On September 21, 1981, some friends and I met at my house after school to begin a journey to the moon.
My parents had got a VCR the Christmas before (first one on our block) and I enjoyed going to the video store and mugging for the video cameras they had set up. That gave me an idea when it was time to think up an “independent study project” in the spring: I would make a movie. I figured how hard could it be? I get a video camera, get some friends together, we goof around for a bit and we’re done.
Well, eight weeks later, I was at school begging for an extension to my project. It turns out that making any kind of movie is rather involved. Who knew? I got my extension: I had to be done by the time classes began again in the fall.
I spent most of the summer making a moonscape model with my grandpa. It was a work of art: cement mountains and a crater covered with liberal amounts of fine gray dust. The set was about 3′ x 5′ and probably weighed about 300 pounds. It took three grown men to lift the thing and carry it down to our basement for shooting. After building the set, I had to “pitch” stories to my mom. My wilder ideas didn’t go over too well. I think she had more of an idea of what a 1981-vintage video camera could manage and what it couldn’t. My ideas got simpler and simpler until – finally – we were just going to the moon and that was it. Hell, we couldn’t even leave the spaceship – no spacesuits (our uniforms were white T-shirts with a little lunar logo drawn on them). The Sunday before shooting, we rented a color camera (as opposed to the deluxe black and white one also available) and draped an entire wall of our basement in aluminum foil. This was our rocket interior. I actually used the concept of “redressing a set”; the foil was the back wall of our orbiter and our lander, all that changed was the poster board windows taped on.
Despite this, shooting was kind of rocky. A friend of my younger brother came over and kicked up my moonscape the day before we started shooting. The mountains weren’t hurt (cement, don’t you know), but after cleaning up the mess, my moon was down to just one crater. I lost the only copy of the script, so before each scene I gave everyone their lines as best as I could remember them. We couldn’t edit videotape, so we had to shoot everything in order and try not to make too many mistakes.
Everything took a lot more time than I planned. We kept the camera two extra days. The night before my project was due, we had to keep everyone late… past dinner, and eventually past their bedtimes. Parents showed up at our door, wondering where their kids were. My dad kept them entertained while my mom herded us through the final scenes of the movie: our crash landing on the moon, our harrowing journey back to Earth and our ultimate triumph in mission control. We didn’t have time to reshoot anything, not even a scene when we accidentally set the basement on fire. The camerawork got a little shaky as my mom stomped out the carpet blaze with her foot while we stumbled through our lines.
We finished up around 11:00 on September 23, 1981. My dad had been liberally lubricating some of the parents and we had a pretty lively premiere of “To the Moon” in my family room. I can remember being pretty impressed by our final product – we were on TV! The next day, I brought it to school, showed it on a VCR that had some kind of tracking flaw, and received 23 points on my independent study project… out of 50.