Drones In Film: a “Snapshot of Life” in Liberia

Photo courtesy JUST

When it comes to telling a story, drones often provide the only way to get a big picture across.  San Francisco-based food innovator JUST set out to communicate what life is like in one neighborhood in Liberia – and went to the air to capture a compelling snapshot.

“The concept for JUST’s ad was simple. We wanted to show the world a place where people live hard but joyful lives with an unparalleled sense of pride, purpose and community,” says Andrew Noyes, JUST Head of Communications.  “Getting the shot wasn’t so simple. That place was West Point, one of them most crowded, chaotic areas in Monrovia, Liberia.”

“JUST’s resident filmmaker enlisted a four-person crew who — with limited time, resources and on-the-ground knowledge — packed their bags and passports for an exhilarating and emotional adventure they’d never forget,” says Noyes. “Our filmmaker told the team what we wanted to accomplish and discussed various ways to execute it. They eventually settled on using a drone that would deliver the camera into a camera operator’s hands who then finished the shot on the ground.”

Making it Work

Photo Courtesy JUST

“Enter Freefly’s Alta-8, a large eight-rotor drone — perfect for smooth, precise, and dynamic control of camera movement,” Noyes explains. “One crew-member was a pro at operating remote controlled camera rigs in unpredictable conditions and this time he’d have to deal with the hot sun, sweeping crosswinds and dive-bombing birds of prey. Another crew-member operated the camera during the flight and a third was the reluctant drone “catcher” who carried the camera (with the drone still attached) for the final leg of the single, seamless and stunning shot. A fourth served as first assistant camera, managing the 40lb. drone-camera’s focus and aperture from the ground.”

The team had multiple challenges to be mindful of:  “crowds of locals, mostly throngs of excited children, …poured into narrow streets and passageways to gawk at the spectacle,” says Noyes.  Local law enforcement and community leaders helped the team keep everyone safe while filming was going on.

Photo courtesy JUST

While the filmmaker was meticulous about getting the perfect result, says Noyes, the shoot used a fraction of the crew and equipment that would typically be required to create the film. “Our resident filmmaker directed the shoot and ensured we got everything we needed – height (200 feet), distance (300 feet), performance, staging… as well as editing, sound design and music,” says Noyes. “He spent an entire day recording natural sound at different heights or altitudes across Monrovia for this shot.”

A Snapshot of Life

The result is an advertisement for JUST’s innovative food product, designed to combat food insecurity across the globe – but one that conveys the spirit of a place beautifully.

“West Point is a special place for me and my team and we wanted to celebrate the work that local farmers and entrepreneurs are doing to improve the lives of women and children in communities across Liberia,” said Josh Tetrick, cofounder and CEO of JUST – and one of team that conceptualized the short film. “Our goal was to take a snapshot of what life is like there and show how producing food that is delicious, nutritious, affordable and sourced locally can make a big difference in the lives of many people. Given the location’s challenging conditions, utilizing a drone was the only way we could tell the story in the way we knew it needed to be told.”

“Getting the shot was difficult but the end result made the long, hot days and multiple takes worth it,” said Tetrick.

Just Power Gari from JUST on Vimeo.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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