Image courtesy of T.R. Garman.

Students at Pittsburgh Filmmakers can soon enhance their movie projects with the help of drones.

The school will introduce its first drone filmmaking class, Drones for Photo and Video. Set to debut in the spring, the course teaches students how to assemble, set up and operate small ready-to-fly (RTF) drone models.

“Drones are a valuable tool for the filmmaker or photographer, along with tripods, dollies and other camera support,” says Pittsburgh Filmmakers director of education John Cantine.

Taught by drone expert and Filmmakers alum T.R. Garman, Drones for Film and Video also covers the safety and ethics of using drones as defined by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, as well as the basics of composition for film and still photography. Students can use drones provided for the class, or purchase one of the inexpensive—around $100—RTF models suggested by Garman. While investing in a drone is recommended, the class description stipulates that it’s not required.

“The drones of today allow the photographer or filmmaker to place the camera in almost infinite positions,” says Garman. “Stability and placement are paramount to the still photographer. For the filmmaker or videographer, smooth movement and camera control are vital. The drones that we will be using in class will provide these capabilities.”

He adds that while the course material is “inherently technical,” it will also “focus as much, if not more, on the artistic use of the camera.”

Drone image. Courtesy of T.R. Garman.

Drones have become more prominent in film both behind and in front of the camera—the recent horror sequel Blair Witch, for example, cuts between a documentary film crew operating a small camera drone and the drone’s footage. The technology has become especially useful to independent filmmakers unable to afford the cranes, helicopters or other professional equipment usually necessary to capture shots from high above.

While drones have become more accessible, regulations regarding the technology are still tricky. Owners are required to register any drones—also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems—weighing more than 55 pounds with the FAA. There are also rules mandating the height, distance and time of day drones can fly.

The course also goes over the requirements for a commercial drone license, which Cantine believes could open students to opportunities in film and beyond.

“In addition to expanding the aesthetic possibilities for students in film and photography, commercial drone work is a growing industry as the FAA clarifies the rules,” says Cantine.

Cantine points out that while students leave prepared to fly a drone recreationally for film and video projects, obtaining a license to operate a drone commercially involves additional certification and training.

Garman regularly implements drones in his work with Flying Machines Video, the aerial photo and video company he founded seven years ago. With them, he takes real estate photos and inspects roofs and industrial sites.

“While this class is geared towards the photographer or filmmaker, the material presented in this class could be applied to a number of other fields,” says Garman.

Interested in seeing what a drone could do for your film? Those who register online by January 1, 2017 receive a discount on tuition. There are no prerequisites for taking the class which meets at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers facility (477 Melwood Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213 ) on Tuesday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. from January 10 to April 18, 2017.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...