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.
Since my last post I’ve traveled to a variety of events; a World War 1 reenactment, the USS Salem and “Cars and Coffee” at Fort Adams in Newport. Although I’ve always been someone who takes a fair amount of pictures, I now find myself looking to tell a story through some sort of video. Sure, it’s the filmmaker in me that wants to tell a story, but I can tell it’s all leading up to something else.
That’s the great thing about this industry. First, we have so many tools at our disposal. No longer are we limited to the cost of entry to the trade, when the barriers have come so far down economically. What it comes down to is our respective imaginations to create or even better—experiment.
Yesterday when I was leaving Fort Adams I drove down a street back to town I’ve taken numerous times. But this time I stopped. I wanted to capture some sort of drone shot of Newport with all the sailboats. As I walked towards the water I noticed something in the near distance. I soon found myself at the statue of Jean-Baptiste Donatien pointing towards Newport. Needless to say I did a few takes and will be creating a video shortly that starts with this French nobleman.
The one thing that usually happens when I’m shooting with my DJI Spark are the inevitable conversations I have with total strangers. So many hear about drones, but to actually see one in action is still relatively rare. Yesterday, two tradesmen that were rebuilding the pyramid next to the statue of Donatien started asked me a variety of questions. From range, to types of shots, to cost, to how it’s operated, I’m always happy to offer what I can in response. This particular encounter worked out great as I lost my sunglasses in the area shortly thereafter. After they saw me walking around several times clearly looking for something, they offered to help. In total Sherlock Holmes reconstructive fashion, they showed me where I walked and low and behold one of them found the sunglasses!
Over the years I’ve met so many interesting people through my films and other projects. The one thing I don’t think you can be in this business is an extrovert. This is an industry of engagement and introducing others to new experiences and your work. Sadly, I know some talented people that are very gifted but rely on others do to their promotion. By example I met someone several weeks ago who built a great website, but then stated they didn’t share it to social media because they don’t like to promote themselves. In a total defeatist tone, they continued by saying, they just weren’t good at it. What’s the point in creating something if you aren’t going to promote it? This doesn’t mean you have to be a braggart, but it’s OK to say “I’m pleased to present my new website.”
Speaking of websites, before I started doing my “pre-production” work leading up to AFM in November, I found some of mine needed updates. Thankfully, with development platforms like Wix or WordPress we can now build and update our own websites that don’t require a bank of programmers.