Drones Fly into Feature Films

Advances in technology have upped the ante for many industries, particularly filmmaking. These days, even lower-budget productions can produce knockout visual quality.

Every year, it seems, there are better and faster lenses, larger sensors – and more.

But one technology in particular has evolved – and been adopted – most rapidly: Drones.

When combined with professional grade cameras, they have the ability to get closer, tighter shots than from a helicopter. What’s more, they’re easier to transport and hugely cost-effective when compared with hiring a helicopter.

All of these advantages have contributed to their rapid ascent in film, TV, and commercial production. However, a recent shift has taken drones from simply being a camera platform – to appearing in the productions themselves.

The recently released Blair Witch movie (sequel to 1999’s famous The Blair Witch Project) features a DJI drone in a number of scenes. The film’s writer and director discussed the challenges in producing a sequel in a recently-published Los Angeles Daily News article.

“Doing a follow-up to Blair Witch, you’ve immediately got to say: How has technology changed, how does that affect it?” notes director Adam Wingard.

By combining the use of drones along with LED flashlights and cameras equipped with Bluetooth headsets, the film aimed to upgrade the story’s equipment and footage so-to-speak. It was one element to help avoid simply remaking the original.

Wingard explains: “I knew that because found footage has evolved over the years, that you can’t just get away with doing another Blair Witch Project. If we did another film where not a lot happens and the characters are just running around with cameras filming it really sloppily, you’d have a different kind of backlash on your hands. For me, it was trying to figure out how to combine the found-footage aesthetic with something more conventionally cinematic.”

And that meant including not just the Blair Witch – but also a Phantom. (The Phantom is DJI’s most popular quadcopter line.)

“I wanted a set piece around the drone, anything just to give a breath of fresh air from the rest of the style of the film.”

There’s even a pretty intense scene (no spoilers here) where the drone plays a central role.

Though just one example, it’s part of a growing trend where filmmakers are turning drones into important story elements. Other recent films like Nerve, a techno-thriller which revolves around an online truth-or-dare video game, have also featured drones (coincidentally also from DJI, except this time it was the Inspire 1).
So the next time you’re watching a new release – pay close attention. You might just see a drone in a leading – and flying – role.

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