Federal law prohibits the use of unmanned camera platforms, but the MPAA wants that to change. The group today joined seven aerial photo and video production companies in asking the FAA for a regulatory exemption to allow the use of drones in the production of films and TV shows. “Unmanned aircraft systems offer the motion picture and television industry an innovative and safer option for filming,” said Neil Fried, the MPAA’s SVP Government and Regulatory Affairs. “This new tool for storytellers will allow for creative and exciting aerial shots and is the latest in a myriad of new technologies being used by our industry to further enhance the viewer experience.” Unmanned aerial cameras are legal elsewhere in the world; drones were used extensively in New Zealand during production of the Lord of the Rings series, for example. Although the use of drones would result in some job losses for helicopter and airplane pilots and crews, it also would be one less reason for producers to leave the U.S. to shoot overseas where drone camerawork is allowed.
The practice is considerably cheaper, more environmentally friendly — drones use far less fuel and emit relatively little carbon — and safer than using helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft as camera platforms. Indeed, helicopter crashes have taken more lives on film sets than any other type of accident in modern times. Since 1980, 33 film and TV workers – nearly one a year – have been killed in helicopter filming accidents around the world – 14 in the United States and 15 more for American companies shooting abroad.