Colette Sandstedt interviewed by Shaun Carney
You have worked on Mythbusters, Under Water Universe, the History Channel, Discovery Network, National Geographic, Red Bull Media, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a bunch of other impressive films, what work are you proudest of?
Well I loved working on Mythbusters it was my first job out of grad school, it was such a fun show to work on and it was such a good science show, so I really liked that. I really liked Underwater Universe because that was a one hour documentary on the ocean, which was totally great. I got to write, direct and produce it, so it was like doing my own show so that was really fun. I really loved working with Woodshole Oceanographic Institution because I spent the summer on a Russian research ship filming submarines going to the bottom of the ocean, so I was on board for two months with that in the mid Atlantic. We filmed whales from the fuji blimp and we filmed rocket launches from Cape Canaveral.
How did you make the progression to move away from ‘corporates or companies’ so to speak to try and fund your own documentary?
I knew I always wanted to do my own feature documentary. I still write, direct and produce for TV and I met Ky Michaelson when I was out doing a TV shoot, so it’s good because sometimes your work can find you cool subjects. After I met Ky I thought this was an amazing story with an amazing character and that is when I started pursuing it as a feature documentary. I kind of found the perfect character with a perfect story for me. It was something that hit all my interests.
How long had the project been developing before making the decision to go ahead with funding?
Well, it has been a long process which is kind of normal in documentaries. I had originally taken the idea to a company I was working for at the time and we were going to try and do it, but the person who owned all the footage of Ky’s rocket launches wasn’t willing to let us use the footage because he said it was a cost issue for him. Then years later I kept on it and stayed in touch with Ky, then Gary Benz who is an old friend of Ky’s from back in their stunt days purchased all the footage to preserve it for Ky. So with that change I went to Gary and started working with him. Even though it didn’t work the first time back in 2007, I knew it was such a good story so I never let it go and just stuck on it.
You mentioned that Ky learnt to build things through watching other people and using his mechanical photographic mind, but there must be more to how Ky has managed to be so successful and accomplish all that he has whilst being dyslexic?
I do think Ky is a genius. I don’t think just anybody could go out and do what he did. He would credit his dyslexia for being very very stubborn and he will tell you himself he has a chip on his shoulder because he always felt like he wasn’t good enough or smart enough. It gave him this Johnny Rebel attitude where if you tell Ky he can’t do something he is going to go and do it. He credits the women in his life for helping things run and I asked him “Some of the stuff you are working with is really dangerous Ky, you can’t just try it and see how it goes,” and he replied “I would just have a friend read me the instructions.”
As the Director/Producer of Rocketman, you are $20,000 short of the $68,537 you were aiming for when crowd funding, what are the process’s you go through now to make this work?
We wanted to be really transparent about what it would cost to shoot all the interviews so the $68,537 was the full amount, but as anyone who has made a documentary will tell you it’s an on going process. You get a chunk of money and you shoot as much as you can, you get a chunk of money and do as much post production as you can. It is not like feature films where you only start shooting when you have the full budget. We will do as many interviews as we can. I see the crowd funding as one step because we grew our audience, got a significant amount of money, but now a lot more people know about us so there are a lot more opportunities that are going to open up because of this.
From Deadly Women and Dark minds to Underwater Universe it seems as though Rocketman is quite different your previous work, does much change in your thinking, researching or filming to work on a project like this?
It is different to the true crime stuff I have done, but it is one of those things. Most documentarians take work to support themselves while they are making the movies, but my main focus with Woodshole, Mythbuster, Underwater Universe and with the Redbull stuff has always been science and adventure so its been keeping within that trajectory. I have a screen writing background; I went to school for screen writing, so with structuring stories there might be some style differences between Television and Film, but I know what those are so it is just a matter of which tool you pick out of your bag. I’m really lucky I have a background in screen writing, because it has helped me with everything that I have done, because you are always having to think in terms of structuring a story. So you do have to know what you are doing, I wouldn’t want to produce Rocketman like I would a TV show, I would want to do it like a Theatrical Film because it is going to give it a different quality.
Do you have any influences or motivators that keep your passion going?
I do, Toni Myers directs all the IMAX movies about space and they are so beautiful it makes me realise why I wanted to make movies that move people. She is a big hero of mine, she did this beautiful film on the Hubble Telescope that she directed and produced.
When people become aware of Ky’s feat on May 17 2004 to be first entity to officially launch an amateur rocket into space, and watch this documentary. Do you think it will empower dyslexic people and encourage people to overcome adversity and how are you planning on conveying that?
I know it will, just from what we have seen from visiting a dyslexic school during the campaign and we have plans to visit another one this year. The reaction of the kids when they saw Ky and heard his story was unbelievable, it just brought us all to tears. It was really moving because these are all people that don’t learn the conventional way, or were told they were stupid and when they realised Ky was just like them it was really beautiful. It doesn’t hurt that Ky is doing his rockets, cool cars and stunts, so this isn’t one of those sad documentaries on dyslexia because there is going to be explosions and race cars and stuff like that. The thing that I want to do is keep it fun, so it is a movie that you would want to see anyway and not super heavy because the heart is already there, we don’t need to do anything to bring the heart out.