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)"
16 September 2009

What a Premiere it Was!

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Aero5It was a screening that almost didn't happen! Not that any of our guests knew, but during the run-up to the premiere Los Angeles screening of The Legend of Pancho Barnes, frantic efforts were being made to get the projection system at the Aero Theater to operate.  The culprit?  Us, of course!  It turns out that in our desire to make sure the picture looked and sounded great, we inadvertently went a bit too far . . .   Not to bore you with technical details, but the projection system at the Aero is analog, and our master tape is digital.  24 hours before our screening, we found out that in order to make our surround sound work, we'd need a special device to convert our digital audio signal to analog.  Help!  But amazingly, Dolby Laboratories came to our rescue.  Thanks to the assistance of VP David Gray, we had Dolby's Gary Meissner and all the equipment we'd need on site the day of the screening for free.  Turns out we really, really needed him, more on this in a second.  Anyway, shortly after Gary arrived we found out that not only do you need a special box to convert digital sound to analog, you also need one to convert digital picture to analog.  And we didn't have one of those!  Thankfully, our projectionist managed to locate the special computer board in a projector at UCLA, and with the clock now ticking on our screening, some kind soul drove it cross town for us.  But, when the board was plugged in, shazam!, no picture.  The speculation was that in plugging in the board, we'd fried it.  Yikes! and I mean a $10,000 yikes!  Panic was about to set in but thankfully, a cool head prevailed — Gary Meissner's.  He suggested everything be turned off, and then the board  re-seated and everything turned back on again.  It worked, and as a result we had amazing picture and sound for the screening.  Thank gosh.  (Thanks also to Robbie Adler, who made our initial contact with Dolby and oversaw the technical details with the screening).Aero2

And what a premiere it was! Sold out, and our theater filled to the brim with really special people including participants Bondi Abraham, Bob Cardenas, Lou D'Elia, Barbara Little, Patrice Demory, and Barbara Rowland, Don Kuhns, associate producers Dydia DeLyser and Nathan May, and crew members Monique Zavistovski (editor, shown at right with Amanda Pope), Clay Westervelt (director of photography), Chad Wilson (additional photography), Pam Dotson (production assistance), and others.  We also had many "relatives" of Pancho's, or those of her friends, in the audience including Pamela Shoop Sweeney (daughter of Pancho's friend Gen. Clarence Shoop), James Lowe (great, great grandson of Thaddeus Lowe) and more.  Special guests included KOCE-TV's station manager Ed Miskevich and CEO Mel Rogers, "One Six Right " director Brian Terwilliger, "Sky Chick" Ramona Cox, historic photo diva Carolyn Cole, motion picture pilots Clay Lacy and Stan McClain, a bunch of 99's, and a couple ladies who happen to fly 777's for United Airlines.  Everyone had a great time sitting in Motoart's custom chairs, and asking Donovan Fell and Dave Hall "how do you make this stuff?!"  The real action of the evening however, really took place in the silent auction, where dozens of bids were placed on a Happy Bottom-inspired Nat Nast shirt, and where the original membership card donated by the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate took home the grand prize — a bid of over $1000.  Proceeds benefitted the KOCE-TV Foundation and our production, which came much closer to being in the black thanks to all these wonderful, generous people.

Aero4After the show, our DVD was made available for sale for the first time EVER!  Suddenly there was a long line forming at the Aero...and out onto the street.  Bob Cardenas, Amanda and I signed posters, and the entire cast and crew signed DVDs and celebrated the end of a long journey.  I also want to mention, this entire event was engineered with great precision by Amy Montgomery, with some help by my beautiful wife Stephanie Ripps and a few other folks — Steve and Patrice would you take a bow for that magnificent silent auction?  How about Mike Salazar for the beautiful photo boxes in front of the Aero?  And thanks to Gwen Deglise and Grant and Nick and Griffin at the Aero and the American Cinematheque for everything.

Now, I gotta admit, I'm pretty much exhausted.  I've got to catch up on my sleep.  But what's that you say ... yes you're right.  Let's do it again sometime — soon!

See more photos from the event by clicking here.

(Photo at left: Nick Spark and Bob Cardenas sign a poster for Barbara Rowland).

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