Lights, Drones, Action: Hollywood’s high flyers hit Boston

A CineStar unmanned vehicle, similar to the one used in a recent Boston reality show shoot.
A CineStar unmanned vehicle, similar to the one used in a recent Boston reality show shoot.
Image licensed under Creative Commons by Flickr user villehoo

A recent Boston drone sighting had locals buzzing: Who is that eye in the sky? Turns out it was a West Coast production company, helping wrap up aerial shots for an upcoming reality show.

By happenstance, I’ve found myself deep into the world of domestic drones — I’m helping organize a nationwide survey of how local governments are using them — and was really surprised when pictures of one in Boston surfaced on Reddit and Facebook.

Previously, the Boston Police Department flatly told me “We do not use drones.”

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It looks like the drone flying in local skies wasn’t a police operation or a hoax, but instead the work of a entrepreneurial crew from California, Laminated Pictures.

Jeff Moriarty, one of the production company’s principals, said that since acquiring the drone, which came in an Ikea-like do-it-yourself kit, opportunities ranging from a stint on G4 to the aforementioned, still-secret Boston production continue to pop up.

Laminated Pictures purchased the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a CineStar-8, after seeing the kinds of innovative shots that the copter made easy.

“I really think this platform is going to be the new thing. When we watch video games or cartoons, we see these beautiful shots where they’re flying around, and you couldn’t do that until now,” he said. And even shots that were possible but expensive have been made much more accessible.

For a high-angle street shot, for example, roads would have to be blocked, permits obtained for a technocrane, and expenses add up quick. With the UAV, Moriarty can just get to the scene and go (relatively speaking).

“I don’t need the paperwork,” he said.

As for paperwork, UAV usage is tightly regulated in the United States: The FAA has been known to send warning letters to groups even joking about operating unmanned drones, although the FAA has publicly committed to allowing drones in the public airspace, for military, commercial, and private purposes.

In the meantime, Laminated Pictures is flying under the radar, so to speak: Moriarty said that the drone is kept under 400 feet at all times, and the flight time of the eight-pound vehicle hovers around seven minutes. He said this keeps it within legal limits, though experts I’ve talked to over the past few months tend to agree that the FAA has banned all commercial drone usage.

Despite that risk and the legal uncertainty, Moriarty said he hasn’t run into any problems while operating his small craft. After all, he has the cool factor defense.

“At a shady level, if a police officer came by, I can be shooting in a place I shouldn’t be shooting, and an officer would just say, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

[Image licensed under Creative Commons by Flickr user villehoo]