To his credit, Angel said soon after production ended that we didn’t have either enough B roll or the right shots. He said it would be best if we could hire Sparky Sorenson and his drone for one more day. Specifically, we knew we needed: more daytime shots of the exterior of the police building and of the Mesquite Arts Center (aka our “college”); the boathouse on the lake; and nighttime overhead shots of traffic.
We spent more time than anticipated getting the college, so we were in a bit of a hurry when we got to the police department. I already had permission to shoot the exterior of the building, although I hadn’t specified any shots being taken from a drone. Since I didn’t think we would be very close to the building, I decided not to bother anyone inside with a notice that we’d be doing drone shots that day.
In the parking lot, we discussed with Sparky that we’d like to have film going from one end of the curved building to the other, filming in an arc, at about the level of the top of the building looking down. We didn’t want to get any directly overhead shots or to get close at all. So, Sparky programmed the drone to go from point A, to point B, to point C, then back again to achieve the rounded shot of the Department.
It was the first shot of the police building from the drone that day. And the last.
Sparky programmed A, B, C, A instead of A, B, C, B, A. That meant that the drone would cut across the building rather than following the same arc on the return. And, because the drone was not too high up, it clipped the edge of the roof, which was flat in that section, and crashed onto it.
Part of the police department roof was flat, where the drone crashed. But part of the building was actually higher than the flat portion and had office windows overlooking that part of the roof. As you can imagine, there was a flurry of response as police officials inside witnessed a drone crashing onto their roof.
Those who know what true dread feels like will understand when I say that my adrenaline kicked in and my heart raced as I realized what happened. It was a mixture of concern about the poor drone, a bit of “oh no, we won’t get the shots now”, but mostly a fear of what the police would say and do. Would there be a fine? Would they give us the drone back? What on earth will I say to them?
I told Sparky we had to go in right away and try to claim the drone. Angel said he didn’t want to be any part of it all and walked away. So into the building I went and talked to the Sergeant on duty. “Yes,” he said, “we already know about the drone. Stay right here. Someone will be down shortly.”
I thought to myself how quickly he’d been notified, as it had been only a matter of a couple of minutes since the disaster. And the scowl that accompanied that “stay right here” made me very apprehensive.
Sparky and I were put into a small room to wait, where I began to rehearse what I would say to try to get the drone back. We stewed for about 20 minutes before a plain-clothes officer came. He said, “Well, you certainly caused some excitement.” I explained how the mishap occurred and he told us that they were not yet sure how to retrieve the drone because the roof was sealed and they hadn’t yet found anyone who had the ability to access it. He told us to wait while they tried to locate someone.
At last we were taken to go onto the roof. We had to climb a very narrow set of stairs that were unlit and whose risers were so high that I struggled in absence of a handrail. At the top of the stairs was a very heavy hatch that had to be pushed upward.
While the policeman waited, Sparky and I went across the roof to retrieve the crippled drone. It was sad to see Sparky examine it. But I was very, very grateful that they allowed us to have it back.
It took some time before Sparky could get replacement parts and we could go back out. Although I wished we could get more shots of the police department, I decided not to try. Instead, we concentrated on getting some shots of the boathouse at White Rock Lake and traffic at night.