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 September 2009

A DVD Takes Wing

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What is the top #1 question we get asked about the film?  Well, I don't have to think twice about it — it's "When are you putting Pancho out on DVD?"  That's a great question and we are glad everyone's been asking it! 

Before I answer though, let me back up for a moment.  Long before The Legend of Pancho Barnes was finished, in fact before it was even "picture locked", Amanda Pope, Monique Zavistovski and I began talking about the DVD.  Thinking about the content of a DVD when you've got an rough cut film with a beginning, but no middle or end (which is how it was way back when) may seem a bit foolish.  Yet at the same time it can serve a useful function.  When it comes to paring down a film, and removing fascinating-but-all-too-
extraneous sections that you or someone else loves, a great psychological crutch is to say: "We've got to cut it out for now, but if it has to make a comeback it well.  Otherwise don't despair, we'll put it on the DVD as an 'additional scene'."  Wow did we end up with a lot of candidates for 'additional scenes'!  The first (terribly boring) cut of the movie was over two hours; the end product (quite a bit better thank you) is just a little over sixty-four minutes.  

DVD0We really started work on the DVD roughly eight months ago.  That's when Amanda, Monique, our post-production supervisor Robbie Adler and I embarked on a digital rescue mission.  The goal was to locate and retrieve precious "lost" scenes we all remembered but had gradually trimmed out of the movie.  Some we'd kept in special folders in the computer so we knew we they'd be, but others were hiding in obscure parts of obsolete cuts like outlaws on the run. Once they were located, and it took quite a bit of doing, they often seemed different than we'd remembered.  But I think in every case it was obvious why we'd cut them out.  (Case in point: a long segment we'd made about how Pancho's grandfather Thaddeus Lowe lost his fortune building a railway up the San Gabriel mountains.  Lowe's tragic story had many fascinating parallels to Pancho's, yet in the end we could not justify including such an elaborate tangent.  But what a wonderful additional scene it made, once Monique got her hands on it.)

While Monique and Robbie re-worked and revised segments in the editing room, I contacted the International Women's Air and Space Museum to get work started on another piece of our planned DVD.  Amanda and I have always viewed Pancho's story as one we'd like to share with students, and young women in particular.  To enable access to the program, and assist with students' comprehension of Pancho's life and times, we determined that a study guide was a necessity.  On that basis, and with the permission of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate and financial support from the Edward and Marie Matthews Foundation, the IWASM worked with us to create a study guide for the film.  Eventually it would be turned into the Portable Document Format -- PDF -- that could be included on every copy of the DVD, or even posted on the Internet.

Normally, planning and authoring a DVD is a long, hard process that is made more difficult by the fact that outside talent has to be brought in to make it all happen.  But lucky for us, in an earlier part of his career Robbie had spent a couple of years authoring DVDs for major Hollywood studios, and I'd already had a great experience working with him on the DVD for my film Regulus: The First Nuclear Missile Submarines.  So in addition to re-working some of our "lost" scenes and keeping a watch over post production issues, the task fell to Robbie to design a menu system for our DVD.  In a couple of cases where we wanted to have animated menus, Robbie also designed rough sketches in Final Cut and then revised them based on Amanda's and my notes.  When we were happy with what we saw, Robbie would hand off the material to digital artist Jeff Dietrich, who finessed and finished them, and sent them back for final placement.

The DVD was taking shape in terms of content, but the look was also a concern.  By now, we'd worked with aviation artist Joe Jones to create an overall set of graphic principles for the film, and we had a magnificent Joe Jones-designed poster and main title sequence that set a tone for the project.  It was up to a wonderful artist named Diana Kado, to assess Jones' work and expand upon it in an appropriate way for our DVD menusPanchoBox3D.  Using historic photographs and documents, blueprints of Pancho's Mystery Ship, and a photo of clouds taken from her backyard to fill in some gaps, Kado patiently designed our menus (above), and revised them as the DVD grew in scope.  The end result is something to behold.  

Now, some of the big pieces began falling into place.  Monique and Robbie delivered their additional scenes, the IWASM came through with a beautiful study guide, and Amanda and I sat down and recorded a commentary track.  Then Robbie took Diana's menus and Jeff's animations, and all of our media, and literally disappeared into his office.  When he emerged from his lair a few days later, he had a test DVD ready to play.  As fate would have it, we had to revise it.  Then we revised it again — just to get the bugs out.  But on the third pass, it did pass — and with flying colors.     

Now there was only one step remaining.  Before our DVD could go out in the world and get as they say, "replicated", it needed to be packaged.  Graphic designer and artist Michael Carter went to work to design a disc label and box insert.  I'd say more about that process, but I think the results speak for themselves (left)!

So now you may ask again, that number one question, just when is the DVD going to be available for sale?  And now since you've been patient I'll give you an answer.  The answer is soon — very soon.  In fact, if you visit by clicking on this link, you just might be able to pre-order it right now.

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