How First Man Pulled Off Its Cool Opening Scene

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong wearing a helmet in First Man 2018

As you would expect, the big showstopper sequence in First Man is Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon - but it's far from the only jaw-dropping moment. In particular, the very first scene, which features Armstrong during his days as a test pilot, is an absolute marvel, and director Damian Chazelle and writer Josh Singer recently explained how the film went about capturing it, with Singer saying,

In some respects, that X-15 flight is just as remarkable an achievement as the moon landing was. The plane still holds speed and altitude records for piloted flights 50 years later, and Neil's flight was the longest of all the test flights done with that craft. We talked with people who worked on the test flights with Neil at Edwards Air Force Base, and they showed us diagrams and records from the test flight. I got to try out a simulator that really felt like a fancy video game but gave me a great idea of what it was like to try to land one of these planes.

First Man wastes no time getting Neil Armstrong into a cockpit - specifically an experimental jet that he is flying at an altitude miles above the earth - and it quickly has you gripping your armrests as things don't go exactly as planned. It's beyond intense, locking you in the ship with its pilot, and during a recent sit down with The Wrap Damian Chazelle and Josh Singer detailed how they and their fellow filmmakers went about putting it together.

A huge part of what helped the legitimacy of the sequence was the involvement of the last living pilot who flew as part of the X-15 program: Joe Engle. The 86-year-old Air Force veteran not only consulted with the filmmakers about his experiences, but even went as far as to read and check Josh Singer's drafts of the script, making sure that they fairly represented what Neil Armstrong was experiencing during his time in the experimental jet. Said Singer,

Joe helped us make sure that we got the first-person perspective right, and it was more than the script. He helped us when Damien was doing his prep with the storyboards and animatics. He guided us step-by-step through the process Neil would have done when flying the plane so we'd know what the cameras would focus on in the cockpit.

Certainly one of the most impressive things about First Man is just the accuracy of its storytelling, and its dedication to depicting how things really were back in the early days of NASA. It has the effect of making you feel like you are experiencing the events through Neil Armstrong's eyes, and it's both immensely powerful and terrifying. It makes for one of the greatest big screen experiences of the year, and the opening sequence does a remarkable job sucking you right in.

Movie-goers can now see First Man for themselves, as the film is now in theaters - and know that you're going to continue hearing a lot about this feature as we continue to get deeper and deeper into awards season.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.