TheGrill 2015: Why Drones Are Becoming Hollywood’s Must-Have Gadgets (Video)

“It’s completely changing every day,” Contend CEO Steven Amato says at TheWrap’s sixth annual media leadership conference

Last Updated: October 6, 2015 @ 6:07 PM

Audience members of TheGrill got a special treat on Tuesday: a live drone flying over their heads.

“This is an enormous opportunity in away to tell a story for Hollywood,” said Steven Amato, the CEO of Contend, a company that owns about a dozen drones that it rents out to production companies and filmmakers. “It’s completely changing every day.”

Used for everything from shooting commercials to news programs to sports events and movies, drones are quickly becoming the latest “must-have” Hollywood gadget, thanks to their relative ease, agility and low cost.

Amato told moderator Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief and founder of TheWrap, that drones are are significantly cheaper than, say, helicopters. While drones can cost anywhere from $5,000-$15,000 per day, helicopter rentals can run $700 an hour, not including pilot and insurance costs.

Because of that, Amato said, unmanned devices are being used as an extra camera, providing another storytelling tool for filmmakers.

“That’s definitely where it’s going,” he said. “That’s why we’re involved.”

On Tuesday, Contend launched its own drone stand-alone unit, offering drone units and services for filmmaking. The company also has its own lab to build custom-made devices for specific shoots, including those underwater. The company’s pilots are FAA-certified as well as professional videographers and photographers.

Hollywood demand for drones has been soaring. Earlier this year, drones were used to film a hostage scene in ABC’s “Scandal.” Netflix’s “Narcos” used drones to capture scenes too intimate for helicopters and too complicated to shoot from the ground. Unmanned flying devices also circled above the set of “Into the Woods” as well as Matt Damon‘s film “The Great Wall,” set for release next year.

Before the live demonstration, audience members were warned to secure any papers and light items as the drone prepared to fly above the crowd.

“You absolutely have to consider the repercussions of being around a drone,” said Amato, adding that both wind and sound can be an issue.

During the demonstration at TheGrill, a pilot-operated device flew above the crowd in a clean and elegant swoop as it sent a live video feed to two jumbo screens on stage.

Amato insisted the technology is still in it’s infancy and will likely become a major part in storytelling. “The OS we’re running on the tablet also allows us to livestream, say, to YouTube,” said drone pilot Travis Geske.