Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Emmy™Award-Winning Documentary Film

"Broadcast" version now airing on most public television stations.

"Uncensored" version now on DVD and in film festivals.

Synopsis: A charismatic figure featured in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff, Florence "Pancho" Barnes was one of the most important women in 20th Century aviation. A tough and fearless aviatrix, Pancho was a rival of Amelia Earhart's who made a name for herself as Hollywood's first female stunt pilot. Just before WWII she opened a ranch near Edwards Air Force Base that became a famous -- some would say notorious -- hangout for test pilots and movie stars. Known as the "Happy Bottom Riding Club", it became the epicenter of the aviation world during the early jet age. Chuck Yeager celebrated breaking the sound barrier there in 1947, and Howard Hughes and Jimmy Doolittle caroused in the bar. The Club's destruction by fire in 1953 is seen by many to mark the end of a Golden Era in post-WWII aviation. In the same fashion Pancho herself has become something of a legend, a fascinating yet enigmatic icon whose swagger is often celebrated, but whose story has been largely unknown. Until now.

A documentary film produced and written by Nick Spark and directed by Amanda Pope. Featuring interviews with test pilots Bob Cardenas, Bob Hoover and Chuck Yeager, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and biographers Barbara Schultz and Lauren Kessler. Narrated by Tom Skerritt with Kathy Bates as the voice of Pancho Barnes.

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Women in Aviation
"Read Nick Spark's article about Pancho
from Women in Aviation magazine (.pdf)"
06 August 2007

A Bunch of Cut Ups !

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Shooting nearly twenty interviews for the "Pancho" documentary took many months. Gathering the photographs, documents, motion picture film footage, and other materials for it took years. And, I don't even want to begin telling you how long it took to raise the money to make the film — a long time — and that's an on-going process. So, it's with a sense of relief that we've finally reached the point where we can begin editing the film. It's more than the "end of the beginning" — and the real "beginning of the end"!

Photo: "Mo" working with director Amanda Pope

Our editor, by the way, is the talented Monique Zavistovksi, or "Mo" as she likes to be called. Her enthusiasm and insight into Pancho have brought fresh energy to the project, which is important for director Amanda Pope and I. After all, when you live with a project like this one for a number of years, it's easy to lose your perspective. Thankfully, Monique had never heard of Pancho Barnes before she joined our team. With no preconceptions or knowledge of our subject or material, she was able to assess what we have gathered together on a more-or-less impartial basis. That's critical on a project like this one. While Amanda and I have certain ideas about Pancho's life, our footage may reflect a different story on some levels. So, it's important to discuss the difference between what we've envisioned, and what Monique sees in our footage.

Someone, I think it was Martin Scorcese, once said that the editing process is a bit like a long conversation. In the world of the documentary film, that is especially true. Our conversation began with a script, which I spent a couple of months writing. The script was based on our interviews, documents we'd uncovered (including Pancho's incomplete autobiography, interviews conducted with her prior to her death, personal letters and even her FBI file), and other materials. Yet a script can only get you so far: the first assembly Monique made using the script was over two hours long — twice what we're aiming for. Still, it provided a road map for our editorial journey, reflecting the themes, story points, and ideas I felt were important.

We're still at an early stage in our process. Right now, Mo is taking on segments of the film and chopping away at them. Sometimes she's auditioning new portions of our interviews, or adding voice-over or photographs, and sometimes she's taking them away. It's a long and involved process, and in the course of several hours many different versions of the film come into being. After a few days of solid effort, Mo shows her progress to Amanda Pope and I, and we critique it and roundtable it. Think — conversation. Then, it's back to more cutting.

Making even an assembly cut is a process that used to take months. Fortunately, nowadays we have wonderful digital tools that allow random access to our footage. For those of you who are curious, we're using Final Cut on an Intel-based Macintosh iMac. For a project like this one, which involves many different types of media (photos, video footage, film footage, graphics and special effects), and is relatively low-budget, this is a natural choice. Final Cut allows us to work efficiently and manage all of our materials without being overwhelmed by them. . . which certain can be the case on a project like this one.

Incidentally, Mo just recently cut another film on Final Cut, one that you will hopefully see soon in theatres or on the small screen. Circus Rosaire was made by our mutual friends, the husband and wife team of Robyn Bliley and Chad Wilson. It's a touching documentary about a family-run circus, and it just won the coveted Audience Award at the Sarasota Film Festival.

If you visit the Circus Rosaire website, you can find a brief bio of Monique. Or just click here if you are curious.

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The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club ©2008-2010 Nick Spark Productions, LLC.