5 Essential questions a producer should ask a drone pilot
(before hiring them)
How are their communication skills, and do they “speak camera”?
Welcome to (DRUM ROLL) part 5 of 5: 5 Critical questions a producer should ask a drone pilot. You’d think this would be an obvious-no brainer, and just like any job interview, but often times this can get glazed over in the shuffle to get a drone and when there’s a time crunch. And when ISN’T a time crunch in film production!? In order to get the shots you need, the pilot/crew you hire are going to need to communicate properly and also be good listeners. A drone pilot and camera operator have the duties of a DP and cameraman, and have to be able to communicate with the director, DP and producer, so someone with a film background can be the difference between kinda usable shots and great shots. Many of the recent influx of drone pilots are new to the game and got into it because it’s cool, they think it’s easy (you’d be surprised how the industry tries to sell this notion), or flew R/C planes or helicopters for a hobby. While they probably can fly a drone, they might not know that much about angles & apertures. However, being able to fly a drone is only part of the equation, and like all departments on set there’s many moving parts. And generally there’s not a lot of time to get a bunch of takes as there’s usually actors, vehicles and critical lighting involved, so important aspects can get omitted in crunch time.
I started my TV career doing video playback on CSI Las Vegas, and have worked on shows like Chuck, Parenthood, Pretty Little Liars, Baskets, The Whole Truth, and more recently Showtimes, The Affair. I had my own camera rental business, HD Videoworx (there’s a subtle trend with names going on here), where I got a daily education on cameras and accessories which has been invaluable, and the connections and knowledge comes in handy to this day.
So bear in mind, you want to hire someone who can communicate effectively, and understands camera jargon/set lingo. Ask them some questions about their camera to see if they even know anything. While DP’s can drown you in minutiae involving codecs, and compression ratios and native resolutions, you certainly can’t expect a drone op to be THAT well versed, but they should know cameras, understand shutter speeds, ISO settings and carry a set of ND’s & polarizers for varying conditions. I am always grilling my pilots on this subject too.
On a personal level I strive leave my ego out of all my interactions, and have found that if people can do that in general their relationships will improve. There’s usually some big egos behind the camera and there probably should be, so you don’t want to have conflicts of ego wasting precious time. I can take charge of a situation if necessary and direct talent, or if the director has it under control and knows what he wants I will follow his guidance. I’m good in either situation. I’ve been involved with DP’s and directors who could go “Christian Bale” at the drop of a hat, and people who are calm and collected. Either way, I don’t take it personally and realize that it’s just part of the job. I’ve had a crew of 20 looking over my shoulder and it doesn’t bother me. I’ll often get directors who will send me on my way to get B-roll as they know my work and trust my judgment because I have done my homework and paid my dues.
I hope this series has helped you and you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Dronewrx is expanding the services we offer to a whole suite of stabilized movement shots. Please see our services page from more information.
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