By Cameron Scott
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Taking off from a portable 4’x4’
blue helipad with a bright orange H, an eight-rotor remote control
helicopter with an HD camera launches into the air. And hovers.
Moments later it skims a farm
irrigation system for several hundred yards then swoops higher into
the air capturing a shot of Red Hill.
“Let’s get the shot in reverse,”
suggests co-owner and pilot Jon Fredericks of Altitude Filmworks to
co-owner and camera operator Louis Wilsher.
Swooping backwards through the air in a
reverse bell curve the helicopter returns then does a 90-degree jib
and flies off toward Spring Gulch while capturing the Colorado Rocky
Mountain School’s campus. After a few more fly-overs, Mark
Gotfredson, CRMS’s Director of Communications, nods in approval and
Fredericks lands the helicopter back on the pad.
The Carbondale-based Altitude Filmworks
describes itself as specializing in “aerial filming and photography
for commercial advertising, TV, documentary films, action/adventure
sports, and special events.” Fredericks and Wilsher launched the
company in January 2012 and although they have only been operating
for 18 months, they already have a long list of clients.
“This type of filming is really
evolving fast,” said Wilsher. “We are always customizing the
helicopter to keep up with new technology and are always figuring out
how to get better and better shots.”
Wilsher explains that looking at
something from the ground is much different than looking at something
from the air. Even just a change of a few feet can create a huge
shift of perspective. “A camera operator needs an awareness of the
landscape and an ability to adjust to what you see, and both the
pilot and filmmaker must stay dynamic under changing conditions and
be able to anticipate everything from passing cloud cover to hidden
objects or things you might not want in a shot. Typically we have
about six minutes of flight time per rechargeable battery pack to
capture all of this,” said Wilsher, “and carry plenty of extras
battery packs to exchange throughout a shoot.”
Fredericks and Wilsher also rely on
pinpoint control and accuracy while working together to get shots,
typically filming when winds are below 10 mph and up to 20 mph for
still shots. They are currently building a helicopter to carry cinema
cameras, which will be even more stable in heavier winds.
“Aerodynamically there are a lot of
similarities between operating a real helicopter and this remote
helicopter,” explained Fredericks, who is also a helicopter pilot.
“I’ve had about 1,500 flights with this remote helicopter so far.
There are only about a dozen companies out there working at this
level of quality, a few in California, some in the northwest and
southwest and in Georgia, and here we are in the heart of the Rockies
getting to film adventure sports in beautiful landscapes. So far
we’ve filmed as far west as Boise, Idaho and also have done some
work for the Kansas Tourism Division. We love what we do and feel
very privileged to work on the projects we get to work on.”
In January, to celebrate their one-year
anniversary, Altitude Filmworks released a 2013 Aerial Reel with some
of their best shots from 2012, which can be found online at
And what’s up next? Working with
Whole Foods on an informational environmental series about the
Colorado River, drought and farming.
“The most fun thing about this job,”
and Wilsher “is getting to deliver the footage we’ve shot.”
Fredericks added, “And when we make
our clients happy, that makes us happy.”