Consumer Drone Ethics in Filmmaking

Drone Ethics

By now you know we’re big fans of aerial filmmaking here at TAR Productions. We have extensive experience shooting aerials from drones and helicopters and have constantly pushed for safe and practical flying.

As a reminder here are some posts we’ve published this year alone: (Epic Drone Water Shots, Drone Surf Check)

We also make it explicitly clear that operating and flying drones require great skill, caution, and care. It’s one of the reasons I take a selfie before every drone shoot we do– in case we crash or lose the craft, someone can pop in the card and see who is responsible for flying it.

The popularity of small drones, GoPro’s, and low costs have made the drone industry explode over the last couple of years. With more and more “pilots” entering the industry, there are, inevitably, more and more crashes, flyaways and danger in the air.

Some pilots are literally throwing caution to the wind when they’re flying without knowing what they are doing or how to fly.

Working on your own videos? Download our free budget templates now.

My first drone I practiced at an empty park over grass for 10 hours of flying time before putting the gimbal and camera on. This is standard practice, but not everyone follows these guidelines, but they should.

Flying without a camera on means you are 100% focused on the craft, not the imagery you are capturing. I cannot overstate this enough. If you have a First Person View (FPV) with telemetry you are focused on what the camera sees, not where your drone is in the air.

For this reason, I’m a big fan of dual operator mode: one person piloting the craft and the other controlling the camera. Dual pilots are safer and provide better results.

Once the camera goes on FPV and OnScreen Display info are imperative. You always should know where your drone is in relation to where you took off. How high and how far you’ve traveled are info you always should be aware of. Also, info such as battery voltage is hugely important for preventing crashes and flyaways.

I touched on something a few paragraphs ago that was probably an oversight. I mentioned guidelines that you should follow. The huge problem in the drone world right now is that no one has an authoritative voice on what to do, what not to do and how or how not to do it.

The FAA is a Federal Government agency that is likely not funded very well and desperately in need of more resources. They are being pressured by other agencies and media outlets to get rules out, but the reality is that the drone industry is so new and moving so quickly they simply cannot keep up

Drones are seemingly everywhere.

Crashes & Flyaways Happen

The reality is that drone crashes will happen. They’ve happened to many professionals, they’ve happened to us a few times.

For unknown reasons, we’ve had flyaways or temporarily lost control. Sometimes this was in an open area with no one around and we were not causing harm to anyone. Other times we were above water or on a mountainside where the chances of getting our drone back would have been slim to none.

Even if you follow all precautions and launch your drone the “right” way you can still have things go wrong. Just like cars, trains, airplanes and boats, things don’t always go as planned.

What is the protocol for these situations? Is there a punishment or fine that should be levied on drone pilots?

I honestly don’t know the right answer to that. I’m torn in ways, too.

For one, I feel very strongly that everyone should practice safe flying and take the time to learn how to fly. I also feel that anyone who is responsible should be able to do this, just like driving a car.

I personally have had a lot of fun flying our drone and have captured some incredible shots from it. Our Instagram feed is chock full of great aerial shots.

But I don’t want to see our skies and neighborhood full of drones from people fooling around and not being safe. A drone flew over the White House this year, I definitely don’t want that to happen at my house, that’s for sure.

The reality is that drone crashes will happen, even to professionals.

The Ethics of Drones and Filmmaking

Drones are so awesome for the filmmaking community because the increase production value and let creativity fly, literally. Never before have we been able to achieve shots that drones provide.

Hobbyists have long been able to fly remote control aircraft within a certain set of parameters. Drones are essentially the same thing but with a modern name (one that has certain negative connotations when compared to military drones and drone strikes).

So the question is asked, what is the difference between hobbyist and professionals, or even simply working for commerce, drone operators? The fact that money is being exchanged, should that change the way drones are regulated?

Do drone operators need a license to fly drones for real estate or branded entertainment purposes just because they are receiving money for their services?

This is another answer I don’t have, but I do have some thoughts on it.

I do think there should be regulation on drones, hobbyists, and professionals, but I don’t think that these two should be distinguishable or receive separate treatment.

If you’re flying and breaking a law, or flying recklessly, then some kind of regulation and/or punishment is in order.

How we distinguish this is somewhat in an area of grey. As I said earlier, I’ve crashed before. I’ve never flown recklessly or with an intention to hurt, and I think most people are the same way. It going to be very hard for the FAA to determine what is reckless and what is not.

I think a flight recorder that records telemetry, speed, actuary data are needed that can be reviewed by any authority when proper cause is suspected. This is similar to how a police officer can search someone and arrest them on the spot if they are doing something illegal, such as drunk driving.

Yes, further and more thorough investigation are in order but skies that are the Wild Wild West will ultimately hurt everyone.

By no means am I suggesting that any agency has outright authority or control without their own guidelines either. It’s still early in the drone industry and the decision we, as a community, make now are going to affect how we shape the potential.

Drone shot over industrial area

Drone shot over downtown San Diego Bay

Autonomous Flying

The technology for autonomous flying is advancing a rapid pace. This will definitely help make our skies safer. Drone manufacturers are the same as car manufacturers and they should be held responsible or require to include certain safety features.

Car manufacturers face stiff laws and competition in safety features, it’s one of their largest R&D spends each year. The benefit from this is not just them selling more vehicles, it’s everyone- from drivers to passengers, pedestrians, cyclist and more.

I think drones should be the same way. The sense and avoid technology is in its infancy but maturing at a rate you’d expect in modern technology. It’s not perfect, and might not ever be, but it will make for safer skies.

But technology like sense and avoid isn’t the only thing. Batteries are still the largest limiting factor to drones, something I mentioned in our 2015 drone roundup article. Thanks to the emergence of electric vehicles and proliferation of laptops and mobile phones running on batteries the technology is advancing, but not fast enough. Batteries are terrible for the environment. So, we need batteries that last longer, charge faster and can have more cycles than currently available.

Drone Registration

There are rumors about pending drone registration. Lawmakers are calling to fast track drone regulations and laws. I’m certainly a fan for regulation, but I don’t think that regulations alone will solve the problem.

If government subcommittees are responsible for creating regulations, will they be the one to oversee them? And update them? Will they be the one who works with drone manufacturers on creating safer drones, working with them on new technology, supporting their efforts for safer skies?

It seems to me that we need a body who is passionate about drones and wants to see their fullest potential.

Update: It appears the drone registration proposal has been published, at least for initial commenting. The interesting part of this proposal is that it’s been published by the Department of Transportation, not the FAA.

The DOT is still a federal agency, which probably means they are strapped for funding and people. They report still uses vague terminology and hopes to have more details on November 20, 2015.

What are your thoughts on drones, ethics, technology and government involvement?

Tim Ryan is Featured Guest on Businessology Podcast

TAR Production’s Founder and Director, Tim Ryan, was a featured guest on the Businessology Podcast.

The Businessology Podcast is beloved podcast in the creative, design, agency and now production world. Hosted by Jason Blumer of Blumer CPAs, he and Tim do a 1 hour deep dive into the world of video production, the similarities and differences in running a video production firm and a design agency and more.

Listen to TAR Founder Tim Ryan on the Businessology show

The Businessology Podcast has a great group of other guests and I was honored to be part of the show. I, myself, am a big fan and listen to every episode I get a chance too.

Show Notes:

1:30 Intro to TAR Productions

2:45 Similarities and differences from Video Production companies and creative agencies

4:45 Working with niche freelancers

6:00 Networking in production

9:32 Similarities in processes with designers

13:35 Never say “fix it in post”

15:20 Consistency in business

18:38 What clients always want

19:02 Why we reinvest in every project

20:10 How clients perceive your work

21:00 Value pricing in video production

22:53 Explaining Production Value in proposals

25:30 How to sell video production

28:00 Video is a medium on the rise

30:57 Does content marketing work for video production companies?

35:22 Power of Behind the Scenes photos

38:00 Behind the Scenes time lapse from our shoot

39:15 Why I educate our competitors

41:00 Competing with amateurs who work at much lower rates

43:00 The brutal side of owning a creative business

45:30 Tricks and tips for selling video production

46:50 Talking about budget

51:00 Feedback from prospective clients on proposals

57:00 Inherit value we bring to projects

1:00:00 Process working with clients vs process working with team

1:03:30 Getting your portfolio to where you want and having it sell itself


We touch on so much in this episode! Tim runs a video production company to help clients tell their stories. Since we don’t have too many video production company owners on the show, we took time to compare a video production company to a web/design agency. There are similarities and differences, and we glean some learning from this truth.

Things Tim Ryan is always working on:
– Consistency in keeping the work coming in.
– How clients buy video production services (is it a commodity?).
– How Tim creatively networks with contractors so he’ll know who to hire next.
– Value awareness of the creative business owner, and how to use this to price a client.
– So much more!

Show Links:
TAR Productions
TAR’s Vimeo Profile
TAR’s Twitter Profile
TAR’s Linkedin Profile
Behind the scenes time lapse product shoot with TAR Productions

Any questions for us from the show? Let us know below and we’ll start an online conversation.

The How and Why of Video Production Budget & Templates

Anytime you work in creative professional services it’s hard to put a value to it, especially when talking about your own work. It’s even harder to judge what someone else will value your work and services at.  

To further complicate things, two people may value your services completely different; read: yourself and a prospective client.

When you’re a freelancer, business owner or employee it can be pretty hard to receive feedback that your services are deemed less valuable- or not valuable enough to justify hiring you for a job.

Film & Video budget templates. (free)

When you’re just starting out you’re more likely to take on jobs to build up a portfolio or network with others. I’m not against this at all, but I see it happen far too often and for far too long into someone’s career. It seems there’s always another job that you want so bad you’re willing to discount your rate, justified by the fact that the marketing power from this project will pay a positive ROI.

This is something we deal with on a regular basis at TAR Productions. We constantly get asked for a quote on jobs where people assume it’s as simple as looking up a rate sheet.

As creatives, we need to remember that we’re also a business. I’ve been able to build up a company built around value, and our services to customers are of great value. And we need to charge a premium for this.

We don’t work off a rate sheet, and by now you know that we’re big fans of value pricing projects. Value pricing in professional creative services makes sense for all parties involved. Production value isn’t something found in a rate sheet.

We have a rate sheet for reference, but this is to reference what we pay freelancers. We reference this to make sure we’re turning a profit on each job. 

In early meetings with prospective clients we’re asking them what their end goals are and what a successful project/campaign will look like. These answers give us so much info into what needs to go into a project and how to translate that into production value.

Think about it: your client is thinking about selling more T-shirts and pants. They might say they’re currently selling 10,000 pants per season, but this upcoming season they want to sell 25,000 pants. 2.5x increase and that goal is incredibly valuable to them. Besides selling more pants, they’re gaining new customers and fans, increasing their reach, creating residual value in their brand that will pay dividends for seasons to come. How valuable is this?

Production value isn’t something found in a rate sheet.

Your client not thinking this project needs to be shot in slow motion with a gyrostabilizer. They’re not thinking that a custom score and sound design is going to take this project to the next level. They’re not thinking that the voice over should be ominous and powerful (all things to consider when creating a budget). They’re thinking about selling more pants, the end goal, and looking to you, the expert, to help them with that.


Taking what you learn from your early meeting with your prospective client you can gauge what it’s going to take to deliver a successful project. Clients will ask how much this is going to cost. They always do. When this happens you need to be prepared to give a range, ballpark or number. There are a few ways we go about figuring this out.

When budget comes up in your meeting (this is usually towards the end of it) you need to be confident in your delivery. Make eye contact and be upfront on what it’s going to cost. Take risks on pricing if you’re looking to grow your business.

Whatever you do, when asked how much this is going to cost, do not say “ummmm…” with a blank stare on your face. If you say this you just lost at least 10% of your budget immediately.

If you don’t know how much it’s going to cost let them know that you’ll figure it out and get back to them. Explain it’s complicated and there are a lot of variables that go into a project. But confidence is key here.

Working on a production budget

Always taking notes when making a budget, as there are so many variables in production

Want to know how we narrow down budgets? It’s easy, we ask. This can be hit or miss. Sometimes we’ll get a very straight forward answer, something along the lines of “Our budget is $X.”

Other times we’ll get wide eyes and a shoulder shrug. When this happens I can’t help but think that the project isn’t all that important to them.

Sometimes we’ll get a response such as “We’re not sharing our budget and looking at who is going to be most competitive.”

This is when we kindly inform our clients that we don’t compete on price and tell them why.

However, we always have to give our prospective clients the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes they have no idea. There is always a chance that they have never done a video before and don’t know what’s involved.

This is always a pivotal part of the conversation. This is where you can differentiate yourself from your competition and really earn your client’s trust.

Your client might think you’re two guys with a decent video camera when you’re really bringing out an entire crew, with big lights, lenses and a strategy to ensure success.

Narrowing Down a Range

One thing that we’ve found pretty helpful is asking what their range is. We’ll ask if it’s closer to $5,000, $50,000 or $250,000. We’ll usually get a pretty good idea of what we’re talking about here.

We always follow our process for all projects, but if we spark some initial ideas during one of these conversations we’re not afraid to ballpark a budget required for that project. This could always be our blue sky idea that is totally awesome (and might cost a lot to do). The worse that can happen is you’re shot down and move on to option B.

In other words, don’t waste each other’s time talking about amazing, incredible projects that are out of budget. No matter how cool the idea is, if the budget doesn’t support it and it’s not an option, why are you talking about it to begin with?


Outdoor lighting with silk modifier


So you’re hooked on value pricing, great! But you still want to make sure you’re running a profitable business. I’ve included two budget templates below for you to use and make sure everything is making square business sense.

We work with several freelancers with various backgrounds and they’re all worth their salt. We have set rates with all of them and when I’m building a project budget I usually include their rate, number of days and who will be working a specific role.

Another great thing about a budget template is that you have a list of all the roles you might need for a project. Forgot to include a boom operator in the original ballpark? A template with all the roles you could ever need is really useful.

Not every time will you need a 25+ person crew, sometimes just a few people will do. And for that we’ve created a simpler budgeting template.

There are lines for contingencies and commissions if needed. Remember, these templates are so you can measure if you’re running a profit.

Another great feature of using budget templates is that you can quickly see what the bottom lines comes to. If you need to increase or decrease certain fields based on your client’s budget you can do so.

For example, if your budget comes in under your client’s budget and you think you can use a field producer for a few extra days during pre-production bring her on board early (pro tip: you’ll always end up with a better product when you’re more prepared).

We’ve included two budget templates: simple and detailed. The simple budget is great for a majority of the shoots you’re probably going on. You can add or hide rows as needed and change the commission or contingency structures.

The detailed budget is pretty complex and makes more sense when you’re working with large crews and several shoot days. If you are working on a large production your Line Producer will love you for being so organized.

What questions do you have about budgeting for film and video productions?

Behind the Scenes Time Lapse Product Shoot

Peek Behind the Scenes

When we see a completed piece of work or art we often forget what went into the process of getting us to the finished result. Was it a few minutes of work of someone pressing some buttons on a computer? Was it hours or days?

Or, did it take a lifetime plus a day’s work. When we’re hired for a job, we’re hired for our knowledge and expertise, not the 8-10 hours we’re on set.

It’s easy to overlook everything that goes into a production. We recently produced a product launch video for Futures Fins where we spend a full day shooting product.

Lighting, angle and lens choice are all very specific and purpose driven choices that greatly affect how a product is shown. You can see in the behind the scenes time lapse below how many takes we do and small, detailed adjustments to lens, lighting and camera angles.

Working on your own videos? Download our free budget templates now.

Have you ever shot product before? What were some of the challenges you faced? Let us know in the comments below.