As the search for locations continues for SOS United States, I went to Newport yesterday for a day trip and took my drone (DJI Spark) in the hopes of producing some interesting shots. It was in Newport four years ago where I shot The Breakers along with various images of the ocean. While shooting The Breakers was a grand “Gilded Age” experience, it was practicing against the wind at the ocean that was the most important as I prepared to produce First Signal.
When I was directing First Signal in 2019, there were some particular drone shots that we had to get right. First, it was raising the drone to its recommended maximum of 400 ft to allow for a VFX spaceship to be inserted between the drone and the actors on the field. Then there was the lower shot of Major Sampson driving onto the field and General Reager arriving at Chièvres Air Base. Honestly, perhaps one of the most difficult to achieve for steadiness was the pull back shot when President Colton was sitting at the conference table.
Although inside shots have limited space to operate, the one thing they don’t have to contend with is wind. I count myself lucky that on the days we needed to use the drone when producing First Signal, the wind was minimal. While the DJI Spark can withstand speeds of up to 17 mph as it has wonderful stabilization technology, it really is impossible to tell wind speed at 400 ft from ground level. And the dreaded phrase you hear so many say during filming, “Fix it in post,” only goes so far when trying to steady an overly shaky shot.
My advice to anyone using a drone for professional purposes—practice! I know it sounds obvious, but so much must be taken into consideration as time is usually the one thing you don’t have much of when producing a film. As the DJI Spark battery only lasts 16 minutes, you really need to carefully plan your shots. Another recommendation is to have a couple of extra batteries. I learned the latter the hard way when practicing using only one battery. As an independent filmmaker you want to economize but given that the batteries take about an hour or so to recharge, that’s an hour lost on set.
In SOS United States there are a few drone shots that are not only sweeping but require careful timing (if anything owing to battery life). In SOS, we are flying along the ocean and then rise up to see the President of the United States addressing an audience on a battleship (I hope it’s the USS Massachusetts). While the shot itself won’t take more than a couple of minutes, it’s truly about getting everything ready for that call to action. When we do produce this scene, I’ll recommend two-three drones for redundancy. If one of them gets in the shot we decide to use, that drone can always be removed in post.
With time passing from First Signal’s release, the one thing that isn’t is profitability. While I love producing, I also don’t mind saying, I also love profits. I honestly didn’t know how First Signal was going to do in the VOD world on its release. There are so many films competing for eyeballs these days, but First Signal found an audience and broke through. To those that have supported this endeavor, my sincere thanks to all of you.
Last week my first feature film, Justice Is Mind, went live on YouTube’s Stash TV through FilmHub. While I continue to do “maintenance” marketing for Justice, the big push is relatively over as the film was released in 2013. But then in August numerous articles were published about advances in mind-reading technology. When I was reviewing the film to promote the recent media and then the YouTube placement, I realized that the story itself takes place in 2024 a year after “Congressional approval” of the FVMRI process in 2023. One asks, where does the time go!
As I approach 2023, another film is now top of mind – SOS United States. Like Justice Is Mind, SOS United States requires multiple locations. These locations are specific in terms of look and function. Of course, at the time I thought securing the dozen or so locations for Justice Is Mind was going to be impossible. But one by one they started to come together. Flash forward to 2018 and I was experiencing some challenges to secure the primary filming location for First Signal. In the end, our location came through with The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.
When “Hollywood” produces a film they can easily secure any location they want. If they can’t find it, they build it. In both cases there are substantial fees paid. But as an independent filmmaker, I rely on securing trade marketing partnerships. By trade I simply mean this, a location provides us the opportunity to film and then I promote the location in our marketing. No monies change hands. This is a practice I’ve been employing in all my films since I produced First World in 2006. It’s a practice that has served my films and marketing partners well.
Having completed the cost analysis, next week starts the location search in earnest. If the locations can be secured, I’ll announce pre-production status for SOS United States. The production plan would be to start principal photography by summer 2023 in the same production fashion as we did with First Signal (weekend and select weekday filming).
I remember like it was yesterday when I secured the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston for First World. It was that moment when I realized that a trade partnership was possible for a premium location. The hotel granted us a one-day use of their Presidential Suite which served as the residence of the Secretary of State. While First World may have been an independent short film, it didn’t have to look like one.
Another element of First World that will be recreated in SOS United States, is a motorcade for the President of the United States. While it obviously won’t be the forty plus vehicles in a traditional motorcade, I am determined for it to have the necessary gravitas. Of course, what’s available now that wasn’t in 2006 is the ability to add vehicles via VFX.
Thankfully, this technology is available to independent filmmakers. In SOS United States the second-generation Concorde appears as Commonwealth One the official state plane of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. When I first watched The Man in the High Castle and saw the Concorde styled jet, I researched who the VFX house was and how they created this iconic craft. Needless to say, the results were pretty impressive.
This all being said, I have confidence in one thing that’s completed and ready to go…