AV Focus: Droneworks Studios

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Description: Welcome to AirVūz Focus! This AirVūz Original Program provides an in-depth look at the places, people, and products molding the technology, breaking the barriers, and carving the way for the drone revolution. This episode of AV Focus is all about DRONEWORKS, a husband-wife duo turned production company that specializes in aerial cinematography, 360/VR applications, and flying Casey Neistat from a homemade, sixteen-motor drone. With decades of experience, Justin and Elaine Oakes have built the Droneworks brand from the ground up, and continue to push the boundaries of aerial cinematography. From conceptualization to execution, Droneworks has been at the forefront of creative technology. No matter the challenge, Droneworks has a solution and can deliver high quality content in a variety of formats. Their versatility and flexibility allows them to cater to a variety of projects - from inspecting oil rigs to flying a snowboarding Casey Neistat. Although somewhat unheard of for a creative company, Droneworks is, and has always been located in Houston, Texas. While most of their competitors are based in Los Angeles or New York City, being in Houston sets them apart form the rest - another tribute to their versatility. With humble beginnings in the energy market, Droneworks has grown to work with major productions with brands and celebrities alike. Much of their success can be attributed not to their crazy equipment, but to the stories they tell alongside their gear. Too often do people get caught up in the “latest and greatest” technology, when the focus of any production should really be about the story. Money can buy new technology, but it can’t always buy a great story. There is an obvious dynamic between Justin and Elaine, and their constant communication has allowed them to thrive together as a team. The now-married couple is the perfect duo for operating a drone: Justin does most of the flying while Elaine operates the camera and directs the shot. Virtual Reality, or VR, is a new medium for many production companies, but Droneworks has been one of the early adapters of this new technology. Working in a 360 offers new opportunities for storytelling, but also comes with a its own set of challenges. 360 video turns a viewer into a “visitor” role where they can explore the scene for themselves, ultimately putting the story in their hands. Framing a scene requires taking in every angle and trying to think of where a visitor’s eye will tend to go to. Just a few years ago, 360 video was practically unheard of on the prosumer level. Nowadays, 360 cameras are inexpensive and very user friendly, giving way to a new video medium. While the drone industry has been predominantly male, Elaine has been in it since the start. She has seen the industry grow to have more women in it, and is excited for the next generation of female drone pilots. She is in a unique position being a co-founder of one of the most successful drone companies in the US. While Justin and Elaine have built the foundation for Droneworks, none of what they do now would be possible without the rest of their team. Between building, producing, stitching, and editing, the Droneworks team has grown and adapted over the years. And because the technology is constantly changing, they continue to adapt as a company. To learn more about the company, head to www.droneworksstudios.com. Featuring Music By: Beach House - Marcos H Lights - Sappheiros Dawn - Sappheiros Verve - A-GROUP This video is for educational purposes only and is not intended for commercial use. VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Justin Oakes: I think you should focus purely on the story. Nobody's paying for the tech. Our clients do not care about any of this. They just care what comes out of it. And if you're telling a cool story on monopod or on a hundred-thousand dollar whatever, shouldn't matter. We're at Droneworks, my side of the office; this is where we build everything. This is where the creative ideation begins so that we come up with [00:00:30] ideas and figure out how to execute or solve problems. Elaine Oakes: We've been doing it long enough to where we do a lot of crazy stuff. One day, we might be filming an oil rig out in west Texas, and then have to hop on a plane to go fly a person in Finland or something. It's insane. Speaker 3: It's a drone. It's really a drone. Elaine Oakes: There are instances where Justin and I have sat there and looked at each other and we're like, "Are we really doing this right now?" Justin Oakes: [00:01:00] We started here because of the energy market. Houston is ... and from an entrepreneur's perspective ... we have major competitive advantages, in my opinion, over L.A. or New York, which is where all of our competitors are. State tax, cost of living's less, we have this amazing office in downtown, and our house is here; just the economics of it. It's always- Elaine Oakes: It's in Houston. Justin Oakes: Where are you in L.A. or New York? And so we say, "Houston," and they're always a little confused because nobody is from Houston, like nobody. If it's [00:01:30] Texas, which is rare, it's Austin. There shouldn't be any reason to sell Houston, don't get me wrong. It's just, for a creative company, it's unusual. There's no agencies in Houston that I know of, or there's very small, you know. Ultimately, what we do is just tell stories. So I think just focusing on the story and less on the tech is a big one. I realize in the drone community, it's usually the exact opposite. Like, let's just dig into it and buy a whatever and start flying everywhere. But, focus on [00:02:00] the story. Instead of thinking like, "Okay, how am I gonna mount this to my drone and fly around?" That's a technically challenging thing right now. It's frustrating, it's annoying, it's hard to get really good content. Instead, just put a VR camera on a tripod and just tell a basic story. Get comfortable with the medium. Get comfortable with the post-production workflow. Just have fun with it. That's how Droneworks started. We did not start with this ridiculous thing. We started just playing around and having a good time. And the reason we're successful is not because I own all of this stuff. This is a commodity, [00:02:30] you just buy everything, right? It's because we tell really cool stories with it. Yeah, we just started playing around and this ridiculous hobby I had, like major nerd. Now drones are like cool or something, but back then it was extremely nerdy. All my friends made fun of me. Elaine Oakes: Our biggest advantage of being a couple is we have [00:03:00] that dynamic. Communication is like constant, and we're constantly working with communication, whether it's at home or here at the office. I guess we've just gotten so used to working with each other that we'll be on projects and on shoots with clients who we've been working with for a while, and it's always funny, they kind of tiptoe around because they don't want to ask and be wrong and they're like, "So you and Justin are partners?" Justin Oakes: Yeah. That's happened a lot. Elaine Oakes: Yeah, yeah. And we'll just have to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry. Yes, we are a couple." Justin Oakes: We didn't mean [00:03:30] to make it so weird. We're screaming at each other like married couple talking about aerial shots, and they're like, "Okay, makes sense now." Elaine Oakes: You can tell. With 360 and virtual reality, it's offering this new medium for you to try and figure out. How do you tell multiple stories in one space? Setting [00:04:00] the scene is completely different than framing it in a 2D environment, and it's like a new challenge. The thought of virtual reality seems untouchable, but now it's becoming accessible, so it's like, yes, people can get out there and it's a lot easier than most people think. The whole point of VR is you don't have a viewer, you have a visitor who's in this space, and so they're feeling like they're there. And the cool part about it is that once you stabilize everything, and you add movement, the person who has [00:04:30] a headset on who's in this space, they start to feel that movement and they feel that feeling of flight and then it gets you fluttery. With VR, you want them to feel the experience and it's a whole different set of ... It's like physical emotions. I think it's gonna be really, really big because it reaches more people. When I'm shooting a piece, I might put the camera in one place and kind of take a look around and look at, "How would it feel naturally for me to move in this space?" Sometimes it's not just me. Sometimes I'll ask [00:05:00] Justin or anybody else who's on set with us. If you're here, where do you want to explore? Where do you want to look? And sometimes it's exactly the way that I feel, sometimes it's completely opposite, which is great because then you get a real sense of not everyone's gonna look in the right way. We did recently, a few months back, host 30 Girl Scouts, and it was their day to get their tech badge. And to see 30 young women super-excited about drones, and [00:05:30] I expected the normal questions, "How high? How fast?" But instead, we had 30 11-year-olds asking about thrust and power. I had one actually ask me about safety, like, "How safe are they?" And safety regulations. And they all seemed so intrigued and so excited, and their questions were very bright and well thought out, and it's just awesome to see that that is there and to know that we can even represent something like that, having a woman being a [00:06:00] face of a brand that's in an industry that there's lacking. That's been good. It's rewarding. I love being able to represent women in general in this industry. The cool thing about it is that I can see it growing, since the beginning. I've met more and more women as I go along in film production and in the drone industry. I'm just hoping one day that I'll look around and won't even notice. Justin Oakes: One of the neatest things about us that [00:06:30] you don't find often is that all my weaknesses are her strengths, and vice versa. All I like doing is playing with stuff, breaking stuff, and figuring out how to make stuff better. She's a creative one who is great at relationship-building and producing and managing a project. Elaine Oakes: It's good, too, because even though I'm not analytical, like the tech stuff, but because I come ... like have such a different outlook on things, they'll be in the middle of something and they'll hit a wall, where they're like, "I can't figure out in the middle of a build [00:07:00] what's going on." And I'll be like, "Well, what if you tried this?" And they'll look at me like I'm crazy and be like, "Yeah, that's not gonna work." I go, "Well, why don't you just try it? It doesn't hurt." They'll try it, and guess who ends up being right? Justin Oakes: She's very often right. And that's me and Elaine. The real special sauce is our team. So, none of this would be possible without ... Every single person here does something that if it wasn't for them doing what they did so well, it would just be a total [00:07:30] disaster. Elaine Oakes: Yeah. Justin Oakes: Industry and the technology and everything changes every six months. And so we're designed to adapt. And that's why we're evolving from this drone company to like a VR company to like a production company to an agency now. Elaine Oakes: What we did was kind of just a chance, and we took it. So now we take every chance we get. Someone offers us some crazy idea, we'll take it even if it means having to take five red-eyes back and forth over a period of one week to do one project [00:08:00] or something like that. We make it work.

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