Filmmakers Seek Looser Drone Regulatory Rules

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

Expendables Drone Watermarked - H 2014

While the Federal Aviation Administration has begun to allow the use of drones in film and TV production, there are still too many restrictions — on things like camera weight and night shooting — for filmmakers to take full advantage of the new technology, participants in a panel on the use of drones said Wednesday at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas.

There is a “great gap between what we can do, and communicating with the authorities so that we can we can do what we want to do," Michael Chambliss, business representative for the International Cinematographers Guild, said at the ICG-produced discussion. 

“Never has a new tool been so disruptive,” he said, adding that “with regulatory bodies and public safety officials, [aerial cinematographers] are also trying to educate the studios — they have had their hands full.”

In 2014, the FAA began to grant regulatory exemptions to complying aerial production companies so they could put cameras on drones for film and TV shoots. But while drones have begun to become part of the cinematographer's arsenal, several of the speakers pointed to the limitations they are still running up against. 

“Regulatory-wise, we have capabilities that we are currently not able to use,” said Dylan Goss, an aerial director of photography (Fast 7, Sicario) and partner in rental company Team 5. “There are no night-time operations in the U.S., and that includes dusk and sunset — moments when people like to shoot. We have night-vision cameras and the ability to mark the cameras so you can see them. We feel we can operate safely at night. We’d love to see that added [to the filmmakers' regulatory exemption].”

Goss also said more flexibility in the current 55-pound-or-less weight limit was needed. Popular configurations such as Red Dragon camera with a prime lens are already very close to that weight limit, he explained, adding, “We feel we can safety operate drones even if they are just 10 pounds heavier. That would help things a lot in terms of what we can do.”

The participants emphasized that safety remains their top priority, for work both inside and outside the U.S., where the regulations don’t apply. "We worked in China and other countries where we could have probably done whatever we wanted, but we still have our own standards that go beyond the FAA standard," said Goss. "We are about keeping things safe, not just offering a piece of equipment."

Tony Carmean, chief marketing officer and co-founder of the aerial production company Aerial MOB, noted that live sports require additional consideration in maintaining a safety perimeter around the public.

The speakers also touted the creative potential of drones.

“From a storytelling point of view, this has an entirely different look that we can’t get any other way,” said Nick Kolias, aerial cinematographer of production company Aerial Edge, who described the drone shot as an “intimate aerial."

"The drone," he explained, "allows you to get close and do shots that don’t disturb the surroundings" in the way, for example, that the wind from a helicopter can disturb water. 

Drew Roberts, CEO and chief pilot for aerial production company Wild Rabbit, also showed interiors shot with drone technology.