1438613869© Leland Beaumont

Aerial Camera Pilot

Industries:
Film
Personality type:
Engineer
Departments:
Camera

The lowdown

  • Flying the aircraft which shoots aerial sequences as well as any aircraft which appears in the film
  • Researching and planning aerial sequences, as well as obtaining any permissions required
  • Working to achieve the Director’s vision without compromising safety 

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • have a professional pilot's licence
  • have excellent knowledge of aerodynamics and aviation
  • have a thorough understanding of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules and regulations 
  • know about the capabilities of a wide variety of aircraft
  • know how to shoot action sequences
  • be familiar with all aerial camera systems and equipment
  • work creatively without compromising on safety
  • lead a team whilst also taking direction
  • have strong concentration skills
  • be courageous
  • have the confidence to make the right decisions under pressure
  • be patient
  • understand how other film crew members perform under pressure
  • know about Health and Safety legislation and procedures (including the handling and placing of camera equipment in aircraft, First Aid, Fire Fighting and other emergency procedures)

What does an Aerial Camera Pilot do?

Camera Pilots fly the aircraft that carries the Aerial Camera Crew (Aerial Director of Photography (DoP) and Aerial Camera Assistant). Together they shoot the aerial sequences that form part of the finished feature film. 

Camera Pilots are also responsible for flying any aircraft, including helicopters, planes, hot air balloons, etc., that appear as action props in finished films. This may involve performing difficult stunts requiring a high degree of expertise and experience. 

Camera Pilots may also perform the role of Aerial Unit Director, responsible for realising the Director's vision for the aerial sequences; this can involve scouting for locations, working out aerial action sequences using models and storyboards, and directing these sequences (from the back of the aircraft, or whilst piloting). 

The Camera Pilot may also carry out the duties of the Aerial Co-ordinator, which includes more logistical tasks such as finding suitable aircraft and crew within a given budget and schedule.

If films involve large amounts of aerial photography or action sequences, Camera Pilots are hired approximately two months before shooting begins to allow for careful planning and preparation. 

If the aerial sequences require certain dispensations from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules, e.g., for flying under a bridge, or exceptionally low flying over densely populated areas, Camera Pilots must organise all clearance procedures, and liaise with police and local councils to ensure minimum disruption. 

During shooting they arrive at the location early and prepare the aircraft (usually a helicopter) for its daily inspection by the Safety Engineer. Camera Pilots must check over and sign off the paperwork. As this is one of the few roles on a film crew that carries a serious life risk factor, strict adherence to aviation rules and regulations is essential. This is especially important while flying the aircraft during filming, when Camera Pilots must work hard to achieve the Director's vision without compromising safety. 

Camera Pilots may also watch daily rushes (raw footage) with the Director and Aerial DoP, or may be invited into the cutting room to discuss the footage with the Editor.

As it’s such a specialised job, there are a limited number of A-list Camera Pilots who are always in demand. Most Camera Pilots work on commercials and television productions, as well as on feature films.

Will I need a qualification?

You will need a commercial pilot's licence, granted by the Civil Aviation Authority, in order to fly any commercial aircraft in the UK. You will therefore have to undertake training for a professional pilot's licence, and fly in as many different locations and conditions as possible.  

What’s the best route in?

Because this is such a highly specialised job, there is no typical career route for the role of Camera Pilot. You will need to have extensive experience of flying a variety of aircraft, especially helicopters.

Many Camera Pilots working in the film industry have previously undergone military training, which is invaluable for learning the importance of team work, and for understanding the limitations of what can and cannot be achieved in difficult, often dangerous, situations. 

Interested? Find out more...

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