SHOOTING FROM HELICOPTERS
As we prepped for shooting in the Australian outback, a place known for poisonous snakes and spiders (everything wants to kill you there, more or less), I asked seasoned BBC NHU director Kathryn Jeffs how many BBC shooters have been seriously injured or killed by animals while out shooting. She told me that surprisingly few are injured by animals. However, helicopter crashes have been the cause of many deaths and serious injuries over the years and are perhaps the most dangerous part of her job. We then boarded a jet ranger helicopter to go chase lightning storms. Nerves of steel. (see video at the bottom of this post for footage samples)
So helicopters are dangerous, but they are also super fun to shoot out of, available in almost every major city across the world, and without too much trouble, you can get amazing aerial footage from a helicopter using a MōVI. Here are a few things to consider:
• For best results, you need to take the door off the side of the helicopter to increase your shooting options. Make sure you work this out with your pilot before you book, not all pilots will allow you to do this. You will also need to make sure you have a proper harness that will keep you from falling out of the helicopter to a terrible death. You also need to put some sort of a safety line on your MōVI so that if somehow it slips out of your hands, it does not fall from the helicopter, break into a million pieces, and / or injure someone or something below. For super amazing results, get out of the helicopter cabin and onto the skid. This will allow you to get into all sorts of interesting vantage points and positions.
• You probably need a second MōVI operator in the helicopter cabin to control pan and tilt and focus. Using majestic mode (single operator mode) while hanging out of a helicopter is very difficult if you want to get precise framing. And trying to manage focus accurately on your own as well? Forget it. Find a second operator and get it done right.
• Keep your speed to 40 mph or slower, or the wind resistance will likely shut the MōVI off. If too much resistance is put on the MōVI motors, it spikes the power draw and the system shuts down to protect itself from damage. I’ve found that this happens at right about 40 mph. For faster shooting conditions, tuck into the cabin and get out of the wind channel. It greatly reduces your shooting options, but you can still get some nice profile shots of the landscape.
• Make sure your MōVI is set to “Motion Boot” in your Freefly app. This allows you to power the MōVI on while it’s in motion. If you don’t have this option turned on and your MōVI accidentally gets shut off or needs to be rebooted, you will have to land the helicopter to restart your MōVI which is a huge pain.
• While shooting, do not rest your elbows on your knees. Yes, it will become increasingly difficult and eventually painful to keep your heavy rig suspended in the air (did you really need to add an iris motor and shoot on Master Primes?), but remember – the MōVI does not stabilize vertical translation. So any small bounces or vibrations that pass through the helicopter – and there will be lots – will pass right through your knees and into the camera, greatly reducing the smoothness of your shot. Eat a protein bar, get zen, grind it out. Bungee cords, EasyRig, all those options may be worth it if your arms can’t take it, but the footage will be less smooth, guaranteed.