The Artist's Vision
Written by Emily Bump Girard
Reprinted with permission of USPA.
A figure swoops in tightly over the water. He slowly swings back and forth under his canopy like a giant pendulum. The sun paints the sky a brilliant yellow as it slips down the horizon. But it’s not the high-speed, precision landing that you see – it’s a pattern of the ripples that the jumper’s trailing foot leaves on the water’s surface. A freestylist exits the airplane. She moves with grace and agility – dancer and athlete meeting in the sky. Suddenly, you’re above her, looking down. She seems to disappear, the ground below swallowing her. Now she’s just a splash of color in a sea of spinning green.
The truth is, you’ve seen swoop landings before, and you’ve watched freestylists perform their aerial dances. But Norman Kent’s latest film, tentatively titled “Willing to Fly,” tries to change how you see skydiving, making you feel like you’re watching for the very first time. This film is pure Norman Kent – the emotion, the passion – the works. He’s making a film about everyday skydiving – RW, CRW, freestyle, but the film is more about finding new beauty in the ordinary?he ripple in the water you’ve never noticed. You won’t see as much innovation in the film’s content as you will in its form. Kent searches for that energy of discovery – of seeing something amazing for the first time – and he’s bottling it into this film.
It’s been over a decade since Kent produced a piece of this scope. He’s been busy though, turning in impressive work on a number of feature films and commercials. While the past ten years have been rewarding, Kent is ready to put his energies into another original film – his way.
Over the past ten years, Kent has grown into the artist and cinematographer he must be to make this film. He’s
developed new skills and improved old ones; he’s learned to see the world in different ways; he’s seen his sport blossom and grow- he’s also watched the sport stagnate in it’s presentation.
Kent feels that many moviemakers focus too much on what is happening in front of the camera and too little on how they film the subject. In time, everything starts looking the same – one 4-way team is indistinguishable from the another.
Kent’s goal: change the focus from what he’s filming to how he’s filming it. He’s not just putting the camera on his head – he’s placing that camera in action; making it define and manipulate what’s happening. Movie making must be dynamic, and Kent brings the cinematographer’s role to life.
This film won’t be the first time that Kent has gone out on a creative limb. Ten years ago he unveiled “From Wings Came Flight,” introducing the magic of freestyle. His new film isn’t a sequel, and if there seems to be a connection between the two, it’s only in an evolutionary sense. “Wings” examined where flight can take you. Now Kent goes a level deeper and explores how flight makes you feel as you surrender your inhibitions to the skydive. You are willing to fly.
As the skydiver swoops across the water, the wind humming in his ears and the water parting in his path, he feels free, empowered – his absolute best. Kent wants to make that feeling tangible to his audience through this film. He explores countless possibilities to help them know the feeling that comes with flight - even when they’re earthbound in front of the
Kent is shooting the movie mostly in 35mm format. He used 16mm film for the slow-motion freefall sequences. Don’t expect any exotic locations as settings. He wants the audience to find beauty locally. Kent believes Florida is the ideal location to film skydiving. The water and the scattered cumulus clouds are beautiful elements for any photography. The film also goes to Arizona and Germany.
Kent’s greatest challenge while working is staying open to all the discoveries he makes. Much of the cinematography is new; he’s trying techniques he’s never used before - the way he shoots a sequence, how he exposes it. The setups are often complicated, and as he films, he constantly learns and adjusts. And this costs money.
He’s thankful for the generous sponsors who have made his work possible: Performance Designs, Relative Workshop, Skydive Sebastian, Skydive Arizona, Skydive Deland, Larsen & Brusgaard, Airtec, Parasport Italia, Blue Sky magazine and Pedro Luis Gonzalez. But the most important sponsors are the participants who have donated their time and talents to make Kent’s ideas into reality. They aren’t in it for riches or fame. They’re in it because they feel the same way he does – in love with the piece, the moment and the concept.
Kent describes finding shots hidden behind shots, discovering new possibilities after reviewing a sequence. Once the potential for an even better shot reveals itself, its back to the drawing board to devise a way to make it come to life. Only three to five percent of the footage will make the final cut
While making this film, Kent broke one of his most sacred rules: He allowed participants to view unedited film. He wants them to watch the film and not recognize themselves, like they’ve just listened to their own voices on a tape recorder and ask, “Who is that?” He wants to disorient them simply because of the perspective from which he’s chosen to film the skydive.
Many jumpers who watched the clips realized that no matter how much experience they have and no matter how many times
they had seen themselves on video, they hadn’t seen it all. Their reactions reinforce Kent’s feeling that he’s making a film that will open many eyes - jumpers and non-jumpers alike – to all the beauty of skydiving.
While working on the film, Kent found that as an artist, cinematographer and skydiver, he himself is also a work in progress. He’s discovered a great deal about his own art. Once he releases the film, he hopes his audience will discover the same.