fbpx

For those of you who know about RC helicopters, drones, computers, and cameras- and even those of you who don’t – I would invite you to check out this blog I put together. The film industry is such a fascinating world and I just can’t seem to leave!

How I Wound Up In The Movie Industry & Why I Can’t Leave

Coming from a background in radio controlled aircraft, I was exposed to the world of aerial cinematography back in 2007. I was sitting on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland when Tim Schoonard from Miniature Aircraft called and franticly asked me if I could hop on a plane and fly down to Florida within a matter of hours to fly a custom built helicopter that had been outfitted with a camera. They were filming a commercial for SeaDoo and the director wanted to get a different perspective – hence the camera on the RC Heli.

During that shoot I met who would eventually become a mentor and great friend of mine, Jordy Klein. Jordy and his whole family have been involved in filming movies, TV shows, commercials and just about anything else you may have seen on TV for his entire life. After that shoot, I ended up doing another one in South Africa for a National Geographic TV show called Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr in 2010. We flew down to Africa with some customly modified TRex Helicopters, shooting with a Canon 5D to film the Great White sharks as they breached the water – so fricking cool! As cool as those shoots were, I wouldn’t find myself flying an RC Aircraft with a camera on it for quite a few years.

In 2012, shortly after moving down to Florida for a change of scenery and year-round flying weather, I was driving down I-95 with my good friend Bert Kammerer heading to the airport for an overseas Fun Fly. The phone rang with a strange number and I answered and of all people it was Jordy! He had seen an ad for Byron Fuels (my current Fuel sponsor for the RC Helicopters) that included myself in a magazine while waiting to get an oil change. He thought of me and wanted to reach out to see what I was up to. After chatting, we found out that we had some similar experiences and friends, and he wanted to know if I wanted to join his team and work with him in the RC Cinematography world. Is it it’s just crazy how life kind of works out sometimes?

At that time he and his team were the one of the few crazy people to actually fly a high-end cinema quality camera like a Red Epic (worth $60,000 + including lenses), but it was on a custom helicopter that was designed by Eyal Stein and himself. It was actually very impressive and got great shots! As my relationship with Jordy grew, I was able to introduce him to the few folks that I knew from the RC Heli world and the shoots just kept coming in. We ended up building some custom drones with the help of my good friend Beresford “Beast” Davis from RC Rotors and Aerial Media. Within months I was practically traveling around the world filming all sorts of crazy stuff. Since 2012, I estimate I’ve been one well over 75 different shoots with Jordy and his team, filming everything from horses to rockets – boats to teepees (Yep-really-we filmed some really cool Indian teepees once). Doing these shoots more often quickly became a solid part time job bringing in some much needed side cash while continuing to work in the RC Helicopter world.

As the years have gone by, I am continuing to work in the film world, flying drones for Jordy and XCam Aerials, while also assisting with the design and manufacturing of all sorts of custom camera equipment… from everything to custom Drones to remote camera triggers, shock mounts, vibration isolators, you name it. The work can be stressful, hours definitely all over the place, but constantly I find myself returning to the film industry for a few different reasons.

First and foremost, no two days are ever the same. Some days we show up to a remote location at the crack of dawn and shoot until the sun sets. Other days were out on boats filming with drones chasing water skiers, Jet Skis or speed boats. I’ve even found myself in some ridiculously crazy situations… Kinda like that one time in Trinidad and Tobago where I was flying a drone covering a party at a nightclub. I was flying and out of nowhere some random lady came over and tried to look at what I was filming on my monitor. While leaning over to see my iPad she leaned over a little bit too far and her entire beer poured all over my radio!! WTF!!! Luckily nothing shorted out! But you get the idea of what I’m saying… some stuff is pretty sketchy. There’s other times I find myself strapped into a boat going 50mph as I’m flying a drone chasing a speed boat. There’s always something new to look forward to – that’s for damn sure.

Secondly- and probably most important – is the people I meet on set.. Without a doubt I have met some of the biggest characters I’ve ever met in my life in the movie industry. It just attracts a circus full of characters. You get everybody from the college burnouts, to the techie nerds, directors who are full of energy, catering chefs who can whip up a 4 star meal in the middle of the desert, and Production Assistants who are eager to do a good job simply so they can move up in the industry. Everyone always has some sort of story that lead them there and it’s always pretty fascinating to hear everybody’s backstory. Just the other day I was on a shoot and I met a guy who won an immigration lottery from Romania. Romania! And now he’s an actor hoping to get his foot in the door and strike it big. I also met another guy who immigrated here from Venezuela and busts his ass on shoots day in day out just so he can send back the necessities to his family back in Venezuela. As mentioned before, being a part of a team like Jordy’s is always full of surprises, most certainly always in some sort of danger, and always something crazy to laugh about after the shoot has wrapped.. Just being around a motley crue of characters that he has is literally the only reason I really need to continue working in the film world.

Another reason I continue to work part time in the movie industry is because I love seeing how big movies are put together. I was super fortunate enough to be asked to join my friends from XM2 of Australia to fly over to California and Utah this past year to assist with filming HBO’s hit series WestWorld. Just to watch a huge production like that get put together was absolutely mind-boggling.. Even more inspiring, it’s so cool to be a fan of a show like this and to actually see the shots that you helped create in the show! Hey, having your name in the same credits as someone like Jonathan Nolan and Ed Harris isn’t half bad either… even if you’re just one of the hundreds of people who made it come together.

Putting a TV show, movie, or commercial together is really a team effort. It takes an enormous amount of people to come together with the right skills tools and knowledge to put something like this together. From the 18-year-old PA who has to wake up 3 hours before call time to go pick up breakfast for the entire crew to the crusty old truck driver who’s been shuttling people around set for over 50 years, everyone has a specific role to play and they all must come together to make it happen. I’ve always been one to watch the behind the scenes and how it’s made, so to see this kind of machine in person is really inspiring. Now that’s not to say that some days aren’t frustrating because certainly there’s always times it just makes you want to rip your hair out and swear you’re never going to go on a single shoot ever again…(I think that I’ve said that maybe two or three times but that’s not too bad for being in the industry for over 10 years).

Very lastly, the movie industry has allowed me to elevate my creativity- whether it’s building something new for a specific job, putting a small shoot together for a product I recently invented, or problem solving. Whenever there is a call from Jordy in the middle of the day and he says “Well… I just got a call from a client, and they want to do something a little crazy – do you think we could do it?” I’m always left to ponder whatever ridiculous question he just proposed is even possible, then figure out how we’re gonna pull this one off. And we usually do! In fact… we most always do! Being in the movie industry has allowed me to build everything from custom camera triggers that are activated by cell phones to remote control cranes, underwater camera housings, custom drones that are powerful enough to lift a small child (wait- actually like a rather large child AND his pet dog), and all sorts of widgets that make our life a little bit easier on set.

All in all, it’s kind of a crazy way to make a living if you really think about it. You do not have a set schedule. You do not have to work 9 to 5. You can turn jobs down if you want, or decide to work on a major movie or TV show that shoots 9 months out of the year. You’re given a time and an address to show up, you show up and work your ass off for 10 + hours with people you have never met. At the end of the day we’re just capturing whatever shots the production had in mind so that people can either be entertained or buy more stuff from watching the commercial. Those are really the only two reasons we ever shoot anything, right?

I pretty much came into the movie industry by accident and now I just can’t seem to walk away. Because of my extensive knowledge in RC helicopters/aircraft background, it has really allowed me to have a firm grasp on drones, camera gimbals, remote triggers, and everything else that is built upon the RC technology. As for drones, every bit of technology came from the RC helicopter world and I’m super proud to be one of the firsts who was doing this well before mass adoption. Having a solid grassroots understanding of the technology has really allowed me to do some pretty cool things in this industry and allowed us to push the limits with new gear & discover new ways of getting captivating footage.

If you are like me with a decent background in RC, technology, or camera equipment and you are looking for some excitement & little bit of extra cash, I would highly recommend you hop on Google and search for the nearest production company around you. Look for cinematographers, producers, ad agencies, whatever it takes. Hit them up and tell them what you can do for them. Are you a good still photographer? Great! There’s plenty of them on set. Do you know how to copy files from an external hard drive to a computer? Great, those types of guys are on set too! (Yes, I’m dead serious – look up “Digital Imaging Technician” or DIT and look at their job description… quite simple but without a doubt one of the most important/nerve racking jobs on set). You might even be lucky enough to meet a dude like Jordy who will take you under his wing and show you the ropes of the industry as you get your feet wet. Heck- you will most likely even get paid to do it! It takes a special kind of person to work in the freelance community, but until you try, you will never know. Some are good at it, others just can’t take the nature of the inconsistent work and go back to desk jobs. Some days are crazy, some days are long, but for the most part, it’s one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. If this sounds exciting to you – go give it a shot! At the end of the day, I can guarantee you will at least have a good story to tell.

Bobby Watts
Watts Innovations