How to Break into Movie and T.V. Work with Drones: An Interview with Ryan Deremo, President of SkyFly Cinematics

Ryan Deremo is a Drone Pilot Ground School alum who’s found success doing drone work for television and movies in Los Angeles with his UAV services company SkyFly Cinematics.

For a while now Ryan has been filling us in on the growth of his company and his list of impressive projects. We wanted to sit down and learn more about how he’s found drone work in the entertainment industry, and what that work looks like.


Begin Interview
You’ve done a lot of work in the film industry. How did you get your first job, and how have you grown your career in aerial cinematography?

The importance of networking can’t be understated.

To get my first job, a fellow drone pilot I know recommended me to the director for a pro bono gig. It turned out to be aerial videography for a Stevie Kalinich music video in Burbank, California.

Not only did I shoot the aerial shots, but the director ended up using me as an extra in several of the scenes. During down time on set, I found myself chatting with an older gentleman who turned out to be Stephen Kalinich himself.

Kalinich is a long-time collaborator and friend of the Beach Boys, and co-wrote several of their famous songs—so I had my brush with one of the greatest spoken word artists of all time, and made more valuable contacts at the same time!

Video can’t be loaded: “I Want To Say” (https://vimeo.com/183155528)

Here is the Stephen Kalinich music video Ryan is talking about above

As for the second part of your question, I believe the key to getting a potential client’s attention and being selected for opportunities like this is having a solid demo video cut together. It must showcase your best footage and skillfully executed work.

Another tip for growing your client base is to invest in a quality business card. In this profession, image is everything. Integrate a couple of your own aerial still photos on the front and back of your card, order a lot of them, and keep them on you at all times because you never know who you may meet.

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A shot of Ryan’s business card

I’ve actually met and worked with quite a few Uber drivers who are either friends with people or personally happen to work in the film industry. A consistent sales effort is important—cold calls, blind emails, networking, and pro-bono work to get to know all of those contacts!

You have to pitch yourself and your services. Let people you talk to know you’re on the cutting edge when it comes to your equipment, that you are commercially licensed under the FAA’s Part 107 rules, and add a few words about what you have specifically accomplished in the industry. The more people know about your operations and how you differentiate yourself from the competition, the more likely a potential client will use you for a project.

I recommend waiting a couple weeks to a month or so after a job and then calling to inquire if they have any further aerial videography needs. There are lots of other people eager to do this kind of work, so letting them know you’d like to do more work together is always a good idea.

Once you gain trust by proving yourself on set, the word will spread naturally, and clients will start calling you instead of the other way around.

What has been one of your favorite shoots, and why?

I find that many private shoots for clients, such as weddings and real estate, can be a lot of fun.

I really like that I get personally directing shots as well. What I’ve come to find is that using your own intuition and feeling out a shot yourself is best—after all, you’re the professional pilot. I’ve even had certain directors tell their DP (Director of Photography) to go back to their car and let us (i.e., the drone pilots on set) work out our aerial shots.

Occasionally, directors don’t understand the potential you can obtain with a UAV. Sure, a drone can do the work of a camera on crane or boom . . . but a flying boom is even better! Some of my favorite shoots may be either by myself or with my friends and family in beautiful new locations. I’ve done music videos, real estate, mapping, feature film, TV, commercials, weddings, concerts, private events…and each one of them has made me smile or surprised me how fun and cooperative everyone is. You always learn something new working with different companies and people.

What’s something about working in the film industry as a pilot that you’ve found surprising, and didn’t know before you started the work?

How hard it is to run your own company!

Getting the commercial license, insurance, knowledge of airspace, and proper training can take you only so far. Unless you’re ready to file quarterly taxes, give out employee tax paperwork and stay up to date with the latest business requirements, you may want to think about working for a company that needs drone operators.

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Ryan’s charging stations—just one piece of the puzzle that is running your own drone business

Hollywood can be a cutthroat industry with a lot of people trying to take advantage of what you have to offer. Don’t let anyone infringe on your skillset and time. Stay adamant yet realistic about your clients expectations along with your own.

To those trying to break into doing aerial cinematography for movies, what advice can you give them?

Pro-bono work is actually something that will almost always solidify future work with that client.

They want to see what you’re made of, and that you can accomplish what they need. Most likely after that, you will be paid on the next film or project. With pro bono, I always let my clients know what it typically would have cost depending on their need.

If you don’t think you can run a company entirely by yourself, it may be a good idea to take some film classes and join a film union like I.A.T.S.E. You have to keep swimming upstream no matter the setbacks, as your own Alan Perlman once told me.

Even if you feel your workload is stagnant or you hit a roadblock—if you feel that you aren’t going to make it, that is what will happen. Staying positive isn’t always easy, so you have to keep your head up. Make sure that you showcase your work on as many social media outlets as you can. Take classes on UAVCoach, research anything that you want to learn on YouTube, take a business class at a local university and keep it going!

Tell us about your background. How did you first get involved with aerial cinematography?

Prior to owning a company, I really enjoyed flying and recording aerial videography for my own enjoyment.

I then started realizing that the end product could be worth something when put together and edited. I have always had a passion for cinematography and editing since I was a kid.

My father owned his own production company that I had the opportunity to learn from. My high school had a TV production class, and my friends and I got our own local TV slot (Wayne’s World, anyone?). After one assignment for school filming and scripting my own music video and cutting it together in the studio, I was later awarded the Platinum Award for that category out of many hundreds of schools competing in Illinois.

Later in life, after learning to fly, I got more into filming events by asking staff and coordinators at local outdoor venues if it was OK for me to fly if I provide them the footage as well, and that attracted some positive attention. The next thing I knew I was filming for a band that was performing at the event we were all at. They wanted me to do more work for them and obtain unique shots using both ground, handheld and aerial cameras. They loved the footage so much, and I then started up SkyFly Cinematics…and met more and more people. I now do beta testing for numerous drone companies in my spare time. When people see your passion, skill and previous work…doors will certainly open for you!

Tell us about the work you did for the T.V. show Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe—I know you did an FPV shot of a motorcycle chase. What was it like to shoot that?

When I was hired to shoot an aerial motorcycle chase scenes for Ninjak I had no idea it would have CGI special effects added in post-production.

The stunt double for Ninjak had a really cool motorcycle and everyone was a pleasure to work with. We did a number of takes to make sure we got it down perfect. I was told that my drone would basically be used as the first person view (FPV) of the flying superhero chasing him, and that there would be explosions added later. I immediately knew this would be a fun project!

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Shots from the motorcycle chase before and after CGI was added

It was a hot and sunny day, so I had to use the hood to see my iPad—because of the brightness I used an ND16 filter with polarizer.

It was initially a challenge to wait for his motorcycle to enter the shot and continue to keep up with him, so I flew in sport mode in some shots making sure to keep the props out of the frame.

There were lots of roadside curves, with shrubs sticking out just asking to be flown into. We were shooting in the Angeles National Mountains—the spot they originally wanted was inside a National Park and thus a NFZ (no fly zone).

But we were able to quickly look at a sectional chart and also Google Earth, and find a suitable area that the director liked.  I always come early to a shoot so I can scout the area, get the bird up in the sky and test out what settings and gear works best beforehand.

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Ryan (left), the stuntman (center), and visual observer / friend Rio Scott (right)

Tell us about your gear. What drone(s) do you fly, what cameras do you use, and do you recommend any other accessories?

On a normal day, I make it a point to fly regardless if I have to work that day. Keeping your hand / eye coordination strong is important, so zipping around the block with small drones like a Hubsan or indoors with even smaller nano drones is a great practice.

Most of the shoots I do require one of my Phantom 4 Pro units. I like that it has some weight to it compared to the Mavic series, as it seems to hold up in high winds much better with less “jello” effects. Certain clients require me to fly an Inspire, and others want even bigger and badder machinery, like a Matrice or Spreading Wings.

Using the right filters is important as well. I use PolarPro as they are quality and they have great customer service. (Shoutout to Jeff Overall for the free gear over the years!)

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A shot of Ryan’s filters that he shared with us

If I am not doing aerial shots for a client, I find that my OSMO X5R does an exceptional job for steady shooting. At 24fps and in full 4K, the footage always turns out brilliant. I can maneuver between people and obstacles with ease, making the footage look very clean and impressive.

I like to use the external battery adapter with a Phantom 4 battery, as the little ones that go inside the handle run out far too quickly.

And don’t forget that a GoPro can sometimes do what other cameras cannot. I have done quite a bit of beta testing for the company, and have helped them develop and design various mounts (and occasionally firmware). So, what camera I use really depends on what I need to accomplish for the client or my own personal work.

What are your predictions for aerial cinematography, and the drone industry in general? Please feel free to answer at length (what you see way down the road, what you see for next year, where you see regulations headed in the U.S. and abroad, new applications, etc.).

Currently, airspace regulations don’t make getting approval to fly very easy, even with commercial certification.

There are far too many cities that may appear to be class G airspace but have their own local ordinances. Many require you to pay a yearly fee and use a big dumb sticker on your drone when flying there.

Hermosa Beach here in California is a perfect example of that. I’ve had a few instances where lifeguards and/or police have been quick to interrupt a commercial shoot. Many times, they will be cool and perhaps even interested in how the UAV operates, but other times, you will find that they believe their local authority outweighs your federally issued commercial license.

It’s important not to make them feel like you aren’t cooperating, so explaining and showing them a sectional chart is helpful. Even then, I’ve had police threaten to arrest me. Just make sure to hold your ground until a superior comes along with the correct knowledge. Then you can go about your shoot without interruption.

I believe as the UAV industry continues to expand, people will come to understand that we are pilots navigating in shared airspace. One good thing to practice is calling ATC and getting used to asking for permission to fly on a certain day, at a certain altitude and location.

Even after obtaining permission to fly in, lets say Class D airspace . . . you then have to wait on DJI for a number of days before they will give you the “code” to deactivate the GEO zone you will be flying in. I hope to see that become more simplified, because it’s a real hassle.

On a separate note, I am very interested to see how automated drone delivery like what Amazon is working on will affect our ability to get flight authorization when you consider how many UAV’s will be cruising around the skies.

It’s an exciting age to be living in, and definitely a lucrative and awesome industry to be working in!

Check out this promo poster for Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe:

Ninjak promo poster

The post How to Break into Movie and T.V. Work with Drones: An Interview with Ryan Deremo, President of SkyFly Cinematics appeared first on UAV Coach.

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