Interview: Randy Scott Slavin, Founder of the World’s First Drone Film Festival

“I think it’s important for people to understand that when you’re shooting something, it’s most important to shoot it the way that it needs to be told,” says Randy Scott Slavin. Take it from a pro. The New York City-based photographer and filmmaker’s passion for filmmaking more or less began during his days as an MTV intern. He first gained recognition for stitching together hundreds of pictures to create works of art known as “stereographic projections,” and he went on create the Alternate Perspective series, which has been featured in art galleries across several metropolises.

Now, he’s a trendsetter for the emerging movement of drone cinematography.

Slavin’s first jaw-dropping video, featuring stunning aerials of New York City, Aerial NYC, became a viral sensation. Slavin looked to submit his video for nomination at a film festival, only to be denied by default. How could that be? Well, according to Slavin, none of the festivals had categories to submit his video for.

This encouraged the director to tackle an even bigger project, something “dedicated to celebrating the art of drone cinematography”—the first-ever Drone Film Festival, which took place last month. The event proved to be a huge success and an even bigger turnout of filmmakers is already being projected for the 2016 festival.

We caught up with Randy Scott Slavin during some much-needed downtime to chop it up about a few things: including his dreams of working with Kendrick and Kanye, love of aerial filmmaking, the indie film festival, drone racing, and more.

What are some of the more innovative drone videos that have you excited as a filmmaker?
From the beginning, when I saw Superman with a GoPro, I was just blown away—I still am. If you look at some of the winners on our website, there’s a good representation of that.

But all the films that were shown were exceptional and amazing in different ways. When there is great storytelling and beautiful shots of landscapes or places you’ve never seen before, these films are just an amazing cross-section of possibilities. And I really look forward to seeing next year’s submissions because now that everybody is seeing what’s really good, it’s gonna take things to the next level.

What is the process for someone to submit a drone video for the festival?
We have rules for submissions: It has to be five minutes or less, and more than 50 percent shot with a drone. There are other mundane rules, but the majority is what I mentioned. We’ll be accepting submissions for next year this August.

Hollywood is adapting to the trend as well. As a filmmaker, how would you utilize these machines to create or film a big-budget movie?
The thing about drones is that it enables the camera to be free of all gravity and any other restrictions. It’s just really exciting. The action sequences would be super fun. You can move really fast and really close to things. Once Hollywood uses drones more, we’re gonna see a lot more exciting scenes in general.

How about music videos? Any dream scenario of what artist you would love to shoot one for?
I want to shoot a video for Kendrick Lamar or Drake. Maybe Kanye—that would be awesome. Every commercial, music video, and film is a story. If the story is going to be told better using a drone, then it should be used. But just to use a drone for the sake of using a drone is not cool. It winds up making your filmmaking not as powerful.

That being said, look at OK GO’s video for “I Won’t Let You Down”; that was all about using a drone, and that was great example for how a drone could be used just for its own sake!

What are the drone and action cameras you personally rock with?
I have a bunch of GoPros that I put on a bunch of different drones. The DJI Phantom is amazing. That’s what I learned off. I have a DJI Inspire, a DJI S900, and a [Lumenier] QAV400, too.

So do you utilize drones for anything other than aerial cinematography?
Recently I’ve been getting into drone racing. First off it’s drones, so it’s super awesome. They go superfast, like 90 mph, plus. You fly them using goggles because you can’t be on the drone. We put cameras on them, but instead of using them for cinematography we use them to pilot. It’s a really cool sport and people all over the place are doing it.

Some people freak out when they see a drone mainly because they’ve heard the horror stories. What are your impressions when sending a drone in the air to create art?
People are scared. You know? But I don’t mess with people’s privacy. First of all it’s just stupid to mess with people’s emotions. I like doing creative things so messing with people can be fun, but when it comes to drones, it’s not one of those kinds of toys. You use it to make art. Who cares what your neighbors are doing? And if other people are scared of drones and for their privacy, well then maybe they shouldn’t walk around their house or in front of the windows naked. There is nothing more dangerous on a drone than a long lens on a camera.

But there is a small and emerging crowd of people starting to get familiar with drones and acknowledge how fun they can be.
As soon as people see a drone, their fear goes away, their distrust goes away. And then they turn into a kid because it’s super fun. When you see a drone in person and when you get a chance to fly one in person, you understand it a lot better.

Any last tips you can share with beginners before they jump into the aerial cinematography lane?
The best thing to do is for someone to buy a cheap, small drone and learn how to fly it. Once you get good at flying, then upgrade to something that has a camera on it—based on your budget, of course. It’s not really about the camera itself, but how people fly things and how they use it. I think it’s really important to take that time and learn how to fly it well. And then just have fun.

Personally, what would you say was one of the dumbest things you’ve ever seen that someone filmed using a drone?
There is a really famous video of a guy getting hit in the head with a drone. This [wedding videographer] guy used a drone and he hit the bride and groom in the head with it. Ridiculous.

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