Drone Safety Concerns on Hollywood Film Sets

Millenium Films
Millenium Films

While the use of drones in TV and film is gaining ground in an industry constantly looking for new ways to tell stories, many have raised concerns about their safety on film sets and in public.

The use of unmanned aircraft systems in entertainment has studios, drone companies, and government officials trying to safely regulate the new technology.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ruling in September of 2014 to allow the use of the unmanned aircrafts on closed outdoor film productions, but with some rules.

Current government guidelines stipulate that drones must not be operated at night, cannot ascend above 400 feet, and must remain within sight of an operator who is a licensed pilot. Productions must also give the FAA prior notice of their use, as reported by Variety.

Earlier this week, the FAA granted new regulatory exemptions for commercial use of drones, including new exemptions for film and television productions.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx reportedly found that the drones in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they do not pose a threat to national security, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The matter continues to be discussed by those on all sides, as the drone industry is also emphasizing safety with a campaign called “Know Before You Fly,” an effort that is also being supported by the MPAA.

Brian Wynne, President of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said in a statement, via the Hollywood Reporter:

As the FAA grants these requests, it is missing an expected deadline for the small UAS rule. Meanwhile, the FAA continues to receive exemption requests faster than it can approve them, demonstrating the need for the agency to begin the rulemaking process and create regulations in order to allow for more widespread use of the technology, rather than regulating on a case by case basis. These long overdue regulations will help realize the full potential of UAS technology and allow a wide range of industries to reap its benefits.

To coincide with government regulations and industry standards, a safety committee of studios and industry labor officials is in the process of setting some guidelines for drones used in other aspects of production.

International Cinematographers Guild representative Michael Chambliss told Variety that among other issues with following safety rules, studios are analyzing what, if any, guidelines should exist for the use of drones on enclosed sets, such as soundstages, which are free of FAA regulations.

“The feedback from the studios is that every director wants to use the technology, and they are trying to figure out how to say yes,” Chambliss said.

Chambliss believes drones can help to safely and inexpensively substitute the need for helicopters in shooting particular scenes, as drone cameras can gently transition in and out of buildings.

While he puts drones in the same category as handheld cameras and Steadicams, the dilemma seems to be finding a safe balance between using the new technology safely and efficiently.


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