Drones on the Move for Hollywood Productions

September 25, 2014

Used for everything from car commercials to news programs to televised sports, drones are becoming a permanent addition to video and film production thanks to their relative ease, agility and low cost. It’s taken a few years but Hollywood is now getting into the act.

Hollywood has waited patiently for the Federal Aviation Administration to grant exemptions for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for film and video productions. The wait is over. After several years of wrangling, the FAA made it official, allowing six firms to go ahead and fly drones – the first time private companies legally can do so in the U.S. With Hollywood leading the way, the decision has huge implications for a broad range of industries. 

Hollywood’s exemption is the first granted to multiple companies and the first to open an entire industry for commercial drone use. This being Hollywood, expect plenty of publicity and statements from industry insiders. Neil Fried, MPAA senior vice president, is already on record in support of drones, saying that drones are “an innovative and safer option for filming. The new tool for storytellers will allow for creative and exciting aerial shots, and it’s the latest in a myriad of new technologies being used by our industry to further enhance the viewer experience.”

Previously, many filmmakers had taken to shooting with drones in foreign countries to get the shots they wanted, notably the James Bond pic, Skyfall, in Turkey. With the FAA allowing Hollywood productions the legal exemption to fly drones, there also comes a long list of strict safety and compliance rules, aiming for safety and noninterference with commercial aviation.

While Hollywood is opening up, many popular tourist sites and national parks place restrictions on drones. Federal authorities such as the National Park Service have already made it clear it is illegal to fly a done within any park. One Danish tourist learned the hard way and got stung with a $3200 fine for failing to comply with government rules. When in doubt, look up the regulations for the specific location you’re planning to shoot at.

Although drones can be extremely cost effective for certain applications, they haven’t fully vanquished the use of helicopters and cranes. Their limited battery life still makes some uses impractical and they can only be flown legally at low altitudes. But when they can be used, the savings are apparent. For more general information on drones, there’s a great guide at Hobby Help.

Despite the slow implementation, progress is being made. Last month, the FAA released proposed rules for small, unmanned aircraft that would allow commercial flights as long as operators pass a written aviation exam every two years and follow certain restrictions, like flying during daylight and within sight. Final regulations are expected sometime soon.

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