3D Robotics

Fast Company article on drones used by Hollywood


"Unmanned Drones go from Afghanistan to Hollywood". A few small errors, but otherwise pretty sound. Excerpts:

This past January, the Los Angeles Police Department issued a highly unusual warningagainst the use of drones by real estate agencies. The LAPD sent a letter to the California Association of Realtors, a trade group, warning that Realtors “who hire unmanned aircraft operators to take aerial photographs for marketing high-end properties” were in violation of FAA rules and local motion picture filming ordinances. Users were warned that the LAPD's Air Division intends to prosecute violators in the near future. However, the letter appears to be hot air: Unmanned aircraft flying at heights under 400 feet are currently unregulated by the FAA. [DIY Drones editors note: that's not true.]

What makes the letter even more interesting is that it was written on behalf of FilmL.A., a private corporation that serves as a public-private liaison between the motion picture industry and local government. FilmL.A., which is largely responsible for issuing filming permits, was founded as a result of Los Angeles City and County's privatization of their film permit offices. Amateur UAV aficionados have noted that filming via UAV does not require the costs incurred via a conventional film permit. In addition, FilmL.A. represents crane operators, who have a vested interest in restricting UAV use for motion pictures.

Meanwhile, drone filming for real estate and location scouting continues unabated. Boutique drone firm HeliMalibu specializes in photography and video of luxury real estate properties via drone aircraft. HeliMalibu uses a custom multirotor UAV which is equipped with multiple cameras and flies autonomously. The drone, which looks like an H.R. Giger helicopter, has filmed many of Los Angeles' ritzier neighborhoods. According to The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Miller, HeliMalibu's services were used to sell the Bel-Air home of ex-Architectural Digest owner Bud Knapp, along with the Holmby Hills residence of Paramount CEO Brad Grey. HeliMalibu also provides services to the feature film industry, such as filming car races.

California-based Air Drone Productions, which advertises its work on reality show Gene Simmons' Family Jewels and Disney's Road Dogs, has a 45-minute battery life “Cinema Flyer” UAV drone aimed the film industry. The drone has multiple camera setups and a one-mile video transmission range.


Another manufacturer, German firm DroidAir, specifically targets the motion picture industry. The company's flagship product, the $6,500 DroidOne, is manufactured in China and targeted at both the European motion picture industry and police departments. Their drone is custom-designed for a stable camera mount and has a half-hour flight range.

The FAA has sporadically persecuted firms engaged in filming via UAV. One company, MI6 Films, which provides commercial aerial filming services, was apparently issued a spoken cease and desist order by the FAA. Users on industry bulletin boards have also reported similar troubles.

For UAV operators, however, domestic drone use is poorly regulated, and the possibilities are hypothetically unlimited. Drones that perch on building ledges can be used by private detectives and crusading magazines/blogs alike. UAVs mounted with cameras for low-flying aerial use can just as easily be used by legal forensic teams or location scouts trying to figure out the next Law and Order spinoff. FAA regulations for commercial, non-military or police drones are widely expected to be issued this year. Informed observers believe the FAA will formally approve six U.S. test sites where drones can share airspace with other traffic without the need for special permits. That strange new sci-fi world of camera-equipped, pilotless planes swooping through the air? It's here.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of diydrones to add comments!

Join diydrones


  • 3D Robotics

    Robert: I don't want to go down that rabbit hole of "regulation" vs. "law" vs "guideline" vs vs "rule" vs "policy", to say nothing of the existence or lack thereof of an enforcement mechanism. But suffice to say, the FAA, a regulatory agency, has done what Gary says above, and is in our FAQ. That's law enough for me. 

  • Chris, a question about this:

    Unmanned aircraft flying at heights under 400 feet are currently unregulated by the FAA. [DIY Drones editors note: that's not true.]

    I read somewhere, I believe one of the "AP professionals" in the Helifreak thread you posted actually, said that there is no *law* or even *regulation* governing these low-level commercial UAV flights, but that it was only an FAA *policy* and therefore law inforcement couldn't actually charge you with anything.

    What is your take on that?

    I just find this disconnect between some people who say this is absolutely illegal, and the fact that there are quite a number on people on HF who are openly running AP businesses, and making quite a bit of money.  There's a lot of people doing it, openly, and I've never heard of anybody actually getting fined.

    That seemed to be the response to that thread on HF.  The LAPD were talking about enforcing a national regulation, and the response seemed to be more about over-regulation in California, rather than a discussion about this federal "law".

    Again, there's a huge disconnect between these warnings about federal laws, and the fact that there are MANY people doing this.

    I don't really have a dog in the fight, since I'm in Canada anyway.  I'm just curious.

  • Moderator

    Thing is they are not new regulations, people were just incorrectly interpreting AIC 91-57 I think that was cleared up by the FAA in 2008

  • What makes me wonder is that one of the longest running an probably most professional companies in the UAV movie filming bisuness is never mentioned: http://flying-cam.com/

    They are filming since roughly 15 years and are probably quite hit by the new regs... For "Mission Impossible 4" they state to have filmed in Prague... They should have some hours in their logs.

  • This is a US problem. Sweden, UK, Japan, Australia and Japan allows commercial UAS operation today.

    - Just move overseas if you want to develop commercial applications ;)

  • Moderator

    I don't thnk we have actually seen what the AMA have agreed yet with the FAA, but the rules for operating in the hobby sector might just get even tighter in the USA.


    Perhaps the speed and duration clauses will come in that the FAA were seeking a couple of years ago.

    The AMA has lined itself up as the Police almost, no doubt the FAA will be expecting all hobbyist UAS enthusiasts to be members of it now.

    Remember they have absolutely no interest in commercial UAS flight, you cannot hope that they will do something to help your cause if that's what you are after doing.

    sUAS New has been predicting an April/May start to the NPRM process and that might prove so, when that happens it's 90 days to get your thoughts known. I keep saying it, RCAPA would be the team that has your corner coordinating a unified response.

  • 3D Robotics

    The latter. Hobbyists fly under FAA regulations. See our FAQ.

  • very interesting.  quick and very important question:  which part is the "that's not true" referring to, that the letter warning los angeles area operators will be prosecuted or that there are, in fact, regulations for hobbyists operating under the 400' ceiling? 

This reply was deleted.