James Marsters on how Moonshot brought Apollo 11 to life

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

James Marsters, who plays Buzz Aldrin in the made-for-TV movie Moonshot, told SCI FI Wire that the film blends its footage seamlessly with actual archival NASA footage. Moonshot documents the Apollo 11 mission that took astronauts to the moon for the first time.

"Our director, Richard Dale, was one of the best directors I've ever worked with, just fabulous," Marsters said in an interview on Monday in Beverly Hills, Calif., where he was promoting Dragonball: Evolution. "He's got this ability to take stock footage, say NASA footage, then take his footage and manipulate it digitally so the granularity and the contrast match perfectly with the stock footage. At the wrap party, they cut together 20 minutes to show us what was going to be coming, and it looked fabulous. They were using footage that they only filmed 12 hours previously, so obviously they were just hacking in the editing room. They weren't even really doing a full thing, but it still looked so believable. I really believed that I was out in orbit."

One thing Moonshot offers over other Apollo mission movies is an accurately small lunar capsule. Technology has allowed filmmakers to photograph such small spaces. "Usually when they do Apollo movies, the set is three times larger than the capsule was for real," Marsters said. "That's because they have to fit cameras and lighting equipment in. Now cameras are about as big as a ChapStick, so they built that capsule to exact specification. I was like this [clenched] for weeks in a row. Every button on our console was exactly like the LEM [lunar excursion module]. We had two people on us. I had to hit the exact button that Buzz Aldrin hit on the same word that he hit it, and I had to know what all the buttons meant. So I actually am pretty familiar with what the process is to blast off the moon."

Where Moonshot had to sacrifice compared with a film like, say, Apollo 13 was on its weightlessness effects. "Another wonderful thing about this director was he was just the king of the poor-boy shot," Marsters said. "There's a way to do weightlessness that costs millions of dollars, like the Ron Howard version, where you go up in the Vomit Comet [an airplane that creates moments of weightlessness] or you can get a bunch of wirework going. He just had these very interesting ways of flipping the camera over and having us do a little bit of mime and build these really believable shots. He ripped a bunch off of Kubrick. He used a bunch of stuff that he used back in the '60s to do 2001 and came up with a very believable zero G without ever making us go up in the Comet."

That includes the groundbreaking technology Kubrick used to make a pen float on a Pan Am flight to the moon. He attached it to a piece of glass and spun it in front of the camera. "We used that," Marsters said. "We used that in three different shots. I love that stuff. I love being able to make an illusion cheaply, simple."

The film covers training, the mission and return to Earth, Marsters said. "Really, one of the things the director wanted to do was show the world how hard it was to get to the moon," he said. "These guys are fighter pilots. They're trained to be boring. If their hair is on fire, they'll call back to mission control, 'Mission control, uh, we got a problem. My hair seems to be incinerating. Is there anything we can do about that?' Growing up, I was listening to these tapes, and I always thought it was kind of easy. It sounded easy, but it really wasn't."

Moonshot is set to air on the History Channel on July 20, the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.