2 filmmakers discuss the world’s first drone film festival.

What do you think of when you hear other filmmakers talk about drones? Do you think of them as a camera stabilizer presenting new storytelling opportunities? Do you think they’re fun toys to play with? Or do you think they’re just a fad?

If any of these thoughts come into your mind, you’re certainly not alone. While still a niche, drone filmmaking has quickly been gaining traction. And in spite of continued skepticism from the public and an impending ruling from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on their permitted use, filmmakers around the world are creatively using drones as a tool to do bring a new perspective to their stories.

But if anything is clear, social stigma and regulatory limbo could pose a threat the use of drones as a creative tool. On many accounts, privacy activists have voiced their dismay of drones in any capacity, protesting government offices and drone manufacturers. And question about the future of government regulation also raises concern.

For these reasons, one filmmaker, Randy Scott Slavin, organized New York City Drone Film Festival, the world’s first film festival dedicated exclusively to the art of drone cinematography.

The festival—which was held in March 2015 at the Director’s Guild of America Theatre—received considerable attention from the press, with everyone from the New York Times to Filmmaker Magazine reporting on the unique event. But here at Story & Heart, we always aim to capture the perspective of fellow storytellers. So we chased down two Story & Heart friends who attended the event.

Below, we go behind the scenes with two drone filmmakers: Nick Lang and Joe Trimble of Selladore Films. Both filmmakers share their thoughts on the festival, drones as a storytelling tool and the future of robotic aerial filmmaking.

Recapping the World’s First Drone Film Festival

Nick first found out about the Drone Film Festival by reading different blogs in the drone community. “It started out very small,” he says, “and I was just hearing about it from different places on the Internet.” At this point, Nick contacted Randy, the festival’s founder, to discuss the possibility of submitting a short film. “There weren’t many restrictions,” he says. “You just had to submit a film that was less than five minutes long and included 50% aerial shots.”

As major sponsors like NBC News came on board, the number of submissions skyrocketed. “All in all, there were about 150 submissions,” he explains, “and they were divided into categories after judges began reviewing the films.” These seven categories included X-Factor (showing sports and other extremes), Architecture, Narrative, Travel/Landscape, Dronies, Show Reel and Technical.

Joe was inspired by the variety of talent represented at the event. “Drone stuff tends to be a lot of nature and travel, and there were some awesome vistas and flyover shots in the selections,” he says. “But, ultimately, it was inspirational to see different levels of skill and experience.”

“While there were a lot of big names present, I liked to see the different gear used, Joe says pointing out that filmmakers used everything from Alexa's down to GoPro in their drone rigs. “Creatively, it inspired me. I saw shots were I was like, 'Wow, I never thought of doing that before.’”

Nick and Joe agree that the festival provided an overview of all the cool stuff happening in the drone community. Plus, it has attracted lots of positive media attention to counter the stigma. But the festival also demonstrated the possibility for drones as a storytelling tool.


Drones as a Storytelling Tool

“Most aerial filmmaking isn’t narrative,” Nick says. “You’re typically not filming a whole movie with a drone. You’re usually just doing cutaway or travel scene.” It’s no surprise that a lot of the films at the Drone Film Festival tended to show off the cool stuff drones can do more than actually telling a meaningful story. But a few filmmakers found a way to accomplish both — showcasing the cool features of drones in the context of a narrative.

“The most impressive film was the winner in the narrative category,” Nick says, referring to the short film “Superman With a GoPro.” The film was created by Los Angeles-based studio Corridor Digital, a company known for their creative use of special effects.

“Superman With a GoPro” shows Superman clipping on a GoPro camera, and then soaring over the city, encountering dangerous situations in the process. The filmmakers used drones for the aerial shots, but included a number of special effects to make it appear as if superman was flying over the city, fighting criminals and rescuing a girl from a burning building.

The film is essentially a day in the life of a superhero, and the story would have been nearly impossible to tell without the use of drones. The film demonstrates the potential for drones to add a new and exciting perspective to your stories.

Joe, on the other hand, points to “The Fallout” as a great example of the cinematic potential for drones. The film, created by Jeffery Brink and Brian Streem, explores the architectural ruins remaining after a nuclear disaster. It doesn’t necessarily tell a story in the traditional sense, but its beautiful imagery shows off the capabilities of robotic aerial filmmaking while raising questions about the role of nuclear power in our society. “A lot of filmmakers have attempted to showcase Chernobyl through film,” he says, “but this is the best film I’ve seen on the subject.”

“I think drones are a fantastic tool,” Joe says. “It’s the most amazing development in camera movement that’s happened yet; you can put cameras in places you’ve never been able to put them before.” What this means is that storytellers can add a new and fresh perspective to their films. But questions still remain about the creative future of drones.

What’s Next: The Future of Filmmaking with Drones

“If you hear about drones on the news, it’s usually about them landing on the White House lawn or some other controversy,” Nick admits, well aware of the negativity surrounding drones in public consciousness. “This whole festival was based on forgetting all of that nonsense, and looking at the amazing camera motions that can be created with drones.”

While the festival attracted around 300 people, including members of the media from around the world, it’s clear that the negative opinions held by many could threaten their creative future. It’s easy to question whether a festival like this can actually make a meaningful impact on public perception.

Still, Nick believes it can. “Drone use is slowly being accepted by the media,” he explains, “and one of the best ways to convince the right people is with a festival like this.” He explains that the part of the goal with the festival should be separating the work of the hobbyists from more serious filmmakers.

“A lot of the negative publicity around drone filmmaking comes from hobbyists who buy one off Amazon and crash it in a couple weeks,” he says. “This festival is all about showing how amazing these things are when put in the right hands, and I think the media will recognize that with time.”

On the other hand, Joe points out that a lot still hangs in the balance. “We’re not really sure where any of this is going next,” he admits. “The FAA could change their minds at any moment, announcing that it’s all over.” While the FAA have been progressively allowing more commercial use of drones, he emphasizes the need for a festival like this to counter negative press.

“I certainly see this event growing,” Joe says, suggesting that the media attention for the first event indicates that the festival will likely grow and continue to bring positive exposure to robotic aerial filmmaking. “This can be an important tool for overcoming the stigma,” he says, “and it’s really cool to see people trying to protect that and show how drones can be such a cool storytelling tool.”

Could drones bring a new perspective to your stories? Chime in by commenting below on the future of drones in filmmaking.

Special thanks to our friends at FilmConvert for providing tickets to the New York City Drone Festival, and to Joe Trimble and Nick Lang for sharing their thoughts on the event and drone filmmaking in general with us.

Nick Lang is the owner of Nick Lang Media, a member of the That Drone Show Flight Team, and the host of "That Drone News". You can follow him on Instagram @nicklangmedia. To view his ariel reel, visit his Vimeo page

Joe Trimble is the co-founder of Selladore Films. You can follow Joe on Instagram at @joetrumble and Selladore Films on Facebook. To license their stories, visit their Story & Heart profile page.