Secrets of filming the film “Challenge”: why the director took a rugby helmet into space and how Yulia Peresild did better than professional astronauts
The astronauts reacted to the idea of shooting in orbit with curiosity, but also with slight wariness.
History with “Challenge” started back in 2000. Konstantin Ernst said: “I then negotiated with the leadership of Roskosmos, it was already time to sign the documents, but … Instead of a Russian film crew, the American multimillionaire Dennis Tito flew. And then we had to wait for what was promised not three years, but twenty-three.
Konstantin Ernst. Photo: Alexandra LEVCHUK
History resumed in 2020. Ernst is back to the idea of making movies in space, he was supported by the then head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin. Klim Shipenko was quickly brought to work. It is not surprising that they chose him: the Kholop filmed by him at that time was the highest-grossing Russian film in history, and the films Salyut-7 (also about space!) and Text were both awarded the Golden Eagle award.
Initially, the idea was quite simple: an ordinary person from the street suddenly goes into space. But why would he fly there? During the discussion, it was decided that it would be a surgeon who needed to save an astronaut in orbit. The variant with abdominal surgery was immediately rejected, and they settled on a thoracic one (the thorax is the chest). And they immediately decided that a woman would be in the center of the plot.
The thoracic surgeons, who perform operations on Earth every day, and the doctors of the Cosmonaut Training Center, and the support workers of the Mission Control Center actively participated in the creation of the scenario. This turned out to be useful: according to one of the consultant physicians, nothing in the original draft of the script corresponded to medical reality. The most interesting and difficult thing turned out to be to think over how a surgical operation would look like in zero gravity – it’s clear that no one has ever done this before. By common efforts, this situation was modeled with difficulty.
Julia Peresild on the ISS
20 candidates did not pass the medical examination
Many people remember that in the fall of 2020, Channel One announced an open casting for the main role: not only actresses, but anyone who wanted it could go through it. It was necessary to record Tatyana Larina’s monologue on video – namely, her letter to Onegin – and send it to the producers. Yulia Peresild also recorded and sent it. But she did not get into the first batch of candidates – she was filming at that moment in another film and in another country.
As a result, 20 applicants were selected. And all of them did not pass the medical examination! According to Ernst, “This is a completely different type of medical examination, not the one we are used to in life. You can be a jock and run a hundred meters in nine seconds and not qualify. And at the same time, Dennis Tito, despite his aching heart, passed it … When Yulia returned from filming, we were sitting in the House of Writers, she still did not know that none of the selected candidates were flying into space. I drank a glass, lit a cigarette … I said: “Listen, let’s quit, you have to go to Star City for a medical examination next week!” She said yes? And she put out her cigarette…
Peresild said that she could never imagine a casting that would include gastroscopy, colonoscopy, checking the evenness of the nasal septum, a monstrous amount of CT, MRI and other medical manipulations. “And nothing depended on me. It was not about acting skills, not about healthy lifestyle, not about my health today. And about those givens that I have from mom and dad. But Julia came up for the flight, as did director Klim Shipenko (he now says that Peresild was chosen by the Universe itself).
Both had to get acquainted with a huge number of textbooks – on life support systems, on the design of the ship – and then take tests and exams. Go through a lot of training, in particular, for survival in the wild (in case the descent vehicle does not fall where it was planned, but, for example, into the taiga – as once happened to cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Pavel Belyaev). True, training for survival, as Peresild admitted, was only one.
And they also constantly had to train on the “hills” (this is when a specially equipped aircraft gains altitude and rapidly descends; at the same time, gravity disappears inside and weightlessness is created. There are such episodes in the film). The instructor who worked with Peresild and Shipenko said that they are doing better than many professional cosmonauts … In addition, Yulia and Klim specially went to the military hospital, where a chest operation was underway, and stood in the operating room for five and a half hours, watching the doctors and going into all the details. And then Peresild spent two months learning how to make stitches on a silicone simulator.
At the same time, Julia had an understudy – actress Alena Mordovina. She was born in 1987, works at the New Drama Theatre, played small roles in the TV series Call DiCaprio!, Bugs, Trigger. If something had happened to Peresild in the last days before the flight, Alena would have replaced her, and it was she who we would have watched in the “Challenge”. But everything went well: the rocket with Klim, Yulia and Anton Shkaplerov took off, and three hours later all three reached the ISS.
The astronauts reacted to the idea of filming in orbit with curiosity, but also with mild anxiety. On the ISS, they have an extremely strict schedule, where everything is scheduled: the time for getting up, the time allotted for breakfast (30 minutes), the time for the treadmill (one hour), for work (8-9 hours) … It seemed very difficult to enter shooting there as well . The work plan had to be redone at the MCC. In addition, Anton Shkaplerov, Oleg Novitsky and Petr Dubov had to sacrifice personal time or communication sessions with relatives for the sake of cinema.
Photo: Central Partnership
SOME MORE FACTS
“In zero gravity I wanted to sing and dance”
* One of the problems with weightlessness is that people seem a little swollen in it. “Usually astronauts look like pretty plump boys,” explains Ernst. – It seems that they are fed well on the ISS, but there is little movement there, so they are getting better. In fact, they work a lot, their diet is carefully calculated, they keep their shape. It’s just that on Earth, gravity pulls the blood towards the ground, and when there is no gravity, the blood is distributed evenly. And the faces of most people become somewhat wider. We were extra lucky: Yulia turned out to be a beauty in the frame!” (Peresild also says: “I look better in space than on Earth. I felt very beautiful, although before that we were afraid that I would swell there, my face would be red, and it would be impossible to shoot me. As a result, a feeling of lightness, a complete lack of body weight, those hairs hanging out there somewhere, the desire to sing, dance…”).
* Julia’s hair in the frame is vertical, forming a kind of crown. “I watched the video very carefully and for a long time: what women look like on the ISS. And I noticed that when girls have a little curly hair, they lie beautifully in weightlessness. I had 20 rubber bands with me and curled my hair with them every night after I washed my hair. That’s why they stood so magically. Otherwise, they would look like a kind of ball.
* The heroine of the “Challenge” takes a soft toy with her into space as a talisman. It seems that this is a violation of the rules – well, why drag any extra rubbish to the ISS? But no: such toys are not just possible, but you need to take them with you on a flight. These are the so-called indicators of weightlessness: when gravity disappears in a rocket moving towards the ISS, the toy floats into the air. Previously, astronauts used plastic balls for this purpose, but then they decided that it was more fun with toys. By the way, the station is allowed to take only 1 kilogram of personal belongings. But props, lenses, lighting and sound recording equipment went with Klim and Yulia (it was carefully checked on Earth to exclude the possibility of a fire). Shipenko also took a rugby helmet with him so as not to bang his head against the walls of the station.
* The work in space was very stressful. For 12 days, Klim Shipenko, who performed on the ISS not only as a director, but also as a cameraman, filmed more than 78 hours (!) of material. For comparison, 297 hours of material were filmed on Earth (and the finished film is only 164 minutes long).
* Julia Peresild argues: “Would I fly into space again? .. Honestly, I miss the ISS. Another question is that my and Klima’s children and parents experienced a lot during our flight. It was good for us in the rocket, but it was a little more difficult for them. Now they are calm. Maybe when the kids are a little older, we can try again. But I wouldn’t take my daughters with me. No no no! We already had such conversations at home, and I said: “Only over my dead body!”