Brendan Hall was looking at the sky over the Grand Canyon when a sunset turned into a meteor shower and the trajectory of his life changed forever.
It was a summer trip in 2014. The then-NYU film student observed an amphitheater of stars surrounding the Milky Way as lightning bolts struck the horizon. He became protective over the view. He wanted his camera to not just capture, but encourage viewers to preserve what he was seeing.
"That trip and that moment was when I thought, 'I want to make documentaries,'" he said.
Now, the 28-year-old filmmaker from Marlborough will embark on another life-changing excursion — to outer space. Hall was selected as a crew member for the "dearMoon" project, which is set to be the first civilian trip to the moon.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who is paying for the trip, announced in December the eight artists and creatives who would accompany him on SpaceX’s Starship. The crew also includes Grammy-nominated producer Steve Aoki, South Korean rapper T.O.P and YouTuber Tim Dodd.
“Being under the night sky were some of the most inspiring moments of my whole life,” Hall said. “But I never even dreamed that I would go up there, especially on a mission like this.”
CT natives Brendan Hall (bottom right) and Anthony Blake visited the Grand Canyon on a road trip. Photo credit: Contributed photos/Anthony Blake
The six-day mission is scheduled for 2023, but a launch date has yet to be announced. To carry out the mission, the Starship still needs to complete an orbital flight test. SpaceX owner Elon Musk announced in January the rocket could be ready by February. The test has experienced several delays and it's unclear if the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the attempt. SpaceX and dearMoon did not respond to requests for comment.
One million people from all over the world applied for the mission when applications opened in 2021, according to the dearMoon website. Hall submitted his on a whim, thinking the concept was “too incredible to believe.” That changed when he had his first Zoom interview. Former astronaut Naoko Yamazaki was one of the attendees.
Hall isn’t sure why he was selected as one of the few. The process spanned almost a year, he said.
Many of the interview questions focused on character: his work, reasons for applying and what artwork he would create during the mission, he said.
“I also told him about how much I wanted to tell this human story, and the story of the crew members transforming through this mission,” Hall said. “This is about people as much as [it is] about the moon or about space.”
Hall said his nature documentaries center around people and how they’re impacted by the natural world. He accompanied TV host and "science guy" Bill Nye to Greenland to film a documentary about the scientist's fight against climate change. Hall first received a camcorder for his twelfth birthday and began creating short films with his friends in his backyard. Ever since, he's been working on the craft of telling stories through a camera lens.
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Paul Bancroft, a career and technical education teacher, said by the time Hall walked through the doors of Regional Hebron, Andover and Marlborough (RHAM) High School, he had years of experience and advice from older students. It was his drive, maturity and discipline that set him apart from his peers, Bancroft said, recalling all the questions Hall asked about cinematographers and what type of camera he should buy with his birthday money.
“He really had a good eye for the camera,” he said. “He was always looking for new ways to tell the story.”
When Hall was assigned to get some footage of ice fishing, he attached a GoPro to a pole and stuck it through the ice to get underwater shots of the fish, Bancroft recalled.
Bancroft said because of Hall's extra efforts, he wasn’t surprised when Hall was accepted to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, one of the top-five film schools in 2012, the year he graduated from high school.
“That is what he had set his mind to,” Bancroft said. “And Brendan, you know what, when he set his mind to a goal, he went for it. And he certainly had the talent.”
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Before his junior year at NYU, Hall and his childhood friend, Anthony Blake, took a road trip to 10 national parks and developed the idea for "Out There: A National Parks Story” a project they would film over the next five years. The film is set to be released in May.
Blake said he could tell Hall’s perspective changed on that 2014 trip. Hall had “a lightbulb moment” at the Grand Canyon and decided his camera’s purpose would be inspiring others to preserve natural beauty, Blake said. While traveling in the following years, Hall would get up in the middle of the night to time lapse videos of stars.
“It’s great to see someone in love with what they do,” Blake said.
Hall continued filming nature with the National Geographic Channel, first as an intern and then a freelance filmmaker.
He is still brainstorming concepts for his "dearMoon" film, but ensures it will have the same aim as his past documentaries. By filming Earth, he hopes viewers will appreciate it more. Astronauts like Ron Garan and Russell “Rusty” Schweickart have returned from space with a different perspective on our planet and mankind’s role, a cognitive shift called the overview effect.
Hall is unsure when his civilian space training, a process that could take months, will begin or what it will entail. But he doesn’t have any doubts about the ability to pull off the mission, he said. Part of his job involves speaking with camera manufacturers and SpaceX officials about the best technologies to bring based on the payload of the rocket and limitations like radiation getting on the camera sensor.
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“Cameras draw power, they draw electricity. Your laptop does and your hard drives do. And we're a big floating ship in space. So electricity, and power is going to be very limited,” Hall said. “Those are all things we'll be developing, which will be really exciting. It'll for sure be a process that is totally new to me.”
Bancroft said documenting the mission is an important role. In the early days of the space program, astronauts brought tiny handheld cameras on missions. Hall, he said, will be following the many would-be filmmakers who have traveled to space.
“Mankind has always documented our adventures,” he said.
Bancroft was asked if he had any advice for his former student.
“I don't think I am anywhere qualified to give Brendan Hall advice anymore,” he said. “I guess I would say ‘Have a great time, Brendan, enjoy every moment.’”