Acro Camp Debrief with Don Weaver and Barry Sutton

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After the props stopped turning for the last flights of Acro Camp, I took Michelle Kole back to Detroit Metro for her flight back to California. While I was gone, DP Will Hawkins sat down instructor pilots Don Weaver and Barry Sutton to debrief after five days and 41 sorties.

This is the audio, essentially unedited, from that debrief.

Neither Don nor Barry had done a camp as intensive as this in some time. Both were ready for some rest. But both remained energetic about what happened at the camp. Each felt that he had made a difference in each pilot’s life and flying skills. Each was impressed at the transformation that each pilot experienced.

Will initially planned to ask questions to keep the conversation going. In fact, all he had to do was say “So how did it go?” and adjust the camera once. These guys laid a rope 25 minutes or more long that was every bit as poignant as anything that any camper had to say.

It’s a privilege having guys like this with whom to shoot a movie. And, for me personally, it’s amazing that I get to go fly with each of them with some regularity.

Stay tuned for an announcement about Acro Camp II. It’s tentatively planned and don’t be surprised to hear a casting call go out some time in the next few weeks!

Video Episode: The "Hammer-Spin" Sequence from Acro Camp

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The movie is coming along! After spending most of February dealing with a bacterial infection in my leg (which, by the way, the doc says is looking great and won’t affect my fitness to fly in any way), I’m back to burning the midnight oil (and whatever else is nearby and flammable) and editing Acro Camp, Airspeed’s first feature film.

The sequence in this episode is Jim Rodriguez’s “hammer-spin” from the third day of flying at Acro Camp. Jim had just begun to get the hang of the hammerhead in the Super-D when he went up with Don in the Berz Flight Training Pitts S-2B. And he found out the exciting way that the Pitts doesn’t need anywhere near as much forward stick.

The cool thing is that he also found out that the Pitts is pretty well-behaved when you get off the power and let go of the stick. It comes right out of the spin and wants to know what else you want to go do.

There’s a lot of editing yet to be done. But I think that I have the workflows pretty well nailed down and it’s going a lot more quickly than it was this fall. We have between one and three cameras and a cockpit audio track to load in for each flight and this was the first flight that I went and put together with that workflow. It worked like a charm.

On the musical front, I just got in a treatment of Acro Grass, one of the themes that we’ve crowdsourced to Airspeed fans, from Grammy-nominated audio ace Scott Cannizzaro and it’s amazing. It’s been spewing from my iPod all day now and I think I like it better each time.

If you’re musically inclined and want to lay down some tracks for consideration for inclusion in the film’s soundtrack, there’s still time. I’m in no danger of finishing the film soon, so you probably have at least through April to get your tracks in.

I’m also working on the CAP NESA audio episode. As is obvious to anyone who knows me, the NESA experience made a big impression and I really want to capture the whole experience. Thus, the writing is taking its own sweet time. But it’ll be a characteristically epic Airspeed episode when it comes out.

More soon. Stay tuned!

Acro Camp Soundtrack Studio Session

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On Friday, Barry (“Bernie”) Sutton and Don (“Seawall”) Weaver and I went into The Soundscape Recording Studio in Royal Oak, Michigan to do some work on the soundtrack for the upcoming independent film, Acro Camp. (Check out

This is a continuation in part of the crowdsourcing of Acro Grass, the bluegrass-flavored basic theme that we’re using for the film. We walked in with two versions of the tune. The first is the same version that I put out there earlier this year for people to use as a backing track for contributions. It’s an acounstic riff in D at 116 bpm. The second is an electrified version, also in D at 106 bpm with the electric guitar mostly clean and with a 563 ms delay to sound a lot like The Edge (guitarist for U2). Lastly, I did a very basic riff in 3/4 that, if you don’t play a G# or other notes that would capture it into a specific key, lacks a tonal center and is both cool and annoying for the same reason.

I sent Don and Barry links to just the basic tracks in MP3 form the week before and let them listen to them prior to coming into the studio. Uncharacteristically, that was the extent of my actual musical performance. I didn’t play anything in the studio. The idea for the session was to capture Barry and Don’s performances.

I brought in my drum kit and Tim (the engineer) supplemented it with a nice Sabian cymbal (I want to say that it was a 16” or 18” V Crash from the Vault series – Very nice as a ride, crash, bell, or otherwise with a lot of different sounds depending on how you whack it) and his vintage floor tom.
Don brought in his keyboard kit, which consists of both a really nice fully-weighted keyboard with lots of internal voices and an external box with yet more voices. The piano sound modeling is excellent.

The session started with Don and Barry just jamming together to the acoustic version of Acro Grass. I synched up one camera run so that I can put the actual board mix together with the video and use it for an extra on the DVD. Mostly floating the camera around the room. I’ll just run it continuously and intersperse footage from the camp for the parts where I’m moving the studio camera around in between float and other shots.

Once Barry and Don did the initial jam, we went to actually recording. We did them one at a time with each of them playing ideas over the courts of one or two ten-minute takes. It took about four hours, including tech setup, to get everything down for three different basic themes.

Now the drill is for Tim to bounce everything down to individual WAV tracks and shoot them to me on a data DVD. Then I’ll take them all and listen to them to pull out the parts that I like to create a sort of library of Barry and Don’s best themes, bits, and pieces. I’ll them put those in where they seem best and come up maybe a half-dozen variants of each theme to drop into the film at appropriate times. I’ll probably also add in some guitar, mando, banjo, shuttle-pipe, and other stuff as the mood moves me.

And that’s to say nothing of the music that podcast fans have been contributing over the last few months for the original Acro Grass theme.

Bottom line, I have enough raw stuff captured now (video, audio, and music) for the entire film. All else is gravy and improvement. And it also means that I have a boatload of both audio and video editing to do if I want this thing to be released in the spring in time to do Acro Camp II, as I’ve tentatively planned.

The studio session was a complete gas. It was Barry’s first time in a studio environment. Don is an old hand at recording and has played on several album projects. Both of them really seemed to enjoy it. It was my first time in a studio session in which I didn’t actually play and just functioned as producer. Much as I like to play, it was a good experience for me just managing artists and getting good performances out of them. And Tim is quintessentially pro as always, bringing his musical sensibilities and technical expertise together to support a truly organic process.

Luck is the meeting of preparation with opportunity. Both converged in good measure at The Soundscape last night. I’m very lucky.

Airspeed Video Episode: Don Weaver’s Acro Sequence

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These are the show notes to a video episode. If you want to watch online, please use the Vimeo viewer above or download directly from:

Acro Camp IP Don Weaver and I launched last week to shake out a couple of new things with the cameras and audio system. We flew a wing camera for the first time (check out the blog entry at the Acro Camp website) and also used an attenuating 1/8” to 1/8” cable to capture the intercom audio. Both systems worked well.

It was my first acro flight of the season and I was done after just a few maneuvers. Not surprising. That’s par for the course for me. I’ll get it up to 20 minutes or more soon enough.

Don offered to drop me off at Romeo and head back out to really wring out the camera rig. This video is from his sequence. It runs more or less continuously except for a minute or two as be climbed back to altitude. Not only does Don hit his airspeeds pretty effectively, he conserves altitude pretty effectively, too. And he talks the routine pretty clearly as well.

This is the camera and audio setup that we’re going to use for lots of the Acro Camp shooting. Head over to so see more about the movie!

Meet the Campers of Acro Camp

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. If you want to listen online, please use the direct link below.

The Acro Camp cast (the “campers”) were announced last week and it’s time to introduce them to you! We had the opportunity to get campers Paul Berliner, Michelle Kole, Lynda Meeks, and Jim Rodriguez and instructor pilots (“IPs”) Barry Sutton and Don Weaver all together on a Skype call to allow everyone to talk in realtime.

Michelle called in from the airport because she was getting reaedy to board a flight back to California after spending some time with her dad, Ed Kole, in Chicagoland. Michelle more than made up for having to leave the show early. She has met Paul Berliner and me in person and flown with Don. (Already! And all within 48 hours of the cast announcement! Now that’s Kevin-Bacon-esque!)

Look for more conversations with the campers on Airspeed in the weeks leading up to the camp 12-16 May 2010 here in Michigan.