Film & TV

Scene Deconstruction: Apollo 13

Ron Howard

Lesson time 20:05 min

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

Ron Howard
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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.

I've learned invaluable lessons on how to direct actors and bring out the essence of a scene. Thank you, Ron.

It has showed me so many new little details that when applied would help me direct better and be more efficient

he is so inspiring, straightforward and gave me already a bunch of advices! He is for sure a good psychologist as well :)

Terrific knowledge being shared by one of the greats.


Phil S.

Love how he breaks don these scenes. This is what I expected from these classes - detailed breakdowns and explanations on how and why he achieved them, rather than superficial taking about making films in general. Even thought sound on this particular lesson is very bad.

Mimi N.

Ron is a master of his craft. I really appreciate the way he breaks down the scenes' objectives, and points out how he achieved various shots. e.g. this was a model, this was a camera shake etc. Very inspiring. Thanks Ron!


Great. I enjoyed Ron's teachings. I just wish the green screen behind him was not empty. Especially when he turns to the screen to elaborate a scene.

Pétainguy M.

Best part for me ... I don't like the story, very American... narcissism and not really interesting. Most US propaganda than free art. But technically, it is a great job. Happy to understand Ron work with examples. Such a talent could be so great to serve Chineses, Russians, Europeans or South American points of view and stories. Live is in diversity ! Very inspiring man. The best ! A mentor !


I love this movie. Funny thing is, Jim Lovell was originally meant to be played by Kevin Costner. In one of the final scenes, the crew is congratulated by the real Jim Lovell (in a cameo, wearing a Naval officer's uniform) and Lovell looked then the way Kevin Costner looks now (2019).


My favorite scene in this film was the sequence when the capsule was about to test the heat shield and the crew went from freezing to having condensation in their faces. You couldn't tell if the crew or just the capsule was engulfed in flames.


Apollo 13 is one of my favorite Ron Howard films. I have seen it many times. So this lesson was on of the most enjoyable for me.

J'nee H.

Loved this chapter too! Ron's scene breakdowns and his methods/thoughts are brilliant. I too can not believe that my Masterclass Valentines present to myself (lol) is offering up this amazing info (plus the other classes I have take so far) for under $1400 HK. Thank you! ( 唔該 (m̀hgòi) in Cantonese.)

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.