Cinematographer Joshua Narins and pilot Ray McCort had very specific ideas about operating a full service aerial production company. The two men, who run the year-old New York-based out fit Aerial Cinema Productions, did not think it was sufficient to offer producers a piloted aircraft and nothing more. "We coordinate the whole job," Narins says. That includes safety coordination, equipment rental, FAA clearances, permits, providing aerial unit producers and personnel, and, of course, aerial camera systems and a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.
"There are very few people dedicated to the specialties," says Narins, referring to ACP's market positioning. "A lot of people say they can do a lot of things," he says, but good aerial cinematography requires more than sitting in a helicopter seat and pointing the camera lens. "I'm trying to fly the frame and not just the helicopter," says McCort. "Keeping steady is important, but (I am) an extension of the camera. A helicopter pilot is basically a dolly grip in the air with a million-dollar piece of equipment." Narins, an IATSE Local 644 member, commends his partner's "sense of timing and smoothness": "We usually have a monitor for him so he can see (the shot) via video tap," he explains. "It helps to have a collaborator as opposed to an just a camera operator."
While producers and directors are increasingly safety conscious, "that's more my job," says McCort. The National Transportation Safety Board voted the Bell Jet Ranger 206B helicopter used by ACP the safest single-engine aircraft in the world. And McCort knows how to use the aircraft to the production's greatest advantage. The uninitiated may not really be aware of what might pose a threat to safety. "It is my job to say we can do the same shot another way," McCort says.
In the last year, ACP has worked on some 20 projects, ranging from feature films to commercials and documentaries. Among the credits: films such as Now and Then (a.k.a.Gaslight Addition) and Beyond Belief, as well as commercial director Tony Kaye's Microsoft campaign for agency Wieden & Kennedy. McCort's aerial work also appeared in the action feature Blown Away. McCort, a onetime helicopter pilot for ABC/New York's Channel 7 Eyewitness News and a SAG member who sometimes flies picture ship, is a Juilliard-trained musician who learned his film piloting from the top talent on the West Coast: Bobby Zajonc and Alan Purwin.
ACP's mission is to rival the West Coast's top aerial services. A full-blown aerial production company is something the New York area has simply lacked, Narins says. "We are very dedicated to keeping the business on the East Coast. New York filmmakers have a unique creative voice," he says. To show how serious it is, ACP gives independent filmmakers a discount on day rates, and does not charge minimum day rates. Narins explains: "The people who are here (in New York) and who care for (New York production) have an obligation to do their best to foster it."