Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 24, 2018

Hard earned lessons in drone photography

Filed under: Catskills,Film — louisproyect @ 7:47 pm

Silver Lake in Woodridge, NY. Filmed by Jeremy Hansen of Devotive

In March, 2017, I covered a number of films being shown at the Socially Relevant Film Festival including “Ketermaya”, a really excellent film about Syrian refugees living in a camp in Ketermaya, Lebanon. It was made by Lucas Jedrzejak, an English filmmaker of Polish origins who not only created a moving film but went on to offer solidarity to the refugees including material aid. Just a week ago Lucas informed me that the film is now available on Vimeo and I want to urge you to see this powerful documentary that dispels all the propaganda about the opposition to Assad being “al-Qaeda”. The subjects of the film are mostly children and are better suited to lead the country than the blood-soaked dictator.

The film can now be rented for $5.99 on Vimeo and will barely help pay for all the expenses incurred by Lucas when he lived among the refugees in Ketermaya. Plus, it is a damned good film.

In the closing moments, you get a bird’s eye view of the camp from about 150 feet. When I saw that, I put two and two together and concluded that this was drone footage since Lucas obviously couldn’t afford a helicopter. Why couldn’t I do something like this for my Catskills documentary? Right after the film was finished, I congratulated Lucas on his work and asked him if he did the drone footage. No, he answered, but the guy who did was at the festival and he would be happy to introduce me.

That led to a conversation with Tony Kahoush, a Lebanese drone pilot who was in on the technology from its earliest days. He warned me about investing the money, time and energy into doing the drone photography myself and tried to convince me to hire him for the work. I didn’t think it was possible to come up with the money that would have made his trip from Lebanon pay off financially so I begged off.

As it happened, just around the time I saw “Ketermaya”, a new drone from DJI, a Chinese company, had come out. For only $999, you could get equipment that was getting rave reviews. New York Magazine’s Strategist column was effusive: “If you want a camera drone, this is the one to get, hands down. It’s easy enough to use that even a beginner drone pilot can fly it, but powerful enough that all but the most demanding drone photographers will get everything they need.”

Last summer I went to Central Park with my wife’s brother-in-law to give my brand-new Mavic Pro a virgin flight. I sent it off about 100 feet into the distance and then pressed the “home” key that brings it automatically back to where you are operating the controller, which resembles what you use with video games, joystick and all. The drone came straight back to us, flew directly into a tree, and came tumbling to the ground. Fortunately, nothing broke except my sense of self-confidence.

Within minutes after the crash, a Central Park SUV pulled up and the guy behind the wheel told me that you could not fly a drone in Central Park, number one, and number two they are banned throughout New York City since officials feared that they could be weaponized and used against Donald Trump.

Refusing to be discouraged, I did a little research and discovered that there were some parks that did allow drone flights—the closest being Corona Park in Queens that was near the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. All I had to do was take the subway out there and I would be good to go. So with my wife’s brother-in-law in tow, we got out at the nearest stop to Corona Park and discovered that it would be a good 45 minute walk from the train.

Once we got there, we saw that it was much smaller than Central Park—maybe about the same size as the Sheep Meadow. Even though you could fly a drone there, you had to contend with picnickers who were out in the same kind of numbers as you’d see in the Sheep Meadow. The last thing I needed was for the drone to fall out of the sky and give someone a concussion so I struggled to find a space that was remote from the crowds. Once again I sent it off into the air and pressed the “home” key and once again it crashed into a tree. (I still hadn’t learned that you had to be in an open space to used the home function.) Plus, this time there was damage and I had to send it to the factory to be repaired.

When it came back, I thought long and hard about whether it would be possible to train myself properly given the lack of a convenient space. I also decided that it would have been necessary to get some training from an experienced drone pilot even though I failed to turn one up in New York City.

So, I decided to let things sit for a while until I could figure out what would be the best approach. About a month ago, I decided to search for a Mavic Pro trainer in New York City and one turned up. I also thought it would be worth trying to find a local version of Tony Kahoush who I could pay to do the filming under my direction. Neither of these possibilities existed in the summer of 2017 but this year everything had changed.

I put out a request for a drone pilot on a new website called Droners.IO that matches employers to employees just like all the other websites that have made classified ads in print media obsolete.

I stated that I was looking for someone to do drone footage in the Catskills for a documentary about the Borscht Belt and was contacted by about 30 different pilots. I settled for a young man named Jeremy Hansen who was not only technically skilled but who also had a cinematographer’s eye. Even if I had by some miracle learned how to fly a drone, it would have been difficult if not impossible to include myself in the footage without a controller in my hand guiding the Mavic Pro. By putting myself in Jeremy’s hands, I was able to be part of the action in three critical scenes, including walking down the main street of my upstate shtetl.

I was also fortunate enough to have run into someone who was on the same wave-length as me politically and philosophically. Jeremy, who is 34, is like the millennials who voted for Bernie Sanders and anxious to see his professional life and his beliefs mesh more and more in the future. Suffice it to say that we were matched perfectly.

If you are planning on making a film yourself that uses drone footage, don’t think twice. Contact Jeremy Hansen at Devotive.

(Also, if you are interested in a refurbished Mavic Pro for a reasonable price, don’t hesitate to contact me.)

 

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