Drone Flyby for GSA Documentary

September 15, 2015

“You want to do what?! Are you out of your mind?”

That was the reaction I got when I started to organize what I stupidly thought was going to be a pretty cool but not that big of a deal shoot for a documentary we recently completed about Architecture. Let me back up.

In the Spring of 2013 I was contacted by a Chicago-based Architect working on the Federal Building in downtown Cleveland. They were renovating it for the General Services Administration (the largest landlord in the world) and they wanted to do a documentary about the history of the building and how they intended to change it. I ended up winning the bid and for the past couple of years have been collaborating with the Renovation Architects (Interactive Design Architects [IDEA]) and the U.S. General Services Administration to create a new half hour documentary about Modernism in general and this renovation project in particular.

One of the things I always try to do when doing Architecture projects is to find innovative ways of moving the camera around the building to give you a better experience of how the building looks when you see it in real life. I’ve used giant cranes, steadicams, gyroscopes, periscope lenses (for model shots) and every other gizmo and contraption I could lay my hands on to move the camera smoothly around buildings. For this project I thought using a drone might be really cool. The technology was just starting to get good enough to use with High Definition and it sounded (at the time) like a good idea. So we included it our proposal and didn’t think really think too much about the logistics until the film was about three months away from completion.

Our drone operator and camera assistant adjust the high resolution camera preparing for another flyby.

Our drone operator and camera assistant adjust the high resolution camera preparing for another flyby.

So then we finally started to organize the infamous “drone shoot” and the first reactions left me questioning my sanity. “Let me get this straight – You want to get permission to operate a drone on Federal property next to a Federal building that is 1.5 miles away from a commercial airport? Are you completely out of your mind?” See me now smacking my head and saying “duh!” over and over again.

Drones have come a long way since our original proposal and have been in the news a lot! What they can accomplish now is nothing short of breathtaking and the technology just gets better and better. We had enormous hurdles to overcome, permissions from everyone involved took a very long time and over and over again it looked as if this was just never going to happen. In addition to being very close to an airport the building was also close to Cleveland Stadium and there are (for obvious reasons) all sorts of rules about drones and sporting events. Only through the pressure and encouragement of Charles Young at Interactive Design Architects (who also took these fabulous photographs) did we persevere through all the bureaucratic hurdles. If he had not been so insistent I think we would have given up. The entire team at GSA also deserves enormous credit for their ninja-like red tape slicing and dicing.

The results in the final film look like something out of Hollywood and the weather that night could not have been more cooperative. One person on the crew, seeing the sunset over the lake put it best, “Are we in Cleveland or Waikiki?” Although this was a nightmare to produce I will never ever do a film about Architecture without using a drone for the cinematography. The technology is so amazingly steady and the results are just too wonderful to ever consider shooting buildings any other way.




Drone Flyby for GSA Documentary

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