My Driving Force

Lawrence Fishburn enjoys a break gazing over the 10,000' cliff atop Sandia Mtn, that looks out towards Albuquerque, NM

The Bigger the project … in this case Starring Nicolas Cage and Lawrence Fishburn which is pretty darn big.

Lately every project I get hired to fly drones on has a “strict no social media” policy. Not that it’s something new, but now they’re enforcing it with an iron fist, and I’m working on higher profile jobs. On a Taylor Swift music video shoot at Harper Dry Lake near Barstow, they actually took everyone’s phone away. So here we are as professional drone operators who are supposed to constantly promote our business, but the projects we want to show off are strictly off limits … and I certainly don’t want to be “that guy”. Actually I’ve heard you get black balled for unauthorized posting. On the other hand I guess I’m a little happy as I’m not a big selfy person to begin with. Definitely a conundrum!

Very recently I worked on a movie in New Mexico called Rivers and Roads (I thought the original title – Running with the Devil fit the story better, and is also one of my favorite Van Halen songs) starring Nicolas Cage, Adam Goldberg and the matrix man himself, Lawrence Fishburn. I worked with Lawrence on CSI Las Vegas back when I was doing video playback in 2011 & 12, right about the time I was getting into drones, and he wasn’t particularly friendly. In fact his first day on that show, was my first day on the show. When I introduced myself on R&R’s, and reminded him of CSI and that we both are alumni of Hollywood High, he was very friendly and we talked for a few minutes. I don’t like to be “that guy” so I didn’t ask for a photo. I almost never do. One of the on set medics was there taking pics without asking, and got scolded for doing so by Mr Fishburn’s personal assistant. He actually denied it even tho we were all right there while he was doing it, but I digress. I was hired to get a very dramatic shot of Fish on a cliff, coming from behind then wrapping around him, backing out into the distance on Scandia Peak revealing the expansive mountaintop landscape. Sandia Peak has drop away views of Albuquerque and rises 5,000′ straight up from the desert floor, which is already at 5,000′ so that peak is 10,000 ASL! (Above Sea Level) Now mind you, no one told me I was going to be shooting at 10,000′ or even on a mountain, so I failed to being high altitude props which are necessary above 7,500′ … as was oxygen when I walked up hills or stairs. (when you live at 600’ ASL the atmosphere is dense with oxygen) So with the winds that were gusting over that peak, the mechanical turbulence created by the wind blowing across that cliff, I wasn’t very keen on flying my inspire 2 up close and personal to Lawrence ‘million dollar man’ Fishburn. And though the proverbial “I’m the pilot in command and I say no to this shot” is possible, it’s not what a producer wants to hear, especially when they flew you out specifically to do that very shot.

Fate stepped in and the park ranger showed up and forbade us to do that shot. Actually I should say Faith step in…her name was Faith. J On one hand I was very disappointed as I’d have a shot of one of the biggest stars in Hollywood to use on my reel, on the other hand gusting winds without the correct props equals “DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!”. So after all was said and done, I provided the production with lots of smooth driving shots of the 3 picture cars which I flew single op being driven in a follow vehicle. Note that I had to have the driver stop periodically to land and reset the GPS as we were driving up hill. It’s amazing how fast 400′ turns into barely skimming treetops when you’re climbing a mountain. I cheated a little adjusting the ceiling to 200m, but that didn’t get me THAT much more time. The vehicles shot were: a vintage Land Rover towing bad-ass looking snowmobiles which didn’t like the altitude and ran like shit, a Subaru Station wagon and a faded Jetta. All pretty boring cars by normal standards, but somehow more unique than the usual Lambo I inevitably end up shooting for rap artists. As I was staging for the final car shoot in some very beautiful hills in the foothills near Carnuel NM, Mr. Lawrence came walking up to me smiling. I thought “wow, he sure is friendly when he’s on a movie set!” and then he handed me a commemorative coin which is pictured here. I did snap a photo when we were at lunch so you can see the back of Neo’s head.

Being a professional drone pilot from Los Angeles, I sure get afforded some amazing opportunities. I grew up here in Hollywood, and am used to seeing actors in everyday life. I sat across from Jerry Seinfeld at Jerry’s Deli (no affiliation), I got hit on by Rose McGowan after a yoga class, I had Taylor Hawkins join me on stage for a Halloween show I was playing (I used to be a gigging musician) I went to school (Cheremoya Avenue, Le Conte Jr high & Hollywood High) with a ton of c-list actors, but when Lawrence Fishburn (who has a commanding presence) walks up to you, remembers your name, and hands you a memento, there’s something very gratifying about that.­

John Force gives Jon Frankel from HBO REAL SPORTS
a tour of his museum in
Yorba Linda, CA

John Force, A force of nature. HBO Real Sports

Speaking of gratifying, I recently worked on an episode of Real Sports, with Bryant Gumble. The segment was “John Force: Force of nature”. John Frankel was the on camera personality who interviewed and got to know John Force and his family. I don’t know much about drag racing. I went to one race and was floored by the visceral experience of the whole thing, it literally involves every one of your senses: you see it, hear it (if you don’t wear ear plugs you’d probably go deaf) you feel the heat and thump in your chest, and smell the burning fuel, but that’s the extent of my experience, besides the ‘SUNDAY, SUNDAY SUNDAY” radio ads of my childhood.

I was brought in to get shots of his “museum” called “The John Force Race station” in Yorba Linda, which is more of a place to keep his cars and memorabilia on the west coast, his nearby mansion, then was sent off by myself to Bell Gardens to get shots of the mobile home park he grew up in. Talk about contrast!

First off, when watching the episode: what a great story! John is a very affable guy, his family and staff were very accommodating, and as I saw first hand where he came from and where he ended up, it’s quite an extraordinary rags to riches story. We got to have lunch and hang out in their living room for a few minutes. They only showed the outside of the house on the show, which is called Château De Force. But the inside of the house was spectacular! It was warm and tasteful and had light switches that I’m guessing you don’t get at Home Depot? I’d never seen them!

• N.D.A. – ‘Non Disclosure Agreement’ The bigger the project, the more likely you can’t post about it till it airs
• NO EGO – Getting an awesome shot is personally gratifying, but making the client happy is what really matters
• LOVE – Did I mention I’m passionate about aerial cinematography, and that I love what I do!?

But as is often the case, I’m not working directly with the production. I did get a shot of both John’s walking through the museum part of the building, and a shot of them walking into the house which wasn’t used, but production is usually shooting their footage somewhere else, while I do my thing. But while waiting to shoot a funny car that John had a horrific crash in and was almost killed in, I had a few minutes to hang out and chat with James Grachos, who was the acting DIT and I believe he was the editor, if not one of them. He’s a super nice guy and was excited about having lots of aerials to use in post. I was surprised how fast the episode aired, within a week or so. Yesterday I got a request from James to connect on Linkedin. I sent him a quick message and asked if they were happy with the shots and he said We loved your shots and I even got told “you’re not getting paid by the drone shot” which means you did a really good job for us haha.” That is gratification, and besides the thrill of flying, is why I am passionate about flying drones. My girlfriend is involved with Landmark and is often talking about having connection and doing things that matter. As a typical male, I’m not very tuned into “my feelings” or had formally recognized that as my purpose or “driving force” in life. But when I have experiences like this I think that maybe I do, and this kind of response from the people I work with really makes a what I do even more enjoyable.

Yours truly – Drew Cobb

© Copyright 2018 Dronewrx • All rights reserved