I’m watching a number of NASA astronauts walk through a brutal sandstorm on Mars. The debris in the air is forcing everyone to walk slow. They need to be deliberate with their movements to survive. As I observe this incredible moment on another planet in our solar system, I also notice three 3D cameras placed at careful locations and an entire film crew wearing masks and watching the actors perform. As I take in this incredibly cool moment, I look to my left at video village and realize sitting inside is Ridley Scott watching everything unfold. As a huge fan of Scott and his sci-fi movies, a large smile creeps across my face as someone yells cut.
Let me back up a second.
Last December, when Ridley Scott’s The Martian was filming in Budapest, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. If you aren’t familiar with the material, the film is based on Andy Weir’s self-published 2012 novel of the same name, and revolves around an astronaut who finds himself stranded on Mars after he is injured and presumed dead by his team. With limited resources and a finite amount of time before his oxygen runs out, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) must use the power of science to keep himself alive on the red planet and find a way to let NASA and his team know he’s still alive.
In addition to Damon as Watney, the ship’s botanist, the film stars Michael Pena as pilot Rick Martinez, Jessica Chastain as Commander Melissa Lewis, Sebastian Stan as flight surgeon Dr. Chris Beck, Aksel Hennie as German astronaut Aleks Vogel, and Kate Mara as computer expert Beth Johanssen. Additionally, Jeff Daniels is the head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor is the head of the Mars exploration, and Sean Bean’s character is the head of flight. The film also stars Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover.
While on set I got to learn a great deal about the movie during interviews with some of the filmmakers and the cast, and I’ve put together a list of 30 things I gleaned from my experience. But before checking over the list, if you haven’t seen the great looking trailer, I’d watch that first:
30 Things to Know About The Martian:
The film has a lot of humor. You won’t expect how Damon’s character approaches a lot of situations.
- The book is a love letter to science.
- The story exists without having an antagonist. You don’t have some evil villain trying to stop Damon from getting home.
- The film has the full support of NASA, who is thrilled it’s being made.
- To use NASA in a movie you have to have their permission and you need to show that you are taking the subject matter seriously and representing the truth. 50 pages of the script is NASA stuff.
- NASA was consulted while making the film in order to get aspects of space and space travel, specifically in relation to Mars, with the most accuracy.
- Filming the NASA stuff took three weeks.
- The mission to Mars in the film emulates actual missions that NASA is planning for the future.
- The entire shoot is 70-something days long. The film has some second unit which Scott likes to direct himself when he can.
- A lot of the research and development on Prometheus was used on The Martian. Especially the space suits.
- The film takes place in the “near future”
- They decided to film in Budapest because it has one of the biggest soundstages in the world and one of the tallest. Also, the London stages were booked up.
- They have a real potato farm on the studio lot with potatoes in all stages of growth so they can be used for filming.
- With all the various storylines taking place simultaneously, it’s like The Martian is three movies in one.
- Filming location for what will be Mars took place in Wadi Rum, Jordan.
- The landscape and environment of Mars was created through a combination of location filming and CGI.
- Technologically, everything in the film is based on fact, but was modified to “look cool” on screen.
- One of the more dangerous parts of filming involved the storms on Mars.
- About 20 sets were constructed over the filming of The Martian, which isn’t many in comparison to other films, but they were much more “technical”. To put that in perspective to other Ridley Scott films, he used 70 on Exodus and over 100 on American Gangster.
It took about 18 months from when the idea to make the Andy Weir novel into a movie first occurred to actually being on set filming.
- The original cover page of the draft of The Martian was on-board of actual NASA ship Orion when it launched. On the cover was a drawing of Matt Damon’s character on Mars saying, “I’m gonna science the shit out of this planet”.
- Drew Goddard, who wrote the screenplay for the film, was also at one point set to direct, but left that role to go direct the Sinister Six film. After that, Ridley Scott read the script and jumped into the project, rather than making a Prometheus sequel.
- Filming took around 70 days.
- Multiple cameras were used during filming, including GoPros.
- When designing the space suits in the movie, the costume designer looked at many of NASA’s actual Mars suits and said they were “exactly like a Buzz Lightyear suit” from how bulky they were, Ridley Scott even disliked them, so the end designs of the suits were based on images of actual suits but aimed for a more practical approach.
- The suits in the film use a very complex and actual functioning lighting system.
15 suits were made for the film, using a team of 6 people.
- The film was at one point planned to be filmed in Australia, but due to disagreements with the Australian government those plans had to be abandoned.
- Small changes were made to script during filming, in part to have better scientific accuracy. Producer Mark Huffam said, “We’re working with 90% of the script that we started with”.
- Jessica Chastain got advice from her Interstellar co-star Anne Hathaway on wearing a space suit, which included getting a cooling suit to wear underneath.
- Chastain visited JPL and NASA in preparation for the film, meeting actual astronauts. She also read the novel before she began filming.
- Shooting schedules were so specific that Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan would arrive on set before sunrise and leave after the sun had already set, they applied this “isolation” to help with their characters during filming.
While I’ve been very lucky over the past few years and been able to visit a lot of films while they’re being made, getting to see Ridley Scott’s The Martian being brought to life was definitely a highlight. Seeing the production film the storm sequence using practical effects was amazing and the closest I will ever get to visiting another planet. I honestly have a lot of faith in this project and really believe Scott is crafting a special movie that will be a big hit when it hits theaters October 2nd.
For more on The Martian:
- Matt Damon on THE MARTIAN, Drew Goddard, Why He Took a Break from Acting, and More
- Jessica Chastain on THE MARTIAN, Ridley Scott’s Female Characters, INTERSTELLAR, and More