Cinematography Reaches New Heights

When Hawaii Film & Video Magazine wanted to find out more about the use of drones for aerial filming, we talked to Sue Yee Duong with Blue Sky Aerial Solutions. Read on to learn more about this new tool making waves in the industry.

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We have heard conflicting reports on the use of drones for production in Hawaii. Can you elaborate on this?
According to our sources and extensive research, there is currently no State or Federal legislation in place to limit the use of drones/UAVs/UASs in Hawaii. There is a bill, SB-2608, that will limit the use of UAVs for law enforcement, but allow for their use for commercial and recreational purposes in a safe and prudent manner.

Have you done an assessment on financial savings using a drone instead of helicopters? If so, what are those numbers?
With our current pricing schedule, Blue Sky Aerial Solutions’ (BSAS) services generally cost 50 percent less than the total cost of manned helicopter video time. To charter a turbine helicopter costs an average of just over $2,000 per hour according to published numbers, then on top of that, a videographer will charge between $300 and $700 per hour, plus Tyler Mount or Cam-Motion (BSAS’s Electric Steadicam alternative) rental. As demand for drone use develops, the pricing will most likely adapt to reflect that.

How do you see the industry changing when it comes to drones? Is there a sea of change or is it slowly starting to trend?
BSAS is on the cutting edge of drone technology and it’s quite impressive to see the adoption rate of these machines across all areas; most exciting of all is in the film industry. We’ve seen indie movies, TV commercials, and box office hits have all included footage captured from an unmanned aerial system in one way or another. Filmmakers are always looking for the new tool that will allow their talents to shine. Drones and UAVs are that new tool, and when used properly, will add the right touch to generate amazement in the audience. Most video tools used in the right hands won’t ever be noticed in the finished product. This keeps the audience immersed in the story and not being reminded they are simply watching a film. We’d say that there is definitely a great deal of change for the industry—both in the ability to get more unique perspectives, as well as cost-savings.

What is the quality difference between traditional aerial and drones? Is it a dramatic difference in quality?
That depends on the camera outfitted on the drone, as well as the operator of the machine. BSAS’s custom-built machines can carry large cinema rigs with professional 4K and Red Epic cameras. Being at a lower altitude, drones can capture the same high quality video as manned helicopters, but they are less invasive to the set, less cumbersome, faster to set up and reposition. Drones provide a better and more efficient product for certain circumstances, but helicopters have their equally important role for high altitude and high-speed tracking, long-range establishing shots, etc.
There are a large number of hobbyists and small operators flying drones with action cameras like the GoPro because they are easily accessible. We sometimes fly with them, too, but while these cameras have their time and place, the quality difference is evident. Keep in mind that hobby drones are not built specifically for filming or carrying large camera rigs. As with any industry or career, we all must start somewhere. But when you’re looking for cinema-quality footage to use in a large production, you want to make sure you have the right people and machine for the job.

What should producers look for when choosing someone to hire for drone camera shots? What do they need to know about the legalities and what would any red flags be?
Some of the more obvious criteria that producers should look for in drone operators are flight hours and experience, which translate to safety practices and smooth flights. For example, BSAS’s lead pilot has filmed from manned helicopters and has also operated model aircraft and drones for almost two decades and continues to add flight time every day.
Some questions may also include: Does the drone operator provide a range of camera options? What is his knowledge of current laws and regulations? Some states have passed laws regulating drone use, so this must be taken into account and the drone operator should make the producer aware of such laws.
In addition, ask about their Association of Model Aeronautics (AMA) membership where specific safety and flight rules must be followed. Producers can also request for flight demos so that they can make sure that the operator can safely fly a drone and be part of a professional working environment before hiring. Being able to see in person how an operator flies will help to make any red flags more evident.

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