach.
The film was edited, produced and directed by Miller. Including many snippets of the 50-year-old archives previously unreleased to the public, it features the original Saturn V rocket and Apollo crew; Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
The Apollo program Earth-based operations engineers are featured in the film, as well as the original crowds. All footage is original and refurbished to astonish audiences in the feature film as well as the immersive IMAX format complete with a 12.0 soundtrack.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2019, and was released theatrically in the United States by Neon on March 1, 2019. It has received much acclaim from critics and it has grossed $12 million to date.
The Sound Design of Apollo 11
Over 11,000 hours of mission control audio consisted of individual track recordings of 60 key mission personnel throughout every single moment of the mission. None of the original footage from the film contained sound, it had to be re-created. Due to these original mission control recordings, the sound designers had to re-sync the real voices into the film, giving the audience an authentic feel.
At ImagesInSound, we had the great privilege of working alongside Eric Milano of Love Loft Studio (NYC) on this feature film. Eric was tasked to create the sound design for this iconic footage. His sound design was then handed to Brian Eimer to make sure the IMAX release was as immersive as possible, helping to achieve Miller's storytelling vision in allowing audiences to fully experience this iconic historical event.
Milano handled the sound design/editorial and pre-mixing of the film. He states that “Todd [Miller] was still cutting the film when he came to me with the first 20 minutes, saying I had a week to do everything, mix it, and get it good because of an upcoming screening with some big wigs. I didn’t even have time to hire anyone else. I just had to make it happen and make it awesome. Sometimes when the pressure is on like that, great things result.”
Nominations for Apollo 11
We have a few exciting announcements to make about nominations for Apollo 11!
First of all, we’d like to extend our warmest congratulations to Eric Milano on his nomination for a Golden Reel award for his impeccable sound design on this film. What an incredible and well-deserved achievement! We wish you all the best with this nomination, Eric.
Secondly, we have recently been notified that Apollo 11 is on the shortlist for the 2020 Oscars! We are extremely eager for the final nominations to be released later this month. Last but not least, mark your calendars for January 25th to check out the 56th Annual Cinema Audio Society Awards. We are ecstatic to announce that Eric Milano and our very own Brian Eimer have been nominated for the Outstanding Achievement Award in Sound Mixing for Motion Pictures by the Cinema Audio Society, USA.
To everyone who was involved in the process of creating this film, we must extend our deepest gratitude, for working on this film was truly an honour and a privilege.