THE MAKING of TWO DOCUMENTARIES
By Dan Dimancescu, Producer
One would never start making a documentary if the complexity and effort were clearly known at the start. At least that was both Nicholas D's and my experience as a 'director' and 'producer' respectively of two 50 mn documentary productions for TV.
That statement may be surprising to some given the digital era. Small affordable cameras. Huge and cheap memory disks. Compact production equipment. This is true and indeed technological breakthroughs have opened the door to numerous newcomers to the making of films. This was the case with our first film HILL 789 and indeed with the second KNIGHTS OF THE SKY. Young crew. New technology. A lot of energy and creativity. Limited budgets.
But let's just fast forward. It took 24 months to complete HILL 789 and 12 months to complete KNIGHTS from idea to ready-for-TV broadcasting. By the end the stats confirmed the admonition: "If you only knew what you were getting into you would never have started."
"DECODING DACIA" (Production Diary)
Nicholas Dimancescu, Director
Dan Dimancescu & Kyle Brandse
SOME CUMULATIVE 'DACIA' STATS
176,200 miles (300,000 km) of cumulative team air travel:
3 U.S. cross-country trips = 18,000 miles
4 U.S. to Rome, Italy = 28,000
2 Romania to Rome = 2,400 miles
15 U.S. to Romania = 135,000
2 Florida = 6000
6 Washington DC = 4800
4 video cameras (SONY PDW-F800, SONY EX3, Canon EOS and GoPro)
special ordered gyro stabilizers for heli shots
mixing studio (portable and permanent)
battery chargers, cables and connectors too numerous to count
four computers, multiple viewing screens
software (simple and complex)
helicopter (Romanian Aviation Academy)
4WD (Nissan xTerra)
LOCATIONS over 17-month period
Italy: 1 location
Romania: 8 locations
U.S.: 2 locations
10 individuals directly involved in production
5 historians and archaelogists
40 additional people to thank for help
lunches / sushi / pizza / take-out / donuts
lots of cigarettes
many small cigars
lots of coffee
Those are the numbers. None of this was completely planned or anticipated in advance. So what did happen to allow all this to come together with a final flurry of activity prior to 'drop-dead' production date.
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"KNIGHTS OF THE SKY" (Behind the Scenes)
Nicholas Dimancescu, Director
Dan Dimancescu & Kyle Brandse
It all started in Bucharest, Romania, on a December day in 2009, when Alex Arma a Romanian air-war historian, mentioned knowing a WW-II fighter pilot who had attacked an American in a P-51 on June 6, 1944.
"His name is Ion Dobran. He lives in Bucharest and I can arrange for you to meet him," he said to Nicholas and me. We had just premiered our first documentary on WW-I, "Hill 789: The Last Stronghold." The 50mn film was shown on TVR1, national Romanian television, and a companion article appeared in the National Geographic Magazine's Romanian edition.
And then Alex added an intriguing twist.
"I think that the pilot he shot at is still alive in America. Maybe you would like to make a film about them? I have lots of archive material. It could be very good."
On two-days notice Nicholas went with Alex to interview General Dobran, age 91. He came back with footage in-the-can of a WW-Two Ace's (five kills or more) first-hand story and a special request: "I have one wish," said Dobran. "I'd like to meet Davis," the pilot whom he had attacked. That was December 3rd in Bucharest.
Col Davis and General Dobran (January 2010)
Back in the U.S. just a week later, Nicholas and I arrived in North Carolina and drove to the small town of Zebulon. We were there to meet Colonel Barrie Davis, Age 86, who as a P-51 fighter pilot had been shot by Dobran over Romania in 1944 and forced to land at a US base in the Soviet Ukraine. Welcomed into his home we came away with a second sequence of first-hand stories by an American 'Ace'.
As a spur of the moment question, we asked Colonel Davis whether he would like to meet General Dobran. "Of course," he answered.
Six weeks latter at our invitation, he was in Bucharest to meet Dobran for the first time in 66 years. The Romania Air Force, at the behest of General Aurel Stanciu, offered to host the visit. We are all helicoptered from Bucharest to the winter resort of Poiana Brasov. The temperature fell to -34 Centigrade (-30 Fahrenheit). Our minibust would start. The two 'Aces' found time to share moments of their air battle in 1944.
From these interviews and encounters we launched into the project that became "Knights of the Sky," a title chosen by Nicholas who had long been intrigued by WW-I lore of fighter pilots the likes of the Red Baron and popularized version such as the exceptional graphic novel Enemy Ace and the work of illustrator and friend George Pratt.
Drafting a One-Pager
Back in Boston, Nicholas and I brainstormed the film and prepared a one pager.
The story line: Air War Over Romania / Americans and Romanians
Structure: War Context / Romanian Aviation/ B-24 Oil-Field Raids / Prisoners / Dogfight
Initial core team: Nick Director, Kyle Brandse Editor, Alex Arma Researcher
Time line: Ready for TVR1 (Romania) television premiere on December 1, 2010 - 50 weeks later
Once put on paper, the project became real.' The words were now in black and white with a deadline.
A team comes together (one person leads to another)
Nicholas and Kyle create a team of uniquely talented individuals ... colleagues … RULE that provides high-end film equipment for sale or rent … creative vitality … Berkeley School of Music, Boston University, Harvard, MIT students … DJ musicians … informality … in business one would call it a 'critical mass of talent' all in one small place ...
BROADCAST (lucky breaks, surprises)
We had no idea of what this documentary would shape itself into or how we would produce it. But it did come together, one idea at a time.
One unexpected piece of footage after another. It's now fifty-one weeks later. With a broadcast date set in stone with TVR1 for December 1, the deadline is unavoidably real. There are seven days to go and a lot to be done. Some major edits still waiting to complete the last seven minutes and a lot of small checklist TO DO items. Checklists are a critical tool especially now. We end the day saying: "Where against our deadline are we?" We start the day saying: "What are our priorities and who does what today?" This works very well until there's an unexpected intrusion by some one needing a download … or a search in some remote file for a forgotten clip. Each case delays the checklist and creates a need for a new one. Next to each item on the list I add a little box which can be checked off. The checkmark is a psychological sign of progress. It's tangible. We sign-off on the final one: DONE!
Nicholas and I leave for Romania on November 20th. A panel discussion on the subject of the film is to be taped on the 26th with the U.S. Ambassador Mark Gitenstein. Cristian Lascu the editor of National Geographic Magazine (Romania) will release his December issue of the Magazine with the PLOESTI article companion to the documentary. Kyle arrives two days later.
The documentary premieres on TVR1 on December 1, 2010. Along with U.S. Ambassador Mark Gitenstein, Nicholas shares in a pre-show interview. Later we celebrate at the Le Theatre Restaurant.
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