Cinematography : Advise from Cinematographers by Devasandhan Nair

Devasandhan Nair

Advise from Cinematographers

I am a co-director from India. I wish to ask any Cinematographer one question. Recently, I had a debate with my Director regarding 'Taking an aerial shot of a lonely boat in the middle of the ocean', in which I clearly stated that it may be possible by mounting the Arri Alexa in a drone to achieve a good shot. But it seems the director is too old fashioned and stuck in time. He says it is not possible. I request any Cinematographer out her in the Stage 32 family to tell me whether 'I' am right.

Dmytro Herasymov

I guess Arri Alexa is too heavy. It should be a really massive drone to lift this camera. Maybe you should consider taking this shot with a Red or smth like that.

JD Hartman

Really doubt that it's possible. But a question for a well rounded DP and Grip. You would be smart to contact this man if you can find him in India, I don't have an email address: Sanjay Sami. His rigging work is pretty amazing. Could it be done another way? A stable shooting platform like a barge or larger boat and a jib? A small plane?

Andrew Sobkovich

Not possible is a statement that is usually wrong in our industry. We can and do almost anything. However “does it make any sense” is perhaps a more relevant question. Yes there are drones available currently that can lift and shoot with an Alexa. Intuitive Aerial’s Aerigon is one that I have seen, and there are others including one from an Australian company you should NEVER work with. So yes it can be done. Alternately you could use the Alexa Mini which was made exactly for this kind of usage. You give up nothing, but will need to rent another camera, so there will be additional costs. The image quality is a perfect match with an Alexa because it is an Alexa. On the other hand you are shooting a boat floating on an ocean. Barring the shot being during a storm, this is is not a really high resolution image and it might be possible to use a less capable camera system that is lighter to get the shot. Make sure to have lots of good insurance as the possibility of the camera ending up in salt water is quite high. Image quality is often sacrificed among those who don’t know what it is but if the boat is floating on a calm sea in a wide of very wide shot there is little resolution inherent in the image. With these drones you will not have a full 360˚ horizon around the boat in the shot as the boat with the drone controllers will have to be somewhere, so some post VFX will be in order to rotoscope the control boat from the images at additional cost. The big drones are not cheap. The total costs can be quite pricey. This does raise the obvious question… why not shoot it with a real helicopter and mount? You might only need a half hour of flight time, can use any camera and lens package you would like, go and get the shot or shots and be done with it. Drones can be useful but like any tool you need to assess she they are the correct choice. In your brief description, I would think drone use is open to some serious questioning. On a totally different point. Be careful having fights like this, even if you “win” the end result is quite likely to be negative. If the shot has already been passed over, drop it and move on. This is a different situation than being able to say in planning “I have done/seen this before using this gadget”. Real knowledge and experience are “old fashioned” but are important for a reason.

JD Hartman

Not being a camera guy, I forgot about the Alexa mini. Still and all, other than the "cool factor" of using a drone for the footage, is it really necessary and does it add any real value?

Devasandhan Nair

Ok Andrew, I got your point. Now the shot which i am talking about is the 1st shot of the movie. Scene no. 1: Somewhere in the middle of the sea Ext Ngt. [Aerial view of a small boat somewhere lonely in the calm sea. Probably 500 meters high. No land in sight. ] Andrew, I am hooked on to Alexa. For certain shots, we will be hiring the Red Dragon. This is a extreme long shot and will be shot in the night. There is no pan or tilt. I m sorry i could not divulge detailed information of the scene. I have the DOP's agreement in this regard but this query is purely for satisfying my knowledge to understand pros and cons before going for the shoot. Hiring a helicopter is a no-no for me and the DOP. I need to be sure that it is possible to take this shot.

Andrew Sobkovich

Devasandhan your question was about drones and Alexa, and you have a choice of either the Alexa Mini or the large drones that exist that can carry an Alexa. Either path solves the issue of putting the camera 500m above the ocean. As you do not want to use a helicopter you do have the additional option of a fixed wing aircraft since the camera will be at least 500m away and with nothing in the foreground any camera vehicle movement would essentially be unseen. Night, ocean, half a kilometer in the air, small boat. How were you thinking of accomplishing the shot? You have doable options for getting the camera of choice where you want it. What were you considering for lighting?


It possible now Arri Alexa mini

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