The Martian: How a blog post became a Hollywood movie starring Matt Damon

Matt Damon is an astronaut who finds himself stranded and alone on a hostile planet.

There are those big action sci-fi space flicks like Star Wars and Star Trek, and then there are those “grounded” space flicks like Gravity and Interstellar. Next up we have Ridley Scott’s The Martian starring Matt Damon as an astronaut who is left for dead on Mars. Yeah, that’s quite the predicament.

The Martian hits theaters on October 2nd, and last week Nerd Reactor got the chance to check out the first 50 minutes of the film and tour NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. (Check out the new trailer here.) Scott, Damon, astronaut Drew Fuestel, author Andy Weir and Dr. Jim Green were in attendance to talk about the film and about space exploration.

I don’t want to spoil too much about what we saw, but let’s just say I want to return to theaters to finish the rest of the film. What I can say is that Damon’s character gets stuck on Mars, and we get to see him figure out how he’s going to survive there until his rescue comes. Imagine Castaway in space.

The Martian is a true Cinderella story, as author Weir explained. It started out when he was interested in learning about how a manned mission to Mars would work. He said this was “not for story purposes, but just because that’s a certain dorky thing I do. I’m a space nut.”

“How could we do a manned mission to Mars?” Weir curiously asked before the inception of The Martian. “How do we get astronauts there? How do we keep them alive while they’re there? Any mission design needs to account for failures and problems. What do we do if this breaks? What do we do if that breaks. I’m like, ‘This might be an interesting story.’ And so I created an unfortunate protagonist and subjected him to all of them.”

It then turned into a bunch of blog posts, with each chapter being finished every 6 to 8 weeks. Weir strived for scientific accuracy, and his research consisted mainly of Google searches and the help of his small fans, which he calls beta readers.

“Googled it all. 90% of the time it took me to a Wikipedia page, so that’s most of my research.”


Astronaut Drew Feustel, Matt Damon, Director Ridley Scott, Andy Weir and Dr. Jim Green at the Twentieth Century Fox 'The Martian' Trailer Launch Event at United Artists La Canada Theater on Tuesday, August 18, 2015, in La Canada Flintridge, CA. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Twentieth Century Fox/AP Images)
Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Fox

His readers then asked if he could turn the stories online into an e-reader version, since they thought the website was “crap.” Once he made an e-reader version available, other fans asked him to post it to Amazon so that they can read it on their Kindle. Weir set it up, but he had to sell each for 99 cents. He really wanted to give them away, but people were more willing to pay 99 cents on Amazon than to read them for free due to Amazon’s reach.

While the ebook was working its way up as a bestseller on Amazon, Penguin Random House’s Crown Publishing editor Julian Pavia was hesitant about having it published as a book, since he wasn’t sure if it was just for engineers or for the mainstream crowd. David Fugate said that he’ll read the book and will let him know his thoughts. He liked what he read and went to Weir and asked if he needed an agent. Weir said yes, and then Fugate asked Pavia how much is he willing to pay for the book.

As Fugate and Pavia were dealing for the book rights, Fox came asking to option the story, with both deals being made four days apart. It was definitely an interesting week for Weir, who is a computer programmer working at a cubicle fixing bugs. So just imagine him fixing bugs, and then going to a meeting room to discuss the movie option, and then going back to fixing bugs. The rest was history once Drew Goddard worked on the screenplay and Fox got the movie rights.

The Martian is actually my third book. It’s just the first one that didn’t suck,” Weir said.

As we all know, there’s a non-profit foundation called Mars One that is trying to create a settlement on Mars. There are many applicants trying to fight for their chance to live on Mars.

“I think Mars One is a joke,” Weir said frankly. “I think they serve as a useful think tank. I don’t think they’re a scam. I think they really care about what they’re working on, and they really believe in themselves. They got something like 400,000 bucks worth of funding. You can’t colonize Nebraska with that. So, that’s my opinion.”

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