Alex Keller, Pilot, Ventura County Sheriff’s Office
Nicolia Wiles, Director of Digital, GDU
Zach Bloom, Cinematographer, Creative Planet, Ned Soltz Inc.
Jonathan Handel, Entertainment/Tech Attorney & Labor Reporter
TroyGould and The Hollywood Reporter, jhandel.com
James DeRuvo, Film and Technology Reporter, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we are talking about drones. Flying them, building them, and keeping people safe around them. We start with Alex Keller, who’s a helicopter pilot for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, and has firsthand experience with flying and drones. He shares his perspective on the challenges in sharing the air space during emergencies.
Larry Jordan: Zach Bloom is a filmmaker and licensed drone pilot. He shares his thoughts on which drones are good to fly and what filmmakers must know before flying a drone.
Larry Jordan: Ned Soltz was at the NAB trade show in New York City, and returns with highlights of new cameras and drones, including an interesting keynote from the folks at DJI.
Larry Jordan: Nicolia Wiles is the director of digital for drone manufacturer, GDU. He also helped launch DJI just a few years ago. Tonight he shares his thoughts on what drone manufacturers can do to keep the air space safe as well as describe the newest flying platform from GDU.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan Handel returns with an update on the SAG after strike of video game developers and a recent contract agreement between animators and Nickelodeon.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo, senior writer for DoddleNEWS with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts: production, filmmakers, post production and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry covering media production, post production and marketing around the world. We are celebrating our 17th year of podcasting. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan, and it has been an interesting week in the world, and the world of high tech. As the proverb states, we are living in interesting times.
Larry Jordan: Tonight, we’re going to look at drones, how to make them, how to fly them, and how to keep them out of trouble. I first discovered drones in a webinar last year which was where I first met Zach Bloom, one of our guests this evening. Zach introduced me to what drones could do, but more importantly, to make sure that they don’t interfere with other air operations. Over the last 18 months, a variety of regulations at both the state and federal levels, seek to balance the creative freedom of drones while still protecting public safety. Manufacturers are joining in this discussion to make sure that these regulations don’t shut down their industry before it can take off.
Larry Jordan: Tonight we have a variety of guests to help us explore this very topic, starting with a pilot for the Ventura County California Sheriff’s Department. By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week gives you an inside look at The Buzz, quick links to all the different segments on the show, and curated articles of special interest to filmmakers. And best of all, every issue is free and comes out on Friday.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for the world famous DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo of DoddleNEWS. Hello James, welcome.
James DeRuvo: Hello Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: I am doing great mostly. What’s happening in the news?
James DeRuvo: Well you know, it’s all about timing and just a couple of weeks ago we were talking about how the timing of GoPro launching the Karma drone, the timing was perfect, because it was on the verge of the holidays. GoPro needed a shot in the arm because of their sales, and Karma was going to give it. It came out this week, and they’re going to have to recall every single drone they’ve sold.
Larry Jordan: Oh no, what happened?
James DeRuvo: There’s some sort of power issue. Several of the Karmas have crashed, it just lost power and fell out of the sky and so they decided rather than try and stretch this out through the holidays, they’ve only sold 2500 Karma drones so far, so they may as well just recall them all. So anybody who has bought a Karma drone from GoPro or Best Buy or any retailer, is encouraged to return it. Even if you can’t find the receipt, go ahead and return it and you’ll get a full refund, no questions asked.
Larry Jordan: At least they’re handling it well if they’re saying “Let’s get this out of the air right now.”
James DeRuvo: They’re getting out in front of it which is a very smart thing to do, but the downside is, is that it’s right before the holiday season. This is the biggest shopping season in the world. They call it Black Friday for a reason because that’s the day that retailers go into the black and so if GoPro has to eat the sale of 2500 plus drones at $800 apiece, and then they’re also encouraging anybody that bought the bundle with the GoPro Hero 5, and the gimbal grip that they have, they have to return the whole kit and caboodle. They’re not going to be able to sell any more until after the first of the year. That’s going to be a bitter pill. That’s a toughie.
Larry Jordan: Do we have any non drone news?
James DeRuvo: Yes we do. Frame.io which is known for their cloud-based real time collaboration software is announcing that they’ve integrated with After Effects. A couple of months ago they brought us integration with Premiere, now they’re doing After Effects, and you’ll be able to directly share compositions with version control right from the After Effects panel. You’ll be able to display all verbal comments and visual annotations in the guide layer, and import those comments and annotations right into your comp as life shape layers. It’s a really cool new feature that Frame.io is offering, and it’s going to make post production where you have members of your team all over the world, a lot easier to do your work.
Larry Jordan: How about any news on hardware?
James DeRuvo: BizonBOX has come out with their first Thunderbolt 3 GPU expander for the MacBook. It’s a chassis that uses Thunderbolt 3 and provides up to 40 gigabytes per second of bandwidth. It’ll support the new MacBook Pro that Apple just announced a couple of weeks ago, and it can accommodate full length, full height and double width graphics cards up to 12 and a half inches in length, and five and a half inches in height. You can also purchase NVIDIA cards directly from Bizon, but the chassis will also support AMD if you want. $650. Not a bad deal for a Thunderbolt 3 GPU expander.
Larry Jordan: Not at all, and James, where can people go on the web to keep track of all the news?
James DeRuvo: Barring breaking news of course, you can go to doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: And James DeRuvo is the senior writer for doddlenews.com. James, thanks for joining us today, we’ll talk to you again next week.
James DeRuvo: See you next week Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: I want to introduce you to a new website, Thalo.com. Thalo.com is an artist community and networking site for creative people to connect, be inspired and showcase their creativity. Thalo.com features content from around the world with a global perspective on all things creative. Thalo is the place for creative folks to learn, collaborate, market and sell their works. Thalo is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers, and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Visit Thalo.com and discover how their community can help you connect, learn and succeed. That’s Thalo.com.
Larry Jordan: Alex Keller is a pilot for the Ventura County, California Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office has a fleet of five Bell helicopters that in 2015 flew approximately 900 missions, and transported 164 people and performed 37 hoist rescues. Hi Alex, welcome.
Alex Keller: Hi, good morning.
Larry Jordan: That’s a lot of work. Tell me about what the Sheriff’s helicopter fleet does. Are you guys in the air all the time, or just sitting around waiting for calls?
Alex Keller: We’re sitting around waiting for calls, and we also are in the air as well. It really depends on whether we’re out on patrols or we’re out doing searches or fires or training as well.
Larry Jordan: So what got you interested in flying helicopters in the first place?
Alex Keller: I started out as a cadet for the Ventura County Fire Department, and then from there I actually got involved with the Forest Service as a firefighter, and got hired on a helicopter crew, and that was the first time I ever flew in a helicopter. So from that point forward, I was pretty excited to go to flight school and I went to flight school here locally in Camarillo, and from there worked all over the country until I had enough experience to put in for the job here, out of Ventura.
Larry Jordan: It’s interesting that it wasn’t a military background that got you into helicopters?
Alex Keller: No, it wasn’t. There’s still a lot of military guys out there flying, but nowadays there’s a lot of private folks as well putting themselves through school.
Larry Jordan: We’re talking about drones today and I will get to that point, but tell me about a typical day for you.
Alex Keller: A typical day for us, we’ll come in in the morning and we’ll pre-flight the aircraft, make sure whatever aircraft we might be flying for the day are airworthy and good to go. From there we usually have a morning meeting to brief on what’s going on as far as the schedule. If there’s any scheduled flights or special events. From there we keep ourselves busy throughout the day washing aircraft and doing whatever we can do until we get a call.
Larry Jordan: I have always seen firefighters polishing their fire trucks. I’d never considered a helicopter pilot polishing a helicopter.
Alex Keller: We pretty much do the same thing. We’ve got to keep them clean. Clean helicopters are happy helicopters.
Larry Jordan: As I said, on today’s program we’re looking at drones. How did drones impact your operations?
Alex Keller: You know, drones are something that’s come up over the last few years, and every day there’s more and more of them out there, and it’s something that as an industry, we’re still working on ways to figure out how we’re going to be able to operate in and around drones safely. In the fire environment, when we’re on fires, in the last couple of years there’s been a number of incidences. Just this year, between May and October, 29 documented incidents that have impeded fires, and what happens unfortunately, once a drone gets spotted in the area of a fire, because it’s obviously an aerial hazard for helicopters as well as airplanes, the fire aviation side basically gets shut down. We’ve got to go back to helibase, land, and wait until we can confirm the drone has exited the area.
Larry Jordan: Wait a minute. Your helicopter is about 800 million times bigger than a drone. Why does it make a difference?
Alex Keller: I’m glad you asked that. The smallest drones made today are around two pounds, and maybe the size of a basketball let’s say. We’re flying around, airplanes, helicopters, maybe the maximum speed you’ll see on a fire, 120 or 130 miles an hour, and you got a basketball weighing two pounds coming through the window, that’s not a good thing. You can definitely incapacitate a pilot and potentially cause a fatal accident, so it’s a really big deal. With helicopters, our rotor blades are airfoils, that’s how we produce our lift, and whenever you hit anything as small as a rock with a rotor blade it can cause severe damage and cause an issue with the aircraft.
Larry Jordan: So it really is a big deal?
Alex Keller: It is. It’s a safety issue, and you know, drones I think are great machines, they’re very interesting. A lot of people are really into them, and I think they’ve really expanded what we can see from the air, but there’s definitely a time and a place to be using them, and whenever there’s an emergency going on, whether it be law enforcement or firefighting efforts, it’s really not the time to be flying them, because in the air we’ve got a lot of stuff going on as it is, looking for other aircraft, looking for power lines. In fire environment there’s an ever changing fire front, there’s a lot of stuff going on, and to add a moving target that isn’t on radio communication that you’ve got to look for is just really unacceptable.
Larry Jordan: How big a problem is it? Given the 900 missions you flew, and you had 29 reported instances, are they specifically to emergency operations or fires?
Alex Keller: No, those 29 documented incidents I’m referring to are within the fire environment in the entire country. So between May and October, the US Forest Service has documented 29 incidents where drones have impeded on firefighting operations specifically. Within our 899 total flights that we performed last year, we might have seen drones a handful of times, five or six times in the area that we were flying. Not necessarily on fires, but close to landing pads where we’re coming in to land, or in the area where we might be doing some training. Folks that are operating drones in general are curious about what they can see, which is why they have the drones, which is great. But they just got to remember when they hear aircraft in the area, they really have to get out of the way. Particularly with helicopters, we operate fairly low in general because that’s why we’re there. We’re there to perform a job, a mission, something or another, and it’s typically low level. So drones are allowed, I believe to fly up to 500 feet or so. That’s about the cap unless they can get a waiver or some sort of special permission from the FAA. So, they’re really operating right in and around the area that we’re operating. As of now, there’s not necessarily anything out there stopping them from doing that. Now in the fire environment there is, there’s stuff that’s been put out for them to basically understand that, if there’s an emergency going on you really shouldn’t be in that area, but there’s really no way to track or regulate that as of yet.
Alex Keller: I did a little bit of research on drones recently and I understand that some of the newer drones are coming out with technology to where as long as the owner signs up for it, if it’s got cell phone connectivity, it’ll automatically download temporary flight restrictions, fire traffic areas, and it’ll tell the operator “Hey, you don’t want to be in the area.” Which is great, and that’s probably what these drone manufacturers are going to end up doing so they can keep their businesses going.
Larry Jordan: Recently regulations have been passed by both the state and federal government regarding flying drones. Have you seen any impact these regulations have had?
Alex Keller: Yes, the impact that you’re going to see, at least with all the documented incidents that I’m aware of, is the drone operators are now liable and can get in trouble, whether it be getting their drone confiscated, or getting a fine for impeding on an emergency situation. Just recently, in California, they actually passed something that public safety personnel can actually take action against a drone if it’s impeding in any sort of event they’re taking part in, with regards to emergency services.
Larry Jordan: For search and rescue operations, has your department considered or used drones as part of the initial search?
Alex Keller: Absolutely. We’ve got a separate department that’s in charge of our drone division in itself, and they are Sheriff’s Department employees, employed by the Sheriff’s Department, and they’re actually licensed pilots to a private pilot standard. Depending on the call, drones absolutely are our first choice of operations. They’re cheaper to operate. They’re safer, there aren’t people involved being inside of them like helicopters, but it really depends on the particular call. Whether it be a lost hiker that is not injured, and there’s no, I guess you could say, urgency in the call. We’re just trying to find someone that’s uninjured and lost. Drones can be used for law enforcement operations, if it’s something where they need to take a look at a particular target and it’s no sense of urgency. Absolutely, because these deputies have the drones in the back of their vehicles and they’ve got to drive to the scene just the same as we do, except we fly. But if there’s any sort of urgency where there’s an injured person or they need help right away, obviously the helicopters are going to be the go to option for that.
Larry Jordan: Let’s say that I’m flying my drone over some scrubland and I see somebody in danger or looking lost. What should I do?
Alex Keller: The best thing you can do, most drones have GPS technology of course, so if you can note the coordinates over the individual that’s hurt and or lost, save those coordinates, bring the drone back to a safe area, land it, call 911 and tell them what you saw, and the coordinates that you saw them at. That’s really the best thing you can do, and then when the helicopters get on scene, or whatever help gets on scene, you can assist in showing them maybe where you’ve seen the person. But definitely, if there’s any aircraft in the area, you wouldn’t want to relaunch that drone in the path of that aircraft.
Larry Jordan: What advice would you give to new drone owners?
Alex Keller: The best advice that I would give to new drone owners is really to just look up and around when you’re flying the drone. Make sure there’s no aircraft in the area. And it doesn’t even have to be emergency aircraft, you could be flying your drone somewhere where there’s a training area for helicopters, or airplanes. You really have to understand that aircraft that have people in them are much more important than drones so you don’t want to impede any aviation traffic. Understand your local rules and regulations regarding what elevations you can fly at. Do a little bit of research and understand how to look up where temporary flight restrictions are, because as a drone pilot you still have to adhere to all temporary flight restrictions. First and foremost, drones in the area of any sort of emergency or wild fire really do put responders and the public in danger, so ground the drone at that point in time, and just use your regular camera like the old days.
Larry Jordan: Alex, where can drone pilots go on the web to learn more about safely flying their drone?
Alex Keller: The FAA has a website. It’s HYPERLINK “http://www.faa.gov/uas/” www.faa.gov/uas/ and if you go there they’ve got all the latest and greatest on regulatory items coming out for drones, and how to safely operate your drone, and they’ve got some videos involved with that as well.
Larry Jordan: Alex Keller is a pilot for the Ventura County, California Sheriff’s Department. Alex, this has been fascinating, thank you very much.
Alex Keller: You bet, have a great day.
Larry Jordan: Zach Bloom is a freelance camera operator and licensed drone pilot. He’s been working in Los Angeles for five years, including several feature documentaries, music videos for A list celebrities, and the hit TV show ‘Chicago PD.’ Hello Zach, welcome.
Zach Bloom: Hi, thanks for having me on Larry.
Larry Jordan: Zach, the first time we met which is about a year and a half ago, drones were just taking off. What have you been doing since?
Zach Bloom: Well I’ve still been freelancing. It took a while for me to figure out how to get my license. The regulations were changed fairly recently which made it way easier for somebody to become a commercial drone pilot, so I was kind of laying low for a while but now I’ve got my license I’m back in the full swing as a freelancer.
Larry Jordan: Why did you become licensed?
Zach Bloom: If you want to do any commercial work you have to become licensed to the FAA. It only costs $150 and it’s a test that is not easy, but is doable for someone who is not a pilot. That’s really it, it just comes down to if you want to do anything that you’re going to make money off of, or that the business you’re doing it for is going to make money off of, you have to be a licensed pilot.
Larry Jordan: So what drones do you like flying and why?
Zach Bloom: I like using the DJI Inspire. I find that it’s the best of both worlds for a production that doesn’t require putting a red or other cinema camera in the air. It’s a little bit larger, it has a little bit more power behind it, little bit steadier than the regular Phantom lines or the Yuneec Typhoon or anything like that. It’s a great machine, it’s been very reliable for me and it looks really impressive. It does not look like a toy, like a lot of the smaller ones do, it’s a very professional look.
Larry Jordan: When should a filmmaker hire a professional drone pilot as opposed to doing it themselves?
Zach Bloom: It really depends on what you’re doing it for, to be honest. If you’re still a student and you have a drone and you want to do some stuff with it, that’s awesome. If you’re going to do anything that you’re planning to make money off of in any way, shape, or form, it’s really just a safer route to hire somebody who knows what they’re doing, who’s been trained, who’s been certified because if something happens on a set and you have an uncertified pilot and somebody gets hurt or injured, one, your insurance won’t cover it if they’re not certified, and two, you can actually get in a lot of trouble. You can get fined about $10,000 from the FAA.
Larry Jordan: What kind of insurance do you carry when you’re flying your drone?
Zach Bloom: It’s just standard. I need to check my policy, but I believe it’s a million dollars of liability insurance, and two million for people, or something like that.
Larry Jordan: Do you fly with a team, or do you fly by yourself?
Zach Bloom: I do fly always with a second person. I am what’s called the PIC, the pilot in command and then I have a second person who’s a spotter. And if there’s a third person that’s on set and available, normally a PA or something like that, I have them also just observing the area, to make sure that there’s nothing unusual going on.
Larry Jordan: What advice do you have for somebody that wants to start flying a drone?
Zach Bloom: A lot of people try to start out with an old drone or something used they found on Craig’s List or something. My suggestion would be, if you’re planning on practicing to do it professionally, would be at least to get a Phantom 3 or a Phantom 4 even if you can afford it, because to be honest, the older drones are a little out of date. They’re not as safe to operate and they’re not as easy to operate either. The newer technology makes things so much easier to fly. And also to start studying for your test.
Larry Jordan: Zach, for people that decide they need to hire you to fly the drone on their next film, where can they go on the web?
Zach Bloom: You can always look at either my Instagram which Zach Films or at my website which is just Zachbloom.com.
Larry Jordan: All one word. Zach Bloom is a filmmaker and Zach, thanks for joining us today.
Zach Bloom: Thank you Larry.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Ned Soltz is an author, an editor, an educator, and consultant on all things related to digital video. He’s also a contributing editor for Creative Planet, and Red Shark News and best of all, he’s a regular here on The Buzz. Hello Ned, welcome back
Ned Soltz: Good to be back Larry, and hello to all of listeners today.
Larry Jordan: You were recently at NAB in New York City. What’s the news?
Ned Soltz: The news is the Sony FS7 II, just introduced at NAB in New York, which improves on Sony’s wonderful FS7 camera. I own one so I’m a big fan of it. Adding variable ND, like you have in the FS5, a lever locking E-mount, which basically is a PL mount for your E-mount lenses. So absolutely secure. Ergonomics on the camera, the handle, the viewfinder and the microphone holder are all improved. The XQD cards protrude a little further out so they’re easier to remove. It’s about $1500 more than the existing FS7 which remains in the line, so you basically have the FS7 and then for another $1500, you have this advanced model with these three extra features to them.
Larry Jordan: Are you kicking your FS7 to the curb and getting the new one?
Ned Soltz: Not yet. The FS7 continues to make money, it’s doing what it can do, and I would suspect that this is a camera more for new buyers than for people that are going to kick their FS7s to the curb and upgrade. Although the main reason to upgrade would be that electronic ND filtration system which really can revolutionize the way you expose a shot.
Larry Jordan: What do you see happening in terms of the number of new cameras introduced? Are things slowing down, are they continuing to introduce new cameras at a rapid pace?
Ned Soltz: I think new camera introductions are slowing down, rather concentrating more on firmware updates for existing cameras.
Larry Jordan: So now we’re able to start to make money from our investment, rather than having it get trashed every 12 months?
Ned Soltz: Exactly.
Larry Jordan: One of the things we’re talking about on this show is drones. What did you see or hear about drones at the show?
Ned Soltz: I went to one of the keynote presentations about drones, and it was particularly interesting. It was given in part by the chief pilot at DJI, as well as a few other presenters, and some interesting perspectives on this, which is if you’re a content producer you might want to consider bringing in a professional drone company, to be able to do your shot for you because of A, all of the FAA licensing, even though that’s easier for the individual. And just the general experience that such professional drone operators might have in terms of the creativity of a shot, safety concerns and everything else. But the other aspect of this though is it just gives you so much creative possibility and creative latitude, that if you’re just an individual drone operator, and on a job for a client, you might want to tell your client, “Give me ten or 15 minutes before this shot, just to experiment with a couple of creative options, and we’ll take a look at what we’ve got, and see if this improves on the original vision that you had as a producer.” I think this allows for so much creativity that it’s really very much unbounded right now. I’m very enthusiastic about the use of drones in production.
Larry Jordan: It’s interesting that the chief pilot would talk about safety issues, because Alex Keller was talking about that earlier on the show.
Ned Soltz: Yes, you know, as an example, what they did was, this was just in a commercial, and they showed a drone shot rising from a crowd that had been seated, and the way they did that was the crowd was seated, it may have been a wedding, I’m not exactly sure. But you saw the crowd move forward then the drone come up and get the aerial shot. So effectively people were out of the way so no drone was flying over people. You really have to be very careful about drones flying over people. The obstacle issue of course is another thing. Now with the FAA certification and requirement, being very cognizant of the airspace that you’re in and the FAA category of airspace.
Larry Jordan: Especially in huge media cities like New York and LA which are already crowded airspaces, it only gets worse.
Ned Soltz: Of course with all of the restrictions in New York and LA and surrounding areas. I’m across the river in Bergen County, New Jersey where they say you can’t fly a drone anywhere under any conditions.
Larry Jordan: Ned, there’s so many things going on right now. Where can we go on the web to keep up with what you’re discovering?
Ned Soltz: Well you can look mostly right now at HYPERLINK “http://www.redsharknews.com” www.redsharknews.com as well as creativeplanetsnetwork.com and tvtechnology.com.
Larry Jordan: Ned Soltz is a contributing editor for Creative Planet and Red Shark News. Ned, thanks for joining us today.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan Handel is an entertainment and technology attorney of counsel at Troy Gould in Los Angeles. He’s also the contributing editor on entertainment labor issues for the Hollywood Reporter and best of all, he’s a regular on The Buzz. Hello Jonathan. There’s all kinds of news happening, what’s going on?
Jonathan Handel: There certainly is. Let’s start with the union news, a couple of union items specifically, and then talk more broadly. Most recently the Animation Guild ratified a renewal agreement with Nickelodeon. They’ve been unionized at that shop since 2002. They strongly ratified the agreement though they didn’t release the numbers. It’s a three percent wage increase is sort of the key takeaway on that one.
Larry Jordan: That agreement happened pretty quickly and everybody seemed to be happy on both sides. There wasn’t too much acrimony there.
Jonathan Handel: No there wasn’t, and that stands in contrast with the next piece we want to look at where there’s quite a bit of acrimony and no deal. And that is that SAG-AFTRA continues to be on strike against somewhere between nine and 11 of the video game companies, and most recently about 350 members and supporters picketed at the WB Games, Warner Brothers Games.
Larry Jordan: I saw your coverage in the Hollywood Reporter on that, and the photograph showed the typical waving of placards and raising of fists, but is there movement going on here or is it all posturing at the moment?
Jonathan Handel: I don’t think it’s posturing, but there is no movement. It’s the third alternative unfortunately which is that really both sides are dug in. The issue is once again residuals or secondary compensation they’re calling it in this context. Basically some form of back end bonus or payment, depending on how the particular game does. The union is willing to agree that the companies could buy out the residual in advance, so they’d never have to pay a residual, but the companies don’t want the entire concept of residuals in the arena as a camel’s nose under the tent.
Larry Jordan: You mentioned at the very beginning of your report that there were the two specific issues. The Animation Guild which is an example of things going right, and the game developer, a thing where it falls apart. But there’s a broader issue here. What were you alluding to?
Jonathan Handel: The broader issue of course is the election. The status of unions and the power of unions and any economic negotiation between workers and management is affected by the political climate, and in two months this country is going to become essentially an authoritarian single party state. That is going to have an effect on the unions, and without getting into too broad a discussion at this juncture, perhaps for a later show, with regard to the video games strike, I would think that the companies simply aren’t going to compromise and that this is going to continue for quite some time.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like you’re seeing a lot more pressure coming down on unions to be anti-union, is that what I’m hearing?
Jonathan Handel: Trump is anti-union, unions in the external economy, the non-Hollywood economy has cratered since the former Screen Actors Guild president, Ronald Reagan became US President and broke the Air Traffic Controllers Union in 1980 as sort of the beginning of a long anti-union campaign. Of course the Republicans around Trump, the Republicans in Congress are very strongly anti-union and in addition, the unions are one of the few power centers for the Democratic party and the Republicans aren’t unmindful of that and that if they can disempower unions, they reduce the chance the Democratic party ever stages a resurgence.
Larry Jordan: It’s a long ongoing discussion and we will bring you back to discuss it. Jonathan, for people that want to keep track of your thinking, where can they go on the web?
Jonathan Handel: Two places. THRlabor.com, The Hollywood Reporter Labor, and jhandel.com, my personal website.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan Handel is the entertainment labor reporter for the Hollywood Reporter. Jonathan, thanks for joining us today.
Jonathan Handel: Thanks very much Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care.
Jonathan Handel: Bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Nicolia Wiles has been marketing drones to the United States since he helped launch DJI in January of 2013. Since then, he’s worked with state agencies, the FAA and regulatory bodies to help create a safe and user friendly industry. He’s now the director of digital for GDU, assisting them in marketing and their digital services to highlight the company’s universal flying platform. Hello Nicolia, welcome.
Nicolia Wiles: Yes sir, thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: Tell us about GDU, what do they make?
Nicolia Wiles: GDU is another consumer drone manufacturer, very similar to all the very famous ones that people are used to, DJI and Yuneec. However, we are one of the only manufacturers in the world that handles all three different major problems that are faced by drone users today. That’s the aspects of portability, power, and modularity. GDU was the first drone to come out on the market that had a folding design and we’re the only one that has powered the whole of a five pound payload as well as interchangeable gimbals. So that would be the biggest difference between us and the rest of the market.
Larry Jordan: One of the things in your bio is what’s described as the GDU universal flying platform. What’s that?
Nicolia Wiles: The universal flying platform features the idea of future proofing a single drone. As we’re very familiar with the business models of something like Apple, where you have to buy the newest device every year, or two years, drone manufacturers since 2013 have always come out with several different devices per year, wanting you to buy all of them because different cameras and different camera technologies are utilized on the different drone models that they put out to market. At GDU the universal flying platform idea is that we use one drone, that is interchangeable with multiple different gimbals, and multiple different camera configurations as well as not just the ones that you could purchase from GDU, but going farther than that, offering a universal gimbal where you could use one of your favorite DSLRs, or maybe even the Blackmagic Micro to actually have the greatest possible videography from an aerial perspective.
Larry Jordan: You have a title of director of digital. What does that mean in real life?
Nicolia Wiles: It means I wear a bunch of hats. That means that we’re responsible for making sure that everybody has a brand awareness perspective of GDU, as well as working with state agencies and the FAA, creating a community of users across the United States, North America and Europe as well as just working with GDU to do the PR and marketing efforts here from the United States.
Larry Jordan: We heard earlier on the program from Alex Keller, who’s a pilot for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, on problems that they have with drones interfering with emergency and fire operations. What can drone manufacturers do to minimize this conflict?
Nicolia Wiles: That’s a great question because one of the biggest issues that we do see is users who are not utilizing the drones in the proper way, and one of the biggest things that can go wrong is if people want to try and get great video of a fire or a rescue or something where the only drones that should be in the air are being used by search and rescue or first responders. We work directly with a lot of these, for example J Anderson out of Denton, Texas with the Civil Air Patrol is one of the guys that is a Lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol that we work with, to really try to disseminate as much information as possible through different communities, forums and groups to let people know that while they might want to be curious and get their drone up in the air, we really want them to understand the problems that that creates with search and rescue helicopters or first responders that are attempting to do their job. But it really comes down to information and that’s what we really want everybody to get out, not just GDU, but everyone to get that kind of information out.
Larry Jordan: But that seems to push the responsibility onto the drone pilot. Why can’t manufacturers implement geo fencing and paying attention to where restricted air space is?
Nicolia Wiles: We absolutely do have in a lot of the software, not just with GDU, but DJI and Yuneec and several of the other major manufacturers do have different levels of geo fencing. With GDU we make sure that we’ve got geo fencing around obviously Washington DC but as well as all of the major US airports. Now when it comes to different things like a specific search and rescue operation, it becomes very difficult to geo fence around that kind of very unique and specialized area. But we do make sure that the different aspects of like the three to five miles around an airport or government buildings are geo fenced automatically.
Larry Jordan: One thing that Alex mentioned, but he wasn’t totally sure, so I’m going to ask you, is do users have to subscribe to this service, or have cell phone connectivity? Or is the geo fencing built into the firmware of the bird?
Nicolia Wiles: It is built into the firmware of the bird. Now, I will say that while it is initially built into the firmware, that does not stop someone from going into the firmware and erasing that. So there are different aspects that we do want to make sure that pilots, through our forums and communities, are utilizing the technology in the right way. We do not want anyone to utilize this technology in a nefarious manner and there’s a lot of people who worry about that, and I’d bring up the aspect of the smart phone, when it first came out, everybody thought that a smart phone with a camera was going to be used in nefarious ways. But we’ve obviously found them to be very mainstream, and nobody worries about a camera phone any more. But there is an aspect of making sure that the pilots themselves are responsible, and this goes into the new regulations that the FAA has passed making sure that everyone passes a test to utilize this technology from a commercial perspective.
Larry Jordan: I want to shift back to your drones for a moment. You said that you’re creating a folding drone. Why is a folding drone important?
Nicolia Wiles: Excellent. One of the biggest problems that we saw early on when we brought DJI into North America with the Phantom, individuals loved the technology, they thought it was amazing to get that aerial, that bird’s eye view that was never possible before, because helicopter pilots wouldn’t be able to fly that low and it was really the first time that people could get that perspective. They initially purchased these products, they loved it, they used it a couple of times, but over say a year span, that drone would sit in the garage for the majority of that year because it was so difficult to take with them on any kind of adventure or a family outing. The aspect of having it foldable meant that it could be put into a purse, could be put into a backpack, and very easily taken with you anywhere you wanted to go. And that portability aspect became the biggest thing for people to use a drone on an almost day to day or week to week basis compared to two or three times a year.
Larry Jordan: Well foldability and portability’s a good thing but how do you get around the problem of fragility? Because now you don’t have a big structure anymore.
Nicolia Wiles: As far as being able to make sure that it is going to withstand wind and other aspects, is that the question?
Larry Jordan: And ruggedness in general that I can’t just fold it up and it flies twice, and then something breaks.
Nicolia Wiles: Obviously the product needs to be made to military specs and has extremely rugged build. But you will find that a static arm if you will, that runs into a tree or runs into a wall because of multiple different reasons, usually pilot error, that static arm has a very good chance of breaking whether it hits a wall or if it falls to the ground and then hits the ground. If that arm is able to bend slightly, or shift slightly because it folds in on itself, you have a significantly reduced aspect of any kind of breakability. So not only is the folding design better for portability, it is significantly better almost on a three to four X level, for ruggedness.
Larry Jordan: We were just talking at the beginning of the show that GoPro is recalling all of its Karma drones. When we’re making a decision on purchasing a drone, how do we make sure the drone is going to be safe to fly?
Nicolia Wiles: One of the biggest aspects that you really need to take a look at is what kind of additional technologies are built into the drone? Especially when we’re looking at a GoPro compatible drone, and as of now, after the recall, the GDU advanced bird is the only GoPro compatible folding drone on the marketplace for the holiday season. But not only that, you need to look at different aspects on the bottom of the drone. Does it have sonar, and does it have a downward facing camera? Now these are extremely important when it comes to safety because the sonar allows it to know how far it is above the ground, or is there an object below it that it needs to rise up above as well as if it’s indoors, as some people want to fly inside a big warehouse or something. They need to have that downward facing camera so that it can see how far the ground is below it. At that point, without the GPS connection, it makes that drone safe to fly in an indoor environment as well as just the outdoor environment.
Larry Jordan: It is a fascinating collection of questions. It’s an industry which affects society and legal issues and creative issues. It’s like unpeeling a flower, or an onion. Every time you go in there’s a new layer to discover. Nicolia, where can people go on the web to learn more about your products?
Nicolia Wiles: For anyone interested in the GDU bird, all they have to do is go to HYPERLINK “http://www.gdu-tech.com” www.gdu-tech.com.
Larry Jordan: Nicolia Wiles is the director of digital for GDU and Nicolia, thanks so very much for joining us today.
Nicolia Wiles: Absolutely, my pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Nicolia Wiles: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: It is a fascinating subject, drones, whether we’re looking at it from a police helicopter perspective or a pilot’s perspective, or a manufacturer’s perspective. There’s all kinds of stuff to consider, and the legislation, regulations and the issues of the industry continue to evolve over time. It’s been an interesting session today talking to all these different perspectives and seeing what’s happening at multiple different levels of the industry.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week, Alex Keller, pilot for Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. Nicolia Wiles, the director of digital for GDU. Zach Bloom, filmmaker and drone pilot. Ned Soltz, writer and editor for just about every website that’s out there. Jonathan Handel, contributing editor for the Hollywood Reporter, and James DeRuvo the senior writer for DoddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There is a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online, and all available to you today. And remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Friday. Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
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Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price. My name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to the Digital Production Buzz.
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