Drones and the Future of Movies

The technology behind our unmanned spyplanes and bombers will soon help even microbudget filmmakers capture awesome overhead shots. It could also make movies a lot creepier.

If you’re a filmmaker on a credit-card budget, you probably can’t afford a helicopter to take those aerial shots of cityscapes and landscapes that big-budget filmmakers use to create a sense of panoramic grandeur. But you can afford the next best thing: a flying drone camera. That’s right: the same technology that allows the U.S. to spy remotely and to drop bombs from unmanned aircraft also allows you to capture killer bird’s-eye-view shots for your movie.

Drone cinematography is still in its primitive stage. For one thing, the UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) don’t have much range (about a mile) and only have enough battery life for 10 to 15 minutes of flight. Plus, the built-in cameras only have 720p resolution, or medium high-definition. (That’s about the quality you might get on a good smartphone.) But the latest drones also come with a camera mount so that they can hoist full HD (1080p) GoPro sports cameras. There’s still the little snag that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not yet permit private businesses to operate drones in the United States. (Non-commercial filmmakers may use them, but only below 400 feet and in sparsely populated areas.) But the agency will begin issuing drone licenses to businesses by 2015, and Hollywood could be the first set of private users.

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