Hollywood's Ground-Breaking Space Shuttle Mission (Video)

Endeavour Space Shuttle - H 2012
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Endeavour Space Shuttle - H 2012

As THR launches a blog aimed at Hollywood’s filmmaking and technology community, what better way to start than with the heroic effort of hundreds from this community to document the historic “26th Mission” of the Space Shuttle Endeavour? After all, the shuttle, which arrived in Los Angeles last Sept. 21 and then made its way through the streets of the city to its new home at the California Science Center, is itself symbolic of what can be achieved through innovation.

The groundbreaking effort to capture the shuttle's final journey has already resulted in two shorts playing at the Science Center — and there's more to come beyond that. At the Center, where more than one million visitors have viewed the shuttle since it's arrival, the recently opened “Mission 26: The Big Endeavour” exhibition houses a collection of more than 80 photographs captured during the journey. And there's also a small theater environment to show one of the videos, with digital projectors donated by SIM2 and Christie. 

The filming—which brought together more than 150 Hollywood professionals, who volunteered their time to film the events, as well as numerous equipment suppliers--started back at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with Endeavour being mounted atop a Boeing 747. It followed its flights to the final landing at LAX, followed by the work that was done by NASA in the United Airlines hangar for nearly three weeks, then the multi-day crawl  through the L.A. streets. One of the biggest objects ever transported down city streets, Endeavour is five stories tall, has a wingspan of 78 feet and weighs 170,000 pounds.

With no budget whatsoever the team shot an estimated 140 hours of 3D footage, plus another 75 hours of HD footage in 2D. “Everyone did this for love of the subject matter,” says producer and entrepreneur David Knight, who produced the initiative. “The Space Shuttle speaks deeply to people about what we can do if we set our mind to it.”

The team included Knight; Haley Jackson, who directed; Steve Schklair and Ted Kenney of 3ality Technica; Bob Harvey and Lisa Harp of Panavision; 3D pros Buzz Hays and Michael McKay; Chris Pulis and Charles Null of Deluxe, and many more.

Knight also salutes the “heroes” from the Society of Camera Operators, including Chris Tufty, Dan Kneece, Mark August and two-time Oscar winner Haskell Wexler. The SOC itself got directly involved, securing key elements such as camera hardware, insurance, and vehicles. “We couldn't have done this at such a high quality level without [the SOC members],” Knight says.

Many members of the dedicated team chose to follow the Space Shuttle for its entire two-day trek through the streets of Los Angeles to the Science Center, only taking occasional naps in an accompanying vehicle. Some were even up for more than 40 hours on day of the landing at LAX.

3Ality, Panavision and Sony were among the companies that provided cameras and production equipment. Deluxe offered dailies and postproduction services. HeliNet provided two helicopters, and Ultimate Arm provides its gyrostabilized camera equipment. Everything was donated, included fuel, bottled water, meals, batteries, camera cards and tapes.

Disney Imagineering's Chris Gabriel became the only person to ever mount cameras on a Space Shuttle, it is believed. He worked directly with NASA and Boeing engineers to ensure that nothing on Endeavour itself was disturbed, while meeting production requirements.

Meanwhile Peter Janos and Sara Weisfeldt of Turner/CNN, along with Google, pulled off live-to-web streaming from a moving location by using a portable broadcast system on the 68-hour move through the streets.

At the peak of video coverage, 14 camera units filmed the landing at LAX. “We were told only Francis Ford Coppola has had that many camera units—when he made the climax of Apocalypse Now,” says Knight.

Following the shoot, the group contributed footage to a DVD now being sold in gift shops at the California Science Center, with all proceeds going to a fitting charity—the California Science Center Foundation. Among the Foundation’s projects is raising funds toward construction of an addition to the complex, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, which will be the permanent home of Endeavour.

Separately Knight and a small group have also been working on a short for the film festival circuit, as well as a 3D long-form documentary called Space Shuttle & The New Pioneers.

The documentary tells the story of the end of the space shuttle program and how the industry is now dominated by a handful of high-tech billionaires, notably Elon Musk of SpaceX (who is said to have been the inspiration for the Tony Stark character in the Iron Man movies). Knight is providing the majority of the funding for the feature production, and serves as director and executive producer.

When completed, the film is intended for release on Blu-Ray, DVD and 3DTV, and as well as in a limited digital cinema run. Proceeds from the documentary will go to Knight’s newly-formed STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) Initiative, a non-profit educational foundation which will develop, produce and distribute educational content on a worldwide basis.

The "Mission 26" exhibition at the California Science Center runs through Sept. 2.