Probably because he knows everyone and is interested in everything, Ken Mitchroney somehow arranged for us to have a photo session for our Fata Morgana author pic at March Field Air Museum on a B-17G bomber.
Jon Tucker, a hugely talented cinematographer who has worked with Ken, offered to take the shots. He showed up with an SUV full of gear and a cart, an assistant named Danny Sandoval — oh, yeah, and a camera.
The rain in LA had been unprecedented the previous few days, but the day of the shoot was gorgeous: Robins-egg-blue sky, massive clouds, and buckets o’ sunshine. Our luck was crazy.
Ken wanted to try to re-create this shot from the movie Air Force:
I thought it would look great, but it immediately became clear that we couldn’t do it, because the cockpit windows didn’t go back far enough. Either they were different in the earlier B-17, or they’d been rigged in Air Force. There was no way two of us could lean out of one window. Time to improvise!
Ken worked with Jon on angles while my friend Scott Kelley shot “B-roll” of the activities. We took advantage of the opportunity to crawl all over that aircraft.
I’d thought that a shot looking through the windshield at Ken and I at the controls might be great. But the parked bomber angled up steeply, and Jon would have to be 15 feet up to get the shot. “No problem,” said March Field’s Greg Kuster. “We’ll get a scissor lift.”
While they were bringing over the lift, Jon took shots of us in the cockpit. I thought this setup was ideal for an author shot, but we were completely backlit, and I scouldn’t imagine Jon would be able to get good lighting. Which maybe shows my limited understanding of exactly what a cinematographer can do, given the shots he ended up with.
When Jon got raised up in the scissor lift, it was immediately clear that the through-the-windshield shot was out: The windshield was dirty, wet from the rain, and glaring in the relentless SoCal sunshine. So we stuck ourselves out the pilot & copilot windows instead, and Jon just beamed and yelled Ohh, yeah. Ken and I couldn’t stop grinning like idiots.
For my part, I’d been living in a B-17 in my head for the better part of four years working on this book. I’d done ridiculous amounts of research, watched videos, walked through the 909 and the Aluminum Overcast when they barnstormed Concord and Livermore. But it’s a completely different deal to have full, unsupervised access to a WWII bomber, to have no one else on board, to have no sense that you should hurry up and give someone else a look, and to go into places nobody but nobody gets to go. The cockpit, ferchrissake.
When Ken and I looked at each other across the top of the bomber and started laughing our asses off, I think we knew that this was gonna be the shot. When we got the pix from Jon, there was no doubting it.
We went for black & white because of the feel of the novel. I dunno what Jon did, but he made the damn thing look as if it’d been taken in 1943. Needless to say, Ken and I are stoopidly happy with our Author Shot, and can’t wait to see it on the jacket of the hardcover when it’s published in June.
Massive thanks to Jon Tucker and Danny Sandoval; to Scott Kelley for tons of behind-the-scenes shots; and to Greg Kuster and Paul Hammond of the March Field Air Museum, for their amazing help and kindness, and for opening up the Starduster to us. I highly recommend a visit to the Museum in Riverside, CA (I haven’t even talked about their spectacular collection). Our day there was literally one for the books.