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Watch a One-Shot Film Captured Entirely by Drone

April 5, 2017

Paul Trillo's film pushes drones to their artistic limits
What does it take to put together a nine-minute short film comprised of one shot captured by drone? An ambitious vision, strong collaboration, and some very patient actors.

Paul Trillo, a New-York based filmmaker, partnered with drone company Aerobo to bring this vision to life. His new short film, At The End of the Cul-de-Sac, uses the versatility and mobility of the drone platform to the fullest extent — and all in one take.

He has used drones in interesting ways in the past ―Trillo attached smoke grenades to drones in his film Chromaticity ― and says he looks at drones with a healthy dose of skepticism. Rather than just settle for how drones can disrupt current, he looks for fresh, innovative opportunities.

“It’s easy to enjoy the gimmicks of a given piece of technology, but you should also question why you are using it,” he says.
The film

Trillo explains that the premise for the short film was borne from a simple question: “What if we used drones in the language of storytelling, an arc with dialogue and all, rather than to capture the standard aerial shot?” And because Trillo likes a little additional challenge, another question followed — “What if we could do it all in one take?”

He wasn’t sure if the project would succeed, but he needed to at least put those questions to the test. It was the limits put in place by these original goals — one shot, all captured by drone — that shaped the eventual narrative structure of the film.

“A single take leant itself to doing something in real-time, something that felt like theater, a one act play of sorts,” he says. “Shooting in one continuous drone shot meant that the camera would provide a perspective of self-awareness.”

The film was capped at nine minutes in order to make sure the DJI Inspire 1 could safely take off and land. And that time constraint required an airtight script and the actors to nail their cues — including the dog. Even the slightest mistake could mean reshooting the entire film.

Actors might be accustomed to memorizing lines and movements, but drone operators are likely not so used to hitting precise cues. Trillo applauds drone pilot Mike Ferguson and the camera operator Jeff Brink, both employees of Aerobo at the time, because they perfectly replicated his 3D animatic.

Trillo says the actors weren’t really affected by the drone. Surprisingly, even the dog was unfazed by the aerial camera zipping around. Going into filming, he wasn’t sure how they’d react. None of the actors had experience being around or being filmed by drones, but after just a few rehearsals, they trusted the process.

Location is key

Due to FAA regulations, Trillo had to choose a location wisely. It had to be outside city limits (he’s based in New York, remember), not be near an airport, and avoid powerlines.

But ... why a cul-de-sac?

“A cul-de-sac was the perfect closed off location. We didn’t have to worry about blocking traffic or parking spaces because we were in our own self-contained bubble. It turns out a cul-de-sac makes for a great stage for something semi-theatrical.”

Trillo says he’s planning more projects with Aerobo that will continue to push drones to their limit, so be on the lookout for those.