How drone use makes indies look like Hollywood epics


A quadcopter, used for wide angle, Hollywood-like shots

Robin Christian, an Illinois and Los Angeles-based screenwriter, director and producer, is looking ahead to the latest technological trends that may have the largest impact on filmmakers today.

Christian, who owns Beverly Hills-based film company Dreamscape Cinema, shot his latest action film “Lowlifes” with the aid of aerial drone or quadcopter footage, and plans to shoot his next two films using 360° virtual reality (VR) video.

“Cranes couldn’t hope to do anything like quadcopters. I think it’s a very important part of the future,” said Christian, who owns several quadcopters. Some are custom built, while others were purchased from Horizon Hobbies and Roto Concept.

Recently, he’s been using the copters in business-to-business projects.

The utility of quadcopters, which hover a camera in the air and allow for floating wide angle landscape shots, is a tool that Christian says helps independent filmmakers like himself emulate expensive Hollywood shots. The cost of Christian’s quadcopters, rigged to shoot in 4K video, range from $1-2,000.

Drone footage is not particularly new to filmmaking. Last March, Wired said “Drones Are About to Change How Directors Make Movies.” However, there are some hurdles to shooting video with drones. The FAA has specific guidelines and registration requirements for people using drones for commercial use. Christian says he has applied for FAA exemption.

Christian also has his eyes set on incorporating 360° VR video into two upcoming films, and has been testing VR technology since last July.

VR in film is a hot topic. Sundance Film Festival 2016 featured over 30 VRexperiences.” VR has also been called “an empathy machine.” Recently, Huffington Post asked, can VR make us better people?

For his action film “Ball of Rage” and horror film “Slice,” Christian says the cost of shooting VR is higher, as he will also shoot the films in 4K.

“I have my own proprietary way of doing this. It’s a self-contained rig I can put on a tripod or a moving dolly with 360° cameras,” said Christian.

Christian said Dreamscape does not have any clients for VR video yet, “but their wheels are turning just like mine.”

“Within 10 years, it’ll be really easy to see a movie standard… or in VR. It’ll be just another ticket you buy,” he said. “There’s already about five million new users every six months of VR. Some of those are going to want to watch movies.”

Brandon Howard is a Chicago-based journalist, cultural critic and reporter. His work has appeared in Do312,, Streetwise Magazine and The Columbia Chronicle, among others. Follow him on Twitter, @BrandonHoward, or at