Welcome to part 2 of my interview with Norman Kent. As I mentioned Wednesday, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Norman and picking his brain on everything from skydiving to photography to travel. He’s led an interesting life and I’m so grateful he was willing to share it with us right here on the blog. So let’s dive right in, shall we?
SDC: Looking at your career, you’ve done some pretty amazing things – from shooting movies to world records – what are some of the most memorable moments that you’ve had?
NK: Well, this is really hard because there’s so many and they were so different. I have a loving memory of each one in it’s own way. Some of them are memories of personal growth and challenges. Some of them are experiences because the uniqueness of a location. Some of them even involve dangers or unknown situations that bring back memories from growing up in Mexico City.
So I can describe some of the flavors of the things that were right up at the top. Like for instance going to the Olympics and being a part of the team that presented skydiving to the Olympics. This was important to me for several reasons. I was part of a team that was responsible for doing the live air transmission around the world. This was very consistent with what I wanted to do from day one, to share something magical with everyone. What an ultimate thing to do to tap my signal and spread it around the world. Also, one of my photos was chosen by Time magazine to depict the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. And of course just the experience of being there, being a part of the Olympics and the ceremony.
Another experience that stands out was going to the North Pole, and being a part of the first expedition that landed there. I’ve done other expeditions like into the jungles of Venezuela, but this one was right at the top because of it’s uniqueness. The place looks like a different planet.
Other experiences include being the 2nd most person who has jumped with the falcon, second only to the trainer of course. This was a privilege to be with a flying creature, when we pretend to fly, but to witness this is fascinating. This is one experience I could talk for hours about, the mechanics of all the things we had to do, when the falcon attacked my parachute – there was so much that went into this. All I can think when I get to do things like this is “what a privilege.”
Of course, all of these experiences have in common that I was able to shoot it, share it and bring it back. So it was really rewarding that way.
Among my experiences I had the opportunity to work on some very rewarding projects. For example the movie Get Smart because I designed a lot of the scene and was trusted to do a lot of it on my own. There wasn’t a need for much supervision and I was trusted to get the shot I thought was best, and I was even asked for recommendations from the director of photography, and it was very rewarding.
In fact, before the movie was released, there was a 5 minute movie teaser available through iTunes. My sequence was picked to be the representation of the film – the movie teaser was my entire segment. That’s when you really know that you have the skill and knowledge it takes.
As far as huge accomplishments, it’s films like Willing to Fly where it was my own project where I learned personal lessons along the way. Designing a movie, creating it and putting it all out on my own. Those are huge accomplishments for me.
SDC: Tell us, what’s a little known fact about Norman Kent?
NK: One of the things that’s been the most special in my career is that one of my scenes from Willing to Fly was chosen for a big screen movie. One of the agents I was working with called me up one day and said there was a director who wanted to see the raw film of a specific scene from Willing to Fly. Upon further discussion it was revealed that this director was Steven Spielberg. Among all the footage that he viewed, one of my scenes that was shot from a camera strapped to the strut of a Cessna 182 – which is kind of crude compared to Hollywood where they would bring in special helicopters to shoot such footage – mine was chosen as the background for superimposed images of the flying pterodactyls at the end of Jurassic Park 3.
That’s the kind of stuff to me that’s incredible. It’s a personal accomplishment because I created this on my own and on it’s own it survived, on it’s own it got found, and on it’s own it got picked for no other reason than your creation. And you don’t have the credit for it because it was purchased as a piece of stock film, but when you look at Willing to Fly you can see the shot and when you look at Jurassic Park 3 you can see the shot. I’m fascinated by the process of how this happened and when I look at it I can say “it’s mine!” So when people look at my resume and see the collection of movies I’ve participated in and they see Jurassic Park 3 they ask “well what does that have to do with skydiving?” Well, it doesn’t but I’m proud of it just the same.
SDC: So in skydiving, or photography, or just life in general, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
NK: The best piece of advice I’ve been given, I’d say is, be in the moment, live the moment, embrace the moment. Not missing the moment by having your mind somewhere else.
Skydiving is a clear example of this as an automatic process. Your fear, which is natural, is expressed by checking your gear, checking your handles before you exit, and this is preventive, to make sure you’ve done everything you can. Then you leave the door and there’s a destiny awaiting one minute later: a malfunction, a possible accident, possible death, whatever. But what happens is, you leave that in the door. Even if the thought is there, you exit and all the sudden you’re all about the jump. And that destiny comes later and in most cases it’s just what we predicted and that’s why we do it because it’s not really that crazy, we just have control over it like we said earlier. Then you have this glorious parachute ride… but that is a great representation of being in the moment. You’re not thinking about anything else. You’re only thinking about things related to that place and time.
Often, I’ve made the mistake, and I think many people make the mistake, of not doing that with things in life whether it’s photography or skydiving or anything else and not being in the moment and not being in the beauty that surrounds us and in the love the surrounds us in our friends and our mates. Quite often we focus on wanting more. Anytime I find myself doing that, and part of the messages in my films are to have new eyes. See things as new every time, experience things in a new light every time. Being in the moment and being in appreciation of the moment, even when they are bad moments, that’s definitely the best advice I’ve been given because it applies to every part of life.
SDC: You mentioned earlier that you’ve been spending some time in the tunnel practicing your skills. What advice do you have for skydivers who want to improve their technique?
NK: My advice is two-fold. For skydivers who are looking to physically improve in the sport and to advance as rapidly as possible is to spend time in the wind tunnel. These days, a wind tunnel is very crucial for that. The amount of time you can spend doing something repetitively it records itself into your motor skills and into your mind very differently and improves your rate of progress.
With that, pay attention. The tunnel is not skydiving. Think of the tunnel as a tool to help you with skydiving. Keep your mind open to the goal and where the tunnel or any other device or teaching helps you or hurts you. You may think that a certain type of training is going to help you, but you need to pay attention to how it works for you for your specific needs.
And engage, engage, engage. I often see people who want everything handed to them ready to go. For example, people who want to learn photography think that there’s a secret to it. The most common two questions I get are 1) what settings do you use and 2) what lens? And my answer is, all of them. I use every single lens depending on what I’m trying to create. It’s not as if there are secret settings on a specific lens that will get you the perfect picture every time. It’s like asking an artist, what color do you use. Haha.
So you really have to open your mind and engage that way and gain your individuality in the sport by doing so. Design something for you, that works for you, for your own hunger for your own purpose. And if you decide you just want to be a casual camera flyer or you just want to be a weekend skydiver, embrace that. Instead of tormenting yourself, which is the same as embracing the moment and being in the moment, and have fun with the fact that you make three jumps a month or a year. And then you go “this is the kind of skydiver I am, and I am a skydiver. And my skill level is consistent with that, and the friends I can jump with are consistent with that.” And go be fascinated about it. And that’s the biggest thing I can give people.
SDC: So do you still do video work for the average Joe skydiver?
NK: Yeah, you know, I do. And I need to make it more clear on my website but there are a lot of different things that I do.
For instance, I intentionally went to boogies and did that on my own because there was this misconception that “oh there’s Norman Kent and you can’t talk to him because he’s unapproachable and of course he won’t wanna jump with us so don’t invite him.” And then I’m going like, “hey will someone invite me on a jump please.”
And then I’m thinking, well who can I go with? And then I ask people “hey can I jump with you guys” and they get all nervous and the jump goes like hell. It’s like dude, you know, I’m a skydiver can be in skydiving please? Invite me! So I had to go to the convention and places like that where people are there to experience rides, like the specialty aircraft and helicopters and a jet. So I became a ride, like hey, come ride me, lets go have fun. So I’d go on these jumps and take pictures and stuff.
But yeah, that was what I wanted to do and I do do that. So when someone asks me “hey would you go up and take my picture?”
Sometimes it’s not even a photography thing, people just want to make a jump together. And that’s my motivation for going to boogies. I’m a skydiver. And I’d hate to all the sudden not fit in because I got too famous. I’m a jumper just like you and I just happen to have a passion that’s gotten me a certain status but that doesn’t stop me from being just like you.
SDC: Well that’s good to know because my freefly partner and I are going to be in Florida next week and we’d love to have some more pictures from you .
Of course, we all remember this little gem from the Work Stinks Boogie.
SDC: Well I really appreciate you chatting with me for almost two hours now. Thanks for talking with us, Norman.
NK: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. And this was a lot of fun!
I’ve come away from this interview with a great new perspective on not only the world of skydiving, but life in general. As he spoke about “breeds of people” when discussing who has inspired him throughout his skydiving career, I couldn’t help but think that he’s one of those exact people – the type of person who is out, chasing his dream, using photography as his motivation in skydiving, being motivated to share this sport with skydivers and non-skydivers alike, all the while staying true to who he is. He’s truly living his passions. Norman has done some incredible things in his life, but all the while he’s remained humble – hell, he was willing to sit down and talk to me for a couple hours, so what does that tell you.
If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend “Willing to Fly,” a film that was created from beginning to end in Norman’s head. Check out his web site for more on his career and to take a look at all the photography he has to share. After all, that’s his goal – to share this experience with skydivers and non-skydivers alike.
Thanks again, Norman. You’re quite the inspiration.