Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Emmy™Award-Winning Documentary Film

"Broadcast" version now airing on most public television stations.

"Uncensored" version now on DVD and in film festivals.

Synopsis: A charismatic figure featured in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff, Florence "Pancho" Barnes was one of the most important women in 20th Century aviation. A tough and fearless aviatrix, Pancho was a rival of Amelia Earhart's who made a name for herself as Hollywood's first female stunt pilot. Just before WWII she opened a ranch near Edwards Air Force Base that became a famous -- some would say notorious -- hangout for test pilots and movie stars. Known as the "Happy Bottom Riding Club", it became the epicenter of the aviation world during the early jet age. Chuck Yeager celebrated breaking the sound barrier there in 1947, and Howard Hughes and Jimmy Doolittle caroused in the bar. The Club's destruction by fire in 1953 is seen by many to mark the end of a Golden Era in post-WWII aviation. In the same fashion Pancho herself has become something of a legend, a fascinating yet enigmatic icon whose swagger is often celebrated, but whose story has been largely unknown. Until now.

A documentary film produced and written by Nick Spark and directed by Amanda Pope. Featuring interviews with test pilots Bob Cardenas, Bob Hoover and Chuck Yeager, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and biographers Barbara Schultz and Lauren Kessler. Narrated by Tom Skerritt with Kathy Bates as the voice of Pancho Barnes.

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Women in Aviation
"Read Nick Spark's article about Pancho
from Women in Aviation magazine (.pdf)"
13 February 2009

12.21.08 A Christmas Gift .. and Looking Ahead to 2009!

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Hello and season's greetings! Amanda Pope and I would like to extend special greetings to everyone who has supported the Pancho Barnes documentary project this year. And, we have a little Christmas gift to share! It's something truly special that dropped down our chimney…

Now, those of you who have followed our production, know that in June of this year "Pancho" was awarded the Women in Film Finishing Fund Grant. This prestigious award did a great deal to bolster our spirits, and the cash award helped pay some of our expenses. It was also a lot of fun to read about our film in WIF's press releases, and in the pages of the Daily Variety -- Hollywood's trade paper.

But the really exciting aspect of an award like this one – one that comes from an organization that promotes educational and professional opportunities for women in the entertainment industry – is that it can produce unexpected results. That's exactly what happened to us. Through Women in Film, we were contacted by various industry professionals here in Hollywood, asking what could they do to make our film a success.

A little aside here… There has always been one part of our production we've agonized about – one critical aspect to it, that seemed like it might present a real challenge. And that is, who would do the voice of Florence "Pancho" Barnes in the final film?

Over the course of the three years we've worked on the film, we've heard all sorts of suggestions. But from day one of the project, there was only one actress both Amanda and I really had in mind. Her name is well known in Hollywood, and around the world, for portraying bold female characters. She’s so well known in fact, that we figured our chances of working with her, would be remote. Unless, of course, we had an "in".

Photo: Our board operator at Larson Studios runs the Pancho Barnes recording session..

Well, people we interviewed about Pancho, have told us that positive things had a way of happening around her. We always believed that, and kept faith that somehow, we'd get a shot at talking to our dream actress. Our hope was, that if someone told her about Pancho, and she saw the rough cut of our film, that she'd agree to participate. Believe it or not, and we’re still pinching ourselves about this, that's exactly what happened. Thanks to a bit of serendipity caused by the Women in Film Grant, we ended up being introduced to our top candidate's agent, and were able to present our project to her. And that’s the long and short of how Academy Award winning actress Kathy Bates came to be our Pancho!

At a sound stage in Hollywood, on an otherwise perfectly dull weekday when the economy was sliding into the Sargasso Sea, Amanda and I had the privilege of hearing Kathy perform the voice of Pancho Barnes. Hearing her perform the lines, gave them a whole new presence. For months we'd only heard these words spoken by a stand-in; now they came alive in ways we had not anticipated. A sentence like: "My Travel Air had a big, throaty engine…" became transformed, through Kathy's forceful, confident delivery, into a booming "My Travel Air had a BIG, THROATY engine…"

Photo: Nick Spark, Kathy Bates and Amanda Pope pose after the recording session.

Kathy Bates got "Pancho" like we dreamed she would -- not that we ever had any doubts. We knew that, just like Pancho, Kathy had overcome huge odds in her own personal and professional life, and triumphed. Not just through hard work, or because of her talent, but because of a sort of indefinable gumption and her ability to let it all hang out literally and figuratively.

Well, I wish all of you could have been with us on the sound stage to witness the performance, but unfortunately it would have been a bit too distracting. The good news is, sometime this coming year, you are all going to get an opportunity to hear Pancho come alive.

So 2009 is nearly here, and it looks like it is our year. The film is nearly done, and there are many, many important announcements that will be made in the coming weeks. Let's just say, we're poised to barnstorm "Pancho" on PBS, and around the country at various events including a film festival near you. Stay tuned, happy holidays, and see you all very soon!

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