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How to Prepare for the 2017 New York City Drone Film Festival


The 2016 New York City Drone Film Festival recently announced its winners, so now is the perfect time to start planning your entry for 2017. With this in mind, I sought out festival director Randy Scott Slavin, who was already working on a drone race, to find out just what sort of entries the 2017 festival would be entertaining. I was hoping to find out and, of course, share with you, the secret formula to winning the festival—but no such luck. Still, Slavin’s emails were most revealing, and I thank him for the time he was able to carve out of his schedule.

Started in 2014, the NYCDFF has seen rapid growth. According to its website, it is “… the world's first event exclusively dedicated to celebrating the art of drone cinematography. The festival offers an international platform for filmmakers from every corner of the globe to exhibit their work in front of industry professionals and the drone community.” Although the rules for the 2017 festival aren’t out yet, expect them to follow the 2016 guidelines. Films should be five minutes or less in duration and 50% of the film must be shot with a drone. I like the rules—a 5-minute limit should keep the films fairly fast paced, and I wouldn’t expect to see a large number of dialog-heavy dramas set in a small room, although, that would be pretty neat if you could pull it off with drone footage.

In 2016, there were approximately 350 submissions in 12 categories, small by most film festival standards, but with loosening FAA rules and improvements to drone technology, expect to see an uptick in the number of drones being used to make films. So the time to prepare is now. Start with a solid idea and remember that 50% of the film has to be shot from a drone, so a really good film containing one drone shot won’t cut it. What makes an idea solid you ask? I’d say, go with something that creates visceral impact.

But what should that be? It’s a drone film festival, so create for the market. The 2016 categories ought to be able to give you an idea. There is a narrative category, followed by news and documentary, but after that the categories become much more drone specific and driven by drone cinematography. Architecture and landscape sound fascinating to me, and dangerous. After all, it is easy to make staid boring films about architecture and landscapes; however, the rewards of using that drone to explore architecture or landscape in a way normally inaccessible to we earth-bound mortals can be breathtaking. One of the truly wonderful advantages of drones is the ability to get images from a different perspective than we are accustomed to—so take advantage of it.

There is one category in which the length and 50% drone-created content may be waived, and that is the “Featuring Drones” category, which is for films about or featuring drones. I can just see now “A Boy and His Drone,” a remake of that classic science-fiction film—the touching story of a young boy and his sentient drone, awash in the post-apocalyptic future, where he struggles to keep his drone flying in a world that has lost the capability to manufacture batteries.

The place to start getting ready for the 2017 festival is the website for the 2016 festival. Check it out and look at this year’s winners. However, remember that this is only a starting point, as Slavin mentioned: “As FAA regulation relaxes, drones become more integral to productions, and drone technology gets better, I expect the quality and quantity of drone cinematography to grow exponentially.” Which means, don’t sit on your laurels, get out there and fly your drones, and practice your shoots. The intersection of creativity, talent, and practice is where you’ll find success. 

Slavin also pointed out that “there’s definitely an explosion of drone racing and FPV freestyle footage proliferating on the Internet,” which opens up an entire audience for feedback on your work. If you are looking to get started with drones, or even upgrade your older drone, check out the B&H SuperStore’s large selection of Drones and aerial imaging accessories and remember it is time to get out there and practice your drone moves.

To read more about the full line of drones available at B&H, click here.


How can I bring this festival to California ?...I have several movie theaters in the San Francisco bay area, that would jump on board !

Hi Bruce,

I would contact Randy Scott Slavin at