LRM Exclusive Interview: Documentary Director Brian J. Terwilliger for LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES
Humans do take things for granted.
With the everchanging world, the human race never places credit towards certain technologies that influences our lives today.
Director Brian J. Terwilliger places airplanes as one of the main influences that unite societies, economies and cultures together.
In the National Geographic’s documentary LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES, it places a fresh perspective on a modern-day miracle that we take for granted—flying. It’s narrated by Harrison Ford and features a new original score from Academy Award winning composer James Horner.
The documentary takes us into 18 countries on all seven continents to illustrate this technological marvel influences on our society.
LRM had an opportunity last week to speck with Terwilliger on the phone about this documentary. We discussed his love of aviation, the influences of flight, his visits and Harrison Ford.
National Geographic’s LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES is available on iTunes, Amazon, Blu-ray and DVD today.
LRM: Let’s talk about this. It’s a fascinating documentary called LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES. What inspired you to come up with this?
Brian J. Terwilliger: Well, I love planes and aviation for my whole life since I was a little kid. I was fascinated by it. I go to airshows and eventually got into model planes. I got my private pilot license when I was a teenager. So it was something I’ve been interested in as a thematic standpoint and as a hobby.
In my career, my very first film is pretty much about aviation and being a pilot. It’s about pilots who are passionate about flying. It’s called ONE SIX RIGHT. It’s great to see that film takes on to see its own life. Pilots in the aviation community really connected with the film. It illustrates on what they loved and why they loved it.
With this film, LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES, I wanted to find a way to connect with people who don’t love airplanes or don’t think about aviation. People don’t see it as they go to the airports or think on how it is all connected. Maybe a pilot or true aviation fan truly thinks of it.
The challenge was to make aviation amazing, interesting and awespiring all over again. It was the way back in the 1920s or 1930s and to the Jet Age of the 1950s or 1960s. That awe and amazement seem to be long gone from the general public’s perspective.
My challenge was to make a film to bring all that back. It’s a perspective that people don’t really have anymore. We’re all bored at the time and it’s always been this way. For most of us, it seems like it gets worse over time.
We don’t realize on how great we have it. Next best way to do on what we’re doing and go where we’re going—isn’t good enough, probably not fast enough or even go at all. With the airplane, it really puts all of this into perspective.
LRM: Talk about the development of the narrative for the project. What kind of arguments you wanted to make to the non-airplane enthusiasts to make your point across?
Brian J. Terwilliger: The biggest conflict, within the viewers themselves, is the frustration and inconvenience that the public associated with flying and aviation. That is the baseline. People aren’t like rah-rah or think it’s the best thing ever. People don’t think it’s easy or security lines are a cinch. This gives aviation a worse rap over the last many years. It is a paradigm on which the movie approaches [this subject]. People just think about it as a journey getting on a plane nowadays.
We would put it in perspective to quickly go back in time and go forward in a 200,000-year timeline. It’s to show where we are now, where we are all born into, and how recent all of this is. It’s like a nano-second in our human history.
To be on an airplane and to decide on where we will be tomorrow being something brand spanking new to us. When you really put things in perspective, you really have a new appreciation for it. Appreciation is a direct result of the realization of knowing what it’s like to be without something. We never really had that in our lifetime. We never known on what it is truly to be land-bound or not having access [to airplanes]. Imagine going coast-to-coast, from Los Angeles to New York, or any long-distance travel—we probably would never go to those places! Even if you did, it would be infrequent. You can drive, take a train or a bus. Let alone, we’re not even talking about going to Europe or overseas. It would’ve been a once in a lifetime trip. A hundred years ago, this would’ve been a migration.
Well, we don’t live in that time. It’s hard to have that perspective. In many ways, the appreciation is all but lost. Aviation is the best it had ever been. There isn’t a second-best way to get to those places to be acceptable. All the alternatives will be far, far less acceptable. That is one of the key ingredients to have that in the film.
LRM: You made several points in the film regarding airplanes. I’m going to list them out for you. You tell me which one is the most impacted by airplanes. Such as sharing of ideas, international commerce, being explorers or even uniting families.
Brian J. Terwilliger: Well, it’s the most philosophical, most intangible, most profound and most obvious answer—it’s the sharing of ideas. It’s really hard to wrap our heads around especially due to the Internet now. That could help us share ideas and communicate with other people so quickly now. We can create another Tweet and the whole world knows what you are thinking in seconds. [Chuckles]
Until very recent history, that wasn’t really the case. Civilizations can rise and fall without even knowing of each other’s existence. People were inventing the same things on different continents without ever utilizing on what other people had figured out already or be able to build upon someone else’s idea. This is all recent history in the last couple hundred of years.
People are becoming closer and closer together thanks to transportation. Of course, it all started with ships and trains. This is really evolution in the last two hundred years. The jet airplane has made things so quick—it was the equivalent of the Internet in the same nature in the world of electronics—but in the physical world. No Internet device, iPhone or any piece of software in the near future will ever move a person or a thing from one place or another. Those things can only move digital information.
Airplane’s role in connecting people face-to-face, materials and the compounding nature is pretty incredible. There exponential things that had happened. Look at the exponential curve of so many technologies in the last fifty years. You’ll see it is the same exponential curve of speed in transportation. I don’t believe that this is merely a coincidence. It’s pretty fascinating.
LRM: Now you’ve visited so many places around the world. You managed to get all this footage. I’m very jealous. This is the ultimate work vacation. Tell me on what was the best place in your opinion that you got to visit.
Brian J. Terwilliger: Hmmm, there is so many. You’re right. It’s ninety-five difference places in eighteen countries. The best is the Maldives, which is definitely right up there near the top. It’s an incredibly stunning part of the world. It’s certainly like it’s right out of a magazine. It’s almost like a cartoon with the colors of the water and the look of the islands. It’s a very surreal place. I’m very fortunate to have so much time there, which is sixteen days there. There were some weather issues that extended that stay. It’s really a beautiful place to be in the film. We had a great underwater segment. That was definitely a standout for me.
Rome was another. I absolutely loved Italy. The ancient feel of that place was really special and profound. As a filmmaker, myself and crew, we got to experienced many things that film talked about. Instead of reading about history, we got to go to the places where it actually happened without ever moving there. We got to see one-of-a-kind things. There is only one Mona Lisa portrait in the world. It’s on one continent, one country, one city, one building, one room and on one wall with the one-and-only original painting.
You can go see it in person. I’ve talked to many people at many times, “Yeah. I’ve actually seen the Mona Lisa.” It’s incredible to be at the same point on Earth. It’s being at the same latitude and longitude point on the planet. Now we’re having this conversation in Los Angeles. The fact we have this ability is pretty amazing. In the film, we’ve truly lived it. We’ve visited so many incredible different places. It’s wonderful to experience everything in the making and telling of the story.
LRM: You must’ve got so much footage. How did you pare all this down to less than an hour? Is there a two-hour version of your documentary? [Chuckles]
Brian J. Terwilliger: Well, no. It’s definitely challenging. It’s over 260 hours [of footage] we’ve captured. It’s incredibly difficult to get it down. It’s just so much to work with. Luckily, there was a huge percent that was not as good because of the weather. Pretty much sometimes that we were at one location and the weather wasn’t good to be shooting that day. Sometimes the weather can deteriorate the next day or even the day after that the weather could get better. We would revisit the exact same location trying to get the exact same shot. With a good weather day, we could pretty much eliminate and wouldn’t even look at that other day.
There are others on where there is so much good stuff for any one place or location. The sequences are only so long from thirty seconds to a minute. Some of the best shots to tell that story—sometimes it’s the best shot and sometimes it’s the best shot to tell that story. It’s not necessarily mean it’ll be my favorite shot. It may be the best shot that help make that sequence and to have the most impact.
During the editing process, sometimes these things are eliminated and deleted. That’s always unfortunate. Thankfully for special features—we can have all of that. We have by including them into additional footage and deleted scenes. You’ll get to see some of that as well.
LRM: Could you talk about on why Harrison Ford is the perfect narrative voice for your project?
Brian J. Terwilliger: Harrison is perfect for so many reasons. Obviously, he is a very well-known person. He has a great voice. A very commanding voice. For the most important thing to me as a narrator, it was the fact that I needed someone who could own the story and tell the audience a story. It’s that feeling by reading the script and feeling that they’re being read to. So often, I hear the phrase, “So-and-so is lending their voice to a film.” You can really hear the difference.
By getting the words delivered and getting the words recorded, it’s having these words felt and met. It makes a big difference. Even as professional actors, sometimes you can hear them acting, reading or delivering lines. It’s versus by making us feel they’re coming up with this stuff on their own. They’re really passionate about the story by putting meaning into the words.
That was the most important thing to me. Even more important than being a famous person or someone interested in aviation. But, having all those things together, it was what Harrison Ford absolutely represents. He is an aviation aficionado himself. He’s a pilot. He is very passionate about the subject. And he is the one who is completely capable of doing all the things I’ve just mentioned.
He just nailed it. He brought so much to the project. He was so committed in getting it right. He spent plenty of time with me in the voiceover booth to tell this story. I could not be happier on what he did and brought to the film.
LRM: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate this conversation and I really loved your documentary. It was really clear and crisp visually. Now I want to visit nineteen countries myself.
Brian J. Terwilliger: There you go. [Chuckles] Thank you for your time. Appreciate it.
National Geographic’s LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES is available on iTunes, Amazon, Blu-ray and DVD today.
Source: Exclusive for LRM