I received the call on a Friday afternoon. It was a frantic call from my good colleague Ed, a fellow FAA Commercial Remote Pilot and aerial cinematographer. "Hey man, I have a commercial shoot in Hawaii this weekend and I can't work as the second drone pilot for a TV shoot in Franklin Square on Monday. Can you do it?" My first thought was
"This guy's complaining he's gotta go to Hawaii?" Since I was on vacation and home, I agreed.
I reported on set at 7am and met with the lead drone pilot, Randy, and his camera operator, Ben. Both are members of the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, a division of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (I.A.T.S.E.). I too am a member of Local 600. We are working on a new television show by "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf called FBI. The plan is that I will be operating the "talent" drone, one that will be depicted in the shot, and Randy will be operating an Alta-8 heavy-lift multi-rotor copter and Ben will control the 8K resolution camera on board.
The premise for this scene is a suspected sniper has taken refuge in an RV parked in a driveway in a suburban Long Island neighborhood. The FBI's Tactical Operations Team has been called in to assist local police in apprehending the suspect. This new show pulls out all the stops in showing off technology. I operate the drone, ordered by "Reaper Three-One", to perform an aerial scan with a thermal camera on the parked RV. The FBI team sees this on a remote tablet and orders the tactical team in to apprehend the suspect. I'm not about to go into the technical specs on what the actual drone shown in the scene, a DJI Inspire 2 quadcopter, can do or not do, but it made a helluva impressive 1'34" scene come to life!
Temperatures reached near the 100 degree mark that 13-hour day, but the director was ecstatic reviewing what we captured upon wrapping, shortly after 8pm. Just as it was getting dark. I have worked on projects ranging from independent films to large budget television commercials and they mostly require me working alone or with one or two visual observers to shoot "B roll" footage to compliment that larger production. Being an integral part of production as large as this is an adrenaline rush, but it also requires what I call the 3 P's: Pacing, Patience & Persistence.
One needs to have discipline and PACE themselves on long shoot days. Have plenty of cold water available on hot days and drink whether thirsty or not. Don't always count on the production to provide catering for you. When the food truck arrives, it may be right when it's your time to go to work so always have a meal with carbs and fruit packed in a cool container you can access at anytime. Those energy bars go a long way too!
There's a LOT of waiting around on TV and film sets. I mean a LOT of "hurry up and wait" so you gotta have a LOT of PATIENCE. Weather and lighting are EVERYTHING. As a commercial drone pilot, I make sure I get a thorough weather briefing from an official FAA Flight Service Station by calling 1-800-WX-BRIEF (1-800-992-7433). It's a free service provided to certificated FAA pilots with any rating. I currently hold a Private Pilot, Airplane Single Engine Land (ASEL) rating in addition to my Remote Pilot sUAS rating. I usually call for an OUTLOOK BRIEFING the night before, or at least 6 hours prior to the anticipated launch time. This is followed up in the morning with a STANDARD BRIEFING closer to the launch time which includes the current weather, a synopsis of what I can expect throughout the day, and any anticipation of adverse weather conditions, (rain, low clouds, high winds) that may affect my flight that day.
Lastly, a former photo editor once told me "PERSISTENCE pay off" and that is never truer than in the film industry. They have the highest standards and "good" is the enemy of great to the toughest directors. When you have a "good take", Ok. Let's do it again and make it GREAT. And do it again...and again...and again. You get the picture. That's why it often takes one or two full days of shoot to complete a 1 minute 34 second scene with at least 40 camera cuts.
Check out the video atop this page to see the 3 P's in action.