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SxSW 2015 Interview: THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON director Mark Craig

by Jason Whyte

'THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON is the story of a man who came from next to nothing, with a crazy dream to fly; yet just 20 years later he was driving a car around on the moon. Impossible, right? A fairy tale. Only it really happened...but it wasn't easy. In fact it was really, really hard. So hard, we don't seem to be able to do it today. It's a story of love and loss, and burning ambition to achieve the ultimate objective, and living with the consequences." Director Mark Craig on THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON which screens at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?

My first SxSW experience as a delegate was in 2013, but this will be my first time with a film showing, so it's a little more exciting. We have three screenings in total and I'll be attending each one, but most importantly so will Gene Cernan, the subject of our film. It goes without saying that Austin is one of the coolest places in the USA when it comes to film, music and arts. The festival time is magic, the atmosphere electric, and the quantity and quality of events is mind-blowing. And the social life is epic. After I came home the last time I needed to sleep for 2 days.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker.

I started out going to art college and became a motion graphics designer for the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK. That was back in the 80s, and mainly entailed using early computer graphics software, but as we moved into the 90s it became more fashionable to shoot more live action elements to brand and promote programmes. Once I had tasted a little of that it seemed a natural move to turn my hand to storytelling. Documentary was the most accessible way in for me at that time, and also a genre I was really interested in, so I started looking for interesting characters and subjects. I found them in the form of Olympic athletes, racing drivers, taxi drivers, characters in my neighborhood.. I also shot a few travelogues and made a few personal films. After 10 years of that I felt really ready to make something for the big screen. Space was one my areas of interest, and when I first read Gene Cernan's book back in 2006, I knew I had found the story I wanted to tell. But the process involved in bringing that story to the screen was a movie in itself! Which of course is something every filmmaker will tell you.

How did your movie come together and what was the process like?

When you work with someone like Gene Cernan, you quickly realize he's used to working with the very top people in his field, and that 'good is simply not going to be good enough'. It has to be the best it can be. So that galvanises you and challenges you to raise the bar of creative ambition higher than ever. He was also a much more emotionally expressive person than I was expecting an astronaut to be, and that opened the doors wide for a much more personal, human story as opposed to the more typical space documentary. After meeting with Gene three times in three different locations (London, Washington DC and Houston) I went home and began writing out and story-boarding scenes that had begun to form in my head.

A number of key locations in Cernan's life would clearly act as emotional triggers, and I wanted to take him back to these and let him share his feelings. I also like a naturalistic, observational style, where once the subject has become used to the camera being present, you start to catch spontaneous, revealing moments, so we made room in the schedule for those to occur. I also like using archive film, and there was a colossal amount of it that needed sourcing and sifting through to find new or rarely seen gems. Home movies too. Finally, with my graphics background I was looking for an opportunity to inject some CGI into certain scenes to give them a 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY feel, along with epic score and sound design. That for me was the dream scenario at the outset. But of course it took a whole bunch of talented and hard-working people to make that dream become a reality.

I was on my own for the first couple of years of development, and that was tough. I knew I needed a major collaborator to help source the funds and provide the production talent required, but I wasn't finding one. Thankfully, that all began to change when Mark Stewart got involved. He brought a few more people to the table and things began to take shape. Gareth Dodds, Patrick Mark, Sara Giles, each of them bringing different production skills and experience. It still took another three long years before all the ducks were lined up as it were, and that was a challenging time for us all. But problems are easier to deal with when you share them, and we eventually got there. Gene Cernan and his long-time assistant Claire Johnson also really opened up some doors for us in the way of contributors and locations. Once that green light came on I could hardly wait to head out to Texas and start shooting.

What was your #1 challenge with this movie, and how did you over-come it?

The #1 challenge lay in convincing Gene Cernan to let us make this movie in the first place! How we eventually managed to do that I'm still not entirely'll have to ask him!

If you had to pick a s favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?

Difficult to pick just one when I felt there were a number of magic moments, but certainly the spontaneous chemistry that exists between Gene and his old Navy buddy Fred Baldwin was a joy to behold, and to capture some of that on camera was very satisfying.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

What keeps me going? Adrenaline mainly, plenty of passion, and quite probably an unhealthy amount of personal obsession with this particular story. And it sure helps to have an extremely accommodating and supportive spouse, not to mention a producer working tirelessly to make it all happen on time and on budget. I don't do sugar, sodas, or even that much coffee. I'm British, and so we like our tea. Proper tea. I drank gallons of the stuff. Oh, and there may have been a couple of beers with the crew occasionally, but quite truthfully I prefer to keep on the straight and narrow when it comes to the rigors of film-making. There's too much at stake to drop the ball. I just fix my sights on the summit and keep climbing, and never look down.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and so forth.

We shot 16:9 mainly using an Arri Alexa with a fantastic Alura 45-250 zoom lens, and occasional on-board vehicle or aircraft shots using a Canon C300. My cinematographer was Tim Cragg, a very experienced, Bafta-winning shooter with a mix of both drama and documentary on his credits. He's extremely passionate about his art, and quite a character! We hadn't worked together before but I had seen one or two of his films and they had made an impression. His rock-steady panning and anticipation of action is fantastic - and very confidence inspiring. In documentaries you often only get one take. It took us about a week to figure each other out, then we totally gelled. He doesn't just want to give you a pretty shot...he understands and therefore needs to know the emotional subtext of the scene, the bigger picture.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?

For me, it will be the first time I have seen the film with an American audience, so I am curious to know what they make of a Brit's instinctive approach to an American story. A number of people who featured in the film will also be in attendance, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again, and drinking tea.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?

Next stop for the film is the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival at the end of the month, then three days later it's back across the pond to Toronto to Doc Soup. We are waiting on confirmation from a couple of other festivals too, so who know where after that. I'd really love to see the film screened at a few spectacular outdoor venues around the world. Or down at the Cape, watching it under the moon and stars on a warm summer night...

I'd be delirious to see it screened at the BFI's main theater in London. I have been going there for 25 years and been inspired by so many great films and filmmakers I've lost count. It would be a moment to savour.

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?

"Success is buried deep in the garden of failure", which is my favorite quote. You need patience, perseverance, stamina and self-belief. You need to be fully in touch with your human emotions. Sensitive enough to elicit from your subjects a meaningful and affecting delivery, but thick-skinned enough to deal with your doubters and critics. It's really not a job that suits everyone, and it takes a while to learn. In fact you never stop learning.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?

How can I possibly pick ONE? I'd struggle to make a list of ten. And all quite different; APOCALYSE NOW is right up there, and so too is THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY, AMERICAN BEAUTY, GOODFELLAS, THE ENGLISH PATIeNT, SPINAL TAP...and of course 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The last film to rock my world was Boyhood. Directed by some local guy from Austin.

Be sure to follow THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON online at, or on social media at @lastmanonmoon on Twitter!

[bigger]We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our 40+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/13/15 06:41:01
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