Between the scenes with drone videography king, Phil Harris.
There’s a famous saying in the industry, ‘If there’s a drone in the sky, then Phil Harris is nearby’.
OK, that’s maybe not true, but it should be. When we need drone videography, it’s Phil we call.
As part of our weekly blog, we wanted to dedicate one each month to shouting about creators who are consistently smashing it. We’re calling this section ‘ We Love What You Do’ (working title – haha).
This week we caught up with our good friend and drone videography specialist, Phil Harris to talk all things drones. We loved it, and we hope you will too.
What do you do? “I’m a drone Pilot” isn’t allowed – haha!!
In short, I fly drones around to get cool shots and convince people to pay me for it. That’s essentially my business model. Somehow, I’m getting away with it… 🤫
I’ve been flying drones commercially within the TV and film industry since about 2014. When a production requires aerial shots from a drone, they will approach someone like myself to provide that service.
What does a day in the life of a drone videographer look like to you?
Like you guys know all too well shoots vary dramatically. I like that though as it means no two days are the same.
Prior to shoot day, I will have already completed risk assessments, permits and prepped the kit. These checks are often unnoticed, but are key to a smooth, safe shoot.
Set 5 alarms.
Filming days usually kick off with an early call time. So I usually set 5 alarms, eat a good breakfast (you never know when you’ll next get the chance to eat) and get to the location promptly.
Meet the team.
I often work with different crews, so I try and make a point of putting faces to names by saying hi to the key people I’m working with at the start of the day. This is often when things are least hectic and people are less stressed, so I try to make the most of it!
Assemble the kit.
Then, I’ll assemble my kit and standby until the drone is required. When it’s go time, I communicate directly with my cam op who is in control of the onboard camera. They are trying to achieve the shots that the director or DP is after.
We have a client monitor so that they can see the camera feed live and give feedback on the fly (no pun intended!). Every shoot varies. Sometimes, we only need to capture one shot, other times, it can be dozens. One shot shoots are usually commercials or dramas, where things are a lot more choreographed and planned out. When filming for TV or branded content you’re often just left to your own devices to hoover up as much good content as you can.
I basically do that until we have wrapped. Then, I’ll get the media off to the DIT to be backed up, and finally I’ll pack up my gear before hitting the road to do it all over again.
What have been some of your favourite drone videography jobs?
Way too many to mention! I’m so lucky with work to have done so many projects that I’ve genuinely loved being a part of. Some of them I’ve loved for the subject matter, others for the people you get to work with. The best are when the two merge!
Doing a series of branded content/marketing films for TUI was bit of a dream job. That was the perfect combo of filming cool stuff (travel videos essentially), with a really nice crew that felt like family. We got the chance to travel all over the world!
Talking of countries, international shoots are always fun but my favourite I’ve visited must be Iceland. I’ve had the privilege to go a few times, but April 2016 was possibly my favourite. Filming a music video of a dancer doing her thing on a freezing cold and pretty remote glacier.
I’ve had the pleasure of filming with Top Gear a fair amount. Although the presenters have changed, it’s a show I watched a lot of as a kid so it is pretty surreal.
We’ve loved seeing you mess around with the FPV during lockdown. Tell us a bit more about what it is, what it can do and what you’ve been up to with it?
Oh I’m glad you’ve enjoyed them! I’ve had such a blast playing with them. For anyone reading this that have no idea what FPV is, it stands for First Person View. It is a method of operating small drones. As the pilot you wear a pair of video goggles which displays a live feed from the onboard camera of a drone. In addition to this different way of flying, the style of flying is a lot more ‘free’ than traditional camera drones as they allow you to perform more acrobatic moves, fly faster, lower and closer to things which makes can make shots feel a lot more exciting. It also gives you bit of an adrenaline rush while doing it!
It’s not a new technology but it is something that requires a lot of time which, until covid hit the UK, I didn’t feel I had enough of. Come lockdown, work pretty much dried up over night which left me with all the time in the world so I dedicated a large portion of it to FPV. I built my first couple of drones then I began a series of videos that I began posting on Instagram every Friday called #FPVfriday. This was initially meant to be a creative outlet and a form of accountability to keep me flying and filming regularly.
However, I am weak and without the stamina of Zach and his daily snippets. I didn’t have the discipline to maintain that, so now it’s more of a ‘every now and then’ fpvfriday. Oops!
Also, we’ve loved seeing some of the camera rigs you’ve created and messed around with. Tell us more about this one above?
This is the Freefly Tero. Essentially just a gimbal mounted on a remote control buggy so that you can get smooth, low angle shots. I thought it was a good idea a few years ago to get one but sadly it never really became a hit on productions as they’re just a bit too niche and fairly limited to the types of shots your can achieve. It looks cool though and is a novelty too so it’s an interesting, albeit expensive bit of kit to have in the arsenal haha.
Apart from that, other unusual rigs I’ve flown include a bunch of heavy lift drones for carrying large cameras, a 360 camera on drones, and I once flew a drone carrying a massive beer bottle at the Portugal Masters. The golfers would try to smash the bottle while it was hanging under the drone about 50 yards away. That was fun… if a little scary!
Say someone comes to you and says they want to be a drone pilot, what do you say and why?
Get involved!! Like with anything, if you’ve got a passion for something, pursue it! Of course I’m bias but I find it such a fun and rewarding job. The people you get to work with are great, you get to film all sorts of things you otherwise may never have been aware of, and you get to travel around the world! (When there isn’t a global pandemic wreaking havoc).
In terms of steps you can take, practice flying, practice your camera work, build your portfolio and get licensed through the CAA. If you want to fly commercially, you legally have to take that last step. There’s enough rogue operators out there already, take the time to educate yourself to become a safe, proficient and bad ass drone pilot!
Who inspires you at the moment? How have you survived lockdown both creatively and commercially?
I’d say my main draw of inspiration is from Instagram. There’s so many talented individuals out there, it’s an endless source of content that I find interesting and motivates me to try new things as well. As of just a few days ago I downloaded TikTok! Late to the party I know but I’m intrigued to see if it can provide any value.
Outside of social media, I live in the Peak District so I’m often out of walks and find myself thinking ‘oh it would be cool to fly through that, or dive down that’. For me, being outside also pulls me away from the allure of binging through social media and refreshes my mind. A balance I’m frequently battling, especially with lockdown and living by myself!
What is your dream drone videography collaboration or project?
I’m not really a man of setting goals, but I think I am living the dream on a bunch of projects I’m already doing! They’re usually automotive related and working with great crew. Hopefully, once COVID clears off, those jobs will be more frequent. It will be amazing to travel again!
In the immediate future, I need to actively seek the opportunities to film what I want to shoot. As opposed to waiting for the phone to ring, hoping it’s a bucket list job.
Where do you think drone videography is going from a film making point of view, and what are you excited about or scared about?
I’m pretty engrossed in FPV at the moment, which is rapidly developing. People are pushing the limits creatively and technically, which is why I think it’s an exciting time. It’s hard to keep up with what is coming out now, let alone what is around the next corner!
Drone technology has come a long way. Now, It has proven itself as a valuable asset on productions. At least we know it’s here to stay. Camera quality and drone performance, like speed, flight time, reliability, and precision are always improving. As these improvements meet the skill some FPV pilots are exhibiting, we’re opening up a whole new realm of creativity. Expect to see FPV rigs flying small cinema cameras like the Red Komodo or Alexa Mini through tiny spaces at crazy speeds and silly angles. We will start to see shots we didn’t know were possible!