Drone Photographer Randy Scott Slavin on the Tool That Transformed His Work

We take the window seat on an airplane, we pay a few dimes at a lookout, or we grab an elevator up to the top of the tallest building in town. Whatever the method, there’s no denying the thrill that only a view from the top can provide. It’s these awe-inspiring vistas that fuel the craft of drone videography and photography, and it’s what led Randy Scott Slavin, creator of the NYC Drone Film Festival, to change up his style of shooting after watching a skateboarding video.

“One day I stumbled across an amazing skateboarding video called ‘Pretty Sweet,’” Slavin says. “It opens with a close-up of a guy’s face and then sails overhead, over a fence, down a corridor, and around this bend all while skateboarders are doing tricks in every direction. I was totally blown away and needed to know how they did it. After carefully reviewing the shot another ten times, I saw the shadow of the drone. That’s it—I was hooked.”

As a successful music video and commercial director, Slavin is required to be on top of new camera technology. But it was the combined experiences of his early childhood and his career that made operating a drone such a natural fit.

“I had a lot of experience flying RC [remote control vehicles] when I was a kid,” he says. “A background in some sort of RC helps, or even if you’re just really good at Call of Duty. Having good hand-eye coordination really helps. One of the biggest assets in terms of my skill set is that I’ve being working as a director for a long time, so it’s natural for me to think about camera motion and storytelling.”

Embracing his newly discovered synthesis of flying and filming, Slavin began shooting with a drone more and more frequently. “I was really taken by the possibilities of this new tool and was shooting constantly. When my piece Aerial NYC went viral, I thought it would make sense to submit it to some film festivals. But when I looked around, there were no places to submit my work.”So Slavin did what creators do and set about starting his own festival. The NYC Drone Film Festival launched in 2015 and features interactive panels, speakers, and the most exciting films from this burgeoning visual medium.

Slavin says drones have become much more ubiquitous since he started flying, but he still views this platform as something that is just taking off. “Drone photography and cinematography are in their infancy. The people that have been doing it the longest have only been doing it for five years. As the policies [around drones] within various countries progress, we’re going to see bigger projects and more scope.”

The NYC Drone Film Festival has grown accordingly, expanding from one day to three in its second year. The festival jury this year includes GE CMO Linda Boff, Yahoo Tech founder David Pogue, and rock star architect Bjarke Ingels. So how do you judge a good drone film?

“Drones are a mind-blowing tool for camera motion,” Slavin notes. “But storytelling is always at the heart of every great film, no matter what it is, in any category or genre.”

See more of Randy’s work on Slate:

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