and now, a word about drones…
So I would be remiss if I didn’t mention anything about drones at this point, since, it’s basically the reason this trip is happening. Here is the internet famous film that got it all going…
When DJI first came out with the original Phantom Quadrocopter, I bought it in a heartbeat. I mean, it was basically a man toy, and I had to have it. I didn’t fully realize how much I would fall in love with flying and filming.
When I first got it, it came with nothing. I flew it first without any camera on it. I flew it right into the wall. I really didnt expect it to be so difficult to control, I mean, I was a master flying a Ghost in Halo, how much harder can this be from a video game.
People often say “what do those cost? Like 600 bucks? I should really get one” and you should. They are amazing. What you probably don’t realize is that like most good things, there is a bit more to it then it might seem.
First of all, flying the damn thing is unlike anything else you’ve done, unless you’ve flown quadrocopters before, then it’s just like that. Imagine that, like a car, you not only have forward, backwards, left and right to contend with, but also up and down. Now, add in the fact that the copter can rotate, so, imagine, you rotate 90º and try to fly to the right. You know which way you fly? If you guessed backwards, you are correct. And if you are confused then you are normal. Two points.
Basically it’s like controlled chaos in 3D. The damn thing goes ridiculously fast, and very high, and it is very easy to crash one, or in my case, four of them. Luckily I always travel with 2 drones, like any professional, it’s important to be ready for the worst.
Now, the price. Sure, 600 bucks gets you in the door. Then I had to add the Zenmuse gimbal, which stabilizes the camera. Then I had to upgrade the circuit board and NAZA controller. Don’t know what that is? Neither do I. I had to solder for godsake. Solder. That means buying a soldering iron. And something called flux which I still don’t fully understand. That means having to go to RADIOSHACK for the love of God. Then I then had to buy a GoPro, and upgrade the controller as well for tilt control. Batteries… each lasts about 10 minutes, which means buying about 12 of them for a shoot. Additional chargers, custom case, carbon fiber props, and of course, had to install a Fatshark RX transmitter and receiver so I can get a video feed to the director.
600.00 easily becomes 3K. Easily.
Perhaps the most “interesting” part about learning how to do all this is that there really is no “instructions”. It’s not like there is a manual that comes with the components that tell you how to put it together. Mind you at the time there were no “kits” that came with this setup already built. Any information I got was online, and usually from either a German youtube video or some half-assed comment in a message board. It was like navigating to the moon with directions your 90 year old grandfather gives you.
The good part about this is that you really learn the equipment. You learn what everything does, or can do, and you learn how to fix it, or troubleshoot issues if things go wrong, and things always go wrong. I considered it payment for all the enjoyment I was about to have.
Seriously though, soldering sucks.
Mind you, I knew nothing about RC piloting, so I’m by no means trying to tell you it’s not easy to start doing. Just maybe not as easy as you think.
In the end Ray, one of the other producers on the film here in Thailand, said it best: “At first I was just going to buy one and shoot the footage myself. Then I realized how many bad aerial videos are out there. I thought, maybe this isn’t as easy as it seems. So we called you.” Thanks Ray.
Like anything worth doing, it has its learning curve. For your consideration; above are LiPo bags. LiPo’s are the type of batteries that go into the drone, and look like little C4 explosives. And, oh yeah, they tend to fucking explode for no reason every now and then.
So you are not allowed to put them in checked luggage, which means you take them on board with you. The idea here is that if something does happen it’s better if it’s in the cabin where you can do something about it. There is a whole TSA and FAA sheet about this, which doesn’t stop you from having a hell of a time explaining what the hell you’re doing with so many batteries at the airport security.
Finally, and perhaps the most interesting about this type of hobby, is that it is technically illegal. You may see that I wrote “hobby” instead of “job”. That’s because the FAA does not allow you to fly drones for commercial purposes. It’s not that I don’t have a license, it’s that THERE IS NO LICENSE. In fact, THERE IS NO ACTUAL LAW for or against it. It’s this weird limbo ruling that basically allows them to fine you 10K if you fly them for commercial purposes. So I obviously do not advertise myself as an aerial cinematographer, because that would be illegal. That’s why I only fly them for my enjoyment. Sometimes I do it while on set, between takes, you know, just to fill downtime. It’s a great hobby, and way better for you then smoking.