Most drones have the ability to carry cameras, but the UAS used by Hollywood filmmakers are usually multirotor crafts with many propellers to fly. Small quadcopters with a GoPro are light; the smallest weighing around 2 pounds. Heavier drones can carry larger cameras, and the whole setup can weigh up to 30 pounds. In drone filming, you will need a pilot to fly the quadcopter and a camera operator. The camera operator controls the camera carried by the UAS via remote control. A third person may also be employed who is in charge of the focus of the camera. The director of the footage can see real-time shots via wireless HD video link.
While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deliberated on the specific rules and regulations for commercial use of drones, six Hollywood companies have been cleared to use drones for filming movie and television footage. Pictorvision based in Van Nuys, Vortex Aerial based in Corona, Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB, HeliVideo Productions, and Snaproll Media have received exemptions from FAA unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) laws including some general flight rules, pilot certification requirements, manuals, and maintenance and equipment regulations.
These six companies still have certain UAS limitations. The drones can only be operated on closed sets, within the line of sight of the pilot, using certified pilots. UAS may not go higher than 400 feet.
Aviation-safety advocates have been vocal about their opposition to these exemptions, citing accidents like air traffic crashes and drones falling into congested areas, and privacy.
The Drone Advantage
You’ve seen drone footage in films and TV shows, but you probably didn’t realize it. Those scenes shot right next to a train or helicopter, and over tanks, explosions, buildings and motorcycle jumps were most likely shot with a quadcopter. UAS can fly at low altitudes, which is out of helicopter range.
Hollywood is scrambling to use drones on their sets because they offer new creative options, are low in cost, and fairly safe to use. Quadcopter expenses range from $4,500 to $8,000 per day, whereas helicopter expenses run up to $20,000 per day. You can even re-create this stuff at home as the best quadcopters are equipped with HD cameras.
Overseas, filmmakers are already using drones to film captivating scenes. Games of Thrones employs the use of quadcopters in the United Kingdom. Scenes from SkyFall were filmed in Istanbul. The Wolf on Wall Street had scenes shot from a house party in the Hamptons. Scenes from Van Helsing were shot in the Czech Republic. Transformers: Age of Extinction, Pompeii, The Surfs 2, The November Man, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were all shot internationally. Expendables 3, filmed in Bulgaria, shortened their aerial shots from a projected 38 days via helicopter to just 10 day via UAS.