American Cinematographer - Birds Eye View



By David Weiner

 Aerial production services


In addition to companies manufacturing products for airborne filming, there are those that focus primarily on providing services, such as Aerial Cinema Productions, which began operating about 10 years ago. “We offer full-service aerial production and coordination, providing the helicopter, the pilot and mounts,” says Ray McCort, pilot and aerial coordinator for the company. “Most of the time, we provide the whole package with the helicopter as a camera ship. Occasionally, we fly the helicopter without a camera if it is going to appear on screen as a picture ship or flying on a specific stunt sequence.

“We offer several types of helicopters; the most common are the Jet Ranger and Long Ranger [made by Bell Helicopters] and the Twin Star or A Star [made by American Eurocopter]. Our fleet is equipped with pop-out safety floats so we can operate over the water, too,” says McCort, adding that the company has branches in Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, DC.

Most of the company’s business is a blend of features and commercials, with occasional calls for TV shows and music videos. “The first feature we did was probably Now And Then,” he says. “We used the Wescam system and worked on the closing credit sequence. Demi Moore, Melanie Griffith and Rosie O’Donnell were all playing in the yard. The sequence began as a tight shot and pulled way up over the streets and houses. We started by coming in and hovering over the house, then zooming in on the actresses. As the helicopter flew away, we slowly zoomed out and tilted up to reveal the entire neighborhood.

“We did a similar shot for Save the Last Dance in Chicago, [which required] filming a moving train from a helicopter. We had to show one of the stars, Julia Stiles, inside the train. We zoomed in on her to a tight shot and then pulled away as the train went into downtown Chicago,” he recalls. ‘That wasn’t a special-effects shot; she was there in the passenger seats.”

McCort says the company’s most recent high-profile sequence appeared in Chill Factor. Shot by aerial coordinator and pilot Geoff Palmer, “it involved several military Huey helicopters chasing down bad guys on location in Utah and South Carolina. The most difficult part was coordinating with the talent, because we were flying with actors in the helicopter and on the ground. The direction of flight and especially the altitude had to be planned out very carefully.”

Some of the biggest problems McCort confronts arise when directors want to film a specific shot that might be unwise from a safety standpoint. He says that many directors are not aware of all of the hazards involved in aerial filming. “They might have a particular shot in mind, but it’s the aerial coordinator’s job to keep things safe and sane,” McCort points out. “We want the director to get his shot, but there may be several ways of achieving it. We always work closely with the director to find the safest way to do things while keeping him happy at the same time.

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