By now, you have likely heard about the controversy around the lack of American flags in First Man. Here’s how that happened: After the film made its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, a few reviews noted that director Damien Chazelle didn’t include the moment when Neil Armstrong (played in First Man by Ryan Gosling) planted the American flag on the moon. A game of Internet Blogging Telephone turned “Neil Armstrong isn’t shown planting the flag on the Moon” (which is true) into “You don’t see the American flag in the film” (which is not).

After the controversy boiled over, Chazelle released a statement explaining “I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but the flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments that I chose not to focus upon. To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is no. My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America's mission to the Moon.”

Ironically, while the flag controversy was blown way out of proportion, First Man almost didn’t include an even more famous moment from Apollo 11’s mission to the Moon: Armstrong’s famous first words upon setting foot on the lunar surface, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Screenwriter Josh Singer told me he left the line out of his first draft.

Singer’s rationale for the decision echoes Chazelle’s decision not to show the planting of the flag on the moon. “Everyone knows it,” he told me. “I wanted to focus on just what he's feeling [in that moment].

Ironically, while Chazelle decided not to show the flag-planing moment, Singer (no relation) told me the director was also the one to argue for including the “one small step” speech. According to Singer, Chazelle told him “What’s interesting is that he says the line, but it's like an exhale. He’s not even really thinking about the line. He’s thinking about something else.” That being his personal journey to that moment, dealing with things like the death of his young daughter Karen, and the wedge it drove between himself and his wife Janet.

Singer relented, and “one small step” made it into the film. You hear Gosling say the words a few seconds before a wide shot shows the American flag standing near the Lunar Module. During our conversation — which you can read more of here on ScreenCrush soon —Singer revealed another reason they chose not to show the rest of the planting of the U.S. flag. “What you don't know about that moment,” he chuckled “is that it took them an hour to get that flag up because they couldn't get the damn thing to telescope.”

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