By Morgan Bryce
A local man’s book on the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong has been adapted into a major motion picture set to release this fall.
“First Man,” based off a book of a similar title by author and retired Auburn University Professor of History, Dr. James Hansen, will highlight NASA’s Apollo 11 mission in which Armstrong made history as the first human to ever walk on the moon.
Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle, the movie’s all-star cast will include the likes of Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Pablo Schreiber and Jon Bernthal.
As the film’s co-producer, Hansen said he collaborated heavily with screenwriter Josh Singer during the scriptwriting process.
“Here I am, someone who had spent a lot of time with Armstrong and knew the history. I knew that a movie was a movie, and that it’s not a documentary,” Hansen said. “I knew that there were going to be some liberties taken with the facts, and I was okay with that. But, at the same time, I felt a responsibility to Neil and the story to not let them get too silly and stay as accurate as possible.”
Hansen’s connections to Armstrong can be traced back to letters and emails the two began exchanging in the late 1990s.
Already a scientific history teacher and author of several commissioned books for NASA, Hansen said he managed to convince the skeptical Armstrong in 2002 to partner with him in writing his first-ever official biography.
“Armstrong himself, who was such a remarkable individual, is a person worth remembering … not just as an icon, not just as a shadowy figure who stepped off a ladder onto the surface of the moon, but really knowing him as a three-dimensional human being,” Hansen said. “Not that all history is about great or remarkable individuals, but there are people that are worth remembering for who they were … and Neil is one of those.”
The book’s announcement generated waves of media attention. Acclaimed director/filmmaker Clint Eastwood of Warner Bros. helped finalize the purchase of film rights to the book in 2003, but following two years of discussion and logistical planning, relinquished ,them.
Simon and Schuster published the book Oct. 1, 2005, garnering Hansen fame and recognition for his innate ability “decoding the enigmatic Armstrong: a space hero short on words but sky-high on Midwestern integrity,” according to a New York Times review.
Universal Pictures purchased the film rights in 2007, and according to Hansen, kept renewing them in hopes of finding the perfect visionary to formulate a plan for the film’s production.
Fresh off his 2014 breakout film, “Whiplash,” the up-and-coming Chazelle was looking for a challenge. After reading Hansen’s book and learning as much as possible about Armstrong, Chazelle pitched his plan for the film to Universal.
Representatives enjoyed his vision for the film, and while they deliberated and discussed the viability of the project, Chazelle and Gosling paired together to create the 2016 blockbuster “La La Land,” a romantic musical that received global recognition and awards.
Planning and production of “First Man” launched last year, and Hansen was on the set in Atlanta for the majority of the filming, which took place between October and February.
With a planned release date of Oct. 12, Hansen said Chazelle and his team are in the midst of the film’s post-production process, adding visual effects, incorporating the film’s score and making final edits.
“Knowing that my book was necessary for the film to become reality, I will definitely feel a great sense of pride. I’ve always aspired to reach a lot of people, which I did to an extent with teaching, “ Hansen said. “But a movie can get to millions of people. And to think of people in packed movie theatres across the world – in a place like Beijing, for example – going to see the movie, that is incredible.”
For more information or updates on the film, visit www.universalpictures.com. Links to samples of Hansen’s other work is available at www.auburn.edu/~hansejr/.