The video above (look for the “play” carrot in the lower right corner of the banner) was filmed using a Cessna 210 as the photo plane (and as a means to haul more people and gear) and a Cessna 421 as the main subject of our attention. A small film crew went in both aircraft and documented the trip. For most of the crew, this was their very first experience in General Aviation aircraft.
Jim Hoddenbach and I wanted to make a video or a show about aviation, something meaningful, something epic, something that would inspire children to pay attention during elections as to be more informed when they get to voting age. A show that cleverly hid it’s truths and insights in everyday activities as to not be too “on the nose” and preachy, but still had the power to reach deep into the soul of even the casual viewer and make them confront themselves… really confront themselves, you know? Like deep stuff, that made you think. So we spent minutes thinking, and asked three people who happened to be in the room next to us: “how do we do such a thing?”. When they didn’t know either we said “screw it”, let’s just do something fun in the airplanes.
And so we did. We planned a trip to San Diego
The idea seemed simple enough; fly with some old friends to San Diego in cool airplanes and video the thing. We were pretty sure we would come up with some deep stuff along the way, pretty sure . . .
We were also pretty sure we would learn a lot about how to do this sort of thing better along the way. And if no one liked it, then we knew we would be sad, but we also knew we would do it again only better! So obviously the benefits outweighed the costs.
We knew it would be hard work, but… I don’t think we were prepared for the complications that filming on aircraft would present.
Challenge #1: Weight
When filming a show you need several skilled people, such as:
Field Producer – the person who handles car rentals, hotel reservations, entry fees, location permits, random police who show up asking for your filming permit and insurance, onlookers who are obsessed with photo bombing everything a camera points at, etc.
Camera Operators x3 – in anything that is reality based (observational documentary) you cannot call “cut” and do a re-take. So you need to have what is known as coverage; three angles: a wide, establishing the location and the events and actions from a kind of panoramic point of view (called a master shot). You need another camera to be covering the “two-shots”; two characters in a single frame. And you need the Close up’s and Cut-away guy. You really need four or five cameras but three is a minimum.
Location Recordist – The guy whose sole focus is on recording the audio. This means not only getting clean audio from the characters or subjects, but also the ambient sounds and “foley” sounds (footsteps on concrete, waves running up on the beach, airplanes motors starting, etc.) that will be needed to represent the locations and atmosphere in the video.
DIT (Digital Ingest Technician) – This guy/gal is responsible for gathering the media (now-a-days it’s a tape or micro hard drive such as a SSD or CF Card) from each camera operator and the media from the location recordist when the tapes or cards have filled up, and give them fresh tapes or drives/cards. Then, the DIT starts compiling, naming and backing up all the media on large storage drives. It’s a critical job, and sometimes can go long into the night after a day of shooting.
All of these people need a ton of gear! Camera, stands, location lights, microphones, lens kits, action cameras, mono-pods/tripods, hard drives, cases, and batteries coming out your butt! Charging equipment and laptops computers are only the beginning… It’s a lot of stuff.
So as you can imagine even the beautiful Cessna 421 would have a hard time with three grown ass men and five video crew members, all their luggage, and the film gear.
Challenge #2: The Patience of Old Men
Filming is grueling. You have to imagine me asking a guy like John Sorenson to walk through that door one more time because we caught a logo in the picture… and by one more time, we mean like 10 times. Put yourself in their shoes and your patience level with gear with all kinds of pointy edges being loaded onto your plane. Imagine not being able to sit down and have a simple meal with five camera people asking you to “pick that fork up with the other hand”. It sucks.
In fact it got so bad that Jim Peterson decided that he needed an outlet and that outlet would be to pick on Brandon, a camera guy, the entire trip! You ever seen a 20-something year old camera man try to match wits with a seasoned pilot with over 18,000 hours flying huge jets, globally? I did, and it was really funny (to everyone but Brandon).
As the shoot went on, day after day, these guys got tired, and they REALLY wanted to go home. In all reality they were not mentally prepared for what we were going to put them through, and I owe them a great debt for being troopers though the whole thing.
Challenge #3: Weather
“If you have to be there, don’t go by air!” Well, when you have booked rooms, cars, events, and permits for shooting times… you kind of have to be there at those times. Filming is intrusive and creates a lot of distraction for any business; whether it’s a hotel having a film crew running around; or a restaurant having a small section of their establishment cordoned off; or even just at the beach, the cameras and the people are all attention grabbing. As a point of fact, if you want to film in any given city (such as San Diego) you have to have large insurance policies in place to cover the liability of the city should some driver or pedestrian pay more attention to the film shoot and less attention to their driving or walking and cause an accident. You also have to get signatures from any business front that you might disrupt by filming in their proximity. All these folks are (rightfully) particular about the dates and times they agreed to let you be there.
General Aviation aircraft don’t typically arrive at their destination on a predictable schedule. We were either late, or early to just about everything. Thus the field producer (Christina – as seen nearly barfing in the back of the 421) had her hands full for four days straight, making calls asking for forgiveness or early access.
To complicate things further, we wanted to do some air-to-air video on our way and we need smooth air to do so effectively. I prayed, I donated money to charity, and I had everyone on my team locate an old lady and help her with her groceries, just to evoke as much “good mojo” as possible, but alas we really only had one evening of smooth air and at THAT time we had not acquired all the gear that we have now to handle those conditions.
So we got what we could and moved on:
Jim is going to write more about this trip in another post featuring part 2 of the video so I won’t meander here too much more than I have.
My most memorable moment on the trip was standing there on the tarmac at St. George with Jim, Jim, and John when I asked what the “big deal” was about the Supercub… All three men stood silent for a moment, and you could see the wheels turning as they tried to come up with the words to explain it to someone who had no real exposure to aviation… John spoke first and where I cannot quote him exactly I also would never forget the meaning of the words he said:
Airplanes are dreams. No one owns one because they “need” one… they are dreams, they represent an idea to each pilot that really speaks to his or her heart. For some it’s a Cessna Centurion 210 to travel with their families or teach their sons… for others it’s what a Cub represents, the journey into wild places, to be able to land where it’s unreasonable to land an aircraft. They’re dreams. Each pilot has one, a dream, and each pilot will find themselves in the particular airplane of their dreams, hopefully. A cub represents all things backcountry to a lot of pilots and has become a icon for that particular calling in aviation.
Now what student pilot can hear a thing like that and not wonder what their dream was…if they didn’t know already (such as myself).
We had many great moments, and honestly, if I had the film to do over again I probably would not have bothered with HALF the stuff we bothered with, surfing, and go-carts, all would have been left out. At the time, I really didn’t have the disease of aviation to the point where I could have made a film that consisted of mostly airplanes and nothing else. But now… oh, now… if I ever make something like this again, it will be airplanes all day and all night, featuring all kinds of dreams, and all kinds of dreamers…
Jim and I are already planning this next video dedicated to aviation and we expect to keep building videos, as long as you, our fellows in aviation, the Disciples of Flight, continue to read, click, donate, and support us.