Exploring the CIA’s supposed plan to fake the moon landing
To create authenticity, the crew lied their way onto NASA property — claiming they were student documentary filmmakers — and recorded conversations with NASA officials. Later, these improvised interactions and footage were edited to fit into the concept of the film. “We went into this environment and tried to shoot whatever we could in a real way, and then used it after the fact, figuring out where the story was,” Johnson explains.
Johnson has previously staged documentary situations in The Dirties, where he and Williams pretended to be students at a high school and passed off their filming on school grounds for a “media project.” It was not exactly a lie for either the filmmakers, who were indeed making a movie, or the fictional characters, who are also shooting a film for a school project.
The idea that the characters and the film crew are enacting the same actions and situations is not lost on Johnson, who very cleverly calculates these scenarios and uses improvisation to create a very real, yet fake setting in which anything can happen — like NASA scientists unwittingly taking part in his movie, or his crew having to actually build a believable lunar set. “We aim to put ourselves into these situations, because we know that’s when we’re getting our best stuff,” Johnson explains.
In piecing together the logical details of the conspiracy theory, Johnson says, “We were lucky in that most of the work was already done for us. The guys who are really into this conspiracy are so technical, and what they haven’t done is make the theory palatable and easy to understand for general audiences. So that was our job.”
But the biggest challenge came in shooting believable moon footage for a movie set in the 1960s, because the characters had to rely on practical effects, which meant Johnson and company had to do the same. “It’s hard, even with today’s technology,” Johnson explains. “It was all done practically. You couldn’t do digital effects back then.”
The results end up looking quite convincing. It’s a fantastic feat considering that Operation Avalanche emphasizes every step of the artificial creation, whether it’s the duo’s frantic, outlandish search for a lunar-like dirt or their comedic attempts in emulating moon walking.
Operation Avalanche. Starring Matt Johnson, Owen Williams. Written by Josh Boles, Matt Johnson. Directed by Matt Johnson. 94 minutes. Not rated. Opens Jan 22 at the Sundance Film Festival 2016, Park City, Ut.