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The Making of the Music Video "MXing It Up"

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Brian Explains "The Rationale"

Integral to the ultralight videos I have produced are the music segments that are interspersed amongst the interviews. Not only are they an opportunity for me to test my chops on my guitar but I think they give viewers a great feel for the sport.

In the Hangar Talk Series, I have finished each tape with a "special effort" music video into which I put a lot of extra work. For Part 1 it was "Down on the Deck - Randy's Ride" and now for Part 2 it is "MXing It Up". "MXing" is a play on the type name of my classic Quicksilver. Frankly, both of these pieces feature some flying that was frequently on the "stunt" side of things. I don't recommend flying that low, BUT I justify it to myself (and anyone who cares) because the low stuff makes for better visuals.

I spent about 4 months getting the different shots I used in this piece. In a perfect world I could have done it all in a week but that is not the world I inhabit. There are always challenges that pop up to change your schedule when you are shooting movies. I know you want to hear a couple of "for instances" so here are a few.

 Twice on my takeoff roll I had engine ignition problems that put me into "rapid de-celleration mode". I Thank The Lord that I wasn't low over the milo or approaching one of the hedgerows when those two events occurred. Every time something like that happens you lose at least a day and most likely a week or more to repair time and - of course - weather changes.

I lost a lot of time on the shots aiming forward from the tail. This setup took a lot of experimentation and was particularly touchy in it's effect on the MX's weight and balance. I always learn something new from a shoot and this particular shot was a real instructor. After a couple of days spent getting the weight and balance issues solved I took off and rolled some tape. My S.O.P. (Standard Operating Proceedure) is to take it around the pattern once, land, shut everything down and look through the viewfinder to see if the shot is still where I want it framed. I did this and everything looked fine so I went off on a 20 minute flight to get some good stuff. I returned to the field, landed, shut down and checked the composition of the shot again and it looked fine. I pre-flighted again, gassed up and burned about 20 more minutes of tape. The next day the weather was great so I basically repeated the above sequence. FINALLY, that evening I took the tape to my studio to log it only to discover I had about an hour and twenty minutes of junk. What happened was obvious immediately but you would never have guessed it. As my airspeed increased on the takeoff roll the camera position would very steadily and deliberately tilt down. This was caused by the force of the air on the frontal area of the camera pushing against the lever arm of the mount. The horizontal part of the mount was acting as a torsion bar that couldn't hold the camera against the force of the wind but would then ease it back to its "preferred" position as the airspeed returned to zero on my landing rollout. So, every time I checked the frame on the ground it looked fine. Once I was carrying some airspeed - NO GOOD.

I don't know about anyone else but I sure have to learn a lot the hard way. There are lots of other production details that made this video a challenge but on the whole I think it turned out good with a lot of fun flying logged as a pleasant by-product.

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Vic Shepherd - Dallas, Texas

Vic had just started coming out to the field a lot when I started this project. I saw some of his pictures and liked what I saw so I asked him to burn some film to document my project. I really appreciate the fine job he did and am sorry to see him move out of the Wichita area (job transfer). Due to download time limitations of the Web I couldn't put all of the great shots he made up so I picked some of the best ones you see on this page.

SIDE NOTE: When I first met Vic at the field I thought I recognized him but he said he had never been there before. I figured that I must have just seen him around town or something but an eerie impression stuck with me that was not like the type you get when you've seen someone at a restaurant or at the mall or whatnot. After a while we were talking and it all came together. I DID know him and it had been about 35 years earlier on the other side of the planet. Both of us had Fathers in the U.S. Air Force who were stationed at Kadena AFB on the island of Okinawa. We went to school together for about a year and hadn't seen each other since then. Neat, Huh?

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Ted Lewis & Brian FitzGerald

The guy holding the camera is my buddy Ted Lewis of Wichita, Kansas. Ted shot all the "ground to air" video for the piece. Ted is the Chief Cameraman of the News Department of the Kansas State Network. He and I were both starting out in the television business in the early 80's at the KSN flagship station KSNW (at that time known as KARD).

Ted is famous for an excellent piece of work you probably have seen. He and a reporter were being chased down the highway by a genuine Kansas twister. When they realized they couldn't outrun it, they pulled under a highway overpass in the hope that they could escape the fury by staying under the concrete structure. A family pulled up about the same time and Ted and the reporter called them up there for safety. Ted then proceeded to roll tape as the tornado went right over them with the little daughter screaming out her lungs while her father held her tight. The gamble paid off and none of them were hurt by the storm but down the road less than a mile others did not fare as well and sustained severe injuries. As far as I know, Ted Lewis is the only guy on earth to shoot video from the inside of a tornado.

Having shot news for some years, I can tell you that a lot of it is being on duty when the "big ones" come down. But what separates the hacks from the real "shooters" is having your equipment ready and getting the shot when it counts - you don't get a second chance. Ted is a real shooter and doesn't flinch under pressure (read next tab).

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Having Some Fun!

Vic captured the moment when I got Ted to flinch. We had been shooting non-stop all afternoon and I had been popping over hedgerows and zooming over his head and all that. But this time I yielded to a sudden inspiration and came right at him at about 2 feet off the ground and didn't pull up until the really, no sh*t last second... You should have seen him! It was great! At the last moment he realized how close I was to him and I've never seen his eyes get that big. Vic doubled up laughing.

After that stunt he positioned himself behind the big hay bales for the next ten minutes - until he was sure I wasn't going to do it again.....

Gotcha Ted!

I used Ted's video of this instance in "MXing". I think you'll recognize it.

TECH NOTE: It really wasn't that dark yet. I did some manipulation of the photo to make it look more interesting. Right after this we started to do the "out of the sun" telephoto sequence. I probably did it at least 12 times. Although you can't see it, there is a power line to the right of the frame that I had to keep an eye on. If I lost my engine I was ready to go under it and land in the field on the other side of the road.

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Vic Does The Tric!

Vic did this shot lying on the grass with a wide angle. You can see a video camera out on the left wing that I was using to get footage for the music video. He was actually a lot closer than it seems. The wing passed over him.

SIDE BAR: A couple in their 20's was watching when we did this shot. The guy had apparently dragged his wife/girlfriend out to the field to show her the new sport he wanted to get into. I landed right after this shot and got the distinct impression she wasn't thrilled about her husband/boyfriend's new idea at all because they left in kind of a hurry and I never saw him around the airport again. Can you imagine a guy letting a girl keep him from flying?

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Ted Gets a Haircut

This was a really great shot but I ended up not using the corresponding video in the song. Ted is starting on the plane and then tilting down to the reflection of the plane as it goes over. It was really nice but for some reason I can't remember right now, I didn't use it.

If you've ever edited moving pictures - you'll understand... (maybe not)

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Brian Temporarily Joins the Groundlings to Provide Direction

Here I am doing my imitation of Flying Director. We didn't have the luxury of radio communication so everything was blocked out earlier in a meeting. Regardless how much you pre-plan, though, you always see something cool you hadn't thought of earlier or you allow your team to suggest ideas you hadn't thought of earlier.

I think at this point I am saying, "Gee, Ted (Lewis). Do you really have to set up your shot that close to the power lines? Really? I see... Ahh... OK.... Whatever you think, man... Sure. No Problem." I demand absolute control on the set. But I'm flexible......... Yeah! That's what it is....

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One of the All Time Best Shots in Ultralight Flying

This photo by Vic Shepherd is one of my favorite ultralight shots ever. It really summed up the whole project. The lighting is perfect. Ted's stance is great. The water is calm. The yellow plane contrasts beautifully with the deep blue sky. I seem to be flying straight and level for a change....