Do you ever find yourself looking up at the night sky and having a million questions run through your mind about what the moon must be like? History tells you that humans have been up there, but for the most part, the moon remains a mystery for most. That’s exactly why Director Choi Hang Yong decided to expand his short 2014 film, The Silent Sea, into an eight-part series with Netflix. He explained, "I love the sci-fi genre and the moon, which we still know so little about despite its proximity to Earth. The title [is derived] from the 'Sea of Tranquility,' a part of the moon that’s a bit more familiar to us."
The Silent Sea, which premiered on December 24, takes place in the not-so-distant future, where humans have depleted the Earth’s resources. People are now divided into classes and that determines their access to water. The government sends a team to an abandoned research facility on the moon to gather "samples" that could help save mankind from extinction. Upon arrival, however, they suddenly realize that the story of why people from the previous mission didn’t survive don’t match up with the evidence they find at Balhae Lunar Research Station. One of the people from the first mission was Song Ji An’s sister. So when Ji An was asked to join the crew, she agrees with the hope of finding answers about her sister’s death.
The cast of The Silent Sea
During a press conference, executive producer Jung Woo Sung shared the story of how he asked Bae Doona to portray the astrobiologist. She had recently finished a different production and was actually in Paris on vacation when he sent her the script for The Silent Sea. He said, "I had to actually visit Paris on business and Doona was there by coincidence, at a restaurant [where I made reservations for dinner]. So we met there, talked about the script, and I was scheduled to fly to Switzerland, and I think Doona had to go to London after that. We continued to send messages about the prospects of the project, and Doona was quite positive and said, 'I think there might be something there.' So it was a casting process that took place all around the world, literally."
Gong Yoo was especially excited when he read the script because he’s always wanted to be part of a project in this genre. He brings to life Captain Han Yun Jae, the youngest captain of the Space and Aeronautics Administration’s expedition team. Stoic and pragmatic, he clashes with Ji An for most of the mission as he prioritizes the crew’s safety above everything else. Speaking about how he prepared for the role, Gong Yoo explained, "I wanted him to have a more rugged and tough look to him, [so you could see] how tough of a life he led through his appearance. I got a little bit tanned, and if you look at the tattoo he has on his neck, he has an insignia of his former military unit. So it’s not so much that I tried to create a ‘tough’ appearance, I just wanted it to hint at the history that we don’t really see in the series." He also traded his more polished look—yes, the one we fawn over in rom-coms—for a more clean-cut hairstyle.
The cast also boasts some of Korea’s most talented actors, including Lee Joon, Kim Sun Young, Lee Moo Saeng, and Lee Sung Wook. The cast became really close while filming the series that they’d often joke around and take part in role-playing in between scenes. Sun Young revealed, "I would ask Gong Yoo, 'Hey, how much is this, mister?' and then Gong Yoo would just naturally follow. Everyone would just laugh at our conversation, and everyone would join, and Doona would just run away, saying 'Don’t torture me!' but she’d be laughing really hard. I think the reason we had such a good atmosphere on set was because of our two leads, Gong Yoo and Doona. Because they appear a lot, it’s really important what kind of atmosphere they have and they were so easygoing."
The spacesuits in The Silent Sea
As you can imagine, the spacesuits they wore took some getting used to. They had to adjust to its weight during pre-production and even underwent training testing for low and zero gravity situations to master the movements in outer space. The cast spent time in wire training as well as coaching from a choreographer. Gong Yoo said, "The spacesuit was something I’d never worn before. It was carefully designed to make acting as easy as possible, but was heavier than the armor worn in period dramas! I’ve never been hooked up to that many wires. I remember how tough it was to move with weightlessness while attached to wires all over my body while depicting high-pressure situations in the storyline."
Doona shared the same sentiments: "They tried really hard to make sure that the spacesuit was as light as possible so we can comfortably act in, but still, it was quite heavy. I actually weighed it, and except for the helmet and life support, the suit itself was 8.5 kilograms. I was totally immersed in my role because I really felt like I was actually stepping on the moon. And it was quite suffocating. I couldn’t breathe well in the helmet, so it took me some time to get the hang of it. I think that’s why we had a great dynamic because we had that camaraderie between us. We know how it feels to be in one of those spacesuits. So we would just joke around and boost our morale because it was quite tiring."
The "moon" in The Silent Sea
As the *first* Korean series to "take place" on the moon, the team behind The Silent Sea wanted to get every detail right. Director Choi admitted that there were a lot of challenges during production, one of which was portraying the lunar environment as accurately as possible. For example, "on the moon, [there’s no air], so the texture of light, the way that light reflects–it all had to be different. And because you don’t have wind there, [they had] to make sure that [they didn’t] see any kind of wind blowing someone’s hair away, or any part of the costume being moved because of the wind."
To create the moon as well as the research base, the team used FIVE studios (or 10,000 square yards)! They wanted to build a set that was incredibly immersive for the actors, focusing on texture and weight. Woo Sung added, "Creating the surface of the moon was really a challenge because there’s nothing there. There are just a few rocks there, and soil maybe. And that part was the most difficult." The actor-producer revealed that he held a broomstick often to help preserve the accuracy of the scenes. He explained, "I had to erase the footprints of the actors because we only needed the footprints of the astronauts. Sometimes, in between shoots, the staff and crew would step on set to do something, and there would be footprints. I swept off those footprints because we wanted to do it as fast as we could, so the shooting could be efficient…I knew all the sequences, so I knew when and where to sweep."
On top of that, the team also used a new technology so the actors could *see* outer space. Typically, production would use a blue screen and then add VFX later on, but for The Silent Sea, they opted for an LED wall. The screen shows the actors the kind of backdrop they’re working with at any given scene. Lee Sung Wook described the experience: "I particularly remember the surface of the moon and seeing the LED wall, it was almost like all of it was seamlessly connected. So sometimes, when we would be joking around among ourselves, when the cameras started to roll, we could immediately just snap into the role and get fully immersed. That was thanks to the LED wall and technology." Wow!
Watch all eight episodes of The Silent Sea on Netflix.
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