By: T. Felder
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/12/22 – Three years ago So-Cal writer and filmmaker Steven C. Barber reached out to statue-makers Lundeen Sculpture’s to commission a piece that would later become the Apollo 11 monument located in the Moon Tree Garden at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. His goal for this project was to preserve the legacy of American space hero’s. Barber’s most recent completed contribution is the Apollo 13 monument which includes bronze figures of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise stepping down from the recovery helicopter onto the USS Iwo Jima. The monument sits outside the Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Barber has taken it a step further, using his filmmaker skills to create documentaries on Apollo 11 & 13. He explained the importance of space exploration and how the world would not look the way it does today if these brave astronauts would not have almost risked their lives for the greater good of humanity.
Barber refuses to stop there after noticing that there are no monuments celebrating the many contributions of female astronauts. So, without hesitation Barber and his team have dedicated the last nine months to completing the Sally Ride monument, which is set to unveil June 16th in front of the Cradle of Aviation Muesum in Long Island, NY. He’s hoping this will open the conversation in creating more monuments for other virtuous women.
THT had the opportunity to do a candid interview with Mr. Barber, discussing his upbringing, his start as a filmmaker, and what legacy he hopes to leave behind.
SCB: I grew up on the Wharton Estate in upstate New York on Wellesley Island, in a little place called Alexandria Bay. I used to go into the library there. My grandmother married Teddy Wharton, who was one of the last of the lineage, so I think there’s a little bit of that in me. I think that library I spent a lot of my summers in turned me into some type of artist, I’m not sure which! (Laughs)
THT: How did you get your start in the film industry?
SCB: I went on a bike ride about 25 years ago and met a guy named Eddie Albert, you’re too young to remember, but he was a famous movie star, he played on a TV show called “Green Acres.” When I met him, he was 95 years old, I told him I was a writer and asked if I could do a story on him. He said yes but made me aware of his battle with Alzheimer’s, saying to me “I’ve outlived all of my doctors, I might not remember you.” We struck up a great friendship. I did the story on him then 10years later I met another World War 2 veteran, Eddie also served in WW2, he was in this great battle called The Battle of Tarawa, which was what my first movie was based on. I met the WW2 veteran 10 years after Eddie died, he was in the same battle back in 1943 in the Pacific. And because of that serendipitous meeting, I asked him if he knew Eddie Albert and he replied “Yes, I saw that guy, he was dragging marines out of the lagoon, he was a real hero and received a silver star.” This guy had money and lived next to Ed Harris. He brought Harris in to narrate because he wanted to film a documentary and he asked me if I could shoot a documentary, I told him I never have, but could figure it out. And that’s how my career started.
THT: Can you tell us about your experience building the Apollo 11 & 13 Monument?
SCB: On another bike ride, I had this epiphany to build the twelve men that had walked on the moon. When I pitched it to NASA, they said they didn’t have room for that, but it was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, so it sparked their interest. They agreed to the project but asked if I could condense it down to the Apollo 11 crew. They were building this thing called the moon garden and thought my monument would make a good center piece. They gave me ninety days, so I went out to secure funding. I reached out to Dan Gilbert the CEO of Rocket Morage. I had to convince him that it was a no brainer for them to fund the project, aftercall the companies name is “Rocket Mortgage.” They wrote me a check for $750,000 and then after that as soon as I started building it, I figured I keep it going and tried to sell some duplicate Apollo 11’s, but that didn’t go over well. So, I started a whole new project which was Appollo 13. I reached out to commander Jim Lovell, he was extremely impressed with Appollo 11 and turned me onto a few people. Then I went to David Grainger of the Grainger company, and he wrote me a check for $750,000. I had ended up getting the money the week of the pandemic, so it almost didn’t happen.
THT: That was a close call.
SCB: Yes, it was great! The whole thing about Apollo 13 was it being a successful failure, this incredible mission where we went to the moon and the space capsule blew up and they barely made it back. So, in hindsight it was kind of cool that I almost lost it, but it was a little nerve racking at the time.
THT: Any up-and-coming projects?
SCB: I’m working on the Sally Ride Monument: she goes up in June. I’ve been working on it for the last nine months. This will be the first female NASA monument in history. After this I’m moving into diversity and will be building the first female NASA African American monument, the first female Hispanic monument, and the first African American male monument. I have a full plate, now it’s about going out and finding the funding.
THT: What do you hope to accomplish with these space project?
SCB: Just inspiration. About four million people a year see these monuments, so there’s some little kid staring up at them and will choose to go into science because they saw my monuments. It’s more about leaving something memorable behind and leaving the earth a better place than I found it.
THT: I like the fact that you are ensuring inclusion in your work.
SCB: Yes, it is especially important. Actually, Sally ride was gay, so this will be the first female NASA LGBTQ monument in the world. This is really going to be important for a lot of young LGBTQ women. Afterall, representation is the key to inspiration.
THT: What’s your most memorable experience as a film maker?
SCB: Going up to the south pacific and finding US remains. My company is responsible for finding over 200 US marine remains from WW2 and bringing them home. Also working with Ed Harris, Kelsey Grammer, Dan Aykroyd, working with some of the biggest icons in the world and them lending their voices to my work pro bono.
THT: Anything you want to add that we may have not touched on?
SCB: Anything and everything is possible, the best ideas haven’t even been thought of. You don’t need to be a billionaire to do legacy lifechanging work. I’m 61, it took me thirty-five years to really find something that was important. My movies are important, but that was more about me and what I liked. This is for other people, so far in three years 10 million people have seen my monuments. Millions of people have also seen my films, but film is different because there are tons of filmmakers, but I’m the only guy in the world that built the Apollo 11, 13, and the Sally Ride monument. I’m in a tough industry, so this is proof that if you stick it out you cannot fail. I was swinging the bat for so many decades and this is the path that came to me.
Barber is also in the process of selling the Sally Ride documentary as well as raising funding to create a monument for NASA’s African American mathematician Katherine Johnson.
To learn more about Steven C. Barber visit his website http://vanillafire.org/