Bring it all together: What’s involved – A Successful Drone Film Shoot

Over the last few years SWARM UAV have had the privilege of being many businesses’ first drone aerial supplier. Many of these clients have grown with us of the past two years, and together we have developed detailed and customised drone creative briefs and simple streamlined business processes.

But there is always that first job, where the client, uninitiated in the realities of aerial work will request something dangerous, unsafe or outside the CASR 101 regulations and often outside the realms of possibility on civilian drone equipment. 

That first job where a client will ask a team of professionals to put thousands of dollars of airframe, camera gear and gimbal in the air on the other side of the state or country or world and expect you to make it work for the $750 that they have left in the budget. 

So as a bit of an education piece for any future clients of either SWARM UAV or any other drone aerial production company, for potential UAV pilots thinking of getting into the industry or for that DOP planning their first big drone production, here is what is involved in brining it all together to get those jaw dropping aerials:

Before Work

For each job an aerial production company carries out, we must look at safety, regulatory compliance, weather, and the risk associated with the location, the date of the shoot, checking if the airspace above the site is restricted in any way; some restrictions are permanent (near an airport) some are sessional (Albert Park when the Grand Prix is on in Melbourne is a good example).

There is also the maintenance and the airworthiness of our airframe / UAV or ‘drone’, including the health and status of our LiPo batteries. 

This all comes together in a Risk Assessment, which we will come back to later. At this point our Chief Pilot needs to approve the job from progressing. If there are any issues preventing the shoot going ahead, or if risks are identified, steps are put in place to minimise or remove these risks.

The Brief

A strong brief is key to any successful drone film shoot. If you are lucky your client has carried out some helicopter aerial work before, which can help in the creative process, other times it works against you with the client innocently assuming we can fly over busy roads, crowds of people or from one side of a city to the other way beyond line of sight.

We do a lot of work for clients that are pairing our aerial content with ground based video. It’s important to discuss this prior to shooting, because we need to match camera settings, frame rates and any ND filters being used. While we normally shoot in 4k, many clients prefer 1080p in a higher frame rate as the aerial footage is destined to have its speed adjusted in post production and the extra frames are required.

We need to prepare the right settings for the camera, with lighting conditions varying drastically between what is happening on the ground and what is happening 400ft in the air.

Is this a live event? Crowds of people are not impossible to work with, but proper preparation is mandatory. There are regulations in CASR 101 that need to be observed, the safety of the people on the ground will always take priority and when we have been pushed in the past, it is an easy sell to imagine what the damage to our reputation and our clients could look like if something went wrong.

Aerial productions

Onsite

Once onsite our team needs to complete that risk assessment we spoke about earlier. Overhead wires? That daycare centre that didn’t show up on Google Maps? The surprise change in wind speed. They all need to be taken into consideration. We have lost clients in the past as we have refused to fly a job sighting real safety issues, and I honestly believe that we will again. 

If we are shooting a residential property we need to be careful of surrounding residents’ privacy. If it is a worksite, we will need to do a site induction and confirm we have the right white cards. If it is a production shoot, we will need to find the Director or the DoP and get briefed in on the timelines and shots that are coming up first.

I have written over 700 words and we haven’t taken off yet.

In the Air

Once we have met all the above requirements and completed a risk assessment and are briefed in, then we setup our screens, test our downlinks, battery voltage, put out our A-frame signs, if there are residents around we need to door knock and leave business cards and flyers which have our FAQ’s and contact details. 

In the air we need to follow all the regulations in the CASR 101, which regulate our industry here in Australia. While in the air our team are putting their skill sets to use, framing shots while keeping track of battery voltage, we can achieve flight times of up to 15 minutes, we could go slightly longer but we have a firm company policy to never run our batteries under 15% of their charge.

At SWARM UAV we only run two man operations, meaning we have a pilot and a camera operator working on each job. A two man operation is key to getting the premium shots that make drone aerial content worthwhile. (Below is an example of our Melbourne two man team Ido and Kieran in action)

Swarm UAV team

And then we land.

After each job we need to log our flight times, check our batteries, check our motors and airframes, clean our lenses and copy our fresh new footage off of our SD cards.

Conclusion 

It’s a great and exciting job to work at a drone aerial start-up. In the last two years we have travelled all around this country of ours shooting everything from documentaries, TV pilots, corporate videos and performing for live events. And while our industry is a very new one, it is maturing and developing almost fortnightly. 

Potential UAV pilots:

SWARM UAV was in the first thirty businesses in Australia to get their license to fly ‘drones’ commercially. By the end of 2015 I can see there being close to 400 licensed operators. While I welcome these passionate and entrepreneurial players to the market, I implore them to take into account everything involved in carrying out a professional drone job. I have recently interviewed approximately fifteen shortlisted people that applied for a role with SWARM UAV as we put our Sydney team in place.  Each pilot had their RPAS license already. Half of them had their license to operate commercially, they just could not sustain the above effort for each job and run a business, the sales, admin, marketing, constant need to invest in new equipment. It was too much!!

Potential Clients:

For potential clients of aerial cinematography, you do like most things in life get what you pay for. The best way to make sure you get the best return on your drone job, is to understand what goes into one, to work with our team as early in the production as possible, and to build a working relationship with your drone supplier on all levels from an operations, creative and execution stand point. The creative potential of drone aerials are almost limitless, and it is the understanding of the boundaries and where they can safely be pushed that delivers the best results.

To get a bit more of an understading of what happens onsite have a read through our Victorian pilots recent blog – Diary of a Drone Pilot – Threat and Error Management  and make sure to get in touch below for any Drone service requirements below

Ryan Hamlet

General Manager of SWARM UAV

Swarm UAV

We are Australian specialists in drone aerial photography and aerial cinematography. CASA Certified Pilots. We are a business with our heads in the clouds, and our feet firmly on the ground.

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