Insights from Framepool on Shooting Drone Footage

Our friends at Framepool continue to receive numerous inquiries about drone footage featuring breathtaking maneuver such as circling just above the heads of people at public events, shooting through the air between skyscrapers, interfering with flowing traffic on a busy freeway or chasing after extreme sports athletes from just a couple of inches. Cool shots, but often impossible to get, as production procedures tend to be illegal in many cases. Here's what they have to say about it.

There are plenty of reasons why shooting such close contact drone footage is limited by law. For example when the alpine skier Marcel Hirscher was almost hit by a camera drone during the Alpine Skiing World Cup in Italy  in 2015. It was a close call when the camera drone crashed just centimeters behind him. As a consequence, the International Ski Federation (FSI) banned camera drones from its World Cup races.   

At the moment, the rules for operating UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) vary not only from country to country, but can also differ regionally. Filming drone operators will need more than talent and technical know-how: a valid pilot license, as well as shooting permits and an extensive liability insurance. 

These days, the legal requirements change daily, so filmmakers need to be up-to-date on the rules before conducting a shoot with a camera-carrying drone. Framepool offers clients pre-produced, stress-free drone aerials that can tell your story without any risk and offers you fascinating drone footage from all over the world.

Cinematographer Martin Lisius Explains What Makes StormStock Unique

Since 1993, StormStock has been the “go to” footage library for producers and directors who need something special in the weather imagery category. The collection, created by cinematographer Martin Lisius, features hard to find material including the only Super 35mm (to HD) footage in the world of Hurricane Katrina making landfall.

“Katrina was a very difficult and dangerous storm to cover,” Lisius said. “Of all the hurricanes I have shot, nothing compares to what I witnessed that day.”

Lisius, along with assistant Brandon Jennings, watched as record breaking storm surge reached several miles inland from the sea, engulfing cars and tossing dozens of refrigerators onto Interstate Highway 10. The shots captured that day helped to establish the top anthology of Hurricane Katrina footage anywhere.
“To do what I do, I have to not only be a skilled cinematographer, but I have to understand how to operate in and around storms safely. That’s a pretty unique set of skills,” Lisius said.

Lisius has taken what he’s learned about extreme weather and shared it with the public in a book titled, “The Ultimate Severe Weather Safety Guide.”
Although StormStock offers some editorial-style footage, it’s the cinematic elements that set the brand apart.

“Storms are incredible to me. I share my appreciation for them through the way I film them. I see storms as an incredible part of nature, not as disasters. They are disasters only if people are not prepared for them. Given that, I feel they deserve to be explored and revealed in a beautiful, cinematic style.”
Recently, award-winning writer/director Terrence Malick contacted Lisius to acquire footage for his new IMAX movie “Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey.”

“Terry contacted me because he specifically wanted something cinematic, something amazing,” Lisius said.
Speaking of ‘something amazing,’ Lisius just completed a short film titled “Wakinyan,” which is Lakota for ‘thunder spirit’. It features spectacular storm footage he captured earlier this year. The film is an official selection by Dallas VideoFest 2016 and the Raw Science Film Festival 2016
What’s next for StormStock? Lisius said he will make available some elements from his upcoming documentary about storms to a limited number of clients. The production is being filmed entirely on 4K.
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Getting Location Releases: A Primer from FootageBank's Paula Lumbard

For many years the characters in the show “Bones” lived in a house licensed from FootageBank (photo courtesy of FootageBank).

For many years the characters in the show “Bones” lived in a house licensed from FootageBank (photo courtesy of FootageBank).

Many of the houses, restaurant exteriors and other physical locations used in television shows and movies to set a scene come from stock footage agencies. And, like shots of recognizable people, these location clips typically require releases from the property owner. Paula Lumbard and her team at FootageBank have built a world-class collection of released location footage, and we spoke with her recently about the process. What is a released location? Is it mainly about buildings or are there other locations that need releases?

Paula Lumbard: A released location might be anything from a house to a restaurant to a stadium. It means we have a property release signed by the owner of the property in question. A released property could also include a private airplane, yacht, car, truck, limousine or even rights to an event.

FN: Why is it important to obtain releases? What can happen if you don’t? 

PL: It’s important because without a release anyone using an image or clip without permission by the owner of the property is in violation of the rights of privacy of the property owner. The user leaves themselves open to litigation against their use of the clip or image. It is not a risk worth taking. 

FN: What are some good examples of released locations in your collection?

PL: We’re known for day and night matching shots of locations such as restaurants, cafes, diners, and unusual locations such psychics offices, laundromats and factories. We have houses in all types of architectural styles, from tudor style to craftsman to modern as well as all sorts of businesses. We also have parks, lodges, motels, clinics and so much more, all day and night matching scenes, all angles, and all seasons. One of our most popular shots is a classic New York diner that we have shot in all seasons and all times of day. 

FN: Who are the main clients for released locations? In other words, which types of clients care about location releases and what do they typically use the released locations shots for?

PL: Our main client base is all scripted programming from network, net cast, cable movies and shows as well as feature films and commercials.  When a television show wants to establish a location in the story they often use a stock clip, if a character is in a restaurant or bar the outside of that bar will be shown to set up the scene. That bar location may be licensed from us. Characters in shows can live in a location licensed from a stock house; for many years the characters in the show “Bones” lived in a house licensed from FootageBank, likewise the characters in “Two Broke Girls”.   We produce our content for this market. 

FN: Do all locations need releases? 

That is a good question and when I’m asked that I refer my clients back to their legal advisor. I would say that of course a skyline does not need to be released. Does a neighborhood street need to be released? Is a street a location? That answer is determined by the show, or licensor of the clip. Legal departments have differing points of view on this issue. Does a public museum need to be released? Again, that is up to the licensor. We do the research to determine who built and owns the property and share that information with our clients. 

FN: Generally speaking, how do you obtain a location release? What is involved?

PL: We keep lists of those categories of properties that are in demand and are the best revenue earners. We share that with our top earning and best cinematographers. They go out and scout, secure releases, and shoot locations. We check releases as the footage comes in to us for ingestion. We also counsel shooters on what and what not to shoot as well as what may or may not be working about their clips and how they are shooting them.

FN: Is the licensing process different for released locations? Does your license indicate that the location is released?

PL: A location is listed as released in the metadata with each clip on our website.

FN: Are there certain types of location releases that are really hard to get?

PL: Hotels are very hard to get released, airports are impossible, and hospitals are hard. Churches too. 

FN:  Do released locations cost more to license?

PL: No, we charge the same. We have a couple of locations that have “premium pricing.” One is aerial footage over Washington, DC near the White House, and The Pentagon. That is because the shooter had to pay a lot for the permits. 

FN: How big is your collection of released location footage?

PL: Tens of thousands of clips. Location-Released clips and Rights-Released playback clips are the areas FootageBank specializes in. 

FN: How do you obtain the releases? 

PL: Each DP has their secrets; I have to say it is a personality thing. It is harder in other countries because of the language barrier but we are getting more all the time because we have someone full time in Europe and Eastern Europe. All our DPs pay a location fee and if a location is used a lot (such as the Bones house) we go back and pay the owner of the location extra fees.

FN: Is there a Holy Grail of location releases? Some place or building that is absolutely impossible to get released but that you would love to have in your collection?

PL: Anything recognizable and current in North Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. More practically, almost anything can be released if you have the revenue. But that is the territory for location shooters on feature films. For FootageBank, I am currently looking for arenas and sports stadiums (I am working with a new supplier with many but am busy doing due diligence on releases). 

Another Holy Grail has more to do with access as opposed to releases. That is close shots of airports, bridges, ports, and borders. Since 9/11 Homeland Security is very watchful about anyone filming/recording near these locations. My cinematographers have been “rolled up on” by the police in numerous cities, numerous times, and even taken into custody because they were filming too close. Once was near the Lincoln Tunnel in NYC, twice at the San Pedro Port here in Los Angeles, and once was near the Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. If we had the footage we would not need the release, we wanted good medium access and tight shots of the locations.


Getting Started with 4K Footage

With roughly four times the pixels of standard HD footage (8.3 million versus 2 million), 4K footage offers remarkable sharpness, a great sense of depth and a much subtler color range. As 4K is quickly becoming commonplace in the footage business, we thought we'd ask a group of experts, including Carol Martin of FootageBank, Sterling Zunbrunn of Nature Footage and Peter Carstens of Framepool, to weigh in on the ins and outs of working with this exciting format. What are the two or three most critical things a client needs to know about obtaining and using 4K stock footage?

Carol Martin: Size, size and size.  The large file sizes have an impact on storage space needed, delivery options and viewability.  Assuming a high-end codec is being used to preserve as much data as possible, the files will be cumbersome in many ways.  Whatever editing system is being used, a lightning fast processor will be needed to view the clips, storage space will burn up at roughly three to four times the rate of HD, and files are generally too large to transfer over the internet. 
Sterling Zumbrunn: 4K has to be seen to be believed. Once you move past screens that are 70 inches or larger, the differences are unmistakable. The additional resolution is a massive leap forward over HD. That said, 4K takes serious computing horsepower to work with. Even just viewing 4K footage at full resolution requires a computer with a fast processor and strong graphics card.

Peter Carstens: The client should consider if a 4K format is needed indeed, or is it just a trend or something he has heard of. The 4K shots can also be delivered in 1920x1080. The client also needs to consider higher production/editing costs, longer download times for master footage, and huge file sizes which are not easy to handle or to view.

FN: Given the dauntingly large file sizes, how do you deliver 4K footage to clients?

Carol Martin: Hard drive transfers are preferred.  One to two small files can also fit on a Data DVD.

Sterling Zumbrunn: We deliver 4K+ files to our clients via our FTP server, but the files are so large that the speeds available are not adequate for transferring media in a reasonable timeframe. For this reason, we have invested in Aspera technology, which allows for peer-to-peer transfers using nearly 100% of available bandwidth. This is going to make it easier for our contributors to submit their 4K+ files, and it will deliver a better experience to our clients accessing their purchased clips.

Peter Carstens: Most shots are delivered via FTP like all other footage. Growing Internet speeds (and possible compression formats) make this possible. So far, we're able to provide 4K to the remote places of the world. In specific cases, and if the amount of shots exceed somebody's download possibilities and patience (since it would have to be done overnight, or even longer), 4K footage is delivered on hard drives.
FN: Is all 4K footage the same or are some versions of 4K better than others? 
CM: As with any video format, codec is key to quality.  A 4K file in the H.264 codec, for example, may have the aspect ratio of 4K but not an acceptable resolution for some end users.  The cameras that capture with the least compression create the largest but highest resolution files.

Sterling Zumbrunn: There is a big difference among various 4K cameras. Consumer cameras such as the GoPro or the new Panasonic GH4 capture footage in a highly compressed format that is not optimal for many of our clients' needs. Further, the GoPro only captures at 15 frames per second, so the clips must be sped up. It's not a serious solution for 4K capture. The industry has gravitated toward the RED workflow, and nearly all of our clients request RED R3D RAW files when they are available. The advantages of starting with a raw file are numerous, as it offers colorists incredible flexibility for matching the look of their production while maintaining maximum quality. The RED DRAGON promises to deliver the best quality yet at 6K resolution, which is an astonishing 19 Megapixels per frame. Clients working on IMAX features and other large format film projects are excited about the additional resolution.

Peter Carstens: While people talk in common about 4K, the 4K standard image sizes for cinema and consumer TV (UHDTV) vary. Various clients have been asking for 4K in different sizes, but sometimes it was just a mistake since people still have to adjust to the new high-end format. The final 4K format to be delivered depends on the production type or depends on what the producer wants to achieve. Important is not only the size, but the technical recording parameters and technology. 

FN: Is demand increasing for 4K?

Carol Martin: The demand for 4K is steadily increasing.  Just like television was protecting for future HD delivery fifteen to twenty years ago by preferring access to film elements, many productions are currently protecting for future 2K and 4K delivery by accessing those formats when possible, even if the end product is not currently being delivered in 4K.

Sterling Zumbrunn: Demand is quickly increasing for 4K+, among all sorts of clients. We are in the process of re-acquiring all of our subjects in 4K. It's a great opportunity for cinematographers to re-shoot existing content.

Peter Carstens: Yes, with 4K TV prices falling, the consumers constantly wanting to have better picture quality, and channels now creating 4K VOD outlets, the demand for 4K is growing quickly. In order not to miss out in the future distribution of their productions, producers adapt to high end formats if costs are feasible.

FN: What kinds of clients are asking for 4K?

Carol Martin: Primarily feature films are asking for 4K.  Secondarily, venues such as museums have embraced the format for its ability to stun the viewer in an educational setting.  Some aesthetically higher-end television shows are currently being produced in 4K and some television shows which have proved hugely popular are using 4K for archiving reasons, even though neither are being broadcast in 4K yet.

Sterling Zumbrunn: All kinds of clients are asking for 4K. Theatrical clients always want 4K to deliver maximum on-screen quality. But even broadcast clients want to future-proof their productions in the event that they have the opportunity to repurpose it. We are also seeing growing demand from businesses and consumers that want to feature 4K displays for video decor.

Peter Carstens: Movie productions (cinema) and shots for CGI/VFX work, but also often TV movies, and high end corporate productions, as well some commercials.