Today we’d like to introduce you to Drew Cobb.
Drew, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’m an LA native who grew up in the shadow of the Hollywood sign when it was a dilapidated relic from an era gone by. My friends and I hiked and played on it before there were fences and security cameras, and the buildings above it were a rescue-training center. My dad worked at ABC TV back in the golden age of television as a cameraman and videotape operator. He was an early adopter of computers and had an Altair 8800 in his office, which was known as the spark that ignited the micro-computing revolution.
After graduating from Hollywood High, I went to L.A. Valley College and got a degree in Graphic Design, but was always drawn to TV/movie production. I took a series of production classes at Pasadena City College to try to get that going, and in the process produced a cult-classic video called “Punk BBQ” which featured animated slam-dancing hot dogs. (link below)
Right out of college, my dad hired me as an audio tech for the ’84 LA Summer Olympics, a production that won him one of two Emmys which raised my interest level even more. Later that year I moved to Keystone, Colorado, and started a ski video company called Summit Videoworx (you’ll see a pattern soon), where my passion for action cinematography took off. Back then, there was no such thing as “handicams’, we skied with a large camera attached to a deck on our back. Though I loved the work, I never really fit into the mountain lifestyle and discovered I wasn’t the ski-bum type.
Within a year, I moved back to L.A. and soon thereafter got a job as the Art Director for a local publication called Music Connection. Being a young man in the city I grew up in, suited my lifestyle much more. It was the 80’s and having a business card from a music magazine got me into concerts and clubs all over LA. I took full advantage of that and had a blast. However, my liver probably wouldn’t agree with that statement. In the late 80’s David Pascal and I opened a design studio called D-Squared, a name based on the first initial of our names. We met at college and had become fast friends. He had a Mac 2-SE, which was my introduction to the wonderful world of Apple products.
We worked with a sax player, Scott Page, and his company Walt Tucker. As the in-house art department, we paid our rent by designing t-shirts for music companies. Instead of basic logos on shirts, we produced high-concept illustrations, making our designs a big hit at a several NAMM shows. During which time we created an animation concept called Numbooty Island that got a lot of attention with animation companies and toy manufacturers. (@NumbootyIsland)
By 2008 I was burned out from working at the computer, often seven days a week. When I was busy I’d hardly leave the house and had no human contact, so I was looking for a new direction. One of my childhood friends, Ralph Merzbach, helped me get into IATSE 695 Union and onto CSI Vegas video playback team. CSI filmed at Universal Studios, and I lived walking distance away. It took longer to find a parking spot in the structure than it did for me to drive to the lot. I would have walked, but a large part of my job was renting equipment for various set-ups.
Renting equipment to a production is common when you’re part of the crew, and in those days it was even more lucrative, which gave me an idea: As Second Man in the department, I had plenty of days off, so I started a company called HD Videoworx, renting my video cameras and accessories to the public on Craigslist. The popular camera at the time was the Panasonic HVX 200, the first HD camera that shot to cards (yet still had a tape recorder built in), which was largely responsible for the launch of the HD “prosumer” revolution. I did pretty well for a couple of years, but soon DSLR’s changed the game and people could get a film camera look for a lot less money and that market started to wane.
In 2011, I was at Lightstone Rentals sub-renting gear, and owner Ryan Beardsley introduced me to the brand new DJI Phantom 1. Sold ready to fly with its own cheap controller, the Phantom 1 ignited the drone revolution. Though you had to buy the camera, gimbal and wireless video system separately, it was much easier to get started than the “design and build” models that preceded it. The bad aspect of the early days is there wasn’t much information on how to work drones, not even instructions in the box.
The good part was there were zero regulations and you could fly virtually anywhere. I was immediately hooked and started spending LOTS of money on my new found pursuit.
When the FAA finally regulated drones, they required an actual airplane pilot on set for commercial purposes, plus something called a Part 333 exemption. In those days anyone with a pilot’s license was in high demand – even if they lacked film experience, they still got work. Because of drones, film crews could get the production value of helicopter shots for a fraction of the price and those early adopters capitalized. As the technology and the craft continues to advance, drone shots often replace dolly and crane shots.However, it’s often unnerving just how much directors will push us pilots to “get closer”.
I really wanted to fly drones professionally but flying small planes was never on my bucket list. My dad flew private planes when I was a kid and I was with him one day when he was practicing mid-air stalls. I turned four shades of green in the back seat of that Cessna 172 and had to be dropped off at an airstrip in the middle of nowhere until he was done. Despite my childhood “trauma”, I started taking flying lessons in the summer of 2015 at Camarillo Airport with Skyrider Ultralights.
For someone who experiences a fear of heights, flying at 2,500 feet, in what is essentially a go-kart with wings, took a lot of determination. Turns out I had a knack for flying, and will forever thank my instructor Jeffery Steele for that. I received my Part 61 pilot’s license March 20th, 2016, and Jeffery passed away (of natural causes) less than three months later. It was quite a shock, we had flown together less than two weeks before his passing.