Did You Know...?
Series Air Dates
Exec. Producer Bio
Exec. Producer Interview
Photo & Video Credits
How did you become involved with Chasing the Sun?
Actually my partner, Mitch Wilson, has always been interested in flying. His father worked in maintenance for American Airlines so he grew up seeing all the planes in service and dreamed of having a career in the industry one day. Instead, he wound up as a cinematographer who flies all over the world and whose dream series was to make a history of aviation. When he heard KCET was doing a show on the history of commercial aviation and how flight has changed life in the 20th century, he immediately called me and proposed that we try to get the project. We came on board in the spring of 1999 and it's taken two years to complete the series, which we filmed in France, England, Canada and the U.S.
What sets this series apart from other documentaries on the history of flight?
Chasing The Sun is really about how flying changed the average person's life. Less than 100 years ago, no human being had ever flown. Now, most people take flying totally for granted. The series explores the astounding impact aviation has had on civilization in the 20th century, both in peacetime and in war. It's the kind of subject that fascinates me, which is why I keep making PBS shows.
What were some of the highlights during production?
Shooting aboard the Ford Trimotor was great. We were able to experience flying like passengers in the 1930s, at an altitude of roughly 1,000 feet in a big, wide-open plane, with a huge aisle and large seats. The Trimotor we used was built in 1934 and is owned by an American Airlines pilot, who flew us from Los Angeles to Catalina Island. When he had trouble starting the plane for the return trip, he got out of the cockpit and asked one of us to push a button while he manually spun the propeller to get the motor going. It worked and we were back in L.A. in about 45 minutes. We had a great view and the experience was almost like flying in a blimp looking down over the ocean. But had there been turbulence, it would have been quite a different story. In the early days of flying, the "urp" cup was an essential piece of equipment since almost everyone became airsick. When we were shooting aboard a DC-3 and couldn't fly above the turbulence, one of our producers became sick and got the real experience of what air travel must have been like in the old days.
Do you have favorite sequences in the series?
I'd have to say that filming the sequence on Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine, was special. People in America don't know the story of Frank Whittle at all, but in Britain, it's both a badge of honor and a grudge held by the whole country. In the series, we reenact the initial testing of the 'WU,' the Whittle Unit, a contraption that couldn't possible fit into a plane, but could demonstrate that jet propulsion was feasible. We flew to the Coventry Airport Museum in England, where the engine is housed, and transported it on a forklift to another area within the airport. We used the guts of the engine, recreated everything else around it and filmed the reenactment.
I'm also partial to the Saint Exupery sequences because it's very hard to make these kinds of stories work. I found Saint Exupery to be a really romantic character and like many others, loved his famous story 'The Little Prince.' A highlight for me was learning that the story had grown out of his experience as an airmail pilot in the Moroccan desert. What we've tried to do is recreate that experience in that time and place, using footage we shot in the Mohave desert.
What were some of the greatest challenges you faced in the making of this series?
Finding the great old planes was a tremendous challenge. We had to do extensive research. We even went to an air show in Rhinebeck, New York, where Mitch literally stuck out his thumb and hitched rides as people were taking their planes out. Luckily, many were accommodating.
What do you hope viewers will take away from this production?
The realization that it's pretty special to fly. Part of the magic of being human is to be able to step out of everyday life and observe what's going on around you and think about it. It's really an amazing thing that we can fly and it's not something that should be taken for granted, as shouldn't the drive, energy and risk-taking of the people who made it possible. Flying has also completely changed how cultures relate to each other. We couldn't have a United Nations without it. And I have to say as a filmmaker, I'm one of the people who most appreciate flying. I get to travel all over the world to fascinating and often remote places and flying makes my career possible.