An Interview with NASA Producer, Writer, Director: John Streeter

Article 1NASA‘s years of continued success in the field of space exploration have been a staple of not only the American spirit, but human resilience ever since its conception in 1958. When people think about NASA, images of engineers building spacecrafts or astronauts getting all suited up are what come to mind, however there are many other positions and projects going on than most people realize. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with NASA’s Lone Star Emmy Award Winning Producer, Writer and Director, John Streeter, who has been producing video content for NASA for years now. Streeter’s work helps bridge the gap between the happenings of NASA and the general public, and Streeter was kind enough to take time to invite me into his workplace to discuss this. Before we sat down to discuss his career, Streeter took me on a tour of the studios at the Johnson Space Center, which we of course chronicled with a slew of photos.

John first brought me into Studio B, where they record the majority of their astronaut interviews. This massive studio was filled with more equipment than I would ever be able to handle, and John even got to pose with one of his cameras.  

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Next John showed me the Orion spacecraft mockup that was used to film a music video with famous musician, Grace Potter. The video, which John Streeter wrote and directed, had a very strong theme of female empowerment and helped highlight the achievements of many of the women engineers there at NASA. You can watch that video below:

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After a quick run through by the broadcasting room and Studio B, John took me to the conference room where hundreds of well known astronauts once sat to discuss their upcoming missions, live for the world to see. Finally we ended up in John’s editing suite, walls strewn with classic sci-fi film posters, to discuss his past works, future works, and greatest inspirations.

Erin O’Hara: What does the day in the life of a Producer for NASA look like?

John Streeter: Well, the title Producer here is a little different than it would be outside of the gates. I do sort of top to bottom,” from scratch” productions, where as a Producer elsewhere will come up with the idea, find contacts to make it happen and then they hand it over and that’s it. Here, a Producer is going to research, set up shoots, write the scripts, direct shoots, get all of the materials together to make a production and then edit that together.

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Erin: Before NASA, you had already been working in video production for a while, so what caused your initial interest in film and video production?

John: I was always kind of a sci-fi kid. I was into all of the sci-fi comics, movies and books. There was this one science fiction magazine that would have these articles once in a while about how they made some of the films I had seen, and this was before Star Wars of course, but I was always kind of intrigued by the idea of how fun it would be working on something like that.  I finally asked my parents for a super 8 camera, you know the cameras with eight millimeter film where you had to buy a cartridge of it, snap it into your camera, shoot your “Epic” and then turn it in and wait 3 days for it to come back from the store. Whenever I got my films back I would run them on my projector in my room and that whole process was always so exciting to me. Of course when Star Wars came out, that pushed it even further. They had a TV special showing the guys rigging up the spaceships against green screens and no one had seen anything like that before. Understanding that this was a way of telling a story, you know through visual means, that was something I had to be a part of.

Erin: Since we are kind of on the topic, I have to ask, what’s your favorite sci-fi film?

John: 2001: A Space Odyssey. I actually infuriated some of my friends when I was in college when they had a fresh 70 millimeter print of it at the theater and I made them go see it. I told them, “You’re going to love it. It kind of doesn’t answer all of the questions. It leaves stuff hanging out.”, but they all ended up hating it and falling asleep.  But that is definitely one of my favorites, that and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The original of course, not the Keanu Reeves remake, we can throw that one aside. The original had a lot of undercurrent themes that were relevant at the time and are still relevant today.

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Erin: All creators draw inspiration from the “Greats” that came before them, so what filmmakers or even films do you find yourself drawing from the most?

John: Growing up, Lucas and Spielberg films were starting to come out and they were really changing things for the industry. From those guys, I really learned the importance of music. Music was a big thing in my house growing up, but I never really thought about how it affected film until they came along. When I noticed these movies would have similar sounds I started to ask, “Who is this Bernard Herrmann guy?”. Herrmann did a lot of the Hitchcock films and some of my favorites like Jason and the Argonaunts and The Day the Earth Stood Still. I started to question what it was about music that made it so compelling. Days after I would be thinking about a film I just saw and what would stick with me is how to audio made me feel and how the music really held onto the themes in the film. Today I have to have my music in place before I can even start editing.

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Erin: What is your creative process like and how do you see your personality in your work?

John: My creative process starts with something very technical. The client wants to tell a certain story to the public, and that’s what we are here for. I’ll try to get that passion they have for the project that they can’t always communicate to come out. I’ll interview some folks involved in whatever it is by asking, “what’s important about it to you?” or “what’s something new you personally contributed to the project that you are proud of?” and that’s when their passion starts to show and I can incorporate that in what I write. From there it goes back to the music thing. I’ll start to pull several tracks that might work and then in my editing suite I’ll put the track in and see if it gets the feeling I want it to have. After that I hand it over to our amazing audio mixers, graphic designers, and videographers, who I am so lucky to have on my team.

Erin: I know it has been a few years since it happened, but your Emmy win is something we have to dive into. What exactly was that whole experience like?

John: That was the first year we went to the Emmy’s, or even tried to enter. The video, Trial By Fire, was about our newest space program here at NASA, The Orion Program, and that was its maiden voyage. The great thing about that video was that the final production was exactly what I had envisioned. So many things came together we had never tried before, like the in-camera graphics and our host, who was actually one of the engineers who was working on Orion. When I interviewed him I could see how passionate he was from the beginning so I knew we had to use him. Towards the end we knew we had something special. To have that project be the one that got us an Emmy win was really exciting, and I really do owe it all to my team here at NASA.

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WATCH: Orion: Trial by Fire –

Erin: Which production of yours are you most proud of, or which one has the most meaning to you personally?

John: There’s a couple of them. Trial By Fire I am very proud of because winning that Emmy was really an outside industry coming in and saying “wow your work is good” and to me that was an indication to the whole team here because they put so much into it and really brought their talent. One of the engineer’s mom’s came up to me and said, “my son has been working on this project for a few years and I had no idea what he was doing, and now I finally understand.” To me that was the biggest compliment. There was another production when I first started here I’m very proud of. We did a free form children’s show, called Meet Me at the Station, and we made it right around when we were building the ISS. They wanted to do an educational piece about the ISS. I didn’t want to use your typical host narrator because it was for kids. I thought this one needs to be a little different and I had the idea to have an animated robot as the host. It ended up being a hit. This was before the internet but it was checked out a lot by schools and they even wrote lesson plans around my video. Nothing like that had ever happened before and it really flexed the muscle of the production team because it showed we were capable of real stylized productions and not just standard news broadcast type stuff.  

WATCH: Meet me at the Station Part 1:

WATCH: Meet me at the Station Part 2:

Erin: You’ve worked with a lot of pretty big celebrities already, but I wanted to ask if there was anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to?

John: As a kid, I was always a big Star Wars fan but we haven’t done anything with the Star Wars guys yet so that would be a fun one to get them involved on. It’s always neat when the celebrities come to us and want to do something. They’re just in awe of the space program and they want to be a part of it. It really comes across in the production and that makes it enjoyable for everybody. I’ve even worked with celebrities I didn’t even know of at the time, like some of the Doctor Who doctors, but then that got me into the show of course. But yeah definitely the Star Wars guys.

WATCH: Orion: I’m on Board:

WATCH: Orion: I’m on Board – Lou Ferrigno:

Erin: A lot of what you do is giving the general public an inside look and an understanding of what goes on here at NASA, so is there anything you haven’t shown the public yet that you would really like to?

John: There’s a lot that’s about to happen and that’s the exciting part. We launched Orion as a test flight and it was very successful, so now we are going to send it on a new rocket, that we haven’t finished building yet, in the next year or so. It’s going to go further out that any man rated space craft has gone before. It’s going to be neat to do a video about that and getting to explain that mission is what I’m really looking forward to.

Erin: In terms of space exploration, right now the big push from everyone is getting to Mars, do you have some Mars related productions in the works you can tell us about?

John: Orion is the next big flight exploration mission we are working on right now, but it is certainly the stepping stone to Mars. The new technology used on Orion is what is going to take us further, so in a way we are already working on Mars related productions with our work with Orion. I am definitely excited to see where we go with the Mars productions as it gets closer to that time.

Erin: In recent years there has been a huge shift in video production and marketing, with things like YouTube, where do you see things going from here with new media?

John: When I started it was primarily broadcast. We would make our products and put them on satellite. We still broadcast a lot because live is the quickest way we are going to get things out there, so it’s become more of a hybrid where now we are starting to utilize social media and things like YouTube.  I think we have been pretty successful with that and I see both things growing together.

Erin: What’s the best filmmaking advice you’ve received and what’s your personal advice you would give to any aspiring filmmakers out there?

John: I can still hear some of my professors telling me, “make a cut no more than 3 seconds”, but of course I’ve seen people abuse that all the time and it still work. From my schooling days I really learned the discipline to see something through. I learned to find why someone else sees something as important and draw from that for inspiration. And of course you always have to ask yourself, “would I watch this?”. I would tell future filmmakers to do your research. A lot of people see that as the daunting part of it but the deeper you dig, no matter what your piece is about, you’ll find stuff you didn’t even know you were looking for. The more immersed you make yourself the more you have to draw on for inspiration and it really shows in your final production.

Check out more of Streeter’s work and all of NASA’s below:

— Erin O’Hara

(all photos are originals from Erin)

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