Ambitions: Skyecam Chief Executive JJ Trinidad at his company’s Mid-Wilshire HQ.

Ambitions: Skyecam Chief Executive JJ Trinidad at his company’s Mid-Wilshire HQ. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

High flyers

Drones are now being used on sets in place of favor of cranes, cable cams and helicopters in some cases.

The new equipment is changing the way many projects are shot.

“We can get all these aerial shots and be done within minutes when it would take a helicopter all day to do,” said Trinidad. “When it comes to studios, time is money.”

Drone filming is best suited for shots that are too high for a crane but too low for a helicopter, said Matthew Feige, chief operating officer of Mid-City-based Drone Dudes, who noted flying a helicopter also comes with risks.

Drone Dudes saw revenue drop when the FAA first started regulating drones several years ago, according to Feige, only to see it rebound this year after the rules were relaxed. The company is on pace for about $500,000 in revenue this year.

The company has worked on commercials for Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus and Ford Motor Co., as well as a music video for country singer Miranda Lambert.

But there are still some jobs that require helicopters, said Feige, whose business occasionally contracts helicopters for shoots.

Aerial shots more than a mile long are problematic because they run out of a drone operator’s line of sight, while shots above public areas are not allowed under FAA rules. Filming high-speed car chases also remains difficult for drones.

“The fastest drones max out at 60 mph,” he said.

Drones also face stiff competition at altitudes of 50 feet or lower from traditional camera cranes, said Anthony Jacques, a freelance camera operator whose credits include “Game of Thrones,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “The Martian.”

Jacques uses drones for filming and occasionally represents a camera crane company called SuperTechno of the Czech Republic at trade events.

“(With) a crane you can shoot sound, you can put it right in the actor’s face,” he said. “Drones can’t get really close to actors, and you are limited by batteries.”

Perhaps the biggest remaining hurdle for drone filming is liability, said Jacques.

Feige of Drone Dudes said insurance is a must, noting higher-end operators have to maintain $2 million to $5 million in insurance per year. Those policies could cost up to $6,000 annually, he said.

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