It’s coming – and soon: The third New York City Drone Film Festival, also known as the NYCDFF 3. In its short lifespan, the festival has become the place for the best and most creative cinematic drone work to be shown to an appreciative (and growing) audience.

Every film in the festival makes use of what its founder believes is one of the most incredible creative tools ever invented for photography and videography.

“The thing about drones that really elevates it above all the other tools made for camera motion is that you can literally put the camera anywhere you want in 3-D space as long as you have the skills to put it there,” says Founder and Festival Director Randy Scott Slavin.

He spoke to TDC about his passion for drones, why he started the festival, as well as his thoughts on the coming 360/VR wave, which is already starting to integrate with drones. We also got the sense Slavin is totally committed to the growing community of drone film-makers. It sounds like much more than a festival to him; it’s a passion.

Before we go any further, a couple of things.

  1. Stick around. There’s a potential prize at the end.
  2. Stop for a moment and forget about most of the drone videos you’ve seen. Because many of the films entered in this festival bear little resemblance to the standard drone fare on YouTube.

Instead, these works truly push the boundaries of the medium and the creativity of their pilots and directors. These are films, and we mean that in the very best and most artistic sense of the word.

“The progression has been amazing,” says Slavin. “Every year the submissions get radically better….Frankly, I feel a lot of pride that we are helping to further this very difficult yet extremely impressive art form.”

How impressive? Well, let’s take a look at a few of the winners from last year. This one, a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich and Verity Studios, is mesmerizing.

Wild, no? Or check out this tiny gem from Corridor Digital, entitled The Smallest Empire. It won in the narrative category – and it’s not hard to see why.

Obviously, there was some pretty serious digital production in that film. But there are also more “standard” style videos, such as those in the News and Documentary category.

But again, it’s the quality that really sets these apart. Last year’s winner was Good Morning America, for Hidden Worlds: Son Doong Cave. The location in Vietnam is breathtaking – as was the drone work:

“Wait!” you might say. “The average guy or gal doesn’t have the resources to make productions like those.”

We wondered about that too – and raised the point with Slavin. Is there a barrier to entry for the average John or Jane?

“In certain categories, you’re absolutely right,” he says. “In the Showreel category, there’s a very good chance that you won’t be able to win the category unless you’re a real professional aerial cinematographer,” says Slavin, an award-winning director, photographer, aerial cinematographer and drone consultant.

“But the reality is we’re not an aerial cinematography film festival. We’re a drone film festival. And this year, you can see from the nominees that many – if not most – of the films that were shot this year were shot with DJI products. A lot of them were shot with Phantom 4s. So it’s really all about the idea.”

As an example, Slavin points to the winner in last year’s Architecture category. It’s a film called Greystone Rising, by Jody Johnson. At the time, Johnson was a recreational flyer with a Phantom 3 Professional. She became interested in the planned demolition of the historically significant Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, a building that was at one point the largest such institution in the United States, housing 7,664 patients in 1953.

Abandoned in 2003, the building fell into disrepair. Despite many who fought to save what they felt was an architecturally significant building, it was demolished in 2015. Johnson used her P3P to document that demolition. She told the website Skytango that she probably captured a total of 10 hours of footage over a period from May to December of that year. Ultimately, she narrowed it down to her best 15 minutes or so and handed the material over to an editor she met during the project. She also met others, who provided her with audio clips that helped lend the story a much deeper narrative.

But it was Johnson’s decision to tell the story in a specific visual way that made (and still makes) her film a standout.

“What made this idea great,” says Slavin, “is the way she put it together. She put it together backward. It’s a perfect example, that it’s all about the idea.”

For her efforts, Johnson won an Inspire Pro at last year’s festival.

This new, third festival will attract some 5,000 people, and Slavin has received about 350 submissions from 45 countries. In addition to the actual screening and awards, day two of the festival is filled with seminars on everything from a drone flying for beginners through to color correction and even an introduction to thermal imaging. It’s a pretty great-looking lineup, and you can see it all here. (There’s also a seminar on using 360 cameras with drones, an area Slavin is particularly interested in – and an interest TDC shares.)

All in all, it looks like an incredible couple of days. And the grand prize? A gear package that includes a RED Epic W camera and other high-end gear, including the Freefly Alta Eight (a $17,495 drone) and Movi Pro gimbal system.

“Basically, the winner of the Best-in-Show award is going to be winning a prize package worth $75,000 to shoot the most cinematic aerial drone work that you can possibly imagine. That is ridiculous,” says Slavin.

We wish we had something like that to give away. We don’t. But we do have the next-best thing: Two separate tickets to the New York City Drone Film Festival 3. Which means you’ll get to see the movies and witness some lucky person scoop that prize.

To get a chance:

  1. Follow us on our Twitter account, @thedigicircuit.
  2. Copy and paste the link to this very article
  3. Add the hashtag #NYCDFF
  4. Do it as often as you like

In a week, we’ll select two lucky winners and the tickets to the festival will be held in your name at the box office. So please be sure you can actually attend if you enter, or that you know someone who can and will use them if you win. You will not be able to put these up for re-sale, as they’ll simply be waiting for you at the box office.

Good luck!


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