Drones on the Move for Hollywood Productions

Hollywood has waited patiently for the Federal Aviation Administration to grant exemptions for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for film and video productions. The wait is over. After several years of wrangling, the FAA made it official, allowing six firms to go ahead and fly drones - the first time private companies legally can do so in the U.S. With Hollywood leading the way, the decision has huge implications for a broad range of industries. 

Hollywood's exemption is the first granted to multiple companies and the first to open an entire industry for commercial drone use. This being Hollywood, expect plenty of publicity and statements from industry insiders. Neil Fried, MPAA senior vice president, is already on record in support of drones, saying that drones are "an innovative and safer option for filming. The new tool for storytellers will allow for creative and exciting aerial shots, and it's the latest in a myriad of new technologies being used by our industry to further enhance the viewer experience."

Previously, many filmmakers had taken to shooting with drones in foreign countries to get the shots they wanted, notably the James Bond pic, Skyfall, in Turkey. With the FAA allowing Hollywood productions the legal exemption to fly drones, there also comes a long list of strict safety and compliance rules, aiming for safety and noninterference with commercial aviation. Federal authorities such as the National Park Service won't take these rules lightly and have already made it clear drones would be allowed to fill the air like a swarm of bees. One Danish tourist learned the hard way and got stung with a $3200 fine for failing to comply with government rules.

Despite the slow implementation, progress is being made - but it will continue to be slow going. With forty other requests for exemptions pending, there's quite a backlog the FAA needs to get through. Expect to see draft rules for integrating drones into national airspace by the beginning of 2015.

Five Tips for Using Drones on Your Production

When CNN commissions a study on using drones to capture news footage you know unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have hit the mainstream. Today, more and more cameras are taking to the sky for sports coverage, reality TV and even real estate listings.  

It used to be that stunning panoramic shots were limited by the length of a crane or the locations a helicopter could safely fly. Not anymore. Now a filmmaker can put a GoPro on a drone and get shots that only existed in their imagined storyboards.

As you venture out into the wild blue yonder, here's a few tips to make the best of the experience.

  1. Get The Entry Level Model. It's easy to get ahead of yourself and get the elephant gun when all you really needed was the water pistol. The DJI Phantom is an ideal entry level purchase. It won't get your camera in the air but at $399 it's a great way to get comfortable before you take the big leap and put all your precious equipment in the sky. Think of it as a training course that gets you valued flying experience.
  2. Watch Before You Fly. Read the manual thoroughly, then search the web for instructional videos. You'll find everything from how to charge your batteries to how to install prop guards. DSLRPros has some great videos on how to get up and flying but there are many other people out there who have taken the time to create tutorials.
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice. Once you've read up on everything, get get out and fly as much as you can. It can take anywhere from 10-20 hours to get comfortable so don't get discouraged. And don't worry about the video you're getting. Work on getting the drone in the air. Practice hovering. Practice landing. Once you get comfortable, then you can start pushing the envelope.
  4. Use Prop Guards. Face it, you're going to crash. Everyone does. You’re landings will not be gentle. You'll run into things. It will tip over while the props are active. Save yourself the money and the headaches and install your prop guards. Sometimes they get in the way of your shot, but it’s better to use them and risk ruining a few shots then to damage the drone.
  5. Use Common Sense. Take it slow and be safe. These things can get out of control very easily and should be kept away from people. And because of their ability to fly hundreds of feet in the air, be aware of other aircraft in the area. It's a serious problem if you come too close to manned aircraft. You can visit the Academy of Model Aeronautics for more information. They have valuable resources about government regulations. 

Follow these tips and get that camera up in the air. You'll be amazed by the beautiful footage you'll capture.