Why NASA and Test Screenings Helped Roland Emmerich's 'Moonfall'

'Moonfall'Credit: Lionsgate
Only Roland Emmerich could make a $140 million independent movie. 

If you like disaster movies, then Roland Emmerich might be one of your favorite directors. The mind behind Independence Day, 2012, and The Day After Tomorrow has a new world-crushing feature film coming soon called Moonfall.

You might be surprised to learn that this is an independent movie. Sort of.

It was financed outside the studio system, with Lionsgate stepping up to distribute it. 

The way the movie came together is incredibly interesting, with Huayi, a Chinese finance company, putting up most of the money, and AGC Studios as well as Leonine, CAA Media Finance, East West Bank, MUFG Union Bank, and SPG3 Entertainment coming together to make sure all the cash and opportunity was there. When it came to the finishing funds to nail VFX, Scanline VFX, Pixomondo, Framestore, and DNEG did all the work there. 

While it was tempting to go with a streamer, Emmerich knew this was a movie for the big screen.

He told Deadline, "My movies are meant for the big screen. Independent movies are often financed by independent distributors. Even if someone wanted to, we couldn’t end up on a streamer. Personally, I was looking forward to seeing a movie like Dune on the big screen. That experience is hopefully something that will survive. It should survive. Going to the movie theater is a unique experience, you feel part of something." 

But Moonfall was a movie that almost never happened. It was delayed by COVID breaking out and then had to ask banks to cover more money for testing so they could continue the shoot. Now the movie is in the can and awaiting a February release, but there's so much more to the backstory than just that.

The movie tells the story of an unlikely team (Halle BerryJohn Bradley, and Patrick Wilson) trying to save the Earth when the moon is knocked off its orbit by a mysterious force. Of course, this movie was driven by a few big twists and turns. And Emmerich told Collider that's the way he likes it.

He said, "I always used conspiracy theories because, not that I really believe in them in any way, it's more like it's kind of the lure of it. That it's on the internet, you can check it out on the internet, et cetera. There is like endless stuff about the moon. So, in that respect, it was so strange for me that we got supported by NASA. I have no clue why they're doing this. Honest to God. I have no inkling of an idea why they did this, but obviously, they need it." 

Even though this was not a studio movie, they still did test screenings. Emmerich loves making audience pleasers, so he really listened to the feedback. He watched how people reacted to certain moments and actually took their notes. One thing that I found most interesting is that he said people were excited for the adventure to begin, so they asked for less Earth and more moon adventure. That led to reshoots and other ideas.

As Emmerich said, "I have like two or three deleted scenes, which are quite expensive. One was kind of where all of a sudden gets stopped with the shuttle. People didn't care about it. They just, that was it. Then we have much more of a car chase, which we cut down to half."

All of these cuts go back to story. In his process of writing Moonfall, Emmerich was under a harsh deadline. He had to write quickly and lose superfluous things. Emmerich had been gestating on this idea for a while, so it helped to have mapped a lot in his head.

He said:

"Gosh, it was a long script process. There was a really long script process because I started writing it more or less, as I was also writing Midway and I had this kind of feeling, what should I do first Midway or Moonfall? Luckily, I didn't do Moonfall. I have to say, luckily because it was a totally different script. And it was great that we changed it because was at one point this whole thing was only hit by a meteor. It was just silly and only because we then kept working and working and working it… it got so much better. It was like always in big leaps, like half a year later, let's see what we could do about Moonfall while I was like doing Midway. That was actually helping a lot to hone this whole script in and make it much better."

Sometimes our best ideas need a little help or adjustments. It sounds like Emmerich was not only open to the process but has something done outside the system that is going to be very interesting to watch. Not only does it have big ramifications for studios, but it also forwards the idea that international financiers may be able to make big money in Hollywood by pushing for theatrical across the globe. 

We'll keep our eyes on this movie and see what happens. Let us know what you think in the comments.      

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