In October 2002, I interviewed David Sander, the creator of Man Conquers Space, a mockumentary chronicling the first fifty years of an alternative-history space program that takes as its’ inspiration a series of articles published in Collier’s magazine in the 1950s and featuring the art of Chesley Bonestell, among others.
Cinescape ran a short piece by me drawn from the interview, but I wanted to provide the complete interview as well. You can read the article in issue #68 of Cinescape, which features either a Daredevil or a Frodo cover (they issued it with both versions).
This introduction will be published prior to each section of the interview, which will be presented over a period of five days.
Mike Whybark [MW]: How many people have worked on MCS so far?
David Sander [DS]: Viewing the credits, you’d think half the population of Sydney. In actuality, the core of MCS production has been less than 10 people.
MW: How many do you anticipate being involved at wrap for the new, expanded production?
DS: Quite a few more – the expanded production also requires an expanded crew because of the nature of the new content.
MW: Are you only adding people to the production, or have there been replacements because of the amount of time the production is taking (keeping in mind it’s a garage-band flick)?
DS: Both – some people have stuck with MCS all the way through, some have moved on, but even so a rather significant percentage of the expanded crew will be accommodating new roles.
MW: Did you add a scripter for the new production?
DS: A second writer has joined the team to assist me and provide those fresh eyes I sometimes need.
MW: In the revised film plan, your site notes that the f/x shots and documentary sequences (such as suiting up, etc) will be intercut with “the astronauts” discussing their experiences. Are these astronauts genuine space vets or fictional players in the alternative timeline that MCS is concerned with visualizing?
DS: The latter.
MW: Will you be providing a more conventional theatrical trailer than the liftoff sequence currently provided on your site?
DS: I have yet to decide on that at the moment.
MW: My editors are after me to get rushes from you.
DS: So is half of the sci.space.history newsgroup (my internet stomping ground) 😉
MW: Is there any possibility of taking a look at the film as it was shown in Spring, 2001, or at additional footage?
DS: I have material that was cut to be shown at StellarCon 26 in North Carolina earlier this year. They saw a 5-minute preview, with some nice material cut in sequential order, and a specially recorded music track only for audio (i.e. no sound effects).
MW: Do you have any additional creative assets, such as production drawings, storyboards, shooting scripts or notes, etc, that you could share?
DS: Other than the ‘conceptual art’ already published on the website on the “Production Graphics” page, there’s not a lot I’m prepared to release at this time. I will however go through my enormous piles of paper here and see if there isn’t something I can share.
MW: What has the creative process been in developing the scenes and script thus far?
DS: It has been a fairly simple process of my going through the literature, be it the Collier’s, or a number of books I have related to the subject, or alternatively watching a movie or TV documentary, and being inspired. I would say to myself: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could see that?” and then sitting down at the computer and thrashing it out. For the most part it works. There have been a few times when I have worked on something, left it, come back and changed it, changed it again, and then turned the whole thing around to reveal something new and even better. Some of the best shots have happened like that.
MW: Did you start with a full script, or begin hacking at individual scenes?
DS: I began by hacking at individual shots (not even scenes). As an archival-style film, whole scenes seldom appear, individual shots instead strung together to help illustrate the narrative. I wanted to maintain the comparative disjointedness of this in MCS, even going to the trouble to vary film quality and grade to suggest different stocks and types from different times. Watching The Space Movie or For All Mankind (20th anniversary of Apollo XI) you can see this, and I wanted to emulate this in MCS.
MW: Do you use detailed storyboarding to prep f/x and live shoots?
DS: Not really. Since the FX shots are done by me and me alone, I already have the image in my head, or it emerges from my mind as I work and experiment. As for live shoots, I wanted that raw, unplanned edge that happens when you shoot real people in their real environments. Since the real environments were for the most part sets built for the film, I needed to be fairly spontaneous with what I shot, while at the same time ensuring the talent felt they belonged there. Consequently, I went into each shot unplanned (as to camera angles, lighting), so the camera could rove as with the genuine article, but the talent had enough of an opportunity beforehand to familiarize themselves with what was around them (or what equipment to operate) to look like they were the professionals they were imitating.
MW: Do you use multiple camera takes for live shots?
DS: Just the one camera for the most part. A second camera has been used in a couple of shots (including Mars field operations) as time was very limited on location, but essentially MCS has been a one-camera project.
MW: What kind of camera do you use?
DS: Of all things, a Sony DCR-TRV900 Camcorder (mini DV). The footage is so treated and effects-laden you’d be hard pushed telling this was the case. This is not to diminish to results from this remarkable little camera.
MW: Anything you’d care to add? What about the audio and music?
DS: The audio has yet to be done properly, so I don’t have an awful lot to mention about that just yet. The soundtrack is another thing. Blair Joscelyne has done an incredible job of the MCS ‘archival’ soundtrack, and will be returning to compose and arrange the ‘modern’ soundtrack when the film is finished its final editing phase. The story of Blair’s efforts in this is truly remarkable, and I recommend you have a look at this interview about it: