As FAA Approves Drone Policy, Filmmakers Plan Next Steps

Expendables Drone Watermarked - H 2014
Phil Bray Courtesy of Millenium Films

Expendables Drone Watermarked - H 2014

Filming with unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones, “became a lot easier as of this morning,” enthused aerial camera operator and multirotor pilot Robert Rodriguez, also a Technicolor employee.

Rodriguez spoke Thursday evening at a program on the use of drones in production, hosted by the Hollywood section of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. 

He was referring to news earlier that day that the Federal Aviation Administration had approved operator exemptions for six aerial production companies to use drones for filming motion pictures and television in U.S. airspace.

The interest was evident, as the SMPTE event filled the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.

During his presentation, Rodriguez noted that in the hands of experienced users, cameras mounted on drones can give filmmakers access to “new perspectives and locations that aren’t easily accessible to traditional production gear.” He asserted that use could also result in cost savings and safer sets.

However, he also warned that users need to educate themselves on the technology and take all safety precautions. “There is potential for disaster with people who don’t respect them,” he said.

Demonstrating the creative potential, director of photography John Bailey — who earlier this week was named to receive the American Society of Cinematographers’ Lifetime Achievement Award next February — presented footage from A Walk in the Woods, an upcoming film based on Bill Bryson’s memoir about a walk on the Appalachian Trail, starring Robert Redford. The clip showed how a drone was used to get a camera move that might not have otherwise been possible while filming on location at a cliff.

He urged filmmakers to use this tool in an “organic” way to tell a story. “I know the temptation is to use this technology to do showy material,” he admitted.

During the event reception, Tom Hallman — president of Pictorvision, one of the six companies that received an exemption — was already planning to hold educational programs at his company to help filmmakers understand the new technology as well as the safety procedures.

With the exemption granted for the six companies, the FAA will review additional requests for exemptions. To simplify the process, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Systems Association (UAVSA) is planning to file a request on behalf of studios, companies and individuals in the film industry who want to apply for an exemption. Talking with The Hollywood Reporter at the reception, UAVSA’s Wilhelm Cashen related that anyone interested in being part of this group request should contact the association.

Twitter: @CGinLA