Notes on Drone Cinematography

Originally Published April 21, 2016

The development of four-rotor blade choppers, such as the Bell Boeing QuadTiltrotor model for US Army’s heavy lift program, is still a project in-progress. Most of the successes for its researches are on smaller object lifting, thus, the use for mobile surveillance devices. Parrot’s consumer-grade drones might be just a lesser version of these surveillance devices which has been used by the military on conflicts and campaigns as early as the Cold War.

The coming of the AR (Augmented Reality) Drone cameras in the early 2010s gave access to another way of photographic and cinematic imagining for professionals, artists and hobbyists of video. The idea of having an “eye from above” attracts so much that it was celebrated. [1] Like a lot of cinematic technological progresses such as the High-Definition Camera, drone cameras trace its historical use back to being technologies of war.

With the use of drone, the “track” in the “tracking shot” brings us back to its military meaning of “monitor” instead of “follow”. “The function of the weapon is the function of the eye”, as Virilio pointed out, but let’s take it in reverse: “the function of the eye is the function of the weapon”. [2] To “track” now, is not just to follow its subject, but to attack.



Drone shot in That Thing Called Tadhana

The scene in which the “eye” follows Mace and Anthony from behind while they run on a mountain in Sagada in Jadaone’s That Thing Called Tadhana is probably the most memorable recent example in Filipino Cinema which uses this “new tracking shot”. In this scene, while the running humans are still its subject, the frame focused on the surroundings, like how surveillance cameras do. The “eye” cares not if it sees anyone in the frame. It just needs to cover the place. This is why the “guardians” of Sagada are not entirely wrong when they blamed Jadaone’s film and other films shot within the same time frame after it as the factor which left Sagada with lots of waste. After all, the shot just fulfill its purpose: to capture the place, showcase it in spectacle. Spectacles attract. The shot was an attack on Sagada.

 In the same fashion, another recent Filipino film, Lakbay2Love, used the same drone technology. The film “strongly advocates biking as well as love for the environment as captured in its scenic shots”, [3] the “scenic shots” mentioned are mostly drone captured, probably took up around 40% of the film. While the drone shots used itself are clear, and subjects are focused, the shots lacked context. It might as well be considered an “attack” on what it should be advocating on: biking. The shots capture the “beauty” of “nature”, but never the “beauty: of biking, while the spectacle of “beauty” of “nature” itself was never really an effective image to drive “environmentalism”. Advocacy was lost in most shots.




In contrast of the use of drones for spectacle, Sion Sono’s Tag goes back to using the drone as an “eye” and “weapon”. The drone shots made for Tag queued of its theme as it looks very similar to frame angles for mid-90s 3D RPGs. The “eyes” are not only conscious, they are controlling. The “eye” is also the “hand”.

Attempts to utilize war technologies to create a spectacle never really hide its tyrannical qualities. Discomfort sneaks in on every animated “beauty” shots of skewed wide-angle lenses. It would not be surprising that soon the use of these surveillance devices would extend into the private spaces of personal happenings. Nuptial shoots captured by drones not to keep memories but to take a look from “God’s eye view”.


  1. “The Eye from above” was the theme of Youtube’s AR.Drone Film Festival, held in 2012, in partnership with Parrot (
  2. Virilio, Paul. War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. Translated by Patrick Camiller. Verso – Radical Thinkers Series, 2009.
  3. From the Lakbay2Love press kit.

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