Although still often thought of as hobbyist or military applications, drones have also become vital to filmmakers looking for unique shots that won’t break their budget. As a viable replacement for the expensive crane and Steadicam shots of years gone by, drone technology allows filmmakers to capture shots that weren’t previously possible at a fraction of the cost. Drones are quickly changing the way movies are made.
Despite their popularity and pervasiveness in the media, drones were prohibited by FAA regulations for use in domestic movie making until 2014. Until the deregulation, a filmmaker would have needed a licensed pilot, certified aircraft, and FAA approval before filming even began. Not interested in the additional costs and red tape involved in the process, Hollywood avoided the domestic use of the technology until the FAA exemptions were granted in 2014. Since then, drone use has skyrocketed as directors discover their incredible flexibility and cost efficiency. When you take a look at drone videos online, they provide you with some incredible views and amazing quality, so it’s no surprise that the visionaries in Hollywood are maximizing the use of them with any chance they get.
In the 2012 James Bond film, Skyfall, director Sam Mendes used drones to capture a pivotal action scene that followed the world’s most famous spy in a motorcycle pursuit through a crowded Istanbul marketplace. Impossible to capture with a crane set up due to technical difficulties and cost, a standard helicopter was also impractical as it would have endangered the actors, production staff, and public. A drone armed with a 6K digital camera was the only way the director could translate his vision of the scene to actual film.
Given Skyfall’s enormous popularity, having grossed over $1 billion worldwide, the highest of any Bond film, the drone-shot motorcycle scene became an anchor to a film that was enthusiastically embraced by a global audience. In fact, that opening scene was so successful, Mendes used drones again in the next Bond film, Spectre, during a daring rooftop pursuit in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Similarly, legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese used drones to film overhead shots in his 2013 ode to excess and greed, The Wolf of Wall Street. Despite the FAA restrictions still in place during filming, Scorsese employed drones to capture a sweeping scene that starts off the coast of Long Island and ends with an aerial view of a pool party used to represent the opulence and conspicuous consumption of early 1990’s era Wall Street. A traditional helicopter shot would have lacked the intimacy and voyeuristic feel that the drone beautifully captured.
Perhaps an indication of what is to come, 2015 saw the inception of the New York City Drone Film Festival, featuring short films shot exclusively with drones. Already attended by companies like GE, Adobe, and DJI, the film festival is a clear indication that drone technology is already deeply rooted in the film industry and won’t be long until it’s indispensable.