Flying Drones on a Hollywood Movie Set: An Interview with Ryan Deremo, President of SkyFly Cinematics
BY Zacc Dukowitz18 April 2019
Ryan started his aerial work doing shots for wedding and real estate, and eventually broke into movies and television—in fact, we interviewed Ryan a while back on how to get started doing movie and T.V. work with drones.
This time we wanted to sit down and hear about his recent experience as the drone pilot on set for the new Hollywood film Breaking and Exiting, a dark romantic comedy about suicide prevention and awareness.
Tell us about your experience on the set of Breaking and Exiting as a drone cinematographer.
Filming for Breaking and Exiting was a truly rewarding and exciting experience. I personally filmed the opening fade in shot of the the movie, some time-lapses, and the showcased aerial shots, as well as the romantic motorcycle scenes.
Check out the aerial motorcycle shot Ryan is talking about here
When we got on set it all played out how I’d envisioned it. There were a lot of people near where we were filming, so we had to make sure everyone stayed out of the way when we took off and landed.
I was already well acquainted with the director, Peter Facinelli, from his work as an actor in Can’t Hardly Wait, Twilight, Gangster Land, and on the show “Nurse Jackie.” This was his first time directing a feature, and it was an honor to be part of the process.
Facinelli is an incredibly friendly guy. He immediately greeted us at his place and shared a sneak preview of the film on his laptop, which helped us understand what our precise role would be in the movie sequence.
Who approached you to work on the film, and how did you secure the job?
Martine Melloul, a producer at Kali Pictures, was the first to give me a call. She had heard of my previous experience and success utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles for movies and T.V. Her job as a producer included gathering funds for the film and finding the right people for each job that needed to be done.
After submitting a short demo reel of some of my work, she hired me. We immediately got to work on the production process and she explained Peter’s vision of what he wanted for the movie.
Describe one or two of your favorite moments from working on the movie.
The motorcycle follow scene is really beautiful, and was also featured in the movie trailer. That’s my favorite shot we did for the movie.
Another neat moment was when a Hollywood tour bus stopped and those on board peppered us with questions. They could see the SkyFly Cinematics logo on the side of the car I was driving, and everyone was taking pictures.
All we could say were the raw facts: that we were filming “drone” shots for a movie called Breaking and Exiting, and that it would be in theaters soon. It was a real rush doing this work, both literally and figuratively.
What kind of satisfaction or other feelings did you experience seeing your shots on the silver screen?
I was lucky enough to attend the movie premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, on Hollywood Boulevard. The Egyptian was the first ever theatre to host what we all know of as a “red carpet” event [this took place in 1922 for the premiere of Robin Hood, staring Douglas Fairbanks]. The place is very intricate and beautifully designed.
The red carpet was full of photographers and paparazzi. The amount of cameras flashing was a sight in and of itself. My crew and I were offered wrist bands to go anywhere we pleased, including the after party.
We found some nice seats in that wonderful and enchanting theatre, and also had the chance to socialize among the actors and other crew members.
Peter was giving a speech before the premiere, and asked for anyone that worked on the film to stand up. He went on to say how much he appreciated the hard work we had all done. Everyone started clapping in this almost otherworldly theater, and it was like my hard work and efforts were being truly recognized and appreciated.
After the movie, it was onward to the afterparty at The Hyde Sunset in West Hollywood!
While shooting did you work independently, with a visual observer, or with a large team?
I worked directly with my visual observer (VO) Rio Scott on all of the shots. He knows the cameras and gear, and was a necessary part of the process. There were certain shots that required us to do some planning and traveling on our own.
Before T.V. and movie work I spent a lot of time learning to fly at various destinations and with different types of drones. Getting my FAA Part 107 commercial certificate was a gentle breeze after studying through the course created by UAV Coach. I can’t say enough good things about this community.
What was it like working with a celebrity cast and director?
Everyone was very humble, polite, and real. With Peter, I never felt as if he were trying to dictate the techniques of a professional aerial videographer. He allowed me to utilize my expertise to the best of my abilities. His approach allowed for a very natural feel to the work and ended up in some great shots. I could tell that he knew what I was doing, and I appreciated him letting me take charge.
We are friends now and randomly talk about new technology coming out that can help the filming process. I need to show him what can be done with Epson’s “Moverio” series of FPV glasses, since I know he’ll get a kick out of them!
What equipment did you use for your work on Breaking and Exiting?
The director of photography insisted we use a DJI Phantom 4 for the motorcycle shot of the two main characters (Milo Gibson and Jordan Hinson) on a motorcycle.
Because it was the golden hour, I used an ND-4 filter and chose D-Log for the best post-production color correction, with 24fps at 4K and manual exposure. We always insist on doing extra takes to guarantee the best possible footage, and this was no exception. Everything came together perfectly that evening.
I had shots filmed with three different camera systems in this film. The first shot of the movie is a fade in shot of palm trees, and was actually shot with a GoPro placed face-up on top of my car in Beverly Hills, which definitely obtained the look the producer and editor wanted.
We used an ND-8/PL filter on the lens as it was such a bright shot, and we needed the neutral density in order to match shots with other cameras used in the movie. Using ND filters allowed for a much more “real to life” look.
Did you provide all of your own equipment? What advice would you give to professional drone photographers/videographers who are establishing their own equipment kits for commercial work?
We did provide all of our own equipment for Breaking and Exiting. I also made sure to provide my company with insurance. You never know what might happen, so it’s always best to be prepared. I chose to use Verifly for the aerial shots.
But my advice to others working in this field is that you don’t always need to provide your own equipment.
Lots of the time the director of photography will ask for something you don’t own or which is too expensive to make sense for you to purchase. That’s where I would recommend talking to the production company and renting/insuring the gear you are going to use.
[Want more advice on renting gear for movie work, including a pricing sheet and step-by-step factors to consider? Check out this in-depth guide we made for using big rig drones on movie sets.]
Where did you film? Were there airspace restrictions in place? Did you have to obtain authorization from ATC or apply for any Part 107 waivers?
The first shot we were contracted to do was originally supposed to be right along Mulholland Drive in L.A.
That area is unfortunately a NFZ, so I can provide some advice to those who want to do this: ALWAYS ARRIVE EARLY.
We had the time not only to socialize a bit, but also to discuss what a good alternative to the area would be. We found a good replacement location about a mile from the Hollywood sign, and we didn’t need a COA or to contact ATC to fly there.
Did you have an official job title on set? If so, what was it? (Official job titles can signal the professionalization of a field, while the absence of titles can indicate that there is still more to be done before “drone pilot” becomes a recognized profession.)
In the credits and on IMDB my official title is “drone operator.”
But you made me think about this—I think the title I’ll request from now on will be “aerial videographer.” This seems appropriate, since I’m often both flying and operating the camera simultaneously.
What kind of earnings can a drone pilot expect to make working on a job of this scale (i.e., a professional Hollywood film)?
This is a tricky question, and I’m actually not allowed to say how much I was paid due to contracts I’ve signed.
I will say the film was a multi-million dollar production, and there is certainly an opportunity for others looking to work on projects like this. Many times finding this kind of work is about connections you’ve made with people you may have worked with previously, and other times it’s incredibly spontaneous. Many of my associates find working in a film union to be beneficial.
[See the Drones in Filmmaking section of our Drone Jobs guide for more info on how much you can make as a drone pilot on a movie set—one pilot we interviewed reported making as much as $400/hour, but pay can vary widely depending on the details of the job.]
Were you required to show your remote pilot certificate and proof of insurance for this job?
Yes, I did provide them with my FAA 107 commercial certificate and with proof of drone insurance.
You really need the certificate in order to set yourself apart from the competition. Companies in film tend to be very careful about their assets and insurance.
Did you conduct this work under the wing of your drone company, SkyFly Cinematics?
I do wish I could have gotten our company name in the credits. That’s something I now make sure to mention to clients. I don’t want to be recognized just by my name. My company is also important and deserves the promotion.
Is there anything else you’d like to share related to the film?
You can watch it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member right now! I also got it on the iTunes Store, and you can find it on YouTube as well.
My sister and brother-in-law were flying across country, and after boarding they sat down and noticed that the last movie someone had played was Breaking and Exiting. This was before it was on Amazon but after it was in theaters. I sometimes wonder how many people have seen my shots.
I never thought I’d be working in Hollywood—if you’d asked me just five years ago, doing aerial cinematography for movies was not on my radar at all.
All I was interested in was capturing the best shots I could with aerial camera platforms. You never know what might come your way.
Are you trying to break into drone work in movies or T.V.? Or are you already working in film and have some insights to share? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts and experiences.