How To Make A Good Drone Film.

Drones. We all got drones. Everybody is doing the drone thing, amarite? I mean there is even a Drone Film Festival in NYC (which I’m a judge of;) so lemme tell ya when I say drone vids are a dime a dozen, they are.

So, how do you make a good one? How do you make one that stands out? One that people actually watch, and dare I say it, share?

Well, here are a few tips I use when making my vids, and things I look for in other flyer’s vids. Just some armchair advice, and you can’t beat the price.

  1. Shoot it right. 

This should be a no brainer but like cooking or construction if you use crap material, you get a crap product. So what do I mean “shoot it right”? Here’s a few things to think about while flying:

  • Fly steady. Do long sweeping moves. Try to ease in and out of panning shots. This is where the skill is in flying.
  • Know what you’re shooting at. Flying into the sun can be cool, but it usually isn’t. Be aware of propeller shadow hitting your lens (e.g. don’t fly 45 degrees to the sun)
  • Use a ND filter. This will slow down your shutter, and keep your footage more cinematic. Don’t have a ND filter? You can tape a piece of exposed 35mm film over the front of your lens. That one’s for free.
  • Be interesting. Sure you can go high, but the best drone footage has movement. If you are ballsy enough fly through something (safely people) or easier, set up a shot where you fly sideways across something, e.g. a wall, coastline or even a fence, you’ll get a cool shot.
  • Set your camera up right. Many of you have seen my post on the “best” settings for drone footage. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Also, I always opt for more resolution over frame rate. It will give you more latitude in post bringing me to my second point:

2. Dress up your footage. 

Sure, you can upload your entire clip to YouTube and let it rot there with the millions of others, or, you can do some dress up in post. Don’t be afraid of post, frankly it’s more fun then flying sometimes, and will make the difference between amateur footage and pro footage. Here’s some tips:

  • Cut it down. Then cut it down some more. Then cut it down, once again. Drone videos don’t need to be over 2 minutes ever. 30 seconds is actually totally appropriate. Short and sweet is the best rule of thumb here, choose your best moments, and get out.
  • Think story. I know you’re just shooting a field, or the ocean, or a strip mall, but build a story. Could be anything; start low and go high. Maybe try alternating closer shots with wider shots. Build a story, like you are leading a viewer on a ride. I alway re-order my clips (that’s editing;) so that they tell a story, abstract as it may seem.
  • Think backwards. Don’t be afraid to reverse your footage. 80% of the time I will have my shots playback in reverse, reason being is because with most drones, especially Phantoms, you can fly backwards faster and without the props getting in the shot. Reverse this and you look like Ice Man from Top Gun. Just make sure there are no people, or waves in the shots, or it might look a little weird.
  • Get weird with it. I know I just said be careful not to get weird with it, but I definitely want you to get weird. 99% of all drone films are just beautiful footage from the sky. Thats cool. Sometimes it’s real refreshing to see something new, weird, and edgy. Mix in B roll, stuff on the ground, handheld. Turn the image upside-down, that will make your head spin. Stand out footage will make you stand out.
  • Color Correct and Optical Correct always. Your footage isn’t really done when it comes out of the camera, it’s half done. If you can, shoot “flat” or “protune” to have latitude in post to color correct. Massage your contrast, grade your film, and give it a look. I guarantee you will make it 100 times better. Another great thing to do is optically correct the footage. Most footage coming out of the camera will have a pretty noticeable fish-eye on it. It will look like you shot it through a hotel door. Most programs, like After Effects, have a “optical correct” plugin that you can slap on your footage. Here’s a good tutorial that I every time without fail. Pro Tip: click the “optimal Pixel” checkbox. It will “bow” the top and bottom of your footage. Then just change your frame/canvas size to crop the image. This will give you the most resolution and a nice letterbox.

3) Music

I can’t stress this one enough. Good music makes good footage. Music is so important to film in general, but it goes triple for drone footage. A sweeping orchestral piece will elevate and give your film gravitas. Something electronic and modern will give it an edgy feel. Depending on what you want your film to be, music is the vehicle to get you there. You can use a famous song, but beware, some sites may not let you post it. Or you can go to a site like pond5 to get some cheap tracks that can be used anywhere. Even finding something at freesound.org can get you on the right track, so to speak.

Here is a little side by side of ungraded and graded footage:

And here is the final film with music:

that’s it really, three solid rules to follow when thinking about drone films. This is a special genre of film and relatively still new, so there is lots of room to bend and break these “rules” but I guarantee if you are at least thinking about them, you’re going to have a better end result. If you don’t I’ll be happy to refund your money.

Happy flying!

Rs

Roberto Serrini is a NYC based commercial director, editor, and avid drone operator. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com

Edmonton under the radar.

“Now you know how the ham feels,” the young kid behind the bar with the Shaggy goatee said over my pour, “you’re smack in the middle of it.” It is perhaps the closest way to explain how it feels to be in Edmonton, a city so smack central in a continent not many people make the trip to, or escape from. While it’s wholly inconspicuous remoteness might keep Edmonton off travelers radars, it was exactly what was attractive to me to her. What I came to find is that little ol’ Edmonton holds the record for some of the largest and most prolific attractions of any city, in the world. Where is the largest mall in North America? What city has the largest urban parkland? What city has the most music festivals? What major city has no rats, whatsoever. Always Edmonton. As a native New Yorker, I needed to see this ratless, wunderland for myself.

The first thing you notice about Edmonton is a strange dichotomy between city and nature. Here you will find two diametrically apposing wonders of the world; the largest shopping mall in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the largest natural reserves in the country.

As the morning weather was perfect, I headed to Elk Island National Park which is ironically chock full of wild buffalo that practically overrun you as soon as you enter. Thankfully they were Canadian Buffalo so they were very polite and allowed us to watch, photograph, and even say hello through the open window of our car. The rest of the park with its long hiking trails, lakes and public areas is a fantastic way to spend a morning, and brings you into the raw and beautiful Canadian wilderness instantly.

Having gotten my full of nature I was excited to see what the largest shopping mall in North America would look like. At first glance of the West Edmonton Mall, I was wholly unimpressed. Roosevelt Field in Mineaola, Long Island. The Dauphin Mall, in Kendell, Florida. Fox Hills Mall in Sherman Oak, California. These were Malls. Mecca’s to commerce, Cathedrals of capitalism, temples of teenage angst. From the lifeless, beige exterior I was so far not impressed.

Until I entered and fell gently to my knees.

Edmonton the mall10

This mall isn’t just huge, it’s epic. Epic like a very long poem written by a beardy Greek fellow. Epic like being sent on a ship to a continent that doesn’t exist yet. Epic like a Jerry Bruckhimer film. Yes. This was the Independence Day of malls.

55 city blocks long this small city of stores houses hundreds of shops and restaurants, and more then a dozen bathrooms. That’s over 120 urinals, which is more then the population of some Swiss towns. This might all be impressive but when you realize there is a full beach with wave park, amusement park with roller coaster, mini-golf, a full scale pirate ship and a seal tank you basically realize you are no longer in a mall, you are in the worlds most entertaining city. I mean there is a live seal, in the mall, doing tricks for you, as shop. Oh Canada!

Strangely I did not see a hotel in the mall, or I would have stayed there, so I closed my gaping jaw and headed back to the city center. As dusk settled in I found myself in Old Strathcona, the wonderfully hipster historic center of Edmonton. Strath is full of funky shops, crooked bars, and artsy scene that echo Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. Skateboarders and kids in need of showers give this bohemian center a charming, relaxed atmosphere, which is a perfect place to wind the day down. Strolling through the streets you can see some fantastic murals, a few antique trolleys, farmer markets, and street music. Best of all no matter what time of year you come you will always be treated to some epic event, as Edmonton has over 30 music festivals a year, and one of the largest Fringe festivals, which is more then any other city in the world.

A few pints of the local Yellowhead lager in me I headed back downtown over the High Level Bridge, where I ran into a nice lady who was painting on the walkway. “This bridge use to be completely dark. We put lights on it. Now it shines all year round.”

“Who put lights on it?”

“We did. The people who live here.” And it was true. Maybe in the best sign of proud city unity the inhabitants of the city funded to have LED lights placed on the bridge, by themselves. I thought having a co-op in my neighborhood was cool. This was next level hipster, on a city scale.

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Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Journal

Famished from my walk, I marched directly to the Hardware Grill, where Chef Larry Stewart transforms the traditional into the sublime. There were cocktails that leave you elated, lightly battered KFC (Korean Fried Cauliflower) that floated down from heaven, and a piece of Bison that was so tender, I completely forgot I saw these majestic beasts just a few hours ago wandering alive and free. It’s a fantastic place definitely not to be missed.

Sated beyond belief, I opted to walk back to see what Edmonton had to offer the night owl. I was pleased to find a bright and colorful city, fully of youth, gourmet poutine food trucks, and lively bars. Passing Churchill Square I stopped to watch a bit of a free screening of Pitch Perfect 2 that the city put on, with hundreds of people out enjoying the open-air theater, laughing together like it was a bunch of friends over someone’s basement. Edmonton had the feel of a small town packed into a modern city, as if you become instant family by just arriving there.

It was so friendly that it was hard not to strike up a conversation every time I stopped moving for a minute. People were chatty and excited to offer suggestions of what’s best in the city. I had already seen so much and been unexpectedly impressed by this unknown metropolis that I found it truly surprising to discover what was possibly the only reason to come to Edmonton: The Green Onion Cake.

“You haven’t had a Green Onion Cake?!” the girl in the Canadian flag wrapped folding chair said looking at me as if I said I never heard of Justin Bieber. “It’s our national dish! How long have you been in town?”

“About 8 hours.”

“What have you been doing?!” Apparently the largest mall, a natural Bison petting zoo, and a meal I will judge all other future meals against was a huge waste of time when facing the Edmonton Green Onion Cake. “Go to The Underground. Right now. It’s around the corner. No sign. That’s how you know you’re there.”

There are some foods whose origin are truly shrouded in mystery; bird nest soup of south east asia. The Surströmming buried Fish of Northern Sweden. The Chicken McNugget. This was another mystery that I was hoping to solve at The Underground, a gastropub that indeed doesn’t look like it should be there. Inside a commercial building and down a very poorly lit escalator you are birthed into a warm, dimly lit cavern of beer heaven. More taps than members of parliament, I saddled up to the bar and lent in close to the barkeep. “Do you have…” I paused… for dramatic effect, “Green Onion Cake?”

“Yep. With Pork?”

“If that’s what one does.” He nodded. It came. It was not what I expected.

Edmonton underground85.jpg

Basically a what a New Yorker would call a Scallion Pancake at a Chinese restaurant, but much larger, and with a large bialy like hole in the middle. It is then stuffed with tender pulled pork and special sauce which you then immediately shove into your face as if it were air, and you had been trapped underwater most of your life. It is delicious, but was a dish with an origin as unique as Edmonton itself. I was entirely confused. How was this Edmonton’s National dish, I queried my new friend behind the bar.

“Well, it’s hard to say. Lots of people have different stories, but I think the consensus is that there was this Chinese couple, from China, that made it originally. They have a restaurant that’s been around since the 70’s. They were the first. But I read that the restaurant just closed down. Like it closed today. A real shame. History. Gone. But hey, at least we still have the Green Onion Cake, amairite?”

In a way Green Onion Cake is a perfect symbol for the city of Edmonton; here is something foreign, that has traveled a very long way, and has not only been accepted into Edmonton life, but Edmonton made it its own. Be it the shopping mall, nature, or even it’s own heritage, Edmonton seems to have the wonderful ability to take whatever it has, and truly make it an original article unlike anything else out there.

-Rs

Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in word, photography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com where he can be contacted as well. 

bad ass bike for good reason.

Exhibit A: John Varvatos. A Rock and Roll, bad ass designer.

Exhibit B: Black Motorcycles. An Underground, road rash motorcycle shop.

Well they got together and had a child.

A while back I was asked to direct a film for Varvatos about a very unique project he was organizing; a one of a kind John Varvatos motorcycle. The bike was being built by the motorheads at the Black Motorcycles in Brooklyn. It was going to be a mean cafe racer, tricked out and styled by Varvatos himself. The motorcycle was then going to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to Road Recovery who takes at risk teens and keeps them off the street by giving them the gift of music. All in all a pretty sweet project, and oh yeah, Slash did the music for the film. I got to put on his hat. One more off the bucket list.

slash's hat

Here is the vid we did … a simple piece where Vavatos speaks casually to camera. My favorite types of interviews.

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Well the bike is finally done… and it is mean looking. Surely it will go for a pretty penny, and it definitely should, considering all the proceeds are going to a great causes. Also because it’s tax deductible. double down ya’ll.

 

Here’s some stills from Varvatos’ office in the city… such a beautiful space… it’s exactly how I wanted it to look, with bits of fabric, leather and metal all around… like a junk box for creativity. Love ya John, you make cool shit. Keep doin’.

 

drinking where you shouldn’t.

Well at least you look good doing it.

Last week I checked out the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. For those of you interested in going next year, let me tell you, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME OR HARD EARNED MONEY. WORST TIME EVER.

That is all.

Garbage! Dont go!
Garbage! Dont go!

They gone? Sure? Ok… for those reading on not planing to ever go and risk changing it in any way, it was the most fantastic place to get shitface in the history of getting shitface.  King Tut getting pissed atop of a pyramid yelling “I’m king-tut-of-the-world bitches!!!”. Boring. Caesar doing a backstroke in a golden vessel filled with fine Roman wine? Snooze. Napoleon getting trashed with Marie Antoinette, panty-less, atop the Arc de Triomphe? Lame. (Lame but count me in.)

Let me explain how epic this event was by saying this: it’s the New York Public Library. You know. The big one. On 5th Ave. With that amazing reading room. Ghostbusters? Yep, that one. All 4 floors of it. All the rooms. Open… with open bars. 

Marinate on that for a sec.

First, I love the Public Library. Besides Grand Central Terminal it is, by far, my favorite building in New York. It’s massive, sprawling, heavy, and with such  tremendous history and such opulent design that I have walked straight into small children, trampled them really, because I was so engrossed looking anywhere but where I was walking. It’s a siren in a sea of concrete, and she calls you in and steals your heart.

And now your liver.

The event is nothing short of Gala status and seemed as if Fellini was the event planner, Hemingway the caterer, and everyone you know within 3 years of your age was on the guest list. For me, it’s the perfect storm of parties. First, the building itself is so entertaining, that you literally are walking through a conversation. You are able to explore rooms, and floors, that I’ve never seen before. Touch fireplaces and mantlepieces, gawk at exquisite chandeliers. All while boozing it. 

Next, you have mad crazy cool music. In every nook, hall, and room you will hear something. A funky jazz band, some old-timey bluegrass, or even, I donno… maybe… The Outkast? Sure why not. And yeah, Quest Love stopped by to spin for us while we were rolling around on a mirrored dance floor. All while boozing it.

Then you have food. Everywhere. Taffy, meatballs, little dumpling in little dumpling sauces. A perfect balance between ambrosia and nectar. In a building where a diabetic usually can’t bring a candy bar, you’re graciously dripping meat sauce down your tux like a maniac. All while boozing it.

Finally, it’s the people. Usually events are ruined by the people who go to it. In New York it can be hit or miss; over publicize and you got amateur hour. Too under the radar and you don’t know the other 4 people in the room. This was perfect across the board; people, pretty much around the same age, and more importantly all with the same agenda. To booze it up.

Not convinced? Here are a few “facts” from the event:

– over 25,000 drinks served (all in proper glassware, of course)
– over 7,800 lbs of ice
– 700 origami birds
– 400 lbs of pulled pork sliders
– 300 lbs of shrimp
– 200 lbs of Ora King Salmon sashimi
– 50 king palm trees 
– 10 feathered dancing girls
– 2 flashers
– 0 cocktail glasses left in Party Rentals’ tri-state inventory

You getting the picture here?

Sure it was a celebration of the grain, but there was something even more magical to it then just trying over 80 specialty cocktails from over 150 of the worlds best bartenders, er, mixologists. Libationists? Inhebriator enablers? Bartenders, whatever. There was a perfect energy, as if someone gave us all a second prom where we all knew we were getting laid later on. There was no stress, none of that pubescent frenzy, but all the innocent energy and hell-or-high-water bring it on fun. Everyone looked stunning dressed in that gown you have been saving since you cousins wedding 6 years ago and that suit you never found a good enough reason to wear after your court appearance. It was like we were in the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby if it were directed by Noah Baumbach instead of Baz Luhrmann (I would totally watch that Noah, just saying.). We all chatted, were friendly, let people cut in line with us, and shared the secret location of the 80’s dance room. We weren’t in a city anymore, we were floating down a river of best friend juice toward an ocean of sublime alcoholic solution.

So yeah, whatever you do, dont go. It sucked. I can’t believe it cost as much as it did, and I’m in a horrible legal battle trying to get the amount refunded, and I think I got hepatitis from a dirty glass. Quite possibly the worst night ever. Dont go. Please. Please dont.

Rs
*all photos taken with my trusty iPhone. Thanks Steve Jobs.

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