In my opinion, the experimentation phase is the most effective way of learning and improving your filming skills.
Drone filmmaking has become popular over the past few years and with the release of the compact and affordable DJI Mavic Pro it's hard not to want to buy one, especially if you're a filmmaker! We had a chat with Andy Tran, a young traveller and student, about how he got into drone filmmaking and what his production process is like.
How did you get into Drone filmmaking?
I'm Vietnamese but I was born and raised in Poland. Currently I'm a hospitality student in HIM (Hospitality Institute Montreux), in Switzerland.
I started filmmaking when I met my girlfriend Tina. I wanted to capture every beautiful moment with her so I started recording everything around us.
I never liked taking pictures during my travels, I always felt they couldn't express the atmosphere and "motion" of the place. In order to truly feel the place, you need to see the movement of that place.
I started off simply, using my iPhone 6s and iMovie for all my projects. I was really blessed to be able study in the centre of Europe. As a hospitality student, I have the amazing opportunity to travel to many beautiful places. Everywhere I travel I not only want to bring back some kind of a memory but also a feeling that I had when I was in that place.
I started making aerial footages when I moved to Switzerland. Wherever you go you will see beautiful lakes and mountains. I found that a simple photograph couldn't convey the true beauty of it, so I decided to purchase a drone (DJI Mavic Pro). Thanks to its portability I was able to take it literally everywhere I go. I could explore the beautiful landscapes from a bird's eye view, which creates a truly breath-taking experience.
How do you plan a drone shoot? What is the pre-production process?
Before I starting planning a project, I choose a suitable soundtrack that will be able to express the atmosphere of the place in mind. This process sometimes takes me days or even weeks. The right soundtrack is an important component in a successful video, which is supported by the saying that music can transport you to a different place.
While creating my Amsterdam travel video I was walking around the city, observing people and listening repeatedly to the soundtrack. This helped me to blend the melody with the setting to create a beautiful memory. Now every time I listen to that song I can visualize those streets in my head. It's truly amazing how a single soundtrack can change our perception of a surrounding.
Most of the projects I make are not planned. All my shots are done spontaneously and the only thing I do before I start shooting is finding the best locations for my videos and find a suitable soundtrack. Walking and biking is the best way to find new unique spots. Whenever I travel, I always have my cameras (Dji Osmo mobile & Osmo x3) and drone with me ready to shoot. For example, I filmed the Amsterdam project with my iPhone 6s using the filmic pro app and DJI OSmo Mobile, then edited it in iMovie.
What are some of the challenges you've faced with drone filmmaking?
One of the biggest challenges was with the police and locals. In Switzerland, the authorities tend to tolerate drones, and the regulations are not as strict as in other countries. However, in many places drones are banned and in some countries, may even confiscated at the airport. Last month I was in Amsterdam and my drone would not even take off, because it was in a no-fly zone. In Vienna, I almost got a ticket from local authorities for disturbing the peace.
What has been your worst experience with travel filmmaking?
My worst travel filmmaking experience would be during the winter when I was filming in the Swiss mountains. Due to very low temperatures, almost all my equipment froze and kept turning off. My drone's battery froze as well and the drone just fell out of the sky. That was pretty challenging.
Could you tell us about your future projects?
I have a lot of future projects coming up. I am currently working on a music video in Switzerland for a Tanzanian rapper. As summer is coming I will be making a lot of travel videos. In June, I will be working on a promotional video for Croatia, and in July I will be backpacking in Thailand and Laos with my girlfriend for two weeks, so I am hoping to capture a lot of interesting footage. In September, I am heading to Japan for a spiritual trip for 3 months, during which I will work on a more serious project. I will try to capture the traditional parts of Japan and its culture.
What is your advice to people looking to get into Drone filmmaking or travel filmmaking?
For anyone that is trying to get into filmmaking I would advise them to try to find their own "thing", their own way of filming, their own style. To stand out you must have a unique way of filming. I still consider myself an amateur, and I am still trying to find my unique way of capturing people and landscapes. I experiment a lot. In my opinion, the experimentation phase is the most effective way of learning and improving your filming skills.
What are your top 5 tips on flying a drone?
- Make sure you are not flying in a restricted area, are flying at a legal height and are away from crowded places. Many places have banned the use of recreational drones (most of the places in Japan and Thailand for example). Flying drones in restricted areas is breaking a local law and might end up with a fine or the confiscation of a drone.
- Check the weather before you take your drone out. Drones shouldn't fly in the rain and in temperatures below 0C. Your propellers will freeze if you are flying in the clouds and battery life will decrease drastically. This can cause the drone to turn off while still being in the air which is the last thing you want to happen.
- Watch out for birds! There have been several times that a hawk or a large bird have tried to take my drone out in mid-air. They see the drones as a unknow predators and they try to protect themselves. Pay extra attention while flying around old castles, there are a lot of hawks around "protecting" the castle.
- Make sure you have the right settings (camera and control settings) and become familiar with all the controls. Many people start flying their drones before they get familiar with their settings and lose control and crash.
- Make a pre-flight checklist in order to avoid any mistakes or damages. One of the most common mistakes is forgetting to remove the gimbal lock in their drones, which will damage the gimbal while trying to operate it.