Bay Area Drone Film Festival 2016

Read our interview with Clay Coleman, Bay Area Drone Film Festival‘s organizer!

With 207 entries from 25 countries, the 2016 Bay Area Drone Film Festival (BADFF) judging is coming to a close.

The winners will screen on an 80 ft Big Screen with over $12,000 in prizes at the Live Event on Feb 28th at the AMC Mercado-20 in Santa Clara, CA.

I caught up with the event’s organizer, Clay Coleman, to chat about the Festival, the emerging drone film festivals trend and the future of drones in Film & Television.

Clay, what was the genesis of the Bay Area Drone Film Festival?

It was the perfect storm actually. First, I have been working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for nearly 25 years, and am currently an Air Traffic Control Supervisor.

As you can imagine, I am exposed to much of the “behind-the-scenes” discussion and activity concerning drones and the effect on manned aircraft.

Second, I am a life-long photographer who many years ago, spent time ‘day-dreaming’ of how I could get my (rather bulky) 35mm camera into the air to take advantage of the awesome perspective that would offer. I was imagining a helium balloon of sorts. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to dream up a drone.

Third, I love drones! They are so much fun to fly, and again, the photographic perspective they offer, is exhilarating. About a year ago, I got an email from my mom telling me about the New York City Drone Film Festival and that I should enter some of my work. I checked into it, but the entry deadline had passed.

I read some of Randy Slavin’s comments, and agreed that we needed to help change the negative public perception of drones.

Being on the opposite coast from NYC, I thought the San Francisco Bay Area would be a great place to hold another drone film festival.

Drone festivals are an emerging trend. Is there anything about the Bay Area Drone Film Festival that makes it different from other drone festivals?

When planning began for the Bay Area Drone Film Festival a year ago in Feb. 2015, we thought we would be the 2nd drone film festival in the US and perhaps the world. So the mere fact that it was a “drone” film festival set it apart from other film festivals.

But due to circumstances beyond our control, our first scheduled date for the festival was pushed back about 6 months to 2/28/2016. As fast as the technology has emerged, so have drone film festivals.

Our initial mission and goals have stayed the same though. We want to help inform the public about the positive things that drones can do, as well as promote safety information so operators are better informed about airspace and safe drone operating practices.

To that end, we teamed up with Know Before You Fly campaign to help promote safety.

How many films were entered this year and what country did the majority of entries originate?

We received 207 entries from over 25 countries.  40% of those entries were from the United States.

What is the most popular genre for entries?

Landscape/Travel/Natural Wonders was the most popular, and in close 2nd was the Yuneec category, which was set up exclusively for people using Yuneec brand drones to shoot their footage. Obviously, Yuneec was one of our major sponsors. They have been great to work with!

What, in your opinion, makes an engaging film with drones?

It’s a hard thing to define. That has become even more apparent seeing our judges’ comments and ratings for this year’s entries. While one may absolutely love an entry, another judge will come along and give it a low rating. Our system is set up so the judges cannot see the other judges’ comments/ratings, so their opinion is not tainted.

For me, certain films just grab you right away, and I want to watch them over and over. Others, to be honest, are hard to watch to the end, even though they are only 3-4 minutes long.

How concerned are you with the legality of the aerial footage used in the films that are submitted to you?

That’s an interesting question. In essence, we are in the “Wild West” when it comes to drone regulation and legality in the U.S.

Of course we don’t want to encourage or condone irresponsible drone operation. We want people to fly safe, and follow the safety guidelines recommended by community based hobby groups.

Being an employee of the FAA, I understand the daunting task the FAA has in protecting the National Airspace System. It is a very complicated process with all the legalities and liability for maintaining the safest airspace in the world. I also understand the frustration due to the length of time it is taking.

Do you envisage this being a problem in the future and if so, what would be your solution?

I hope that when the highly anticipated rule is made public (reportedly in March or April), that it will bring more clarity to what we can and can’t do with our drones.

Since there are so many gray areas right now, I think many people just do what they want and hope for the best. It will be an evolving process.

My solution would include the creation of a transparent traffic management system for drones, whereby when an operator powers up his/her drone, it automatically connects to the system, and away they go.

The onboard system will communicate with the traffic management system, and along with sense and avoid technology, we should be able to fly safely within the parameters set forth.

Similar to the rules for manned aircraft, certain airspace will be reserved for delivery, or other commercial uses, and other airspace will be for hobbyists.

Technology is changing rapidly in this space. What do you think is the future of drones in film and television?

I think drones will all but replace the use of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for shooting film and video aerials.

Drones are much easier to transport, they are cost-efficient, and overall make much more sense for filmmakers.

Three to five years from now, a drone will be just another tool in the cinematographer/news reporters toolbox…just like another lens is now.

One thing I find very ironic is the fact that journalists and the whole news industry stand to benefit greatly from drone use to cover their stories, however, they are the ones perpetuating the negative perception of drones by embellishing certain events that involve drones.

There’s no doubt that there are some drone operators who have acted irresponsibly, but most negative stories you see in the press are somewhere between truth and pure sensationalism.

What advice would you give to any filmmaker thinking of using drones?

I would encourage filmmakers to definitely consider the use of drones to replace manned aircraft.

In many cases they can get better shots with a drone in confined spaces, even indoors on a sound stage.

In the near future, it won’t be necessary to apply for a section 333 exemption, and wait four to six months for an approval that has so many ridiculous, burdensome requirements that discourage the commercial use of drones.

However, I think talented drone operators will be in high demand, just like DP’s and Cinematographers are now. Matter of fact, it probably won’t be too long before there’s a drone operator union!


Clay Coleman is the Director of the Bay Area Drone Film Festival and has been an Air Traffic Controller with the FAA for nearly 25-years. He is also a life-long photographer and avid small UAS (drone) enthusiast.  He is a member of AUVSI, AMA, ALEA, and UAVSA.

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