There are films so charming in their message and delivery that they impart a positivity that raises the optimism of all who receive it. This Wild Abyss is such a film. In the spirit of films like The Natural and The Shawshank Redemption, This Wild Abyss is set in the past during a time when social constraints were clearly defined while hope seemed inseparable from character. Producer Beidi Wang oversaw this production and empowered the gifted professionals in her team to manifest something pure and powerful. Rooted in reality, this story depicts unlikely friendships that combined to create world altering results in science. This biopic presents the friendship and collaborative advances of Milton Humason, a cowboy with no high school education and noted astronomer Edwin Hubble. The borderless humanity and heart of this film is starkly apparent; an aspect that was mirrored off-camera as Ms. Wang confesses, “Our crew all came from very diverse cultural backgrounds. The experience of making this film felt like holding hands with them during a very difficult time and making a piece of work that reminded people to look above the sky. I was extremely proud of taking such great care of my crew in this production. Everyone involved was delightful and genuinely happy to contribute; offering them that environment was the best thing a producer could feel.
While the epidermis of this story is the discoveries made in the name of science, it’s connective tissue is that of people who shake off the definitions society imposes on them. At nearly every scene, through the vehicle of this film’s characters, the filmmakers prompt the audience to not be confined by the way others prefer to see us. Derek Wilson (of AMC’s Award-Winning Series Preacher and the Hulu Award-Winning Series Future Man) stars as Edwin Hubble. Matthew Carlson appears as George Ellery Hale. Natalie Merchant is the lone female cast member (as Margaret Harwood) and Stephen Michael Spencer (of BMI Award Winning Series FBI: Most Wanted) is Milt Humason in the film. One constant theme in the story is stepping out of your assigned role for the benefit of a higher goal. Producer Beidi Wang took this to heart during filming when director Thomas Mendolia took on the role of Hubble’s napping assistant for one scene. She recalls, “In the scene where Edwin Hubble and Milt Humason meet at the 100 inches telescope, I was watching over the monitor and figuring out how to manifest the grandeur of the telescope while these two men are forging an important relationship in front of that machinery. Thomas was playing an asleep assistant at the panel, so no one could give notes after a few takes. While the actors and the DP were a little puzzled, I suggested blocking the actors and camera movement in the opposite directions. That way it’d come with layers and more dynamics between the two main characters shown on the screen. It felt so great to make a difference on set as a producer, because of the trust I built with the crew and cast.” This particular scene resonates with an emotional profundity. When Hubble askes Mr. Hale, “What do you seek?”, he simply states, “More. Take a look.” The view through the enormous telescope is the first of many awe inspiring moments throughout this film. In a later scene, female scientist Natalie Mitchell tells Carlson, “Don’t let anyone make you feel less than what you are.” The subtext here is that Ms. Mitchell is speaking for her gender during this era in US history as well.
The tone of intimacy among the characters of this film permeated the entire production team who spent their time making This Wild Abyss secluded together during the Covid lockdown. Cast and crew lived together in the observatory and surrounding area until filming was complete. Viewed against the bulk of the industry who were still waiting out this historical time, it provided a rare moment for these artists to focus on the materialization of something exceptional. Beidi Wang states, “It was the most immersive production experience I’ve ever had because all the crew and cast were staying at the observatory overnights. It seemed to be a luxury to gather together and shoot something so great in the midst of the pandemic. We were able to talk and chant under the stars altogether.”
Writer: Arlen Gann