From Ron Howard's MasterClass

Scene Deconstruction: Apollo 13

Ron walks you through the movie’s iconic launch sequence and explains how meticulous research and shot planning energized a familiar historical moment.

Topics include: Scene Deconstruction: Apollo 13


Ron walks you through the movie’s iconic launch sequence and explains how meticulous research and shot planning energized a familiar historical moment.

Topics include: Scene Deconstruction: Apollo 13

Ron Howard

Teaches Directing

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So now I thought we would take a look at the sequence, again, with the sound off. And this one I know something about. This is the launch sequence from Apollo 13. And let's look at it, again, with no sound. And of course, the sound and music played such an important role in it. And I'll talk a little bit about that, as well. But let's just go through the scenes, and I'll give you a little idea about how they were broken down and executed. What was required Here we are in the suit room. I really wanted to make it look like gladiators getting ready for combat. The important idea for me with the launch sequence was to give kind of an importance to it, and to connect the key characters who were going to be involved with the crisis emotionally. I wanted to set them up within the context of a triumphant and successful moment in the space program, the launch. I wanted the audience to feel the respect, the fear that everyone involved had with the launch. And so this the early part of the sequence is all about tension. The music is quiet, it's somber, there's nobility. There's again, this feeling of respect for what these men are willing to face. This is a set with a blue screen behind it and a model. This is before CG We didn't have very much CGI in this one. This is also a big, giant model with matted in little figures of our guys beginning to walk across. We went through hours and hours of archival footage. Everything that we could find. And in cases, I simulated shots. But we actually didn't use archival shots. There are a number of shots like this one, which was done on a sound stage. All we built was just a walkway. We didn't even put a green screen behind it, because I knew it was going to be a long lens and we would just blow that out, and we wouldn't really see the background. And here we are introducing mission control for the first time in the movie. Mission control becomes such an important setting for so much of the drama. I was trying to create, in a fun way, a little bit of suspense. So the camera moves around, we wonder what this is, but I didn't want to reveal Gene Kranz yet, and Ed Harris. I wanted to let people react to him and create a question mark. Here we are, going through the process of strapping in. This is our mock up on a set done at Universal Studios. We've seen the anticipation, we felt it. But it's also more intense. Their feet are pressing down on their shoulders. Everything's growing a little tougher. There we finally met Gene Kranz. Let's stop there. Apollo 13 was often shot with A and B cameras. But it was not shot in a style which I have used in movies, like Rush or Frost Nixon, that has almost an unplanned chaotic feel. Not quite faux documentary, but kind of a spontaneous, unstaged feeling. I didn't choose that for this sequence. And almost every idea ...

Direct your story

Ron Howard made his first film in 15 days with $300,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online directing class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes his craft like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Ron's Master Class was extremely informative. I especially loved the the in depth coverage of staging and shooting Frost Nixon.

Ron Howard has used a great career as a director and laid out how he approaches every aspect of creating a feature film. In short he told his students the story of how he produces, directs his features. This class is very inspiring for any film maker.

I enjoyed this thoroughly. I loved the practicality of his filmmaking but there is plenty of room for art and creativity. A terrific filmmaker to learn from and to inspire.

This was great. I especially loved the lessons where he was talking about how he set up certain scenes of his, how he blocked scenes, how he worked with his actors. I also LOVED where he disected the scene from Raiders. Great stuff. I could go on and on about the things I liked.


Chad E.

So much to absorb here. These breakdowns of a very technical scene are very informative. It seems hard to believe that we are getting all of this for $180. I wish I could have seen Dustin Hoffman's class as well.

Carl B.

I love the inside look at detailed processes, and the use of natural elements of the events the story is based. And the elements of production which mirror those elements.


Mr Howard has the unique gift for interacting with three levels of what makes a Film, great. From the Actors POV, to the storytelling of the Director, to finally what the audience will see. He handles his art with meticulous ease, letting us in on some of the camera's tips and tricks. In particular making moving panels in the cockpit that will enable a camera to film the confines of such a small space, and then be instantly replaced for another shot. It was by far the most informative 20 minutes I have spent on any of the previous Masterclass's.

Deborah S.

One of the greatest gifts Mr. Howard conveys to any audience are the interactions he has with the actors and with their environment. This skill has obviously been developed and continues to be developed by Mr. Howard as he leaves himself open to always improve. I find this is the path I will always follow as it enriches our experience and provides a better way to communicate with virtually any cast or crew.

Sean F.

This is a great lesson. I love this class. More so than Scorsese's class, Mr. Howard really goes into the nuts and bots of film making. This particular video along with the Indiana Jones deconstruction is invaluable.

Elizabeth B.

I have to agree with Rik Cannon...I am experiencing a deep joy listening to Mr. Howard...just to be this close to someone with filmmaking in their DNA. I am going back as I proceed on this journey and watching all his movies again with a deep appreciation. Thanks be to all!

Rowan S.

Loved it, although I really don't understand how an actor can give a best performance without knowing at least what lens is being used, and how the shot is being framed. Acting for a close shot is a completely different animal to working a long shot. Big movements ruin a tight shot, and may even take the actor out of frame. Tiny movements don't read on a long shot.

Rik C.

Well, this confirms what I've long suspected....filmmaking is in Ron's DNA...listening to this lesson reinforced what I've always known...namely, making sure you do the work, that you are prepared and that you have a plan but the depth at which Ron is prepared and planned out is at another level...he's thinking, planning, and putting everything (sets, camera position, camera movement, lensing, focal length, etc) down in shot list form at a level of detail that is offense, but I don't believe you can teach that depth and command of everything even remotely associated with making a film...I'm blown away honestly...I thought I understood a great deal of the process but no where near what Ron does when it comes to planning out and detailing even the slightest nuance....YIKES!

Douglas S.

One of the first instances in the chapters where he talks at some length about the use of the shot list and what is actually being storyboarded. I’ve been waiting and curious to learn more about creative paperwork (shot list, storyboards….other?) What does Ron do himself? Does he only board complex scenes requiring lots of staging and action? Just curious.

Tony D.

This is a textbook example of reality and duplication of the intensity and excitement leading up to a launch. I remember the Apollo launches and dreamed as a boy of becoming an astronaut and walking on the moon. Masterful buildup to the launch, max Q, and staging. Excellent dramatic moment and tension release in the depiction and concern over the engine shutdown. In this instance everything is in the details. the subtle angle changes and focus on the characters as they worked through the tense moments. Not just the same closeup shots over and over again. The shots of Ed Harris and the other controllers also allowed a great degree of freedom for them to move and provide action. They would not have just been glued to their monitors and instrumentation. The shots emulate the documentary footage and actions of the real flight controllers. I am also an engineer and space nerd, Apollo 13 pays great respect and homage to the Astronauts and Flight Controllers. Ron used his skills masterfully to convey the emotion and the intensity of such a dangerous and hazardous undertaking as a flight to the moon. Later in the movie he uses these same techniques to convey the emotion that Astronauts are famous for concealing.