A day in the life of a filmmaker: Working with Commander Chris Hadfield
We are just one week away from the premiere of one of our most exciting original documentaries to date, Miniverse. The film features the always wonderful CuriosityStream advisory board member Michio Kaku, as well as astronomers Derrick Pitts and Laura Danly, and is hosted by former astronaut Chris Hadfield. All of you space fans out there may remember Commander Hadfield as a YouTube sensation for his performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station. Well, it turns out he’s just as fun and creative to work with as you might imagine. We sat down with Doug Cohen, executive producer of Flight 33, to live vicariously through him about working with one of the world’s greatest astronauts.
Q: What was Chris Hadfield (CH) like to work with?
A: Chris is a former fighter pilot and an astronaut, so the things that felt like challenges to the rest of us were no sweat to him. To quote one member of our crew, “Chris Hadfield is the best human being I’ve ever met.” It’s not just that he’s charming, curious and tireless; it’s also that he sings, plays guitar, tells great stories and, of course, he’s been to space!
Q: What was the funniest thing that happened while shooting Miniverse?
A: Chris had spent the whole day driving at about 40 miles per hour through the Mojave Desert while chatting with astronomer Laura Danly. We kept his speed down to reduce the amount of road noise during the conversation. As the sun set, we prepped to shoot beauty shots of the car driving down the lonely desert highway. I radioed to Chris that he should drive past the camera, and since we weren’t rolling sound he was now free to go as fast as he wanted. When I called “action”, he put the pedal to the metal and whipped past us at 122 miles per hour with poor Laura Danly holding on for dear life! That’s the last time I tell a former fighter pilot to drive as fast as he wants!
Q: Describe the dynamic between CH and Michio Kaku.
A: They were excited to meet each other! It was fun to watch the contrast between astrophysicist and astronaut. Michio made it clear that despite his fascination with space, he had no interest in doing something risky like traveling to Mars. Chris, on the other hand, said that the danger is precisely what makes him want to do it.
Q: Between CH and Derrick Pitts?
A: Derrick would have liked to be an astronaut himself, so he was thrilled to be Chris’ guide for the outer planets. The two of them bonded over some packets of freeze-dried “astronaut ice cream.”
Q: Between CH and Laura Danly?
A: When we asked Laura if she wanted to participate in the program, she said “you had me at Chris Hadfield”. They had a lot of time to talk as we drove from the mountains to the desert, and it was amazing how many things they saw reminded them of Star Trek episodes.
Q: What’s the hardest part of shooting so much inside of a car?
A: We had five cameras rolling inside the car at all times, plus cameras affixed to the exterior and to a chase car. That’s a lot of cameras that need a lot of tending. You are constantly stopping to troubleshoot misbehaving gear. We studied how James Corden does it for Carpool Karaoke and how Seinfeld’s team does it for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and took the best ideas from both. The difference with our show is that we were really traveling from place to place, so we couldn’t just stake out a route on a local road and keep circling. The entire country was our “set”.
Q: Why did the cops keep pulling CH over?
A: We had no problems in most of the country, but in New York and Washington, D.C. the police were extremely “curious” about this car with cameras all over the windows. Sometimes, we would neglect to remove our prop license plate that said “ROCKET”. That also drew the attention of the police on a couple occasions. One officer removed the license plate and cut in half! Luckily, we had made an extra one. In general, when we would tell the cops that we were making a science documentary with an astronaut and a bunch of astrophysicists, they let us go with nothing more than a confused look.
Q: Are there any funny stories from shooting in NYC near the Freedom Tower?
A: We shot at the Brooklyn Bridge across the river from Freedom Tower just before sunset, and as we were shooting, people were lining up to meet Chris and Michio. This actually happened almost everywhere–hotel lobbies, the steps of the Washington Monument–people from all over the world would show up and ask for an autograph or a selfie.