Using Drones to Tell Stories – Interview with Flightgeist

A few days ago we posted a video of Mexico from above by Flightgeist. Well, we were so impressed by that awesome video that we wanted to find out more about the artists behind the creation. Joseph Pickard and Corey Eisenstein, the force behind Flightgeist, share about their creative work, and how they use drones to tell a story.


Tell us about yourself and your background.

Flightgeist is a collaboration between Joseph Pickard and Corey Eisenstein, director/cinematographers originally from St. Louis, MO and now living in Brooklyn, NY.  We’ve each worked on countless projects individually, and have also worked together on and off for more than 10 years, creating commercials, music videos, and content for dozens of major brands.  We have also written movies and TV pilots, and we try to infuse all of our projects with that narrative storytelling backbone.  We’re filmmakers first and foremost, but we also love to fly.




How did you get started in the video/creative media industry?

Actually, we started making short films together in high school, creating ambitious movies that seemed cool at the time but upon reviewing them today were actually terrible and hard to watch. We went our separate ways in college, both staying involved in photography, filmmaking, and writing.  In 2008 we reconnected in New York on a project called “New York City at Night”, where we travelled all over Manhattan filming time lapses of the city, which was really just an excuse to test the boundaries of the latest in DSLR low-light shooting.


When did you start using drones?

Although we’ve been involved in cinematography for the last 10 years, we really only started flying about six months ago.  We were following the technology for a long time, looking for the right time to get in.  The sticking point was always the balance between price and the ability to have a stabilized, 360 degree controllable camera with easy live-view monitoring.  For us, the drone is really just a platform that allows us to position the camera in new ways and create dynamic images, so controllable camera functionality is a must.  The idea of strapping a GoPro to a drone, pointing it forward and hoping for the best was never appealing.  We are used to holding the camera in our hands and composing shots with control over the exposure and framing.  When the DJI Inspire 1 came out, we saw it as an opportunity to have user-friendly live-control over the camera and we jumped in head first.




Tell us the story behind Flightgeist and how it got started.

We are both freelancers, which sometimes means long stretches of continuous work and occasionally long stretches of free time.  Sometimes one of us is working while the other is free, and often we are both working on different projects at the same time.  But whenever we are both free at the same time we try to use it as an opportunity to recharge our creative energy and collaborate on a new endeavour.  Flightgeist was born from one of those moments.  We wanted to add another tool to the storytelling arsenal.  So we just bought a drone and immediately set to doing what we always do with new gear — push it to its limits, testing the camera under all types of conditions to see what it was capable of.  ISO, sharpness, external filters, color settings, LUTs, etc.  A lot of testing was done with the drone on the ground and no propellers even attached, trying out camera settings and workflows.  Once we started flying a lot we showed the material we were getting to our industry friends and they pushed us to continue pursuing the venture.  There’s a lot of drone-created content out there but it seems most of it was created with a tech-first approach, whereas our content is driven by perspective, mood, and story.  All that was left was to come up with a name and Flightgeist was the obvious winner from a batch of ideas that included Flights Camera Action, Mile High Club, and Hindenburg Disaster Company.


What services do you offer? How do drones fit into what you do?

We don’t look at ourselves as just drone operators.  We offer full soup to nuts creative and production services, from concepting to filming, editing, and finishing.  The drone is just one piece of that creative puzzle and we add it in whenever the project calls for it.  There are a lot of other drone operators out there who can grab a jaw-dropping shot.  We’d like to think that our strength is the background in writing and editing that allows us to get more than an amazing shot, but a rather sequence of shots that work together in a complete, homogenous way.




What kind of drones and gear are you flying? What’s your favorite to fly?

Our current fleet includes an Inspire 1 and a Phantom 3 Professional, though we are always looking to add to it if a project requires a specific function.  The Inspire 1 is a real joy to fly as it’s incredibly powerful and handles well even in 30mph winds and the dual-operator mode allows us to get shots that couldn’t be achieved alone.


What photography/drone project that you have worked on are you most proud of?

One of the coolest projects that we worked on was called ‘collective:unconscious’.  In this collaboration between five independent filmmakers, each director was tasked with interpreting another’s dreams.  One of these films involved a surreal dance sequence in a massive bank vault, and we worked with the director and cinematographer, using the drone to capture stunning aerials of the choreography.  The film hasn’t been released yet, but we’re very excited about the shots.  As for our own projects we have a lot of individual clips that we are really proud of, but as a whole “Flightgeist: Mexico” is our most complete realization to date of the drone as a filmmaking tool.




What advances in drone technology are you excited about?

GPS integration has unlocked a whole new universe of possibilities in the drone market.  We are most excited about improved software functions that utilize GPS and allow for planned flight routes with repeatable, smooth moves.  Though the Inspire 1’s 4K camera is a good start, there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of the image quality of gimbal-stabilized cameras.  Controllable iris would be a start, and better sensors that can handle low-light would be appreciated. And, though this may be further in the future, we’d like to see quieter drones that can be used while recording sync-sound which would allow the drone to be closer to actors as they deliver lines.


Thank you so much for your insights. Is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that you would like to share?

Thanks for talking to us!  People can search for Flightgeist on vimeo and youtube, or follow us on Instagram @intheflightgeist.  We should be putting up a lot of new work in the coming months.


Contact Flightgeist:

Elizabeth Ciobanu

I cover breaking news in the drone industry, interview experts in the field to learn from them for myself, and to help spread the love of drones.

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