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Director/Writer Philip Kaufman, a Man who has ‘The Right Stuff’
Author:  Melanie Gilarsky
Date:  10/16/2013

Today is the 30th anniversary of the world premiere of the space epic, The Right Stuff. To mark this occasion, which aptly took place here in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center in 1983, the MPAA hosted a screening and discussion with the film’s director and writer, Philip Kaufman. The Right Stuff, adapted from Tom Wolfe’s best-selling novel of the same name, tells the story of the breaking of the sound barrier and the Mercury space program. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, and won four.

The Right Stuff has been an inspiration to a generation of astronauts and scientists. In his opening remarks, Senator Christopher Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the MPAA, shared the story of Astronaut Mike Massimino, part of the team that made the final repairs to the Hubble Telescope. Dr. Massimino once said that while looking out the window on his first mission he thought to himself, “This is the view that I imagined in that movie theater all those years ago.”

The moderator for the discussion was Columbia University Film Studies Professor Annette Insdorf, who has written a number of books on filmmaking including her monograph, Philip Kaufman. During the discussion, Insdorf lauded the achievements of Kaufman, "It is an honor to be in the same room with someone with such integrity, modesty and really the 'right stuff' as Philip Kaufman."

Kaufman first began working in film in 1962 with his directorial debut in the mystical comedy Goldstein. In addition to The Right Stuff, Kaufman has directed such classics as 1977’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers; 1990’s Henry and June; 2000’s Quills, which was nominated for three Academy Awards®; and last year’s Hemmingway & Gelhorn, which was nominated for 15 Emmy® Awards. 

Prior to the screening, Kaufman shared his philosophy on filmmaking and his approach to The Right Stuff.  In translating Tom Wolfe’s novel to the big screen, "I tried to be true, in my way, to his book…but…we tried to make the film in an artistic way."  Kaufman said his goal in portraying the characters was that "virtually every scene in the film is about the quality…of the right stuff….I like films where the characters are the plot; I think a lot of great movies are made that way."

Philip Kaufman and Annette Insdorf

Philip Kaufman and Annette Insdorf

Photo Credit: Joy Asico