I’ll never forget the day Adam Starr brought his drone to the set of Justice Is Mind. When I wrote the part in the story that called for a drone, I count myself lucky that Adam had one. In those days (2012) a drone for an independent film was a novelty. Adam had recently purchased a drone for a commercial shoot so thankfully he had one. As you can see from the image below, he did a great job. And with his VFX skills he transitioned from drone footage to special effects seamlessly.
Last weekend was a bit of a drone adventure for me. After my successful shots at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center earlier in the month, I went to a WWII event at Battleship Cove. I go every year, but this time I brought my DJI Spark. Although I’ve been working with the drone for a few months now, I never really put it through the paces. The image above was from the drone’s maximum height (without the remote controller). Yes, “Big Mamie” is a big ship! To watch the video, click this link.
The next day I went to Newport, RI and toured The Breakers. Although I took a picture of Marble House with the drone when I was at one of the “Cars & Coffee” shows, I had yet to video one of the Gilded Age “summer cottages.” After the tour I started to envision what I wanted to see from this great mansion that was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. For those that remember the opening credits of Dynasty, that was my motivation. To watch the video, click this link.
To answer what some of you may be thinking, yes, I always get permission to film at museums and the like. The drama you hear about drones is pretty much nonsense. Operating a drone is like driving a car. It’s called practice and being responsible. If I’m not sure about something, I’m not going to try it. One of the cardinal rules is pretty simple—always be able to see your drone. Today’s drones have so many wonderful features built right into their programming. For mine, I can just tap “return to home” and that’s exactly what it does.
As part of SOS United States takes place on the USS Massachusetts, I’ve always wanted to do some filming at the museum. My interest in The Breakers was obvious. What filmmaker wouldn’t want to film such a grand residence? Because these two locations are so unique, my aim was to get two different looks if you will. But there are those moments when you kick yourself. I was approaching the low battery warning and had one more chance to get a shot at The Breakers. I hit “tap to fly” and the Spark was moving forward nicely. After a few moments I hit return to home. But I forgot to hit record when it was flying! Thankfully, I had enough footage.
Of course I originally purchased this drone for First Signal. Although actor and crew scheduling conflicts meant moving the film to 2019, this actually gives me more time to experience the capabilities of the Spark. There’s lots to shoot in the region!
As for First Signal, SOS United States, and my other projects, I always have a plan b. This November I’ll be traveling to the American Film Market. I haven’t been to Los Angeles since Justice Is Mind had its west coast premiere in 2014. It will be great to make new contacts and visit with friends and colleagues from my days in “Hollywood.”
As a screenwriter one of the things I do prior to writing any story is research. In SOS United States the fictional ocean liner in that story is called the Leviathan and is based on the famed ocean liner SS United States. But during this research I came across the MV Aurora and have been following this find ever since.
Anyone that knows me, or follows this blog, is aware of my passion for ocean liners (past and present) along with preserved navy ships. For me the preferred way to holiday has always been by cruise ship or ocean liner. So when I learned that Christopher Willson was restoring a cruise ship from the 1950s, I naturally had to learn more about the Aurora. And let’s be clear, restoring a cruise ship is a project!
The Aurora was launched in 1955 as the Wappen von Hamburg. When you consider that she was the first cruise ship built by West Germany since World War II, that fact alone secures her place in history. After her launch the ship passed through a variety of cruise lines and operators until a literal ad on Craigslist caught the attention of Willson. The ship at that point was in a sorry state, but it was a calling for Willson to restore her to glory.
Through the years I have been following this project, I continue to be amazed at the progress he and an army of volunteers have made in restoring this iconic piece of maritime history. Such efforts are a unique passion and should be applauded and supported by anyone that comes across such dedication.
Restoring a cruise ship from the 50s is not like restoring a house from the same time period. We’ve all seen the ridiculous modifications from the 60s and 70s in houses that have been thankfully done away with in the 21st century. But a cruise ship is different. Over her years the Aurora has had numerous, shall we say “changes” to her original design. But learning about Willson’s drive, ambition and progress bringing this ship back to life must be promoted.
While I certainly applaud the efforts to eventually restore the United States, Willson and his team are restoring the Aurora. One weld, one paint stroke at a time, the ship is returning to take her place alongside such historic liners as the Queen Mary and Rotterdam. In the case of those two liners from days past, someone had a vision to see that those vessels were saved from the fate of breakers or worse (remember what happened to the Queen Elizabeth?). But unlike those liners, there’s no hotel chain or municipality assisting in funding and promoting. It’s just Willson, his volunteers and related capital efforts to continue this important work.
All of us have seen the restoration of iconic buildings in our towns and cities. Nothing is grander when you see an old building restored to glory. Restoring a cruise ship from the 1950s is no different. In fact, it’s even more important. A ship, unlike a building, calls to you. Ask anyone who owns a boat or captains a ship and they’ll share their story. It’s clear the Aurora was calling Willson to save her. It knew her place in history and what it had to offer future generations. Personally, I’d rather sail on history than read about it in a book.
To the captain and crew of the Aurora, may the wind be at your back.
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