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CHiPs Director Talks about the Joys and Challenges of Filming with a Drone

March 21, 2017

Is a drone always cheaper than a helicopter?
Comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast is the go-to place for comedians and musicians to talk about their craft, their demons, and whatever else comes up. This week, Dax Shepard joined Maron in his garage/studio to promote his new movie CHiPs, which features scenes filmed by drones.

Shephard, best known for his role on Parenthood and his high-profile marriage to actress Kristen Bell, wanted to figure out ways to make a comedy with car chases and motorcycles.

“Until recently the technology to capture motorcycle chases didn’t exist,” he said. “[Motorcycles] are so narrow and nimble you can’t be following behind them in a pickup truck.”

However, low-cost drones are making it possible for low-budget TV shows and independent films to create epic shots that were once impossible to achieve on a low budget. Host Maron, who starred in his own TV show Maron until last year, noted that he used a drone in one episode.

“We did a shot on my TV show where we used one of those weird little Best Buy drones, and it was great,” he said.

Maron marveled at the low cost of drone filmography, but Shepard noted that the practical, economic, and logistical demands of a major motion picture are such that drones are not significantly less expensive than helicopters.

“We had drones that could fly behind a guy on a motorcycle,” Shephard said. “But when I saw the bid for that, it’s only about 70% as expensive as renting a helicopter for the day.”

As Drone360 reported in the July/August 2016 issue, drones can cost significantly less than helicopters for movie work. Our estimates put the cost of using a drone for one day at $3,000 to $7,000 per day, compared to $15,000 to $30,000 to rent a helicopter. But Shepard said that the legal and technical challenges of filming a big budget action scene are still relatively onerous, even with a drone.

“Unfortunately, the studios have adopted this policy [where] they only use one of three different drone companies that have been FAA approved,” he said. “When you did your show you probably used a Go Pro camera or something small. We put a huge Red (camera) on ours, so you’re talking about 55 pounds of equipment falling out of the sky around the crew if it falls.”