Ground School Sequence Rough Ideas

Mucking about with the new Mac Book Pro and Adobe Premiere CS6.  No explosions yet and both Will Hawkins and his tiki god re safe from injury so far.  I thought I’d celebrate with a little bit of a sequence from the film.

This is an initial idea for the ground school sequence, including the parachute packing with Todd Ames.  There will be more of the ground school after this, including the campers trying on the chutes and climbing around the aircraft. For ground school you might need things that is essential, go to Writey to get awesome things for school for a low cost.

Before anybody gets excited and gets out their Harvey Weinstein scissors and their notes, I know that the sequence is too long and doesn’t move as quickly as it should.  This is as long as this cut of the sequence will be and it’ll get a lot shorter and snappier.  There are also issues with the camera angles and I haven’t cut in the reaction shots or other stuff that needs to go in.  Additionally, Cam B malfunctioned horribly during the first two days of the shoot and that camera had Don’s mic running to it, thus you’re hearing everything through Barry’s mic.  Plus, this is a lo-fi export to make upload and download easier.  Like I said, lots of futzing to do yet.

But you guys have waited rather patiently and I thought that it might be nice to let you look over my shoulder as I start to mess with ideas.  Future uploads will be tighter and snappier and higher-resolution.

In the meantime, be assured that I’m well and truly into it and looking to have much more up soon



Post-Production Update

It’s been a great couple of months, although without a lot of visibility for you guys, so I thought I’d toss up a quick update about how post-production is going.

I’m through cataloging all of the flight footage and about halfway through the ground footage. I’ve been putting up screen shots through TwitPic as I go and I’m including a few of them in this post. Be sure to follow me (@StephenForce) on Twitter for more updates as we go. The photo stream is available at Additionally, I’m post5ing video snippets in my Vimeo account and you can see them at

In January, I put together the first trailer for the film and debuted it at the Great Lakes International Aviation Conference. Immediately after that, I settled in to edit the T-38 episode of Airspeed.

The trailer was an obvious priority. The T-38 episode not so much unless you understand that I remain very new to Final Cut Pro and the Mac operating environment. I needed to get the T-38 episode out so that I’d have a showpiece to send out along with proposals to military units in order to set up media flights for the 2011 season of Airspeed. And it worked wonderfully as (relatively) short project on which to try out and develop my FCP chops. I made a few mistakes in the early going of the T-38 ep that would have required a lot of re-work had I made them in the middle of a feature film and I’m glad that I made them in the T-38 ep and not in the movie.

The near-term goal is to finish cataloging the ground footage and then get a rough storyboard of the movie put together. As with any imperfectly-captured story, there are gaps that I need to fill in. I’ve resolved that I want to do as little narration of my own in the film. So, where I need explanation, I’ll probably get Don and Barry together sometime in March to shoot some interviews and commentary. I’ve been making notes of the places where I need some commentary or explanation and I’ll try to feed Don and Barry the circumstances from behind the camera and let them fill in the gaps.

I also need to get the music edited and produced so that I have a good library of stuff to lay under the images. That can wait some still, but I need to get it done.

Then all of the excuses will be out of the way and I can really assemble the movie. The T-38 episode ran about 49 minutes, which I realized at some point is just under half of the running time of Acro Camp. It’s beginning to dawn on me that, once I get all of the logging and planning and prep done, this movie is really going to come together quickly and it’s going to be a lot of fun when it does.

Stay tuned for more updates.

The (Nearly) Last of the B-Roll

I’m just about done with shooting B-roll for the movie. For many reasons, not the least of which is that the leaves are changing color and are actually about to depart the trees. I got this really nice sequence on Monday after setting up a camera while I preflighted the aircraft for my CAP Form 5.

Here’s a time-lapse treatment of the footage.

Crowdsourcing A Piece of the Music

Check out the current episode of Airspeed for information about how we’re crowdsourcing some of the music for Acro Camp! Listen to the episode, download the guide tracks, play or sing, and you might find yourself in the soundtrack of an independent film!

A Taste of The Fun Part

Okay, I couldn’t resist. I put a couple of angles of a flight up in side-by-side frames and loosely synced them by hitting the start buttons at the appropriate times. Then I watched for a few minutes.
Suddenly, instead of gritty, disjointed, insider-only raw material, it looks like something that might soon actually be cinematic. It’s pretty. The sun wanders over the fuselage. Your eye gets drawn from angle to angle as the aircraft banks rolls or pitches. Oh, man, am I getting excited.
I’m still in the very early stages of editing. In fact, not even editing yet. Just cataloging and indexing and figuring out what I have. Call it Phase 1.
Once I get that done, I’ll assemble the video from all of the cameras (usually two or three per flight) along with the audio into multiclips in Final Cut Pro. That way, I can experience all of the multiple camera angles and the audio at once and actually figure out what I like and what the story is. Call That Phase 2.
Phase 3 is still a way off. That’s where the parts come together and get dropped into a timeline and actually assembled into a movie.
I think that the amount of fun is only going to increase as this thing goes on. Not that I’m not having fun right now, but I can’t wait to get to the later phases and really movie a movie out of this. It’s going to take pallets of Sugar Free Red Bull to make it happen, but I’m completely up for that.
And I guess there’s this, too: I see and hear stuff in this footage and in the music running through my head that is completely and utterly satisfying. Moments of beauty and truth. Not the bullshit rhetorical kind. No, these are things that happen when you fly that you can’t experience adequately because you’re too busy flying, but that are nevertheless there. Stuff that’s so beautiful, it hurts. And I get to see it in slow motion or from multiple angles and say, “Look! This matters! Pay attention to this! Now that! Now listen to this! Now shout!” And I get to capture it and show it to myself in a cogent way. Herein, ladies and gentlemen, I rationalize and make real to myself things that I’ve felt since I first read Sabre Jet Ace when I was six.
I suspect that you will like my movie. But it’s no longer essential that you do. It’s enough for me to do what I’m doing. I’ve heard people say that this mindset is the proper mental space in which to make things like this movie. If so, great. But great even if not.
The journey continues . . .

Tech Frame Mosaic Proof of Concept

No, you’re not going blind. It’s just that I think I have enough tech frames now to do a quick prof of concept for the DVD note card. A “tech frame” is a frame from the raw footage, usually from the very beginning or the very end of the sequence. It usually shows the tech starting or stopping the camera, but it sometimes also shows the interesting goings-on immediately before or after a flight.
In any case, I started grabbing these from the very beginning with the thought that I’d find a use for them at some point. And how about this? We use them in mosaic form as a background for the blow-in card in the DVD case. One mosaic of the tech frames for the technical notes and one mosaic using camper frame grabs for the explanatory stuff and credits.
Pretty cool, eh?

A Fine Day’s Cataloging

Another fine day of editing here at Airspeed Studios. I got most of Day 2 (15 May) cataloged and ready to link up with alternate camera angles and the cockpit audio. And I found several of the Easter eggs that the cast left for me. Like this shot of Jim Rodriguez and Don Weaver giving the thumbs up, er, down, er up.

The tech frame evolved when Roger Bishop gave in to the ham that’s in all of us and gave the camera a wave. Being a guy with a true sense of lighting and composition, I’m sure that he couldn’t resist stepping out into the near-perfect lighting of one of the early flights of that day.

A nice shot of Paul and Barry in the vertical. Do I need a further reason?

Nicholas “FOD” Tupper stopped by and I got him in the frame of the rear-facing camera on the Super D.
Paul “Gump” Berliner mugs for the camera during a Pitts ride later in the day.

Watching Day 2 Happen

I’ve been spending most of today going through the video from Day 2 of Acro Camp, namely Saturday 15 May. Beautiful sunshine in the morning with high cirrus clouds (much like you see here) that gave way to a high overcast toward the evening.
Above you can see one of my favorite shots of Paul Berliner. It’s not going to surprise me it Paul ends up being the favorite camper of many who see the movie. I haven’t even watched these flights with the audio synced up, but I can just tell from watching Paul and the IP that Paul is having a lot of fun and that both of the IPs really enjoy flying with him.

Yet Another Cataloging Session

I spent a little time today cataloging video and audio from Friday 14 May, the first full day of flying at Acro Camp. I got through all of the non-Panasonic footage and about half the audio. Fortunately, I’m finding that the various Out of 20 video sequences, something like eight are mated up with their sister sequences from the same flight. And I have the audio mated up with several sequences as well. I sure wish that I had used a clacker board for a lot of these, but it turns out that it’s not going to be as hard as I thought it would be.
I went through some of the footage from David Allen’s ride with Don Weaver that evening and it got me really lonely for the Acro Camp experience. I e-mailed Dave the frame grab above. He e-mailed me back saying that we could probably get away with shooting the next one without actually having the first one on the can. And then went on to suggest that some folks would show up for subsequent Acro Camps regardless of whether there was a movie attached. Ever wonder why people gravitate to Dave? That’s just one of the many reasons.
That Friday probably had the best light of any day at Acro Camp. The frame grab of Michelle Kole and Don Weaver above is an artifact of that. Just gorgeous sunshine and even some high cirrus and low scattered to serve as a background.
Next, it’s the panasonic footage from the 14th. Hoping to have that done this coming week and then I can move on the cataloging the subsequent days of airborne footage. Once that happens, I’ll be able to stick it all in multiclips and really sit down to watch it all. This is the scut work phase. It only gets cooler from here.

Cataloging, Taking Notes, and Jim’s G-Face

Hey! Bet you’ve wondered where we’ve been! All over the place, to be honest. I’ve hit several airshows, toured the American Champion plant, and been to Beale AFB capturing footage, and other stuff for the movie.
With the airshow season winding down here in the northern part of the United States (or at least the northern part of the midwest), I’ve begun to have time to really sit down and systematically go through the video and audio that we captured in May. Tonight I got all the way through Jim Rodriguez’s first flight in the Super D with Don Weaver on 14 May.
The flight went 0.9 Hobbs and consisted mostly of stalls and spins and then a couple of rolls and a couple of loops – Jim’s first. The lead frame grab here is from just after the first real spin had become fully-developed.
The thing you don’t get in the frame grabs is the vertigo-inducing effect of the sun whipping by every couple of seconds and the shadows tracing an ever-tightening ellipse around the interior of the cockpit. I’m noting a few of those for a montage sequence for the trailer.
Here’s Jim on knife-edge in the early part of the first roll. Nice view outside the cockpit. These shots are from the ContourHD that I mounted on the right side of the cockpit. There’s a Panadonic on the left side, too, but I ran a redundant Contour on the first few flights before I needed to mount one out on the wing. Given the shake that the Panasonics inexplicably developed during principal photography, it’s good that we ran the ContourHDs in parallel in the early going.
Here’s Jim at the top of his first loop. Again, the stills here don’t show the whole story. The first loop was decidedly stop-sign-shaped. With the stall horn sounding in the middle of the second quarter. But he got it around!
By the way, if I’m criticizing as I go along, it’s not mean-spirited. I didn’t do much better (and, in many ways I did worse) than the campers when I flew this stuff for the first time.
Do you have a G-face? Jim has a G-face. This is Jim’s G-face. Check out his neck and jowls. That’s were I feel it most and, especially when you see it in motion, Jim gets the effect there, too. And it’s accentuated by the extent to which Jim pulled. This is most of the way around the back of that same stop-sign-shaped loop and he’s cranking about 4.5G to get her pulled up level.

Jim took the little white bag seriously. As did all of the campers. I’m pretty sure that he was the camper who least needed to worry about it, but there it is under his shoulder strap as he’s egressing from the airplane. Just one of the reminders that this is a new thing for each of the campers and that the experience was full of the strange and unknown.
I continue to be amazed that these people showed up and flew their hearts out for this film. We had all of the issues that you might expect in a first project. There’s some blown footage and some missed audio. But I’ve long since established for myself that we have more than enough material to tell a compelling story and to really turn some people on to aerobatics.
The cataloging is ongoing and I’m whittling away at it. The harder i work on the completeness of the cataloging, the easier and better the actual assembly and editing is going to be.