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 www.AltitudeFilmworks.com.
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.”