The adventurous spirit of The Boone Dawdle is reflected vividly in this summer’s film. In Lunarcy! director Simon Ennis weaves together stories from a variety of people who have dedicated their lives to the moon and its place in human destiny. Chief among them is the oddly charismatic Christopher Carson, a man who aspires to be the first to live his life away from the Earth.
Both Simon and Christopher will be answering your questions this Saturday following our moonlight screening of Lunarcy! In preparation, I chatted a bit with Simon about his film and the fascinating character at its center.
T/F: What was the initial inspiration for Lunarcy!?
SE: I was eager to one day try my hand at documentary (my first feature film You Might As Well Live and previous shorts were all fiction) and was generally keeping my eyes and ears open for a potential subject. Quite randomly, over the course of one week I read three very different articles about the Moon- one on the Moon in ancient religion, one about a fellow in Northern California who claimed ownership to the Moon 30 years ago and has since been selling it off one acre at a time and another about mining the Moon for something called helium-3 that could potentially replace oil as our primary fuel- and I thought to myself, there’s an interesting subject!
Originally the idea was to go around and collect various stories; all of the different ways that human beings have seen the Moon. But as I went on my travels something happened and the film naturally became more about the people who had devoted their lives to the Moon rather than the Moon itself.
T/F: As this was your first documentary, was there anything about the process that surprised you? Was it similar to making a fictional film?
SE: Nothing particularly comes to mind that was surprising. It was certainly a different process in that I had no script and would only go into a given situation with a very general idea of what might happened. It certainly made for a more loose, open, free and improvisational approach. The fact that we shot and edited for about a year was really nice too. It allowed me to build the movie slowly over time and react to what I was getting rather than the usual: plan everything, go out and shoot, then cut it together as three separate stages. I really liked this way of working and hope to bring elements of it to my next fiction projects.
T/F: How did you approach managing so many different characters and stories within the same film?
SE: There were actually quite a few more interviews that I did that ultimately didn’t make the final cut. My approach was to collect as many interesting Moon-related stories as I could and then figure out what to do with them in the editing room. My editor (the inestimable Matthew Simon Lyon) and I had a simple approach- we would go through everything that was shot and just try to cut out the least interesting stuff until we were left with only footage we thought audiences would find interesting or moving or funny. Then we tried to find thematic connections between what the different folks were saying and put it together like that.
T/F: What connections did you find?
SE: I never really like when filmmakers explain what the audience is supposed to get out of a film thematically. There’s whatever I think is in there, sure, but people often come up to me after screenings and talk about responding to all kinds of things that I may or may not have identified as themes, myself. Those are just as valid and interesting and I’d rather just let people take what they naturally take from it rather than imposing something. That being said, dreaming, creativity, the idea of home . . . these are all pretty explicitly mentioned in the movie.
T/F: At what point did you decide on Christopher Carson as the main character?
SE: It just sort of happened naturally. Christopher was actually the only subject in the film that I didn’t find in my research. I literally ran into him at a conference of rocket engineers and scientists. He was wearing a vest that said “Luna City or Bust” and told me he intended to be the first person to leave the Earth with the intention of making his home on the Moon. I told him I was making a documentary about the Moon and that I’d like to interview him. He said, “Yes. You had better!”. We talked for an hour and ended up spending the better part of a year together traveling the country and striking up quite a friendship!
T/F: What is it about Christopher that gives him such a compelling screen presence?
SE: He’s an incredibly smart, well-spoken and charming fella with a very unique and bold personal style and a great sense of humor, who has devoted his life to the pursuit of a beautiful and quixotic dream. Some people who have seen the movie have asked me if he’s an actor and I always tell them the same thing. “No, he’s not an actor . . . but he IS a movie star”.
T/F: As I watched the film, it became clear that he was more self-aware than he appeared at first glance. Interestingly, this made it harder to dismiss his seemingly fantastical goal. Was there a similar evolution in your relationship?
SE: No. On the one hand, I wasn’t dismissive of his dreams when I first met him. When he explained to me that he wanted to be the first person to go and live on the Moon, I immediately thought it was an awesome and beautiful goal to shoot for. I am absolutely behind the idea!
On the other hand, if Christopher wasn’t self-aware and didn’t understand that most people are dismissive or laugh at his bold claims, then he would be crazy and the film would have been exploitative. Chris is an incredibly smart person and knows very well that what he’s going for sounds far-fetched. How could he not? One of the reasons he’s so affable and charming though is because he also has a great sense of humor about the whole thing. I made sure to include both his self-awareness and sense of humor. Not doing so would’ve been dishonest to his character and probably a miserable experience for the audience too.