As we announce our media partnership with Dronefest, Joshua Potts takes a look at how some of this year’s most popular films and TV shows are getting creative with drones
Once upon a time, the spectacular aerial shot was the walled-off province of the professional. Impossible in anything but a helicopter, aerial vistas were prohibitive both financially and practically. Of course, fast forward to today and the proliferation of the consumer drone has made it an altogether different story, and an investment of just a couple of hundred pounds can allow an amateur filmmaker to take to the skies.
Of course, drones are more than just a poor man’s helicopter, and they have actually expanded the creative potential of aerial videography in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. As a perhaps unsurprising result, this means that ever-thrifty Hollywood has enthusiastically adopted them as well, and many shots in some of your favourite movies and series have actually been captured using drones. We look at some of the most notable…
After Roger Deakins flirted with drone filming in Skyfall (that astonishing opening, if you remember it, was kinetic for a good reason), Bond is back with his off-screen gadget for this year’s Spectre, a visual and visceral treat that offers gorgeous frames of Austrian, Italian and African landscapes between bursts of typically suave gunplay.
Pleasingly, since the film lambasts the topic of drone surveillance for government spying programmes, Spectre epitomises the technology’s shift from military to popular custom, the very nature of its story complimented by using UAVs creatively to tell that story in the first place. Not for a moment am I suggesting Sam Mendes was at all bothered about the juxtaposition, but for drone geeks like us, it’s a nice sign of the changing climate around what drones can offer for society, and how commercial drones are distinguished from their counterpart.
Similarly, Game of Thrones used drones for its latest season, most notably in scenes approached with bated breath by fans of the fifth book. For any of you that tuned into Daenerys Targaryen’s dragon ride from the fighting pits, you’ll recall the sense of awe you felt watching masked terrorists duelling with a colossal number of extras in Meereen (or Spain, if you’re a pedant). Spotting Peter Dinklage’s magnificent, craggy head in a sea of flailing bodies was a reminder of the show’s sense of spectacle and, for pure ambition, went down as a classic sequence in GoT fandom.
How great, then, to learn drones were a big part of stitching those shots into a coherent and malleable array of violence and wonder. It’s hard to guess how many production companies now use drones regularly for filming, but Hollywood, as it does these days, is taking its cues from TV, and we can expect a wide proliferation of UAV shots in the coming years, mainly for thrillers, where the machines can move easily with the action.
The cinematic courtship of drones is also being literalised in a film about a boy and his best friend. Chad Kapper, a hobbyist and movie-maker, released Rotor DR1 in October, a meet-cute tale of a 16-year old drifter (played by his son) in an apocalyptic future where drones are scavenged for their valuable components. The hero is surprised by the arrival of a quadcopter that seems to be drawn to him, which the trailer promises will mean gentle, sun-flared portraits of man and drone, at the end of the world, living out the fantasy of a million operators.
What’s remarkable is that the first film about drones was born out of a YouTube channel, and a crowd-funding campaign that followed shortly afterwards. Kapper simply asked a forum, “What do you want to see in a film about our hobby?” The response was electric: drone enthusiasts were able to consult him on almost everything, from costume and dialogue changes to why, exactly, the boy has to have superpowers.
So UAVs are now the stars in front of, and the strings behind, the screen. How mind-boggling that such developments have arisen so quickly, with common sense, and respect for the sacred ground of the moving image. Now it’s time for cinematic auteurs to show what they can do with a buzzing sidekick and an ounce of passion.
I strongly urge anyone with an interest in drone filming to submit for Dronefest 2016, the UK’s ground-breaking drone film festival. There’ll be a ton of categories to sink your proverbial teeth into. Go on, show us what you’re made of – your inner Scorsese, Kubrick or Fellini may be hungering for new heights.
The Video Mode is an official media partner for Dronefest which will take place on the 27th January at London’s Business Design Centre.
By Joshua Potts