Los Angeles Business Journal

Sky’s Limit

Some drone-using filmmakers aren’t waiting for OK By Jonathan Polakoff Monday, July 7, 2014
Buzzed About: Drone Dudes’ Andrew Petersen with flying camera in the Hollywood Hills.

Buzzed About: Drone Dudes’ Andrew Petersen with flying camera in the Hollywood Hills. Photo by Thomas Wasper

The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t allow commercial drones to fly in U.S. airspace. But that isn’t stopping L.A. aerial production company Drone Dudes from launching unmanned aircraft for filming. And business has taken off.

Two other L.A. aerial production companies, which are hired to get shots for commercials and action movies from the sky, are choosing to stay on the ground, for now, awaiting government regulations.

“A lot of people want to use drones, but they’re apprehensive because of the current situation with the FAA,” said Andrew Petersen, co-founder of Drone Dudes. “Other people just don’t care and they’re going for it.”

No film companies have received the FAA’s blessing to operate drones in U.S. airspace. But enforcement is lax or nonexistent, and Drone Dudes executives said they have not had any problems.

Drone Dudes builds custom drones that hold cameras. Each rig could be worth a few thousand dollars all the way up to $100,000, Petersen said.

The company is run by four managers who sometimes work as pilots, monitoring and controlling filming from the ground. It contracts with about 10 other pilots. The company charges $3,000 to $10,000 for a day of shooting, depending on the complexity of the shoot and which rig is needed. That’s much less than a manned helicopter. Cranes are also commonly used for aerial shots, but are more restricted in movement.

Drone Dudes is planning to request a waiver from the FAA that would allow flights while the agency develops regulations. But in the meantime, Drone Dudes is still being hired by studios and production companies looking for aerial images. Recent jobs include shooting footage at the Coachella music festival in Indio as well as shots for the “Tom Green Live” show in Hollywood and for the forthcoming Zach Braff movie “Wish I Was Here.”

Other local aerial production companies are grounded, but looking to get airborne if their waivers are approved. Seven aerial production companies, including Flying-Cam of Santa Monica and Pictorvision of Van Nuys, last month applied to the FAA for waivers to be allowed to fly commercial drones in the United States. Those firms are being helped in their effort by Washington trade group Motion Picture Association of America. Drone Dudes is also working with a lawyer to draft its waiver application.

Flyaway production

Hollywood began working with drones long before they were a hot topic on cable news shows. Drones, commonly defined as unmanned aircraft flying below 400 feet, can be used to capture aerial images from perspectives that would be too low for manned helicopters.

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