RM: Any plans for marketing the documentary to television?
JG: No, I never pursued that course. My YouTube videos caught the attention of a few people in the industry, and for a while it looked as though my work might reach a larger audience, but nothing definite transpired. There were actually three instances of “near fame” concerning Great War in the Air.
First, as I was getting ready to open my second restaurant, my office phone rang one day. It was Tony Bill, whose film Flyboys was opening in theaters about two weeks later. He’d been watching my film online and was curious how I’d come to make this and could he get a DVD copy? Tony was awfully nice, and we probably chatted for 20 minutes about our mutual heroes and about the making of his own movie.
Next, I received an email from Hardy Henniger, one of the owners of Niama, the German company that produced The Red Baron. Niama’s actually a music company specializing in classic blues artists; The Red Baron signaled their foray into motion pictures. Hardy was also looking for a DVD copy of my work, which I sent off. Around Christmas 2006 he wrote back and said they were interested in releasing my DVD, but were REALLY interested in using excerpts when The Red Baron finally made it to DVD, on the “extras” disc, sort of a “True story of the Red Baron” thing.
The third near-brush with fame came when I received an email from none other than the famous producer/director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Lovely Bones), who had also watched my film on YouTube. He was also looking for a DVD and was possibly interested in using parts of my film in the Aviation Heritage Museum in Omaka, New Zealand. Peter spoke of my film being spread through the museum as a series of “push button” exhibits to tell the story of the first air war.
We exchanged several correspondences. He’s obviously a huge fan of this subject, talking freely about aircraft in his collection. He had some really nice things to say about my own efforts and graciously invited me down to New Zealand for the big air show that year and to “take a ride in my Bristol Fighter.” But my second restaurant had just opened and there was no way I was getting away. But it was an exciting offer.So those were my “near brushes." In the end, the business with Niama went nowhere. They seemed to have run into problems with Warner Bros., who was to distribute their film, and The Red Baron has only just recently been released over here in a very limited way. As far as the New Zealand museum, Weta, a company Mr. Jackson co-owns, sent me an external hard drive so I could send my master files directly to them, but I’ve heard nothing more and I assume they ended up going in a different direction.
All in all, it got pretty exciting for this scruffy bass player from rural Connecticut. All the kind words were certainly a boost to my confidence in my documentary.
RM: What was the most challenging aspect of the production?
JG: The narration, especially the pronunciations of French names and places. I speak no French. Early on in the recording process, I had a Danish buddy visiting for a month, and since he speaks some French I went through the list of names with him and phonetically wrote out what I needed. Even so, I wish I had done a better job with these. The German came a lot easier, as I’d spent three years there with the USAF and had taken German in high school. I lived in the Hunsruck region of Germany, where the “ch” is soft, not hard—it’s “ich” like “fish,” not “ick.” Early on I decided I would use the soft “ch” throughout my film. As expected, once up on YouTube I got some complaints from folks who wanted to hear “RiCKtofen” and not “Richthofen”.
RM: Of all the fliers that you give individual bios for, who are your favorites?
JG: There are a few that really stand out for me but no one too obscure. Manfred Von Richthofen occupies a larger part of my film than any other flier. His is simply the greatest story of the war, and to tell his tale is to tell the story of history’s first war in the air: the start of the war, Oswald Boelcke and his contribution, the first German fighter squadron, the first fighter wing and more. I introduce Von Richthofen early in the documentary and continuously come back to him.
I really came to feel as though I’d gotten to know this guy; so much has been written about him. As the events of April 21, 1918, approached in my writing, I actually felt a growing dread because I was going to have to kill him off. This was one section that I wanted to get right, both objectively and with a sense of mourning. In a way, Richthofen’s death is the end of the story, even though the war continued for nearly seven months. The rest of the story is a little anticlimactic in my opinion.
That said, there are plenty of other fliers who really interest me. I think the enigmatic Edward Mannock was an amazing story. He seems a contradiction of emotions and actions, an often angry cynic who could weep openly over the death of a squadron mate. As a fighter and leader, Mannock had few peers. It was said that he viewed each engagement as a chess match, plotting his moves in a very well-reasoned, methodical manner.
Georges Guynemer stands out as one of the great tragic figures of the war, so frail and sickly and yet so driven to defend his country. Guynemer became famous in France despite being shy and uncomfortable with the adoration.
Jean Navarre is another great character, rebellious and defiant. He hurled himself at the enemy while leaving his commanders frustrated over his distain for discipline. Navarre is another truly tragic character; the images of him hobbling around Paris drunk and disheveled are very sad.
Those are a few fliers who interest me, but to be sure there are many more. Being a huge fan of the literature on the subject, some of my favorite fliers are ones that survived and wrote about their experiences: Elliott White Springs, Arthur Gould Lee, Victor Yeates, Arch Whitehouse and folks like that.
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