Take a look at a growing number of recent films, particularly from indie filmmakers, and you will find drone shots everywhere.
Technology marches on. Everything from smartphones, TVs, and other electronics to cameras and drones keep getting better and more capable all the time. Not only that, they keep pushing the edge of higher quality while we watch the costs coming down.
This democratization of very high quality aerial camera platforms is proving to be an indispensable resource for the movie industry. From big Hollywood productions to near-zero budget independent (indie) filmmakers, the opportunity to capture stunning, top-notch aerial cinematography is now within everyone’s grasp.
In addition to being a contributing writer for General Aviation News, I work in the film industry as director of Romero Pictures Indie Brigade Drone Cav.
Romero Pictures is headed by George C. Romero whose father, George A. Romero, set the standard for many indie filmmakers with iconic classics such as Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow and countless other projects.
Romero Pictures is the go-to resource for independent filmmakers to learn about their craft from a large community of professionals sharing their experience working in front of and behind the camera.
With the Drone Cav, I work with filmmakers at all levels, sharing information on matters such as getting started using drones in their films, regulatory compliance, and prepping for their Part 107 certificate to aerial cinematography techniques and choosing the right drones to fit their needs and budget. I also work directly on set, flying aerial cinema for the production if they would rather not pursue flight operations themselves.
Romero Pictures is also passionate about our amazing veterans as well. A major part of operations is the Veterans Compound, where the Romero Pictures team helps veterans learn the craft and art of filmmaking, ultimately coming together in a finished film of their own creation and ongoing support in pursuing careers in the film industry.
Sky High Production Values
Before drones came along, the only way to get those beautiful, soaring landscape or tracking shots was to hire a helicopter and cameraman and deal with all the logistics, expense, and coordination involved with such operations. Obviously, this put aerial cinema out of reach for most small productions.
With today’s more advanced drone models offering 4K video, the ability to shoot in LOG (a finished video format), and other advancements in onboard cameras, drones have changed the game.
That’s true even for ground level or lower altitude shots. Now you can simply deploy a drone to do as many takes as you need quickly and efficiently without the need of all the tracks and other heavy equipment requiring a team of operators. Oh yeah, at a fraction of production cost, too. Don’t forget, time is money!
I’ve recently worked on a number of film productions in the central Florida area, which is becoming an ever-growing market for filmmakers. I worked on everything from short films to music videos and feature length productions, which are either done, released, in pre-release, or prepping for production once the COVID-19 crisis is passed and everyone can return to work.
Let’s take a look at a couple examples I recently flew the aerials for:
Last year, I was asked to shoot for a locally produced thriller Survive, If I Let You. The director wanted a slow, immersive, and dreamy flight through a wooded area for the opening credits. This would be about two minutes of continuous, unblinking footage flying through tree branches and twisting and turning with the terrain. Sort of a dreamy nightmare feel.
Normally a shot like this would be extremely expensive to pull off and require a tricky dolly set up or steadicam options.
Using the right drone, an Autel Evo shooting in 4K @ 30fps in LOG with the correct ND filter, the shot came out beautifully. After a few rehearsal flights to get the exact path we wanted, the final take hit the bullseye and after post production, gave the opening of the film the exact brooding, spooky feel the director was after.
Another project was a music video for popular country artist Liza Marie’s new song “Ain’t Coming Back to Me.” This involved an aerial view of the performers having a conversation and then tracking a moving pickup truck as it drove down a dusty road in the opening scenes of the video.
Again, what would have been cost and logistically prohibitive in many other cases was successfully achieved by using the right combination of drone and technique. After flying a couple rehearsal shots, we got the look the director was after and raised the bar on the production to a new professional level.
We are already seeing the release of drones with even more sophisticated cameras able to shoot in 6K and even 8K resolutions that cost less than $2,000. This is simply remarkable technology and opens the door for so many filmmakers to start leveraging these incredible aerial cinematography platforms for their own productions.
The combination of having great drones available, as well as excellent support resources such as Romero Pictures and its community, makes the future look amazingly bright for filmmakers to take their film projects to heights they would have only dreamed of just a few years ago.