Changing the Face of Film



Changing the Face of Film
Executive SummaryPage 3
IntroductionPage 4
Image The PossibilitesPage 5
Saving Money With DronesPage 6
The Safety ElementPage 7-8
Drones Versus HelicoptersPage 9
To Hire Or Not To Hire?Page 13
Case Studies: How Drones Made The Films You Love
Page 15
Filmmaking, Drones And The Law Page 17
Choosing Your DronePage 18
BibliographyPage 20
Suggested Further ReadingPage 21
Executive Summary
Drones in film are increasingly common – this whitepaper
takes a look at how and why unmanned aerial vehicles are
changing the face of the TV and film production industry.
Increased safety, significantly reduced costs, and of course
the scope for innovation are all key reasons for considering
a drone within your production plans. However, it’s not a
straightforward journey, and there’s much to learn about the
technical and legal aspects of having a drone on your film
production – something we also consider in this document.
This white paper will cover the different opportunities and
challenges facing different types of production. Capturing
footage for a live TV feed will have differing demands
compared to producing the next $100 million blockbuster for
the silver screen.
COPTRZ™ is a new commercial drone company with a
mission to create a joined-up approach to UAV usage in the
TV and film industry: we’re all about the right drone, the right
people, the right training, and the right insurance for your
production needs.
The film industry is one of the best places to see
innovation in new technology: it combines the two
elements of a technical sector and a community of
creatives. Drones are the latest proof of the fast-moving
and ever-evolving industry as production companies begin
to recognise the vast creative opportunities presented by
pilotless aerial cameras.
New developments in drone technology mean higher
payloads can be carried without it being a problem to
the flight path or steadiness of the footage. The standard
type of drone in the film industry – especially for larger
scale productions – is a multi-rotor drone with either six
(hexacopter) or eight (octocopter) rotors.
Drones can carry a significant amount of equipment,
and the cameras available are high quality advanced
technology. Some, such as the DJI Phantom series, offer
a 4k camera (also known as Ultra High Definition), while
others carry the top end Red Digital Cinema Camera
Company cameras such as the Red Dragon on specialised
The added number of rotors gives a greater chance of a
favourable weight-to-power ratio, so these drones can
handle heavier and more advanced equipment. Not only
that, but at the hands of a trained drone pilot a smooth and
steady flight is guaranteed even in stronger gusts of wind.
The extra arms on a drone enable more flight flexibility, a
steadier ride, and often a faster top speed – allowing for
sweeping and exciting action shots.
The possibilities are endless!
The wonderful flexibility of drones makes them particularly useful and enticing for any film production company. Shots that
weren’t previously possible are now in your grasp: a scene could be shot in one go that started indoors (yes, drones can work
indoors!) and followed characters until it reached a huge outdoor landscape, swooping high into the sky or dropping off a cliff
towards the sea below.
Just imagine........
The added creativity will be a boon for the film industry as people continuously seek to excite and engage an increasingly
demanding audience. Any film production company that uses drones to capture innovative shots is likely to be the one that
wins the awards: drones allow you to show off your creativity, experimental thinking, and demonstrate that you’re a forwardthinker driving the entire industry forwards!
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Traditionally, helicopters have been used for wide landscape
or urban aerial shots. However, they come loaded with
danger in an already risky industry. It’s estimated that up to
40 people are killed or seriously injured every year during film
productions – most of which are attributed to aerial accidents
involving helicopters1.
In the US alone (no worldwide figures are currently
available), 33 people have been killed in helicopter filming
accidents since 1980. To put that into perspective, that’s a
proportionately higher rate than injuries or deaths caused by
law enforcement, road construction, or mining2. We’ll just let
that sink in for a minute.
recent examples, too. In 2006 another cameraman, Rob
Schlotzhauer, died when his helicopter hit a power line
and crashed. Another incident, this time in 2015, killed
ten people when two helicopters collided during filming
of reality show, ‘Dropped’3.
It’s not just helicopters, though. Other dangerous
situations could have been avoided if they’d used drones,
as shown by the recent case of 27-year-old camera
assistant Sarah Jones, who was killed in 2014 when a
train zoomed through the shot after crew thought there
was more time to film4.
The most famous incident is still the 1983 Twilight Zone
crash on set, which killed actor Vic Morrow and two children.
Cameraman Robert Van Der Kar was killed when his Magnum
PI helicopter crashed into the pacific in 1980. While the 80s
was a terrible time for helicopter crashes, there are more
Drones could revolutionise the safety on set as well as raise the potential
for increasingly imaginative shots.
A drone is highly manoeuvrable, often flies high out of danger, and is
ultimately replaceable.
Dangerous, risky, and previously unattainable shots are possible with the use of drones and a skilled pilot: sweeping high above
difficult landscapes or down into impossible-to-access canyons, film productions will be inherently safer without having to send
workers into unsafe scenarios.
Lower cost of aircraft and insurance
Improved Maneuverability
and accessibility
Reshoots made easy
No refuelling issues
Reduce risk
Drones Versus Helicopters
We’ve seen how drones can significantly increase the safety
on set in comparison to helicopters – but there are many
more advantages to using UAVs for aerial photography and
film, too.
A helicopter has a typically limited – expensive – flight time,
whereas a tag-team of a couple of drones will enable shorter
between-shot delays and no hideous fuel costs (or refuelling
delays, for that matter). The same shot can be taken over and
over again without additional air clearance, saving time and
Drones are also particularly handy for their size: a helicopter
can’t drop into canyons or narrow alleyways for that
adrenaline-boosting sweeping shot. The shadow footprint of
a drone is of course also far smaller, so there’s less need for
crafty shots or post-production edits to remove the hulk of a
helicopter shadow in the background.
You can’t fit a helicopter indoors! (Or rather, you can, but you
won’t get a decent film from it…). Drones are flexible, can
fly high or low, and all the levels in-between. Being able to
operate indoors and outdoors means it’s completely possible
for complex indoor/outdoor shots to be executed – ideas
which until recently haven’t been feasible for any production
company no matter their budget.
A second unit on location is often where you’ll find the
helicopters… but it’s often difficult to get to, especially if your
trucks need to navigate tricky terrain to haul ground-based
cameras for other shots taken in the location. A drone can
– quite literally – be packed into a backpack and hiked to its
location: there’s no need for a full crew, Steadicam assistant,
dolly operator, master grip…
Drones Versus Helicopters
...And of course, let’s not forget the environment! We dread to think how
much damage even one helicopter flight poses for the environment – but a
drone is very friendly to mother Earth. Using fast-charge batteries reduces
the time taken to charge each time, and of course there is no burning of
fossil fuels in the flight process, either. The carbon footprint is already
smaller from the start, with energy-efficient build processes making drones
the choice over helicopters if the trees could have their say.
Last but not least on the environmental front: any aerial shot taken with
a helicopter requires several crew. You have the pilot, the cameraman,
the ground advisor, the director, the health and safety officer… the list
goes on. With a drone, you have the drone pilot and his assistant. You’re
immediately cutting costs with fewer people involved in the shot, but also
reducing your production’s carbon footprint as you save on the number of
people driving to location each day.
To Hire Or Not To Hire?
So you’ve decided a drone could make that critical business difference for
your production company. Great! But… what do you do now?
There are two options when using a drone for filming:
1. Hire a pilot
2. Buy a drone and train someone to be a pilot
Luckily for you, COPTRZ offers both options – but let’s look into the pros and cons of this a little further first.
If you’re on a limited budget, or will
However, training can take some time and it also costs
only use drones for aerial filming
money (not to mention the time taken off production for
on an occasional basis, we
the crew taking the qualification). You’ll also need to buy
suggest hiring a drone pilot.
your drone, which could affect your budget.
You might learn a thing or
Taking this into account, a drone will often save you
two from him and decide
considerable money during even one production thanks
later on down the line
to the cost savings delivered in the reduction of staff, no
that it’s worth
need of helicopters, and faster film times. If you’re likely
training someone
to use drones in several upcoming productions, it’s worth
on your crew to
investing in your own drone and training some crew to
fly a drone.
have on-board at all times.
We can see
why you’d want that:
training a full-time member
of staff to become a certified drone pilot means you’ve
got one there and then whenever you need it.
Case Studies:
How Drones Made The Films You Love
If you’re still not quite convinced that drones will revolutionise the film industry –
and the way your production company operates – simply take a look at some of the
high profile films that have used drones in recent years.
The latest James Bond film Spectre delivered a narrative dichotomy thanks to being
mostly filmed on drones in wide landscape and urban shots – while the film covered
the government aspect of ‘Big Brother’ style surveillance assisted by UAVs. It was
also a ground-breaker for legal reasons: special permission was granted from the CAA
to fly the drone at night, which is currently not allowed under usual circumstances.
Before Spectre came Skyfall – one of the most high-profile and dramatic early uses of
drones in cinema. The memorable motorbike chase even won the aerial photography
company an Oscar for their innovative development of a software platform to capture
such stunning shots.
Case Studies:
How Drones Made The Films You Love
Who can forget Wolf of Wall Street’s epic pool party? Sweeping grandiose shots of excess were highlighted from a birds-eye
view to reflect the indulgent lifestyle of Jordan Belfort. And of course there’s the TV series epic, Game of Thrones. No other
current series is of such a grand scale with incredible landscapes – even though much is CGI, the drone footage forms the
basis of the majority of shots. How else do you make dragons fly?
Filmmaking, Drones
And The Law
Before you launch ahead (excuse the pun),
make sure you know your country or state’s
rules on filming with UAVs. Until recently,
many films using drones for aerial footage
did so in Europe, as the rules have been more
regulated – and yet relaxed – compared to the
United States. The FAA in the US, however, is
now accepting applications for film permits, which
brings it in line with the CAA in the UK and
similar authorities across Europe. At the moment,
every production requires a permit from the CAA
or relevant authority prior to filming – and this
includes a flight plan.
Your pilot also needs to be a certified drone pilot and
not just a hobbyist! People who own drones for fun are
allowed to fly them for recreational purposes – but any
drone flown for commercial gain (such as taking footage
for a film) must be operated by a certified pilot.
Choosing Your Drone
Now we’ve covered WHY and HOW you can use a drone, it’s time to take a quick look at how to choose the best
drone for your production company. Do you make nature documentaries? Are you a CGI specialist in need of base
aerial photography? Do you want to make a feature
film on a small budget?There are certain things you’ll
need to look for in your drone for filming high quality
footage: a high payload, stable filming during flight,
multi-rotor instead of fixed wing, and a generous
camera view.
The NEO is the answer for many production
companies, and for good reason! Known as ‘the
storm-chasing drone’, the nickname should say it all:
stable even in harsh conditions, high flight speeds,
and slick design make it the drone of choice. The
swappable equipment options make it ideal for
changing up camera types – including industry-leading RED cameras – so if you fancy a bit of high-res thermal
footage for ooh, let’s say, the next Predator film, that’s totally possible!
Inverted motors provide added water resistance, making the NEO ideal for flight in all kinds of weather conditions
– unlike many other drones. You’ll also receive added flight stability thanks to eight – yes, EIGHT – rotors. It’s the
badass of the sky, providing high quality film options under a serious range of conditions.
If you’re not sure the NEO is quite what you need, or if you think it is most definitely what you need and you fancy
learning how to fly it, the COPTRZ™ experts are here to help. We can put together a bespoke package, of any
combination of drone, accessories, training or pilot hire you may require.
Contact us today at [email protected] or on +44 (0) 1709 599 458 for more details!
David Robb, Safety On Set: Helicopter Crashes Have Taken Most Lives On TV And Film Sets,, 08/04/2014
Julia Llwellyn Smith, Hollywood’s Health And Safety Nightmare, The Telegraph, 06/07/2014
Abid Rahman, 10 Die in Helicopter Crash During Filming of Reality Show, The Hollywood Reporter, 09/03/2015
Scott Johnson, A Train, a Narrow Trestle and 60 Seconds to Escape: How 'Midnight Rider' Victim Sarah Jones Lost Her
Life, The Hollywood Reporter, 04/03/2014
Joel Burgess, The five best movie scenes shot using drones, TechRadar, 26/08/2015
Adam Garstone, Drone Usage in ‘Spectre’, Definition Magazine, 25/11/2012
Suggested Further Reading
‘How Drones Are Transforming TV Production’, The Independent
‘Drones Are Providing Film And TV Viewers A New Perspective On The Action’, LA Times
Adwick Park
Manvers, Rotherham
South Yorkshire
S63 5AB
Telephone: 01709 599 458
Email: [email protected]

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