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by Neal Reville
If anyone were to ask me what I felt was the most significant advance in the movie-making arsenal over the past five years, or so, I feel I would have to answer, “the drone”. Yes, I know the world is awash with them. As days pass, they are used for more and more tasks. We fight wars with them by remote control, we deliver parcels, inspect radio, tv and electricity towers, inspect sewage treatment plants, count Dugongs, sell houses— you name it, a drone can do it.

And I see more and more their use in movies. In news bulletins and documentaries, in amateur moviesnaps, in independent productions and in Hollywood blockbusters. Yes, they certainly are being used in feature movie productions (along with GoPro cameras). Keep an eye on the credits — you may see “Drone operator”.

Because, they are capable of providing shots that used to cost many thousands of dollars. What does it cost to mount a cine camera in a stabilised mount on a helicopter and run it for a day? And that does not even scratch the surface of what a drone can do. They are so stable, so smooth, that they can provide a truly fluid camera platform. Yes, aerial shots certainly, but much a lot closer to the ground.

They can emulate a dolly that costs many thousands, a crane that costs more. They can track and probe and get into places and spaces almost impossible by any other means. They can even replace a tripod in some cases.

Of course, it’s not the drone, inherently, that provides all this smoothness. It’s all the electronic stabilisers, accelerometers, GPS and what have you that is packed into them. And it’s the GPS that allows them to automatically return to their take-off point if they lose the controlling radio signal. They may be a “gadget” but they are one of the most useful gadgets to appear for quite a while.

Of course, you can’t just grab one and start flying. Well, you can, but there are a few rules put in place by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. One thing is that there are Commercial drones and Amateur drones. To fly a Commercial drone, one has to have, in effect, a private pilots licence. For Amateur drones no licence is required. CASA is about to relax the rules for drones in general as they have proved much less risky than anticipated. Before flying madly around, check the current state of regulations. Here’s a sample of what one must observe.

You must not fly closer than 30m to vehicles, boats or buildings that are not on your own property unless you have permission from the owner.
You can’t fly over (busy) beaches, sports grounds where there is a game, or other heavily populated areas.

You can’t fly within a radius of 5.5km of any airfield or helicopter landing site. Note that, in the event of an accident, ignorance of this rule or the location is not a defence.
You may not fly above 125m in controlled air-space (EG: in Brisbane— for the same reason building heights are limited).
Fly in daylight only.

Don’t fly around bushfires, as low-flying water-bombers are usually operating.

Keep your drone in line of sight.

Note: these are generally known restrictions only— not legal advice and will be of no use to you in court— for the real rules consult the CASA website. Especially as the rules are about to change.
 
Looking at these rules, one thing is pretty clear. They are designed to A) avoid hitting real aircraft and B) to avoid dropping the drone on people or things. With rapid development in drones, some of these restrictions are a little old-hat, so they may be eased in line with overseas trends.

By the way, so-called “privacy-invasion” situations seem less of a hazard than sometimes thought. Because Australia does not have some of the over-the-top privacy legislation of other countries, alleged infringements seem to be a Civil matter. And apparently, pursuing a complaint is very messy and uncertain. 
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