Recently released film, Rotor DR1, is the first full-length feature of its kind: made with the collaboration of an online community. We interviewed Tom Nicholson, Producer of the film, to learn more about the making of Rotor DR1.
What inspired the making of Rotor DR1?
The Executive Producer and Director of “Rotor DR1” Chad Kapper, founded a very successful You Tube Channel “Flite Test” back in 2010. It has become one of the biggest worldwide online communities for drone enthusiasts, with over 400,000 members. I had worked with Chad many times over the past 10 years, on movies and commercials. He called me up one day and said he had an idea to make the first movie ever using an online community to help decide what happens and he wanted me to Produce it. The movie would incorporate drones and other elements that the online community wanted. I loved the idea and within a few days I was on a plane headed for Canton, Ohio, where Chad’s production company was based.
How did the community collaboration aspect of the film shape its outcome? Can you give some specific examples of things your collaborators contributed?
The community collaboration started at the very early stages of the film. The community overwhelmingly wanted a sci-fi, post apocalyptic film that portrayed drones as a main character and in a more positive light than traditional hollywood movies. The community helped us choose the lead actress. We had it narrowed down to 2 young ladies, both extremely talented. We shot the same scene with each of them, then posted them on you tube and asked for feedback.
Watch the screen test video:
See who got the part:
The community had a hand in pretty much every aspect of filming. They helped developed technology in this futuristic world, helped decide on props, locations, story lines and more. We set up a google doc where people could go in and write journal entries as if they were the lead character, Kitch. We used these entries as dialogue, voice over and even turned a poem written by a community member in to a song that Maya sings in the bus scene.
We went a step further and even put some of our community members on screen. We asked the community to submit videos of themselves, to give some back story on the viral outbreak. We used this in the opening of the first webisode as well as in the opening to the movie.
Do you think anything was lost in converting the film from a web series to a full-length feature?
The end product was always going to be a film. But in order to incorporate the community in every step, we needed to shoot it in sections, so we could get feedback and see where the story was going to go next. Having said that, I think we were surprised on how well the webisodes were received. We often had only a few days to edit the episodes and get them online, so they weren’t as polished as they could have been. One of the things we lost from the web series when it was converted into the film was the cliff hanger endings we had. Also we had to cut almost an hour from the web series in order to fit it into a film, so some aspect we liked had to be cut. We were lucky to have “Hunger Games” actor Bruno Gunn join us for a few episodes. But because of the nature of this project and its scheduling, we weren’t able to grow the character as far as we wanted, so in the end we had to cut it from the movie. However, the community really enjoyed his part in the web series, which is more conducive to roles like this.
Can you give our readers a brief synopsis of the plot?
After being separated from his father during a worldwide viral outbreak, 16-year-old Kitch is trying to lead a normal life in this post-apocalyptic world. When he discovers a strange drone following him, Kitch’s life becomes anything but normal: Kitch believes this drone, DR1, can lead him to his father, whom Kitch thought was dead. As Kitch prepares for his journey, he meets Maya, a girl that works for the local powermonger, 4C. Though they are practically strangers, Maya decides to help Kitch, and together Kitch, Maya and DR1 start their journey.
Drones are obviously essential to the storyline of Rotor DR1. How were they also used in the production of the film?
Besides our hero drone, DR1, almost every aspect of the film involved drones. We used camera drones to get the traditional aerial establishing shots and flew practical drones in the background of scenes to establish their presence. Our biggest undertaking was the drones races. We had people from all over the country join us in Ohio with their own drones to fly them in the scene. This was our biggest drone undertaking, but I think it was worth it because the community really enjoyed this scene. It was important to us and the community to show how drones can be used in a fun, practical and light hearted way as well as a cinematic tool, rather than their often negative persona.
See behind the scenes at the drone races:
What were some of the biggest challenges in making a film like this? How did you handle those challenges?
Obviously the drone races was a huge challenge. Designing a course, bringing in pilots and drones and organizing extras to be in the crowd was a lot of work. It was also very very cold that day, which complicated things. We turned to the online community to help us overcome these obstacles. We asked people to come out with their drones to be pilots and to be extras in the crowd.
See the community invite.
Locations were also an ongoing challenge. Finding run-down, post apocalyptic looking places was difficult. Because the story was always evolving from the community, we often didn’t even know what locations were need until just a few days before the actual shoot. We needed places that were isolated, because we couldn’t show cars or random people in the background. We tried to overcome these obstacles by finding as many locations that would work in our world, and using the best one for whatever the community came up with next in the story. We did have a lot of help from local businesses and the Canton’s Mayor’s office as well as our local crew, who helped us find the abandoned mall in Akron.
What were your favorite aspects of the production?
I am used to working in L.A. with bigger crews, a lot of red tape and communities that are used to having films shot there, and often aren’t as welcoming. Canton and the surrounding towns were all extremely welcoming and accessible to a lower budget film like this. Also, having a smaller crew helped streamline the process and made things more efficient, when time was a major factor. I also really enjoyed working with the online community. Traditional films usually have a small amount of people or even one person making decisions that affect the final product. Having a large online community to draw creativity from is not only revolutionary, but an effective way to develop some exciting and creative ideas.
Has the film gotten the response you hoped for since its release?
The film’s release has had a great response. We teamed up with Cinema Libre for the distribution and release of the film. A small film like this relies on social media and word of mouth to help market the film. We have had great user reviews and a huge social media presence. I think there is a need for more family friendly sci-fi films and people have really responded well to our project.
Any plans for a sequel and/or a next production?
Yes. We tried to create a world in which many stories could be told. So wether its a sequel to the Rotor DR1 story or if it’s a different story told in the same world, there will be more coming from this franchise. It’s really up to the online community and what they want.
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
After making over 40 feature films over the past 12 years, I was really excited to make a movie in a completely new way. Our online community has been an inspiration to me. Often online communities or threads bring out the negative aspect of humanity. But we used social media and an existing online community to work together and create something special. These people are not traditional filmmakers, they are accountants, homemakers, plumbers and everyday people who got involved and became part of the filmmaking process. They really feel like they played a major role in making this film, because they did!
See more about what Rotor DR1 is and how it was made
Tom Nicholson grew up in Marshfield, Massachusetts, a small suburb of Boston. He moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Quinnipiac University’s film program in 2003. In the last 12 years he has made over 40 feature films.