Production Diary: My Eye in the Sky: The Ultimate, Infinite Jib Is Mine, Mine, Mine

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This isn’t the Production Diary that I’d planned. To be honest, I’d written 650 words saying that in 19-something, I screwed up and then cleverly saved the day. You know, the usual boring stuff.

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For my pinot documentary I hired Derek and his large RC helicopter.

And then I fell in love! Here’s what happened:

Love at First Flight
Way back in 2012 I sold all my cameras and tripods and, with the hypothetical profit, ordered a Digital Bolex and a carbon fiber Aviator Travel jib, both Kickstarter projects. Now it’s 2013, where are they?

I go to the Aviator Jib web site hoping to see, “Hi Stefan, your jib is ready.” Nope, another disappointment—but there on the right-hand column is a postage stamp advertisement from DSLRPros. It’s for a GoPro ’copter. Wow!

I click the ad and jump to DSLRPros’ DJI Phantom GoPro Aerial Rig page and there is the most amazing video of a GoPro flying over a city street. I watch in awe. Not since the out-of-the-window shot in I Am Cuba have I seen anything so amazing.

OMG. I am in love. I plunk down my $679.

“Honey, I’ve just bought a helicopter!”

“That’s nice.”

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This is what my package would have looked like if I hadn’t opened it upside down.

"Don’t you want to know how much it is?”

“No—you’ve always wanted one. Is it for the GoPro?”

Smart kid. At a scant 2.6 ounces, the featherweight GoPro HERO3 changes everything.

I Need A Helicopter of My Own
Every corporate documentary I’ve made over the last 10 years could have done with an aerial shot. The Mt. Poso regeneration plant sure needed one—but the budget wasn’t there.

For my own pinot documentary, I hired a great RC ’copter team. They came with two conventional model RC choppers, large enough to lift a 4 lb. Sony HVR-V1U. By the end of two and a half days I had some terrific shots and a $4,500 bill.

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Colin Guinn, CEO-DJI North America, demos a takeoff on YouTube

I Wait for FedEx
Tension mounts. At 10:29 FedEx delivers my loved one. DJI’s top man in the USA, Colin Guinn, has made some YouTube training videos. How to assemble the Phantom: “The counter-clockwise propeller goes on the motor marked counter-clockwise. The clockwise propeller goes ...” I can do that—I’ll just give it to Tricia.

Now the hard stuff: “Switch on the joystick controller, then connect the battery to the Phantom. Stay in the GPS mode while the ’copter learns where it is. If for any reason you lose control of the Phantom, it will fly back and land at the start point.”

That’s amazing. I watch all of Colin’s videos before I dare to fly my baby.

How to Get A Smooth Video
The thing missing in Colin’s videos is any aerial footage. I phone him for a chat. He says, “Shoot at 2.7K and use After Effects Warp Stabilizer.”

“But if I use 2.7K, I’ll lose the GoPro Wi-Fi preview on record.”

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My first flight. I’m on our deck. I should be in a park. The ’copter is too close. Don’t try this at home.

“You’ll find that the four-second Wi-Fi delay is unnerving—and besides, it’s impossible to watch both the ’copter and your iPhone. Oh, put some foam or rubber between the GoPro sling and the ’copter body.”

I hunt around. Tricia has the perfect solution: a slice from her rubberized yoga mat.

Lift Off
I’m psyched up and ready. I’ve told the Phantom where it is in the GPS world. I flip both keys down and to the right. The four motors start. I push up the throttle. The engines speed up, the craft starts to shake—push the stick up—we have liftoff. My very own GoPro quadcopter is flying.




High Stakes: Managing the Post for 'Molly's Game'

"Aaron [Sorkin] methodically worked in a reel-by-reel order. We would divide up sequences between us at breaks that made sense. But when it came time to review the cut on a sequence, we would all review together."