Saturday, March 27, 2010

Banging Out Soundtrack Ideas

I booked The Soundscape Studio for Friday night and spent about four hours laying down drum parts, much of which I’m planning to use for the Acro Camp soundtrack.

I like The Soundscape a lot. It’s in Royal Oak close to my house. It’s cozy without being cramped. Tim Smith operates it. He’s a drummer and really seems to understand how to mic a drum kit. And he gets how to manage a session and is a whiz on the console.

Mike Murphy, a fellow CAP officer and one of the guys who helped shoot the Greg Poe ride last summer, came along and helped shoot video and stills, as well as hang out to keep things loose. Really helpful.

I first pounded out the drums for The Last Pure Thing on the Radio, a song that I’m hoping will go a little viral among the airshow radio community (EAA Radio, Sun ‘N Fun Radio, Arlington Fly-In Radio, Flight Line Radio, &c.). A nice little warm-up.

Then I asked Tim to set up a 120 bpm click track and I spent 20 minutes or so just banging out drum parts that I can later cut into convenient samples for use in stuff for the soundtrack. I’ve never had a convenient set of my own drum sounds to use as a sample library. And, prior to switching to Pro Tools as a primary recording and editing platform for sound, I never had a need for a library like that.

I’ll probably ask ace New York sound guy Scott Cannizzarro to mix the samples into a good two-track file and then go in and cut it into samples. Then, once I have a sample set, I can set up a 120-bpm (or other tempo with elastic audio) and play with the audio to my heart’s content. I’m envisioning much of the music as being groove-oriented and non-melodic. Stuff like Thunderbird Groove and Goat Groove that will ride under the visual content, punctuating it from time to time but generally staying out of the way.

Truth be told, what I really want is to use a few tracks from the instrumental disc of Dream Theater’s Black Clouds and Silver Linings album, namely The Count of Tuscany and The Best of Times. But there seems to be little chance of making that happen. From what I understand of licensing deals, the Dream Theater music would end up costing four to ten times the total budget of the film that I have available right now. I might still pursue that, but it’ll have to wait for after principal photography when I start editing in earnest.

Do you know Dream Theater’s people? Got an in with BMI? Know the folks at Roadrunner Records? Tell ‘em that there’s a potentially great aerobatic movie out here in Michigan that could put that music to an amazing use that doesn't cannibalize otheruses of the music. And I’ll do a step deal if that makes it happen. Anyway . . .

So now it’s back to the pre-production grind. My primary concern these days is getting the camera mounts right. That’s one of the few things that’s genuinely out of my control but that I have to make happen. I’m good with the Citabria and the Super-D. I have good in-airplane mount sites and I understand how they’re going to work. I might also have an exterior mount or two that will work well and I’m excited about trying those as well, at least for some B-roll and/or trailer stuff.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Meet the Campers: Airspeed Episode Featuring the Entire Cast is Now in the Feed

The entire cast of Acro Camp got on the phone Sunday night to record an episode of Airspeed. Check it out in the Airspeed podcast feed or see the show notes (and a direct link to the audio) here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Campers Connect: Kole and Berliner

Acro Camp cast members Michelle Kole and Paul Berliner connected in Chicagoland today to say hello and get to know each other. Michelle is in town visiting her father, who is also a pilot. Through a series of happy coincidences, Michelle is turning into the Kevin Bacon of the cast, having made personal contact with Paul and with director Steve Tupper and IP Don Weaver, all within 48 hours of the cast announcement.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Acro Camp Announces Cast

We’re very pleased to announce the cast of Acro Camp. The “campers” if you will. Here they are in alphabetical order.

Paul Berliner. Paul started flying at the age of 10, earned his private pilot certificate in 1977, and has gone on to become a professional airline pilot. He has more than 12,000 hours of flight time and is rated to fly lots of heavy iron, including, among others, the Boeing 727, the Boeing 757, the Boeing 767, and the Lockheed L-1011. For all the airline experience, he has very little aerobatic experience other than spin training for his instructor certificate and recurrent upset training in simulators for his airline job. Paul has only two items left on his aviation bucket list: To train in aerobatics/tailwheel and to obtain his seaplane rating. He lives in Geneva, Illinois.

Michelle Kole. Michelle is a psychologist and flight instructor from Manhattan Beach, California. She has about 475 hours of total flight time and usually flies Cessna training aircraft and Beech Bonanzas. She earned her private pilot certificate in 2000 and has been expanding her capabilities since then. Michelle has had the spin training associated with her instructor training and been through an emergency maneuver training course, but no other aerobatic experience. She is looking forward to aerobatic training both for the fun of it and to help expand her capabilities and confidence as a flight instructor training the next generation of pilots.

Lynda Meeks. Lynda is a professional pilot who flies business jets for a fractional operator. She began her aviation career flying the UH-1 Iroquois (“Huey”) helicopter for the US Army. Since earning her initial pilot rating in 1993, she has built more than 5,000 hours total flight time in various rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft. Other than spin training as a part of her fixed-wing transition, she has no aerobatic experience. She runs Girls With Wings (, an organization that encourages girls to pursue careers in aviation and provides role models for girls to emulate. The organization is probably best summarized by its tagline: “Girls need flight plans, not fairy tales.” She lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Jim Rodriguez. Jim is a major and judge advocate in the US Air Force Reserve. He works as an intellectual property and commercial litigation attorney in Dripping Springs, Texas. He served on active duty with the US Air Force as an aerospace engineer and manager in the US Air Force Space Command. Jim has about 300 hours of flight experience. He became a private pilot in 1998 and has since added an instrument rating and commercial pilot certificate. He’s a Civil Air Patrol major and a member of the Lawyer Pilot Bar Association. Not surprisingly, Jim’s favorite airshow performers are the USAF Thunderbirds for their speed and precision.

Please join us in welcoming the cast. We’re very much looking forward to seeing them fly. In fact, Director Steve Tupper and IP Don Weaver had lunch with camper Michelle Kole at KJXn this afternoon, after which Don had the opportunity to give Michelle a demo flight in an OptAir-managed Cirrus SR-22.

More news soon! And watch for an Airspeed episode featuring all of the campers within the next week.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Acro Camp Casting Almost Complete; Principal Photography to Take Place May 12-16

Just a quick update. We've selected our four primary cast members ("campers") and several alternates and we're just waiting for the selected campers to confirm that they're in.

As of a few minutes ago, we've sent an e-mail to every applicant, whether selected as a camper, selected as an alternate, or not selected.

We've also confirmed the dates for the camp (and principal

The selection process was awful in the very best way. Don, Barry, and I suffered through a plague of riches as we reviewed your application and others and agonized over whom to interview and whom to choose. You should know by now that I mean it when I say that there were sparks of brilliance in each application. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t say it.)

Don and Barry are each new to new-media audiences. They’re catching on quickly, but neither of them really understood what a rabid and sophisticated tribe aviation podcast listeners are. Needless to say, the application package took them both by surprise and kind of rocked them back on their heels a little. Like me, Don and Barry were each humbled by the amount of time and energy that you put into your application and each of the three of us dug through the whole package with awe and (I’ll say it again) humility.

I really wish that we could have brought everyone into the hangar, stuffed them into airplanes, and then rolled them out. But this is necessarily a small-group thing. For what it’s worth, each camper who was selected had to get over the hurdle that I placed in front of them, to-wit: Would he or she be an adequate and worthy proxy for people like you who weren’t selected?

Please stay tuned here and follow both me (@StephenForce) and the #AcroCamp hashtag on Twitter for updates. And there’ll be plenty of podcasting about this as we get closer to, during, and after principal photography May 12-16.

My task now is to capture this whole thing in a way that’s worthy of the energy and support that has so readily flowed from applicants, new-media personalities, aviation illuminati, and others. So many people have placed their belief and trust in Airspeed and you can be assured that I’m going to bend over backward to produce a product worthy of the excitement that it’s causing.

Press Release Announcing Acro Camp Principal Photography in Michigan

Here’s the text of a press release that I sent out some time ago to announce the project to the local media round southeast Michigan. A full PDF version with links to pictures useable in media coverage of the project appears at

Press Release

February 5, 2010
For Immediate Release

New Movie about Aerobatic Flying Slated for Production
at Oakland County International Airport this Summer

WATERFORD, MICHIGAN. If all goes as planned, four pilots from around North America will converge on southeast Michigan this spring with something very special on their minds. One or more of them might be ordinary private pilots like the people you see flying single-engine prop-driven airplanes over your house on a lazy summer afternoon. One or more might be seasoned airline pilots who are used to hauling hundreds of people around at 35,000 feet in jet airliners.

But each will be coming to Michigan to do something very special for the first time: They’re going to learn how to fly an airplane upside down, sideways, and every which way. And they’re going to do it in front of the camera for a new movie project called Acro Camp.

The project is the brainchild of southeast Michigan lawyer, pilot, and aviation media personality Steve Tupper. He explains it this way. “I’ve been shooting high-definition video of my own aerobatic training for more than a year. Now that I know where to put the cameras and how to capture this effectively, it’s a natural thing to bring in a diverse group of pilots and capture their reactions to the same kind of experiences that I’ve been having. And making this into a movie will help all of us to explain our love of aviation to the non-pilot community.”

“Acro” is a common term used by pilots to refer to aerial acrobatics or aerobatics. The “Camp” part of the title comes from the camp-like four-day training program through which the pilots will go.

“I’m envisioning a cross between a reality show and a documentary, although we really won’t know what we have until everyone flies and goes home and we sit down to watch the video and see what story arcs present themselves,” says Tupper.

Each of three aircraft used for the project will be outfitted with an HD camera rig and an audio system to capture the pilots’ and instructors’ conversations and communications with air traffic control. And Tupper and his crew will follow the pilots around on the ramp, in the pilot lounge, at dinner, and otherwise, capturing their reactions and conversations.

The project will stage at the Oakland Aviation Academy, based at The Aviation Station building at the northeast corner of the Oakland County International Airport in Waterford. The production will essentially take over that flight school for the four days of the camp.

Three aircraft will serve as the training platforms for the project. The first two, an American Champion Citabria and an American Champion Super Decathlon, are aerobatically-certified light aircraft that seat two pilots in tandem (the student in front and the instructor in back). Each is commonly used to teach basic aerobatics and to teach pilots how to fly a tailwheel airplane.

Most small airplanes in use today are so-called “tricycle-gear” airplanes because they have two main wheels and the third wheel is on the nose, in front of the mains. Tailwheel airplanes have the third wheel far behind the mains, on the tail, and are often referred to as “taildraggers” for obvious reasons. It’s much harder to take off and land in a taildragger (in fact, the FAA requires that a pilot have a special endorsement in his or her logbook before acting as pilot in command of a taildragger). Most aerobatic airplanes are taildraggers.

The third aircraft is slated to be a Pitts S-2B normally operated by Berz Flight Training ( at Ray Community Airport west of New Haven. The Pitts is a taildragger like the Citabria and the Super Decathlon but, unlike the other two, it is a biplane that has two sets of wings – one on top and the other below. The Pitts is purpose-built for aerobatics, it can perform more extreme maneuvers, and it will serve as the advanced training platform beginning on the third day of the camp.

Certified flight instructors Barry Sutton and Don Weaver will do the aerobatic instruction.

Sutton operates Sutton Aviation ( at the airport. “I’ve been giving instruction since 1991,” said Sutton. “A lot of that has been in taildraggers and much of it has been aerobatic instruction. I love these aircraft and what they do. It gives me a chance to teach a pilot more about what the airplane is really doing up there and how to more effectively control it.” Sutton has performed aerobatics in airshows. Sutton is also an FAA designated examiner who administers flight tests to those seeking pilot certificates and ratings.

Weaver is a principal of OptAir (, a company that provides fractional ownership of Cirrus aircraft. He has been flying since the mid-1970s and teaching aerobatics since 1998. “Flying aerobatics makes you a safer, more confident pilot,” says Weaver. “You become more attuned to the behavior of the airplane and you learn techniques to recover from unusual attitudes that might be caused by wake turbulence, weather conditions, or other unexpected causes. And, if you’re like me, you discover how much fun it can be and you get hooked!”

Sutton observes that “the school here is a real gem. It’s one of the very few places north of the Mason-Dixon line where you can train to fly a taildragger and to fly it aerobatically and then go fly it all by yourself. In most cases, if you can find a school that will teach you in taildraggers, the school will only let you fly with an instructor. We train our students well here and we have no qualms about sending them out alone when the student has demonstrated his or her proficiency with the airplane.”

As much fun as the camp is expected to be, safety is the number one concern whenever people fly airplanes aerobatically. “We start right out with a safety stand-down before anyone even turns a propeller,” said Sutton. “We’re conducting a full ground school on the arrival day. Nobody gets into an airplane on the first day of flying without knowing how to fully use the harnesses, get the door off the airplane, bail out, and use a parachute if the need arises. We have a strong safety culture here and the pilots in the cast are going to get a taste of that safety culture immediately.”

Weaver continued. “Aerobatic flight isn’t especially dangerous if you understand the parameters, get competent instruction, and know your systems. In fact, having some aerobatic training makes you a safer pilot. Every cast member will wear a parachute on every flight, even if the weather is low and we’re just doing takeoffs and landings close to the airport. We don’t anticipate any problems. But any good pilot trains for emergencies and we’re no different.”

Tupper, who has trained with both Sutton and Weaver, will be spending the four days on the ground, supervising photography, planning flights, and coordinating the pilots. He is known to thousands as his thinly-veiled alter-ego “Stephen Force,” the host of the long-running Airspeed podcast (audio and video delivered over the Internet). Airspeed is a pioneering all-features show that is now in its fifth year and has a back-catalog of more than 150 episodes. Airspeed has been a media vehicle that has allowed Tupper to fly with some of the best pilots in the world, including experiences with airshow performers Michael Mancuso, Greg Poe, and Brett Hunter, as well as go on training flights with the US Air Force in a T-6A turboprop training aircraft and an hour-long sortie with the USAF Thunderbirds in an F-16 fighter jet.

Most, if not all, of the applicants are pilots who listen to, or watch, Airspeed. Tupper explained the Acro Camp concept in an episode of the show in January and invited listeners and viewers to be a part of the cast. The response has been overwhelming. “The project has really found traction in the pilot community,” says Tupper. “At last count, 35 people have submitted applications to be in the cast. And that’s especially impressive when you consider that each of the cast members will be paying for all of their flying and instruction, all of their travel expenses, and all of their other expenses out of their own pockets.”

FAA regulations prohibit private pilots from accepting compensation for flying, which includes paying less than their share of the operating expenses of a flight. Because it is expected that several of the pilots will be private pilots, the project will require that all cast members pay all of their own costs.

“This is a labor of love,” said Tupper. “Each of the cast members is paying his or her own way. I’m funding production entirely out of my own pocket. The flight school is turning the entire flight line over to us for the four days of the camp. And several other aviation bloggers, podcasters, and social-media personalities have volunteered to come to the camp to run cameras, swap out memory cards, and just help to make sure that things run smoothly.”

The airport and its denizens will also play a large part in the movie. Tupper observes that “this airport is a gem. It adds millions of dollars to the local economy, provides jobs, serves as a staging area for emergency and charitable services like Operation Good Cheer each holiday season, and attracts a vibrant community of pilots and aviation enthusiasts. The airport is going to be a character in the movie as much as any of the cast members or instructors. How could it not?”

He adds, “I hope that the movie becomes a tool that helps pilots to reach outside the airport fence and show our neighbors why we love aviation and how much we want to share this magic with them.”

For all the flying expertise that the team will be bringing to bear, nobody involved has ever made a movie. Asked what makes him think that he’ll be able to do it, Tupper laughed. “People in the new-media world like podcasters and video bloggers (or “vloggers”) have been making movies for years as episodes of their shows. This is just a longer form with better equipment and more compelling subject matter. Besides, the pundits have been saying for years that, with technology the way it is, anyone with a few thousand bucks’ worth of gear can make a movie. We’re about to find out whether that’s true. I can’t wait.”

Tupper continued. “The essence of a good story is that the characters have to undergo a transformation. I challenge you to show me a person who wouldn’t be transformed by flying aerobatics for the first time. The essence of the story will happen automatically. I couldn’t stop the transformation if I wanted to. The challenge will be grabbing this tiger by the tail and trying to point the camera at the right things for four days to capture it. Can you imagine anything more challenging and fun? Besides flying upside down, that is?”

Cast selection will take place in February and the camp and principal photography will take place in late April or mid-May. Release is planned for sometime in 2011.