Space Camp, the 1986 teens-in-orbit comedy starring Lea Thompson, Kate Capshaw, Kelly Preston, and Leaf Phoenix (a.k.a. Joaquin Phoenix), looked like a lot of fun to make. It’s why the question of “How fun was Space Camp?” came up during our recent Facebook Live interview with Thompson, the actress-turned-director whose new film The Year of Spectacular Men premiered last week at the L.A. Film Festival.
But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, according to the Back to the Future and Howard the Duck alum. It’s why the film earned the nickname “Space Cramp” among its young stars.
“After the first day, we were 10 days behind,” Thompson remembered. “It was really hard because they didn’t know how to make us be weightless. They had no idea. They’re like, ‘We don’t know how to do this. It’s really hard.’ We’re like, ‘You’re the grownups!’ So basically, we became a mime troupe.” (In director Harry Winer and company’s defense, simulating zero gravity is a challenge that many filmmakers have grappled with, including Ron Howard while directing Apollo 13, though it stands to reason most would have a strategy in place by the time cameras started to roll.)
There was also a national tragedy that hit close to home for the Space Camp crew. “While it was in the can, the Space Shuttle blew up,” Thompson said referencing The Challenger, the NASA Shuttle that exploded 73 seconds into flight in January 1986. “So no one was in the mood to see a movie about a Space Shuttle. It was an awful, horrible American tragedy. And there was the studio stuck with a bunch of wacky kids blasting off into space.”
The film was released five months later, and fizzled at the box office. But it did ultimately find an audience on home video, and as it turns out, changed at least one life. “I was just at a film festival and this woman [told me] that because of Space Camp, she became an astrophysicist and was working on the Mars Lander,” Thompson said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Watch our full Facebook Live interview:
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