Flying drones are increasingly capturing aerial shots for Hollywood movies and television, and the low cost of the gear is enabling even hobbyists to shoot spectacular footage from the sky. Now the first New York City Drone Film Festival is accepting submissions. The festival, scheduled for Feb. 21, will feature films running less than five minutes that show off the potential of the new filmmaking tool.
“This is the most amazing cinema tool I’ve seen in…forever,” says Randy Scott Slavin, a New York-based TV commercial and music video director who created the festival.
Big-budget films including “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The November Man,” and “Skyfall” have used drone-shot footage. The airborne system used for “Skyfall” won an Academy Award this year for engineering achievement.
“You can do these camera moves that are incredibly nimble,” says Robert Legato, the second unit director who supervised a drone-shot scene in “Wolf of Wall Street,” in which the camera glides from above the beach toward a wild pool party at the Leonardo DiCaprio character’s Hamptons mansion. “You can’t use a helicopter because you can’t get that close to that many people safely,” he says.
Anyone can buy a drone for less than $500. They work with consumer-priced mountable cameras that capture video in quality as high as 4k, better than high-definition TV. A highlight reel at the festival website (nycdronefilmfestival.com) shows footage from submissions so far, including flyovers of New York City, sweeping vistas of natural landscapes, and shots amid exploding fireworks. Drones are easier to control than remote-controlled airplanes, Mr. Slavin says. Models with GPS can even fly (and repeat) preprogrammed patterns.
Mr. Slavin discovered the technology watching a skateboarding video by director Spike Jonze called “Pritty Sweet.”
“It starts with this amazing shot—over a fence and around corners and down stairs. I was wondering: how the hell did they shoot it?,” he says. He discovered they used a drone—then made his own aerial film, of New York City from above, that went viral online.
The only barrier left may be usage regulations, which remain “up in the air,” as Mr. Slavin puts it. The Federal Aviation Administration has permitted commercial use on a case-by-case basis (approving some filmmaking but not yet delivery services like Amazon and DHL). A 2012 federal act that set guidelines for recreational operators like indie filmmakers offers “a lot of wiggle room,” says Los Angeles aviation attorney Paul Fraidenburgh. He will give a talk at the film festival.