Friday, April 23, 2010

Rodriguez and Tupper Meet

More pre-production meetups in the Acro Camp community! Director Steve Tupper met up with camper Jim Rodriguez at Civil Air Patrol’s National Legal Officer College near Dallas, Texas yesterday and today.

As many know, Jim is an Air Force Reserve major and judge advocate. He also serves CAP as, in addition to other capacities, a legal officer. Tupper is a CAP major and serves as the Michigan Wing’s assistant legal officer.

NLOC is usually held in alternate years at locations that rotate around the country. Over the course of three days of training and team-building activities, about a third of CAP’s 150+ legal officers receive training and updates on the wide range of legal issues that confront CAP daily.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Technical Shakedown Flight with Don

Don and I took the Super D up this afternoon to shake down some of the electronics. First flight for the ContourHD camera outside the cockpit and first use of the new attenuating cable and the new M-Audio MicroTrack II for the digital audio.

We started off by flying some basic acro with me standing in for the camper in the front. Not to dwell, but I sucked as usual for the first time out. 10 minutes of acro and I was done. I even turned the hammerhead into a negative-G humpty-bump before dragging it back into hammerhead territory.

I will say this for myself. Even though it was the first acro flight of the year, I was very relaxed and my attention remained wide and mostly situationally aware. In the balked hammerhead, I didn't freak out. I think I basically said, "Well, f*ck," and just relaxed until I could figure out what the airplane wanted to do and then got the nose back down. There's a big difference between disappointment and freakout. I think I understand the airplane a little better, at least intellectually, and that's helping to give me a better perspective from which to learn.

I have a very cool ride scheduled with the Air Force later in May (think G-suit fittings and helmets and egress training . . . ) and I have precious little time to get my acro tolerance back before going.

So back to the flight. The camera mount worked like a champ. Here's one of the better frame grabs. On an inverted 45-degree downline.

It turns out that the ContourHD has no idea what to do with the prop and just artifacts it all to hell. The footage over the nose is well-nigh unusable. It looks like black boomerangs floating down the prop disc. I think we're going to have to either point the camera straight ahead so it doesn't see the plane at all or point it directly sideways at the cockpit to give a view of the camper and the IP. I don't think there's any setting that we'd be able to use to avoid the artifacts. It's just not within the camera's abilities to handle the prop.

Bummer, but not catastrophic. We'll figure it out.

We put it down in Romeo to switch seats and let Don take the aircraft up solo to really wring out the exterior camera. In reviewing the footage tonight, I'm of the opinion that, if the camera was going to come off at all, it would have come off during Don's routine. I think we're good and can be confident with the camera mount.

I have yet to review the audio, but the battery in the M-Audio MultiTrack II was fine and easily covered the whole 1:24 of the flight. I set it to record in WAV mode at 48KHz, as Scott Cannizzaro suggested, so we'll see how that sounds.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What to Expect If You Show Up

We have preliminary approval to use a room at The Aviation Station on the north service drive of the Oakland County International Airport (KPTK) as a pilot lounge and staging area. We’re very grateful to Oakland Air for the access to the room and to the Aviation Station generally.

We’re planning to launch and recover the Acro Camp flights from the Station and the Station will be the scene for most of the ground-based elements of the movie. Between the assigned room, the Sutton Aviation offices, and the common areas, we should have plenty of room for the four campers, two IPs, and four or five crew that will be present for most of the filming 12-16 May.

We’ve apparently generated quite a bit of buzz about the project, which is great. Many of you have expressed interest in coming by to see the production and even lend a hand. That’s spectacular. This is a new-media and social-media experiment and we want to keep it as open and inviting as possible.

I don’t want to seem like I’m flattering myself by thinking that we’ll be mobbed by waves of people making pilgrimages to the Station during filming. But I understand that quite a few people have suggested that they're planning to stop by. Some of those folks are from a fair distance away and the trip would amount to a pilgrimage of sorts to our little ground zero.

If even half of the people who have told me or others that they’re coming actually show up, we might have a bit of a capacity problem, so I want to set expectations well ahead of time.

As a general matter, you’re welcome to show up and say hello. You’ll probably have the opportunity to talk to whomever you wish and to see what’s going on.

Feel free to blog, tweet, take pictures, and feed the buzz around the movie. We don’t plan to have an information embargoes. (That would be a little disingenuous in a project that essentially got its start in a sharing- and gift-based community, eh?)

The landlord is a little nervous about strangers saturating the building, bothering the other tenants, getting out into the movement areas of the airport, etc. This is an otherwise sleepy little building at the corner of the airport and even a dozen additional people in the building and its environs will really change the dynamic. We want to be good guests. We also, at some point, have a movie to shoot and crowds would likely be distracting. So here are some general comments about what to expect if you show up.

There’s parking in front of, and on the west side of, the building. Please don’t approach the gate at the end of the access road if you don’t have an airport pass for KPTK.

Please be respectful of the other tenants in the building. Keep conversations to a low roar. Don’t monopolize common areas. Greet everyone cheerfully and cordially. If you’re not Midwestern by disposition, pretend that you are.

You might get to come out onto the ramp, but don’t count on it. Access to the ramp is through a hangar at the back of the building. Various people’s aircraft are in there and the movement area of the airport is a little way down the taxiway. We reserve the right to be paranoid, not because we think that you’ll do anything untoward, but because we don’t want the landlord (who doesn’t know you as well as we do) to be the least bit uncomfortable about our using the facility.

We’ll make campers available to you to the extent that we can, but don’t depend on access to them. They are, after all, going through a potentially stressful experience and they might need a little time and space in which to relax and reflect.

There’s only one set of restrooms in the building and each is a one-holer. Please be courteous in your length and type of use of these essential facilities.

If we accept an offer of help from you, you’ll likely have to sign both a Participant Agreement and a release in now-legendary form. There will be no negotiation of the forms. Sorry. I’m not a jerk about much, but I’m a jerk about this. I have to be.

Will, David, I, and others on the primary crew will be ridiculously busy. Or stretched out on the floor grabbing some sleep. Or whatever. If we or anyone else don’t spend a lot of time greeting or talking to you while you’re there, we’re not blowing you off. Or at least not blowing you off out of malice. We’re very focused on making this movie and we’ll be shooting or planning or otherwise capturing the experience virtually the entire time we’re on site. Please have a thick skin and don’t come away with the thought that we’re being snooty or that we don’t love you. We’re not snooty and we do love you. But we’re making a movie.

For that matter, if we herd you outside or kick you out of the pilot lounge or other spaces or close the ramp to other than essential crew, it’s not personal. We’re just making a movie.

If you show up, assume that all you’ll get to do is come in, walk around, say hi, and leave. You’ll probably get to do more, but don’t assume that you’ll get to do more. Keep it loose and your expectations low and we’ll do our best to welcome you in and see what we’re doing.

We good? Good!

Airspeed Features Video Panel

A new episode of Airspeed features Acro Camp director of Photography Will Hawkins, broadcast video engineer and great friend of the project Roger Bishop, and independent aviation videographer Rick Felty. Check it out at or listen right here :

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Too Distributed to Fail

I thought that the above picture made sense to head this post. It’s the sink in the crew suite in San Antonio from the T-6A ride at Randolph AFB last May. The community snack area. Everybody just pools their pop and lunch meat and whatever. You don’t always get what you were expecting, but there’s always enough to make the magic happen.

We have something like 35 days before the beginning of principal photography for the movie. The energy level and buzz are really picking up.

I hit Bed Bath & Beyond last weekend and bought a whole bunch of transparent plastic shoeboxes to sort and stage all of the batteries, memory cards, cables, and other assorted filmmaking gear. The UPS driver is on a first-name basis with my kids. I have the hotel arrangements nailed down. Everything is going as well as I can make it go.

David Allen has a plane ticket and is coming up to be the chief crew dog for the shoot. I just confirmed Will Hawkins as the director of photography and he has a plane ticket, too. Jack Hodgson is coming out. Roger Bishop will likely be here, too. Fellow CAP officer and friend Mike Murphy came out to The Soundscape Studio a couple of weeks ago to run cameras and assist with the soundtrack recording. Scott Cannizzaro is mixing the drum tracks and will likely play a major role in the remaining music for the project.

Barry and Don are pumped up for the flying. The cast is asking good questions and is making the appropriate noises on social networks around the world. The Super-D is back on the line and ready to fly. Todd Yuhas is working on the Pitts and getting it ready for return to service after the annual.

And the other outpouring of support and resources is incredible.

I’ve never made a movie before. In a very real sense, I know very little about making a movie.

I should be a ball of nerves. But I’m not.

As various hyper-talented people from around the country and the Podshpere have offered, and begun to provide, assistance, the load of this effort has spread out to rest on more shoulders than just mine. It’s been a very natural and organic process. Those who have skills and enthusiasm to lend just seem to come out of the woodwork at the appropriate times and with the appropriate ideas and skills.

For my part, I’ve retained control over only those core elements of the process where I really feel like I need the death grip. Like the legal documentation. Like certain parts of the artistic vision. Like the ultimate editing and the calls about what the story lines will be. Like branding and trademarks and related stuff.

But I have otherwise worked very hard at remaining open to input from others and letting them help where they can. Much like the Internet itself, the process has become very distributed and almost all of the vital expertise or resources resides in multiple places or can reach the project by multiple paths. I think that I’ve inadvertently built a fairly robust set of resources. It’s redundant. It’s distributed. The loss of a node or two won’t bring the project to a halt.

I came to the realization Sunday as I was talking to Will Hawkins that the project has reached a critical mass. By that I mean that even if I came down with some exotic viral infection or met a city bus the hard way, the project would get done.

The project is almost too distributed to fail.

I think that’s a tribute to the kind of community that aviation new media has developed over the last four or five years. We’re otherwise dissimilar people who share a common love of aviation and the burning desire to share it with each other and with non-aviators.

And, more than that, we seem to be able to communicate with each other in shorthand that everyone understands immediately. I don’t have to say much to Will or David or Jack or Roger for them to completely get and understand the concept and what it’s going to look like.

At least that’s true of all of the big thematic stuff. I also really enjoy the fact that nobody seems bothered by the fact that an overwhelming amount of the little stuff isn’t yet planned or thought out in terms of how we’re going to capture or present it. We’re genuinely going into this with twice the number of cameras than we really need, we’re going to shoot everything that looks interesting, and we’re all perfectly happy to just see what emerges.

I think that comes from a belief that we’re gathering for a very special kind of event and that magical things can’t help but happen all over the place and that we’ll naturally capture enough of it to get the message across.

So back to work getting the final details figured out and the addresses and hours of all of the local Radio Shacks, Walgreens, camera stores, pizza places, etc. nailed down in the big cheat sheet.

Can you imagine more fun?