Trying to explain your passion for aviation to someone who doesn’t share it is a lot like trying to describe being in love to someone who has never been there. Words just can’t convey the depth of the emotion.
Brian J. Terwilliger, producer/director of the full length documentary “One Six Right, the Romance of Flying,” comes about as close as a person can get to showing the romance of aviation without strapping the audience into a cockpit and firing up the engine.
The feature-length documentary tells the story of Van Nuys Airport (VNY) near Los Angeles, touted as the busiest general aviation airport in the country.
“Van Nuys is my home airport. It is where I got my ticket and did all my training and I still fly out of there,” explains Terwilliger, who is part owner of a Cessna 182. “I’m just fascinated with that airport. It’s got quite a diversity of airplanes, from T-38s to 1930s-era biplanes to business jets and everything in between. It is like an air show every day. Also, there is a lot of history at the airport and it was worth telling the story.”
The name of the film comes from one of the runways at the airport.
Terwilliger spent the past 10 years in the movie industry exploring all the jobs that take a movie from an idea to a feature on the silver screen.
“I want to learn as many aspects of the craft as I can to be an intelligent and effective producer,” he says. “I have learned you have to have good relationships with people.”
Those good relationships are key, he says, because they help you obtain the financial backing you need to make a movie.
“Movies are an investment,” Terwilliger explains. “In order to make ‘One Six Right’ I had to convince people that I needed a lot of money and that this was a good investment. You also need to be able to make the money back. That is the most important part of the process.”
Terwilliger vowed that he was not going to cut corners on the movie, something that is easy to do when you are producing a documentary.
“I never wanted to say ‘I ran out of time or I ran out of money’ because I worked too hard on this,” he said. “I put five years of my life into it.”
He managed to raise half a million dollars.
The next step was finding people to appear in the film. He wanted not only pilots, but also air traffic controllers, airport officials and mechanics. He also invited many “celebrity” pilots, such as actor/pilot Lorenzo Lamas and local television news personalities to appear in the movie.
“The ones who were more accessible are the ones you see in the film. Some didn’t even get back to me!” he says with a laugh.
Because it is a documentary, there was no script. The people who appear are asked questions, similar to the way television news interviews are done. That made it challenging to film, says Terwilliger, “because I don’t think a lot of people understood what I was doing. They didn’t know what the movie was going to be like at the end or if I was going to use their interview or what. Unlike an actor in a movie who has a script and plays a part, there was no script. I tried to give them a sketch of what I was going for, but a lot of them were in the dark.”
The movie delves into the history of the airport, which was actually shut down for a time during World War II as a security precaution, the post-war reopening and evolution into a general aviation hub.
One of the more controversial aspects of the film is how noise issues are addressed.
It is understood that noise is part of an airport. This is demonstrated as several people stop mid-interview, interrupted by aircraft noise.
“It is a very sensitive subject,” Terwilliger says. “People who saw earlier cuts of the film were concerned that I included that, but I said ‘it’s honest!’ To me it was a big deal because it acknowledges that airplanes make noise. Noise is the factor that people who don’t appreciate the value of the airport or misunderstand it will harp on. Part of the solution is airport users admitting that there is a problem and trying to see the other side of the issue.”
Terwilliger sees the movie as a way to open up channels of communication between airport users and airport detractors.
“The feature is very good at communicating what we love about aviation,” he says. “I want people to watch it with the decision-makers in their communities, like their congressmen, city council, whoever.
“The noise scene is necessary because it acknowledges the airport detractor’s point of view. If that scene was not in there, they would resent the movie as a puff piece.”
The movie does such a good job of explaining airport operations and the role general aviation plays in the world that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association bought a copy of the DVD for every private pilot in Congress.
“They also bought 1,700 copies for all Airport Support Network volunteers in the country and will be sending them out soon,” says Terwilliger.