We were recently provided with an opportunity to step foot on a movie production here in Pittsburgh, one of our first. While not at first obvious, my anxiety and stress were through the roof. My elevated blood pressure was entirely based on the fact that it was the first time that we were going to run our drone for an actual movie.  I thought it might be educational and fun to go through some of the items that we learned while on set. I hope this will be beneficial for some. My intention is to only share information and leave out any type of graphics with these blog post.

Insurance Coverages

So the first thing that we were made aware of is the industry standard is $5 million for general liability. Most of you, much like us, originally just had a $1 million policy. While not a huge issue, you are looking at roughly double an additional payment to raise it from $1 million-$5 million of general liability insurance. Rightfully so, there are tons of people and equipment on a movie set and having $5 million in liability insurance almost seems as if it’s not enough. No sense in spending more than what they require, but it does make sense on why they want this much.

Different People and Their Titles

Quickly we were able to arrive at the fact that there are tons of acronyms and job titles, roles and sub-roles and all kinds of different things to learn.  I thought it would be best to go through the various individuals that we worked with and for and give a brief description on what their job title entails. The number one thing to remember is everyone that you are working with or for is under a ton of stress. Never take anything personally, largely they are good people.

Executive Producer (EP) – The individual that has ties to the rights of the movie.  They may also have connections with the movie studio that is funding the production of the film. Given the fact that they have the rights to the movie, they also have a general idea of what they envision the movie to look like as an end product.

Co-Producer – This individual generally could be with the one that you’re working with on set while flying so that they can get an idea on what we can produce for the movie. Most often this will be the director of photography, but in our case, we worked heavily with the coproducer.

Producer – This role often ensures that all of the items needed to make the movie are available and there. This would be the gathering, vehicles, hair and makeup and more. They know the budget and agree to the amount you will ultimately be paid. Great to have a great relationship with the Producer.

Assistant Director (AD) – One of their roles is to ensure that the schedule is met and moving forward. Important to know what the minimum shots are that are required from you. Once those minimum shots are completed, anything creative from any of the executive producers/coproducers/director of photography are above and beyond.

Director of Photography (DP) – This individual is the middle person between those above and us below. Sometimes, but not always they will understand the abilities of drone photography or videography, but at least they will speak our language more so than anyone else on set.

Locations –  Individuals tasked with finding key locations for filming and gaining permission to film.

Grips – Crew members in charge of lighting and rigging.

Key Grip – Foreman of Grips.

Best Boy Grip – Assistant to the Key Grip.

Gaffer – In charge of the electricians.

Best Boy Electric – Assistant to the Gaffer.

*Small tip. When you get on set if you need an electric line run, don’t ask for an extension cord, ask for a Stinger.

Locations Visits

One of the most important things that you can do is determine who the locations manager is. As mentioned above the locations individual was the one that usually scouts out where the filming will take place. They also get prior approval from whatever establishment to make sure they can film.  This same individual will be able to give you an idea of what areas belong to the production and what areas are out of play.  Then you will also let them know what type of real estate you will require, i.e., a location for your vehicle if you plan on charging batteries while on set.

Crazy Footage

Our first day of filming we noticed periodically that some of the videos acted as if it was wiggling from some false heat wave. I later did some homework to determine that my cards were not processing the information fast enough.

Practice Makes Perfect until They Change it Last Minute

Because a few of the individuals above us did not have a lot of experience working with drones, they asked that we do some dry runs with them watching. While this is a fantastic thing to be able to do, the few hours that we practice certain shots were not what we did in the final run. They were waiting for the Golden hour to do the drone footage which only left us roughly 30 minutes to try to accomplish something that we practice for two hours. At last minute all the items we practice were completely changed to shots that we did not know how to do as well as the ones that we had practice. Best piece of advice, go with the flow. Do the best that you can and trust your abilities, and they will find good footage.

Wait, Wait, and Wait Some More

Luckily for us, we did not have a 6 AM call time and were able to show up at noon. We ate lunch with the crew and then started the day around 1 PM. This first day we only began shooting at 5:30 PM. Due to the nature of weather as well as how quickly another talent is best able to nail their scenes will dictate how quickly you are up to film.

Difficult to Keep Track of Whom is in Charge

As you see above, there are tons of people, and I didn’t even cover all of them. Those are just the ones we interacted with each day. The bottom line piece of advice…. Listen to the AD to determine the schedule and minimum shots required of you. Take the vision of the DP and ensure you are capturing what they picture the scene should be. Take the EP’s ideas and try to find a way to gain that above and beyond the minimum requirements. If problems arise with equipment or anything related to money, keep the Producer’s phone number on speed dial and keep them in the loop at all times.

Continue reading our movie set adventures with Day 2.