Not hiring a professional drone pilot can be an expensive lesson
It does me good to see this published by someone else. In the good ‘ol days having a drone was unique. I got tons of calls and people were happy to pay someone who knew what they were doing. But as the industry has bent over backwards to sell more of their products, DJI is essentially cannibalizing the industry they helped create. Rather then hire a professional, inexperienced people take that money that they’d spend on a qualified pilot and buy their own drone. “It can’t be that hard, can it!?” Or “let’s hire my neighbors kid, he fly’s that thing around the neighborhood”. Sure you can push a button to make it take off and land (in the old days we had to program a switch for Return to Launch), but the problems that arise are probably not at that part of the flight. It’s “out there” where the big cash register in the sky is. Suddenly that money that you thought you saved has disappeared, or smashed and you lost the prior shot that was on the card, and you are done for the day. As a professional, I travel with a back up and it’s been a real long time since I have had things go wrong. Why? Years of experience and always looking for better ways to approach situations, or avoid bad ones. And now, there are tons of “no fly zones” I got bit by one when that first emerged and there was no way to know if the area was approved or not. Now there’s a grid system surrounding classified airspace with graduating ceilings. Of course there are “other ways” to get shots in these areas. (wink wink).
But think of it this way: Would you go out and buy a $70k camera and go out the next week and DP a shoot? Do you think somehow you have the innate skill to go purchase an Indy car and enter it into a race? Of course not! So why on Earth would you take what can be some of the most compelling shots of your production and trust them to someone with almost no experience. But even more importantly, the danger of having the equivalent of a blender in the sky flying around your talent, or above crew members heads. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but drones have changed the film business, and gone from “replacing the helicopter shot” to a fast and easy way to get some extremely dynamic shots, or a crane shot that can gor from ground level to 400 feet in seconds. It’s been a process and a few of us have been here for a long time participating in the development. Check out a video of drone crashes, every time one of these hits the ground it’s thousands of dollars, and these are just some of the ones that were captured. Most of the time a crash results in a loss of footage as well, as the camera is either lost, or doesn’t get to finalize.
So if you’re serious, keep moving forward and practice, but if you think you’re going to jump into the business and start making the big bucks by showing up on set with your freshly minted Part 107, it’s probably not gonna be as easy as DJI and Drones R US wants you to think it is…Craigslist and eBay are littered with parts from people who learned the hard way. I have seen a glut of DJI Inspire 2’s on eBay lately when people realized that getting a part 107 and spending $10K on a drone doesn’t make your an aerial DP, there’s skill and balls involved, and no shortcut to getting that skill. I know a guy who got his part 107, bought an inspire 2 believing the “it’s easy” hype, and ended up quitting, selling his drone at a loss, and moving to Texas for a desk job.
I have now produced a series of blog posts called “5 essential questions every producer SHOULD be asking drone pilots before they hire them” (updated with a link to that blog), there will be some valuable information for all line producers and directors which will be helpful next time you’re filling in the blanks on the call sheet.
Rest assured that the FAA is looking at this industry with mucho scrutiny-o, and things will continue to change, of that I am sure.