|Most air race fans have seen the Reno
Air Races on ESPN.... An hour of coverage, on the tube
(I've always thought they could have done far better than
they did.). Many have seen the races via SkyFire Video's
two hour VHS tapes...a much better presentation than
ESPN, but still...on the "tube". None of us has
ever seen the races on the BIG screen. .... The first
time I saw the movie, Days Of Thunder, my
immediate thought was ... what if somebody made a movie
like this with an air racing theme? I've seen many auto
races, this movie [days of thunder], brought something
extra to the table: Visual excitement, beyond the level
seen by the fan in the normal course of being a
spectator. I've longed to see this treatment for my
favorite motorsport and now it looks like this wish might
finally come true. A feature length movie , with Reno Air
Racing as the backdrop, is being made for theatrical
release. [BIG SCREEN!]
Unlimited.... -The Movie- Now there's a line that ought to bring your excitement level up a notch or two! If you attended the 1999 Reno National Championship Air Races, you probably noticed a few more camera crews around than usual... Or maybe not, as ESPN was absent this year [read that: there was NO ESPN coverage of racing this year]
Everywhere we looked this year, Blue Yonder Pictures camera crews were there. We saw crews at the pylons and in the pits capturing the action. Cameras aimed at the fans, cameras aimed at the pilots and crews. Even cameras aimed at us! Our big question was: Just what is this movie about?
We met with Blue Yonder Pictures, David de Vos, for the answers. de Vos, who wrote the screenplay and will direct the movie, tells us about the plot of Unlimited, the progress to date and just what it will take to bring this project to life.
David de Vos: "Unlimited Air Racing. The world's fastest motor sport. Five hundred miles per hour, fifty feet off the ground. Wingtip to wingtip, fearless pilots wage war in highly modified WWII aircraft: P-51 Mustangs, Bearcats, Corsairs and Sea Furies. But this is not a battle of bullets it is a struggle for speed. Like an airborne Daytona 500, the National Championship Air Races bring heart-pounding excitement to hundreds of thousands of fans every year.
Unlimited opens during the championship race at Stead Air Field in Reno fifteen years ago. Nine-year-old STEVEN ASHTON watches as his father, Chris, pilots Spirit Song, a P-51 Mustang. Coached by John Ashton, his crew chief and brother, Chris battles against Bill Holland, his arch rival. A vicious competitor, Holland boxes Chris in, forcing him down into the tall desert scrub brush. Chris manages to pull out of it, but not without damage to his engine. A fierce competitor himself, Chris continues the race, but quickly realizes his mistake when his engine blows, sending him off course and out of control directly toward the grandstands. Steven watches in horror as his father blazes overhead, trying to free himself from the burning Mustang. Finally, realizing that bailing out would mean the death of thousands in the stands, Chris heroically stays with the plane, barely managing to clear the crowd before slamming to the ground in a massive fireball. Steven looks on in stunned disbelief, his life forever changed.
We pick up the story 15 years later. Steven has grown into a strong, good-looking young pilot. His days are full working at Ashton Air, the family aircraft maintenance and repair business. Together with his older brother, Mark, Steven has dreams of continuing his father's Air Racing legacy. However, their Uncle John has other plans. He wants to retire and give the business over to the boys, on the condition that they concentrate on the business, and not on racing. Wounds run deep, and this is John's way of protecting the boys from "giving history a chance to repeat itself." Steven realizes that his dream may stay just that a dream. That is, until he is offered a chance to race for another team. The only catch the team is owned by none other than the family rival, Bill Holland. Steven must now face the gut-wrenching choice between his home and his heart that will decide his future. His decision will lead him on a journey of action, romance and faith that will transform not only his own life, but those of everyone around him as well.
Inspired by the actual pilots and crews that inhabit the world of Air Racing, Unlimited is a timeless story of the dreams of youth, and the bonds that define family. Packed with high-energy visuals and the adrenaline rush only aviation can bring, it is a classic tale that will appeal to the spirit of adventure in everyone."
AAFO: Dave, we saw an impressive array of equipment at various locations during our time at Reno '99. Can you tell us a little about all that hardware and how many cameras Blue Yonder Pictures had working for this project?
de Vos: Blue Yonder Pictures had four cameras working the event this year, with a stedicam thrown in for good measure. We were very pleased to develop a relationship with Panavision, the grandaddy of all film production camera manufactures, and they were kind enough to support the project by donating the cameras for use at Reno. Also, Kodak is another one of our major sponsors. They donated much of the film used for our production this year at the races. FYI for all the film-techie-nuts out there, we are shooting Kodak stocks 5245 and 5246 for all the daylight footage, in the Super 35 format. This allows us to shoot for the wide screen, which is what this movie really deserves.
AAFO: With all those cameras in action... how many hours of actual racing do you have in your film vault? Have you shot anywhere else besides Reno?
de Vos: So far, we have shot at the Reno National Championship Air Races (special thanks to Jack Walther and Mike Houghton of the Reno Air Racing Association), the Chino Planes of Fame airshow (special thanks to Steve Hinton and the Planes of Fame Air Museum) and the Moffet field airshow put on by the Watsonville Air Museum. (Thanks, guys). Also, the Confederate Air Force at Camarillo let us shoot test scenes for the movie earlier this year. Everyone has been most helpful to us and the production. We have amassed about 4 hours of what we call "second unit" footage - establishing shots, racing footage, pit footage, etc. This will all be used to establish the various races in the movie.
AAFO: We bring a mass of still images from the event each year, but no matter what angle we shoot, or how many photographs we publish, it is impossible to bring an accurate feeling of what the pylon experience is to our readers. ESPN and others have shot miles of video tape at Reno and we've still never really seen anything that truly brings the action to life. I stood beside your crews several times this year and saw the view your cameras were recording. How much better will the big screen be at bringing this awesome experience to life?
de Vos: The great thing about bringing a sport like Air Racing to the screen is that with motion pictures, you can take an audience somewhere they've never been, and will most likely never go. Only a select few lucky enough to fly these planes really know what the view is like from the cockpit doing 500 mph twenty-five feet off the ground. Well, with our film cameras looking right over their shoulders, the audience will be able to experience this thrill first hand. Add to that: cameras at the pylons, in the air looking down at the races, on the leading edge of the wings, in the tail...well, you get the idea. My goal as the director is to make the racing scenes come alive on screen. Tension. Conflict. Action. Suspense. A lot of that emotion will be created by the actors and the camera angles, but also by the use of huge surround sound. This is not going to be a quiet, gentle movie, I promise you that.
AAFO: You introduced us to your cinematographer out at Pylon 8 this year, can you tell us a little about some of the projects he has been on in the past?
de Vos: We have a fantastic crew on this picture, with a key member being Bob Mehnert, our cinematographer. He has shot more aviation footage than almost anyone alive. Anytime you see the F-117 Stealth fighter on film, he shot that. The SR-71? Bob's the man. The F-22? Bob's the man again. He has used almost every kind of aerial camera system known to man, and really knows how to make the footage exciting. In fact, I just worked with him on a BMW commercial last weekend out in the desert near Edwards Air Force base. He was using the Spacecam stabilization system, swooping in and out in an A-Star helicopter piloted by Cliff Flemming. Outstanding footage. Shooting P-51's and P-38's is going to be familiar territory for him.
AAFO: Making a movie is a very time consuming project, do you have a timetable yet as to when final production will begin?
de Vos: As far as a timetable for principal photography, we're still putting all the pieces of the financing together, but our goal is to shoot in Spring/Summer of 2000. We hope to finish by bringing all our actors to Reno next year, building our own pit areas, and filming the final racing scenes with all the crowds in the background. It'll be fun.
AAFO: What are some of the hurdles you have to overcome before casting and shooting for Unlimited can start?
de Vos: Well, as with any film production, there are many hurdles to overcome before filming can begin. Right now, our main goal is to complete the production financing. There are still financing opportunities available, though hopefully not for long. We're working with some really terrific people, both in the production end, and in the distribution end, and it's great to see their efforts paying off.
[CLICK HERE To inquire about financing opportunities.]
AAFO: At this early stage, do you have any specific actors you'd like to see in any of the roles in Unlimited?
de Vos: We've had a lot of interest from name actors interested in playing the leads in Unlimited. I have certain actors in mind, but nobody I can reveal at this time. Once all the performer's schedules are confirmed, then we will announce our cast.
AAFO: Can you tell us yet, which, if any, specific air race airplanes might be featured in Unlimited?
de Vos: Let's see, what planes are we planning to use? Well, I could tell you, but I'd rather hear from your readers - which planes are your favorites? Maybe we'll adjust the script accordingly...
AAFO: We know you are a busy man Dave, we'd like to thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We think this project will be one of the most exciting action movies ever seen.... Will you keep us appraised of your progress?
de Vos: Thanks for your interest, Wayne. I'll keep you updated as things move along.
During my years as a race fan, it has always amazed me that the event I find so exciting occupied such an obscure position in the world of motorsport. And make no mistake... With all its excitement, this event is hugely under-publicized and largely unknown. Even in the world of motorsport, it simply is not well recognized. Most of my acquaintances know of my association with this event and usually, politely, acknowledge its presence in the world. With a statement like, "Oh yea.. I know about that... I go to the airshow out at -bla-bla- airport every year... I like those airshows", generally being the response to my enthusiastic musings. We've said it here many times before... This is NOT an airshow. (though there is that element there, perhaps inducing the confusion by the uninitiated) There is just no way to describe, to someone who has never seen this event, exactly what they will.... experience.. And that is the key here... You really never, just, watch the air races. You do, indeed, experience them. I believe it is the speed at which the vehicles we see are moving, coupled with the incredible sound they produce, at that speed, that is the key here. You can not adequately describe the sound of a propeller driven machine achieving speeds in the high 400's... Nope... It's impossible to describe a feeling. The air is filled with sound, couple this with what your eyes are seeing and you are taken to a different sensual level.... I have yet to see anyone who goes to "Reno" walk away with anything but complete amazement...
"Top Gun" brought a fascinating view of Naval Aviation to the theater goer. Attendance at airshows, nation wide, grew as a result. The same was true for NASCAR, with the release of "Days Of Thunder".... Both movies brought the uninitiated into the world they depicted, in an extremely effective way. "Unlimited" could do this same thing for air racing....
David de Vos is very enthusiastic about air racing, he has a very exciting project going here ... One we'll keep a very close eye on during the next year. With production slated to take place at the 2000 event, it will bring an extra level of excitement to an already very exciting event!
Interview conducted by: -Wayne Sagar-
If you would like to share your favorite airplane choices for the movie... or have any questions for David de Vos you can send him email by clicking on this link.
Stay Tuned For Samples Of What Blue Yonder Pictures Has In Store For Us! Video Clip Samples Of Footage Shot At The Reno National Championship Air Races For The Upcoming Movie UNLIMITED!
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