• Alex Kavanagh

A few months ago, we got a call for an upcoming Lincoln car commercial for the 2019 Lincoln Wish List Sales Event. The spot was aptly named "The Art Of Flight" and a Christmas theme was incorporated to tell the story of "the scene inside is frightful, but the comfort outside's delightful".

This was a clever concept by the agency, Hudson Rouge, in which the basic idea of the commercial is absolute chaos inside the house: the children and their dad are flying FOUR drones all at once, with one drone having a Christmas star decoration attached below it, while two other drones crash into a vase and the Christmas tree itself. The mother then comes home in the new Lincoln Aviator to see the chaos that's ensuing and instead decides to quietly retreat back to the peace and tranquility of the luxury SUV.

To be able to fly multiple drones (even these small ones) safely on this shoot, in conjunction with multiple talent (and a cat!) on set at different times, it took numerous discussions and pre-production meetings to afford us the ability to control the drones seamlessly in each of these scenes. We brought on three DJI Mavic Air drones with prop guards, and had the drones altered to NOT look like DJI drones. This was done by spray-painting them, and adding LED lights and wings on top with epoxy, in order to alter the standard DJI look. The other drone we used was the Sky Viper Scout Drone, where we had Sky Rocket Toys sign-off on its use for TV, so that drone didn't need to be altered. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any behind the scenes pictures, as this was a huge production and we were under an NDA. Sorry!

This isn't the first time that we've flown drones as props for a TV series or commercial; we've done this many times for many different productions.. Companies like DJI, Yuneec, Walkera, Sky Viper Drones, Western Digital, Tiffen, and CBS, just to name a few.

It is very important for clients to hire a competent drone production company for this type of work; those of whom like us who have 7+ years experience in the business, and have had zero major incidents to date. Crashes happen sometimes, but when working with talent so closely, you simply can't afford to do so. Everything has to be perfect.

On this job, one of the people who was working with us on set said that they flew FPV drones and could do this one easily with his friend. Admittedly, they were not FAA 107 certified, did not carry $5 million in UAV liability insurance and it was obvious that they lacked the judgement of risk assessment and experience to do this safely. We see this all the time in our industry, where people who fly drones as a hobby believe that they can fly on these productions merely because they can do so at the park or their own backyard. Sometimes clients make the mistake of getting the cheapest quote, only to pocket more profit, which compromises the safety of everyone on set. Unfortunately, it's a risk that some are willing to take.

A quick true story here: I was contracted a year and half ago to do something very similar, flying only one drone though, and doing so for another drone production company that hired us. Their client was a big production studio that was filming a new show where the drone was part of the show and also on-camera. The first day at the first indoor location in Hollywood went flawlessly, as I was piloting and in control, and flying nearby talent safely - as per the directors' requests. The next day, filming was taking place on a studio lot where I was doing some test flights at the indoor scene location, which was very tight with multiple light fittings and other obstacles and soon to be filled with talent and crew. The pre-production and on-set safety meeting went well until the director changed the plan of having safety glass to protect the talent from the "crash" scene where the drone was supposed to be flown into the "Hot Girl" talent. Seeing as this was news to me, as the Pilot In Command, I said that this wasn't safe and not part of the original plan. It just so happened that at that moment, the owner and chief pilot of the drone production company that hired us came to set to see how it was going and quickly overruled me and said "I do anything the director tells me to do". Well, he proceeds to take control of a drone for which he'd never flown before, the director calls action, and he subsequently knocks over a prop.. so they have to reset. The director calls action again, but this time he didn't fly closely enough to the talent's head for the shot they want, and just barely misses her face. As they begin to reset again, the owner then proceeds to land the drone near the talent's head and accidentally gets her hair caught in the props. Hair and makeup had to come out and cut it out of her hair (which obviously wasn't good). They reset for the third time and as the director taps him on the shoulder, he flies directly into her temple, causing the drone to violently catch her hair, jerk her head, and nearly knock her off her stool. The head of studio safety then shuts the whole thing down and luckily the talent didn't lose an eye or become permanently disfigured. The moral of this story is that the director isn't always right; some will compromise safety to get the shot and it's our job as PICs to say "NO", and offer an alternative, safe shot. As for the that particular drone production company, we haven't worked for them since and never will again in the future. You simply don't overrule an experienced drone operator who is Pilot In Command when they say it's not safe. It turned out I was right from what happened this day on set, but being right doesn't make it right in hindsight.

Thankfully, nothing like this little story ever came close to happening to us on this Lincoln spot. We did all the pre-production planning, test flights with prop-guards and safety meetings required - and as per our company policy - we had everything signed-off on by the client, agency and production company. While there was definitely some Hollywood magic and clever post-production in this spot along with our piloting experience to make this commercial happen safely, it was largely a labor of communication and understanding for all those involved.

A big thanks to our talented crew, Mike Bishop and Anthony Valerio, who made this one happen!

If you have any projects coming up where you need aerial cinematography services or drone production support, whether used as props for on-camera or incorporated into an experiential marketing event, then please reach out to our Executive Producer, Matt Feige, or myself, Alex Kavanagh.

  • Alex Kavanagh

A couple of months ago, we had the pleasure of partaking in a three-day shoot for The North Face and REI for a 3-part series called "REWIND NATURE" which is currently featured on National Geographic. Episode one is about Sustainable Design with Tim Hamilton who is Global Head of Design at The North Face. Episode two focuses on conscious consumption with author and host of the Green Dreamer Podcast Kaméa Chayne. Episode three centers on Artful Upcycling with founder of Icon, Jonathan Ward.

The opening shot in episode two is a low-altitude aerial that we got in Malibu at country line pictured above with a link to the episode. Two other drone shots in this episode were at 2:49 which is a top down view of the rocks and waves crashing down, with the drone ascending through a low lying marine layer- which was a really beautiful shot, and made the scene and narration really dramatic.

The very last shot in episode two is a shot flying through some low-lying clouds in the Malibu mountains. The director described the shot they wanted, but the conditions were not right at the time and we didn’t have the permit to fly at that location. Having one of the largest drone stock collections available, we were able to dig into our archives and get the exact shot for this closing sequence the director wanted.

A big thanks to Matt Feige, our Executive Producer, for taking care of all the permitting and insurance paperwork, which allowed us to fly here legally with State Park approval and to get the shot needed for the Director, Client, and Talent safely all in a closed setting.

Episode three was shot at multiple locations in California, with the main location being Alabama Hills, which is about a 4 hour drive from Los Angeles. The first drone shot picks up at 32 seconds in and is a tracking shot of one of Jonathan’s custom built 4x4's. This goes for 10 seconds into the episode and was shot single-operator in sport mode.. an extremely difficult shot to accomplish in this location with no prior scouting or rehearsing. The big jumbo rock that appears and wipes across the screen at 39 seconds is really dramatic and something you can only achieve with a drone, as I pushed closer to the car and talent towards the end.

The following shot at 45 seconds is another beautiful drone shot perfect for the title of the series REWIND NATURE which appears and goes on to lead us to Jonathan telling his story, which was extremely captivating when I met him in person.

The next drone shot in episode three is at 2:01, which was at an auto junk yard and is a top down shot revealing the row of cars that are absolute treasures in Jonathan’s eyes. This was a really cool place to fly! Another one of the drone shots from this location was used in the trailer video which we’ll put a link to below.

The final drone shot is at 5:17 which is one that goes on for 12 seconds flying low and over the jumbo rocks of Alabama hills, with a slow pan to the left of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background. This location was truly breathtaking to fly at and a must see location if you’re ever looking for this beautiful nature scene for one of your productions.. or if you just want to get up there to escape the city grind.

Thanks again to our Executive Producer, Matt Feige, for taking care of all the paperwork for permits and insurance for this series for the client. I can’t do my job as a drone pilot if we don’t have permits, so thank you Matt.

Matt’s email is MATT@DRONEGEAR.TV if you have a job inquiry for us.

Here’s a link to the National Geographic website with the full series -


Big thanks to The Tiffen Company for keeping all our shots perfectly exposed with their NATural ND Cinema Drone Filters throughout this entire production.

If you’d like a 15% discount on Tiffen filters please use the code DRONEGEAR15 at checkout or click on this link - http://bit.ly/2zZN9pW

  • Alex Kavanagh

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

G’day from Alex Kavanagh, Founder and Creative Director of DRONEGEAR.

Where has the past year gone?! It’s been quite the last few months for our team, and I wanted to highlight some of our commercial work that has been recently released.

Last year, we had a four-day Ford shoot in the Mojave desert flying for Wally Pfister’s production company RESET CONTENT. Our aerial cinematography is featured in multiple commercials that aired late last year and are still being televised throughout 2019!

The commercial below featuring a pack of Ford Trucks, both new and classic, has been on-air for a while now and was advertised during the 2018 Major League Baseball World Series.

A second Ford commercial spot was produced from that same four-day shoot which aired during the 2018-19 National Football League Super Bowl. This commercial features four of our drone shots with the lineup consisting of the very first shot, the second shot at 11 seconds, the third shot at 22 seconds and the last being the final aerial shot.

It was an honor and a privilege to work side-by-side with Academy Award Winner Wally Pfister, who was operating the drone camera whilst I was piloting. He's a hands-on Director who really embraced the drone technology for this commercial series. In the pre-production meetings, it was great to see the storyboards prior to going out on location. Wally knew exactly what he wanted in every single drone shot, making the workflow effortless.

A funny thing came to our attention on this shoot: Another drone production company was booked for the San Francisco location the week prior to our shoot in the Mojave, so multiple people on set approached me and asked, “are you our drone guy?” in a somewhat apprehensive tone. I myself, wearing our official DRONEGEAR ball cap, responded with "yes!" They then proceeded to tell me that “the last drone team in San Francisco crashed not once, but twice, with the first time in an open field (however you manage to do that) and the second time in downtown San Francisco, into a building and nearly hitting people!” Needless to say, they were subsequently removed from production and asked to leave. It's always a pleasure for us to come to the rescue, which seems to happen more often these days.

We executed our four-day shoot in high winds safely and got the shots as per the pre-production meetings and storyboards, which you can see in the multiple commercials still airing and in the links above.

A big thank you to Matt Feige, our Executive Producer, who helped secure all of our necessary film permits, UAV insurance and paperwork weeks prior to the shoot. Having a great team always makes my job so much easier on the week of the shoot and gives the client peace of mind from the very beginning.

In April of this year, we had a two-day shoot in Utah and Nevada for Honda while filming their new Talon 1000X-4 & Talon 1000R ATVs. With our main drone production team being located in Los Angeles, it was easy to get out to these locations as Nevada is a four-hour drive and the Utah location only an hour out from Las Vegas. This was another big production with many moving parts, and it was a pleasure to see our drone cinematography as the final shot in the commercial below.

Here’s the extended commercial with three of our drone shots at 1:05, 2:17 and 2:24, all done in very high wind conditions which was no problem for our team to accomplish safely.

If you’re in need of our drone aerial cinematography services and would like to start pre-production planning with a creative shotlist, organizing permits or paperwork, please reach out to our EP Matt Feige or myself. We’re happy to help make the process as easy and seamless as possible.

DRONEGEAR PRODUCTIONS has the largest network of certified drone pilots and specialty camera operators in the world. We pride ourselves on our ability to coordinate, in having a AAA safety rating with zero incidents on-set, as well as UAV insurance coverage up to $5 million.