Sneak peek…some photos

Our “Stills Guy”, as he is today referring to himself, Jovan Matic, (doing his first film shoot) just sent me a sneak peek at some photos from our shoot last week.

Very fun! Here are a few teasers.

DaVinci dissecting a bat.

(No, we didn’t kill a bat, we ordered a bat wing from Bone Clones and David Scott of Form & Dynamics in Toronto built the rest of the bat for us.)

And, of course, DaVinci had to go outside sometimes to study birds too, right.

And here are a couple more of Lilienthal and his glider.

When Dreams Take Flight - Lilienthal's gliderWhen Dreams Take FlightWhen Dreams Take FlightThanks Jovan!

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Dramatic elements – check.

Lilienthal's glider

Lilienthal's glider (photo by Jovan Matic)

Well, it all went quite swimmingly I must say and we were extremely lucky!

Interviews – check. Dramatic elements – check.

On Monday we did interviews against greenscreen. I just wanted to interview all the main characters from the film/ornithopter project to get the whole story down cohesively. Todd, Cameron, Robert, Carson, Dr. D, Jack & David all came out to share their tales and perspectives on the building of the ornithopter itself and its place in history.

All the interviewees were great and well prepared and excited and made my job easy. It was fun to talk about the project. Even though I still only really understand a small fraction of the science behind it I do think I understand the project itself and, after 2 years with these guys, it’s fun to be able to talk about the experience.

Now Tuesday made me nervous, too many variables.  First and foremost the weather. We were trying to shoot March for August, which is a dangerous endeavor in Ontario! We had planned it as our day outdoors shooting Lilienthal’s glider flight from August 10th, 1896 (seen in the photo); and DaVinci observing birds. We had 15 background players out, we had a replica of the glider, we had actors and we had lots of crew. Recognizing that this could actually be a dangerous event (man in 150lb ‘kite’ on top of a windy hill) we had a glider rigger, we had  a nurse, we had lots of help. We were very fortunate it was clear (cold but clear).

Everything came together well and we got our day before the snow hit on Tuesday night (and remains still!).

Wednesday we shot the father and son footage for the Icarus myth and Thursday DaVinci in his studio, DaVinci dissecting a bat; and Lilienthal in hospital.

With an exceptional cast and crew we plowed through our days and got some really lovely footage. Now, the question (if I’m honest) remains: will these dramatic elements actually work in the film??? I hope so, but only time will tell.

So, slowly but surely the pieces are coming together. I am off to Europe to shoot a couple of interviews and then we will start to edit.

I can’t wait!

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Otto Lilienthal and his great big glider

Well, I thought, when conceiving this film, that it would be quite fun to re-create Otto Lilienthal’s glider flight. His last glider flight in August 1896.

While this film has a whimsical quality it’s also got some serious undertones because there is the possibility of danger when one tries to fly any kind of airborne contraption.

I’m sure I’m talking to those far more knowledgeable than me, but for a little background on Otto you can check out the Otto Lilienthal Museum – they’ve been awesome and very helpful as I’ve tried to figure out all of the logistics.

Of course saying one wants to recreate a significant historical event and actually doing it are miles apart. So, the first thing I knew I needed to do was to find someone to build a replica of the glider.

Since starting this project I’ve met some great people in the flying/gliding community, so I tapped them up and was directed to Paul at the Canadian Air and Space Museum at Downsview Airport in North Toronto. Ironically, several years ago when I was looking for some people to interview for another project I was in touch with Paul who directed me to Dr. James DeLaurier. Dr. D then put me in touch with Todd and the HPO team which got this project started and now, full-circle, I’ve been sent back to Paul.

Paul and Claude agreed to take on this task and started to work. I visited a few days ago and the glider was starting to come together as evidenced by the photos we took (courtesy of Mark Alberts of Electric Square). The deadline is fast approaching for them to complete so I’m guessing they’ll have a few late nights this week!

Now, glider taken care of. What else is required to make this happen. First of all, figuring out who would have been at the launch of this glider. Likely Otto himself, of course, his son Otto (who often went with him), his engineer Paul Beylisch and possibly his brother Gustav Lilienthal. There were also townspeople who would have come out to watch him fly.

So, first things first. Casting. Hire a casting director – Sam Rosenthal at Leo Rising Entertainment – recommended by my dear friend Marlo. We had a session and hired a few people who fit the bill and I cast extras from headshots.

Then we need to get wardrobe for them. 1890’s period clothes which have now been rented from Stratford by our awesome wardrobe woman, Ginger.

Things are coming together.

Next: Location. Where in Toronto can we find a gently sloping hill to shoot on? We got Daniel Kaplan of setnet on board to help us out and ended up at Centennial Hill. A perfect little slope where there is enough sky in the background and enough grass at the base that we can make our angles work. Done.

Then we realized that the glider will weigh in excess of 130lbs and our actor will be strapped into this flying machine atop a hill…sounds like a potential recipe for disaster, no?

Glider rigger please to secure our actor and make sure everything is safe. Got him. Check.

Getting close.

Location scout with our camera team, glider rigger, AD and PM…everyone happy.

Now, we’re almost ready to shoot. We just need one more thing. Perfect weather. Blue sky, not much wind and we’re good to go.

Fingers crossed.

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How hard could it be to find a hill?

Well, I guess one never knows where the stumbling blocks will be.

Location, location, location. We are looking for an (affordable) outdoor location that allows us a hill (and ideally has a small Italian-like pond nearby) and we’re in search of  a room we can make into DaVinci’s studio (there are no drawings of his actual studio so we have to imagine what it may have looked like around 1500).

Beyond that, things are coming together. We have ordered the fruit bat wing from Bone Clones in the US and we have someone to make it look great. The art department seem on their game and ready to rock when we tell them where they’ll be working.

Todd has his clips for the website (which will eventually land at and he’ll write some posts that work in combination with a calendar that will allow those who are interested to follow the entire process of the ornithopter being built.

I got my re-application into Rogers today with the hopes that the remainder of the funding for the TV documentary component comes through (yes, I promise that I will really sit and write about the arduous process of funding this project).

Today I also found out that our #1 choice for edit space isn’t logistically available. There are, of course, lots of other options…I must trust that we land where we need to be.

I love my PM, John, he’s kickin’ it and really great and on it and helpful.

Overall, fun. Good process, really excited to get to the creative elements and then put this all together…

But where will we shoot?!

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Toronto here I am!

Well, I learned today that somebody found me! I’ve been building this blog/content in secret (not really, but without notification) and today I got a follower (thanks David). Maybe it’s time to let folks know that I’m here and working on stuff.

Anyway, that aside, I’m in Toronto (landed early – great tailwind), I’ve got meetings and visits scheduled at post houses to figure out where my new editor Robert will be working and I have a meeting with my PM, John, who I think is awesome even though we’ve not really met (beyond casual hellos years ago). He jumped on board and got things rocking so I’m no longer feeling like the ship is sinking. I’m going to meet up with one of my (yet to be named) actors and I’m also meeting with potential Art Directors and Hair, Make Up and Wardrobe wizards.

I will be touching base with Mark Alberts of Electric Square who will do my VFX – very excited about this.

I have a meeting with Robin, my most loved DP and Rob Barnett who will be working with Robin to make everything look fabulous. I’ve not met Rob yet either, but he comes highly recommended by my friend and colleague Jay Ferguson of 3 o’ – thanks Jay.

So, I’m hopeful that I leave my quick visit here with an Art Director starting to get things together and the rest of the crew hired.

Beyond that, back to the footage and applications to get the final financing in place to make this thing happen.

So excited to be working in fast motion. After two years (nearly!) working on this project, I feel like we’re in the home stretch and I’m so excited about the people I’m collaborating with to bring it together!


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It’s all coming together

It’s been a busy week for us as we toil away to bring the remaining shoot days in order.

We have cast DaVinci and Lilienthal. We have a 1st AD and it looks like Hair, Make Up, Wardrobe are all in place. We’re still missing an Art Director, which makes me a little nervous – but I’m trusting it will come together.

Still oodles more work to do. I’ve got to sift through the hours and hours of video material so I can get it all to Todd so that he can do some writing and recording of his own about the process. For those who want to really geek out in ornithopter-land there will eventually be a site that allows the viewer to watch The Snowbird get built from the ground up…

I’m headed to France and Italy in April to interview a guy from the Federation Aeronautique International and also to spend some time with Yves Rousseau, an ornithopter enthusiast I’ve been trying to track down for awhile.

More focused reports to come!

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Where we are today

Today, February 23, 2010, I’ve been thinking I should keeping writing reflective posts on where we’ve been so I can catch you up to speed, but also think it’s really valuable to capture where we are right now…so I may do some flip-flopping as I reveal the process of making this film.

Suffice to say we finally got all of our funding in place (and I WILL write that post later for those that are interested in the real dedication required to fund a one-off documentary in the current climate)…and we are now able to do the shoot for the dramatic “re-creations”…in fact, I don’t really like re-creations in doc, so perhaps ‘dramatic elements’ is a better term.

So, we are in the process of gearing up to shoot 1 day of interviews with the main subjects of the film: Todd Reichert, Cameron Robertson, Dr. James DeLaurier, Carson Dueck and Robert Dueck. We will do this next month in Toronto. Additionally we will shoot 3 days of ‘dramatic elements’. By this I mean we will ‘bring to life’ Leonardo DaVinci & Otto Lilienthal as well as shooting the opening of the movie as I currently see it in my head.

This sounds like a minor thing, but it’s actually a tremendous amount of work. I hired a Production Manager to help…but in a major turn of events yesterday realized I really had the wrong person for the job and so that quickly went tits up and now I have a new PM who has done more in 24 hours than my last PM did in 2 months. So, I’m feeling relieved and back on track.

I have a group of dedicated aviation experts at the Canada Air and Space Museum building me  Lilienthal’s 1896 glider, I’m very excited about seeing this and hopefully observing some of the process. I’m very hopeful they will get this done on time, but I’ve told them I will be taking it ‘as-is’ if they haven’t.

So, now I need to find locations, an art director, actors, food, and all those fun elements. The shoot will involve about 50 people all in, which is amazing for two days. A quick trip to Toronto next week should find me with an edit suite and our equipment needs secure, some of our crew in place. I get to meet our new second camera person, Rob, who will work with Robin Bain, my beloved and trusted DP.

It’s all coming together. More details to follow!




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The Beginning

Welcome to my blog about the making of “When Dreams Take Flight” – a one-hour documentary film for Documentary.

The film has been in the works since early 2009 when, led by Dr. James DeLaurier, Todd Reichert of the University of Toronto HPO team, Adamm Liley of 35.5 Entertainment Inc. and Sheona McDonald of Dimestore Productions started to discuss the possibility of following the building and (eventual) flight of the now-named “Snowbird”.

At that time, April 2009, Todd and a team of 10 engineering students were packing up their lab at the University of Toronto and driving up to a glider field in Tottenham, Ontario where they were planning on spending the Summer building a human-powered ornithopter. They were hopeful that by July 2009 they would have built the plane, tested it and have made history as the people in history to fly a human-powered ornithopter.

Using mini HDV footage that Todd and his team captured and periodically visiting them to record their progress on a Sony EX-1, we began to follow the building of the aircraft – at that point we thought we’d have about 4 months to shoot. At that point we had no broadcaster interested. At that point it was uncertain whether they were on track to make history or simply another group in a long line of pioneers reaching for the unattainable.

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