I might’ve mentioned this before, but a lot of drone videos are starting to look kind of samey. It’s always the “cinematic” (basically a 2.4:1 aspect ratio) slow flyby over some landscape or other, with no real story. Just a bunch of vaguely connected clips of a location. A few people are pushing themselves and trying to come up with something different and interesting.
One such person is filmmaker Chris Castor, winner of the narrative category at the Los Angeles Drone Film Festival with his short film, Cardboard Cadet. Since then, the New York City Drone Film Festival caught up with Chris to have a chat and find out his 5 top tips for helping to tell a better story with your drone.
1. Set yourself apart
This goes back to what I said at the beginning of this post. How can you make yourself different and set yourself apart from what everybody else is doing? What do you want to do with a flying camera that isn’t being done? Can you figure out a way to make it work? Be different and stand out.
2. Play to your strengths
What other expertise do you have that you can bring to your drone footage? Chris comes from an animation and visual effects background. By combining the three, motion tracking the drone footage, and inserting other objects into the scene, it doesn’t just become “oooh, another pretty landscape”.
3. Shoot stories with heart and conflict
This might depend on exactly what you want your video to say, but it’s a common theme. “Heart” and “Conflict” aren’t always as simple as “a good guy” and “a bad guy”. I’ve even seen product reviews that follow these principles. They talk about the problems photographers may face, and how this particular piece of kit helps to overcome that, in a way that’s interesting. It can be the difference between making your audience love that product and hate that product.
4. Make do with what you have
This is an argument often brought out to photographers and filmmakers when it comes to gear lust. Stop worrying about what you don’t have and just make do with what you have. Do you think all those short film pitches to Hollywood are made using the same equipment that Hollywood uses to make the final movie? No, of course not. So just look at your gear, figure out its limitations and find a way to tell a story to work within them.
But this doesn’t mean this is all you have. Think about who you know, the resources they may have access to that they might be willing to help you with. I work with other photographers and filmmakers on projects regularly. We trade assisting days, I loan them equipment to use on their productions, and they’ve loaned me equipment to use on mine.
You have to think more openly with this one. “What you have” isn’t always what you own, but what you have access to.
5. Develop good relationships
For me, this goes hand-in-hand with #4. Building good relationships is often absolutely key to producing good work, especially on a low budget. There are very few successful photography or film projects out there that are entirely the result of a single person.
As I mentioned above, relationships are what has allowed me to get assistants on shoots, access to gear I might need without having to buy or rent it. And just talking with my friends and contacts has also got me access to shoot at locations that I would’ve never thought possible. When you build a good circle of friends, there’s no shortage of people willing to help.
But, they’re not one-sided relationships. Don’t approach people and think “Right, what can I get out of this?” or those relationships will not last very long, and people won’t offer the support you hope they will for very long, either. It’s give and take.
As for Chris’s film, well, you can watch that here.
These tips apply to many photography and film productions, but right now, with drones being so popular, it never hurts to have a reminder.
[via No Film School]