SXSW interviews: ‘Apollo 10 1/2’ cast, crew discover perspective in nostalgic trip to the moon

AUSTIN – Before the history-making launch of the Apollo 11 mission to land the first astronauts on the moon, NASA secretly sent a preteen there first – or, at least, that’s the childhood fantasy brought to life in Richard Linklater’s animated nostalgic trip, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood.

In the Netflix release, Linklater drops us into a picture-perfect recollection of 1969 Houston, Texas. Viewers experience the lunar landing just as this film’s creator did, complete with the excitement of the space missions and the beauty of pre-internet boredom. Red rover, anyone?

Apollo 10 1/2 held its world premiere at Austin’s South by Southwest Film on March 13, which is where we caught up with and talked to some of the cast and filmmakers. Watch Red Carpet Crash’s highlight reel (with writer-director Richard Linklater and stars Bill Wise, Lee Eddy and Glen Powell) and read our transcribed producers’ interview (with Mike Blizzard and head of animation Tommy Pallotta). We discuss bringing emotional resonance to the mundanities of everyday life in the 1960s and the incredible details of Linklater’s cinematic recollection.

Our Producers’ Q&A:

The following is a transcript of an interview conducted on Mar. 12 by phone ahead of the film’s world premiere at SXSW. Some of the questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Preston Barta: Richard Linklater has always produced works that speak so much to me. There’s something about how he finds poetry in the mundanities of everyday life. And although I didn’t grow up in the late ‘60s, it’s an era I’m very much in touch with. How would you say Mr. Linklater has caused you to observe your surroundings more deeply and recognize aspects of your childhood that you maybe haven’t thought about until this film?

Mike Blizzard: Yeah. I definitely think that Richard’s eye for the minutiae of life and these small moments — He’s famously said, “Life doesn’t have an arc.” And so movies shouldn’t necessarily be structured in some false way, Boyhood being a big example. But I grew up in the Houston area near NASA. We moved there when I was in the fourth grade, and I went to Ed White Elementary, which is portrayed in the film.

And so this whole journey in this film has made me look at my childhood growing up there and how extraordinary it was when it felt utterly ordinary at the time. Of course, I didn’t know it until after. But I was surrounded by kids who were the sons and daughters of shuttle astronauts.

When I was reading and doing research about the moon landing, we collected all this coverage and visited NASA. I realized how many of my childhood friends’ fathers worked there or were involved in the moon landing. I had some sense, but some were in mission control and weren’t astronauts. So, it has caused me to look back at my childhood through a completely different lens.
Tommy Pallotta: I also grew up in the shadow of NASA around the same time. That certainly made Rick’s vision much easier for us to execute. And I know Rick is very particular about the details. So, I wasn’t really worried about that. My primary function was to think about how we could represent that visually. And it wasn’t just that era. The film’s perspective is looking back at that era through the lens of a young child, but really it’s 50 years later from someone much older having those recollections. [Milo Coy portrays the central character Stan as a 10-year-old, while Jack Black narrates the film as the older Stan.]

I was interested in how we perceive memory, the past, and nostalgia and represent them in a way that isn’t too literal. And the thing about Rick that has always impressed me with many of his stories is how he can take these things that seem so specific but can present them universally to the audience. So you don’t have to be growing up at that time. I think it takes a very deft touch to do that. I’m always happy to have a front seat when he’s doing that.

What was firing off first as a producer for how you were going to support Mr. Linklater’s vision and the honesty he brings to it?

Blizzard: My role from the very beginning was to craft the non-fiction timeline — getting into the details of the moon mission and going through the CBS archives. This was the first worldwide communal event. As Walter Cronkite called it, “The magic of television.” So, we wanted to dial into what people were experiencing looking up rather than looking down from the astronauts’ perspective.

Besides the moon coverage, it was figuring out what exact movies were playing at the movie theater at the time and what shows were on television as well as which episode of that show was it. So, when someone turns the channel on the television, in the movie, they’re turning into exactly what was on at that time. That was the Beverly Hills episode playing during the Apollo 11 coverage. And when they turn on The Johnny Cash Show, and The Monkeys are on there, that was the episode airing.

When you watch movies set in the late ’60s, most of them make it seem like everybody was at Woodstock. Hippies were a little bit of a rarity, and we had a lot of fun with that in the hippie scenes. And so this is about what it was, hopefully, actually like to be a kid that age in 1969.

I love the scene in the film when Stan observes the “local hoodlums” playing the pinball machine. He comments on their swagger and their mysterious ability to beat the system. How do you as storytellers beat the system and go against Hollywood’s expectations of a producer?

Pallotta: I think it’s a privilege more than anything else to do something like this, to get people to rally around you and to share that vision. And I think there’s sort of a vetting process that you try to find the right people to work with. Working with someone like Rick, who’s made so many films and so many films that have touched people, I think he gets a little bit of extra leeway in that. He’s just very good at doing Rick. And I think at this point, with the catalog of films that he’s done, people trust that. So I don’t feel like we’re always very upfront and honest about everything because everybody wants Rick to do Rick.

Blizzard: Yeah. And I think it probably applies to all of us. He’s a bit of a rule-breaker by nature, and I think we all are. But, you know, it’s about getting the project made and making it as close to his vision as possible. Sometimes, sure, that means asking for forgiveness rather than permission. All the things that it takes to get something like this across the finish line, it’s always going to be in service of that vision.

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood is now streaming on Netflix.

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