FLYING FOR A LIVING
RotorDrone|February/ March 2021
A professional UAS operator on what it takes to be successful
Bobby Watts
Within the past few years, drones have become just another tool in the toolbox for movie creators, both big and small. The next time you finish watching your favorite feature film or TV show, pay attention to the credits at the end. More than likely, you will see the names of a drone pilot and gimbal operator in the list. Drones are becoming more popular on set, and they have secured their position as a supplement to conventional filming tools. The best usage of a drone falls somewhere between that of a Steadicam, a crane, and a helicopter, so they have become indispensable.

How do drones work on set, and how do drone operators pull off the stunning shots you see on the big screen? I’ve had the pleasure of working in the film industry for more than a decade flying camera drones, and in this article, I’ll shed some light on the subject. Since 2007, I have been flying for XCam Aerials, a Central Florida aerial company owned by Jordy Klein. We have had the pleasure of shooting for companies such as HBO, Netflix, Disney, Publix, Ford, and Dodge as well as for feature films, which includes the Tupac Shakur biopic “All Eyez on Me.” Jordy and I have been on more than a hundred sets together, and every day provides us with a new shot to capture and a new set of obstacles to overcome.

PREPARATION IS KEY

A typical shoot begins a few weeks or months prior with planning and the submission of necessary paperwork. The folks in production often require copies of our FAA Part 107 certification and proof of insurance. Most productions require $5 to $10 million insurance of liability coverage. After all the formalities are in place, we will then be told the shot or even given storyboards of the shot they are asking us to capture. These storyboards may be hand-drawn, computer-generated, or even done in Previs, which is practically the entire scene rendered in a computer animation. Other times, we simply walk on set blind and are told what the shot is about two minutes before takeoff.

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