Who doesn’t love a chase scene? The motor car and cinema were born in the same era and cars have been chasing each other on film ever since. But if you accidentally came upon a scene high among some sunlit Italian hills last summer, you would have encountered two very different vehicles doing battle with each other on a closed road. One, a Porsche 911 Carrera GTS in Carmine Red. The other a camera-loaded FPV (First Person View) racing drone, swooping down from the sky like a bird of prey. The drone follows the Porsche at breathtaking speeds, up close and personal, through bend after sinuous bend, filming its target’s very move. On one of the highest of these hills is the man controlling the drone, Phil Freybott. A former professional freestyle BMX rider and model, Phil has gone from racing drones competitively to becoming one of the most sought-after FPV racing drone pilots in the world. Here’s the inside track on the unique, visually stunning, one-minute-long film he helped create – and an insight into how to film a car with a drone.
How does an FPV racing drone work compared to regular consumer drones?
“There’s a fixed camera on the front of an FPV drone and you wear video goggles with a screen inside them to see a live video transmission with almost zero latency. This gives you a perspective that almost feels like you are sitting in the drone itself – allowing you to fly it much closer to objects. We used a five-inch (13cm) racing drone for this film with a GoPro camera on it. It’s super-fast and you can keep it very low to the ground. You also see a moment in the film where it flies underneath the barrier on the side of the road – a smaller drone is perfect for this.”
Are there tips from your shoot that can help us film a car with a drone?
“Our director had this crazy vision to shoot this film in one shot – to see the car followed just by the drone. We spent ages scouting the area to find the right location. I needed to be up on a hill in order to get full coverage for the signal. We ended up building a small platform on top of a mountain to fly it from. And we needed a road with a lot of curves, to make it super exciting. The idea was to push it as far as we could. When you are chasing a car, it’s like choreography. And to keep you interested we have to move around the car, often at insane speeds. One of the big tips about how you film a car with a drone is that every few moments, make something happen."
I was just in the zone – concentrating on trying not to crash! We spent six hours shooting, trying to find the right angles, concentrating on achieving an immersive feeling
“We worked with a great precision driver from Porsche, who the director was in constant radio contact with. At the same time the director was giving me info like ‘There is a curve coming up’, or when to do a roll with the drone. I was just in the zone – concentrating on trying not to crash! We spent six hours shooting in total, trying to find the right angles, concentrating on achieving an immersive feeling. Some thought it was impossible to do or that it wouldn’t be interesting or cool enough. That you wouldn’t be able to feel the emotion or the speed.”
How did you learn to race drones and then how to film a car with a drone?
“I began racing drones about eight years ago. It’s funny because I wasn’t interested in them at first. I thought they were boring and only went up and down. But then I saw a Facebook video about the first ever FPV drones, with these LED lights on them, flying through a forest. It looked like Star Wars. I was like ‘How is that even possible?’ So I did a little research, got one from an online store in China and started practising on a soccer field. It was raining a lot in Germany then because it was during winter time, so I would even practice in my garage – although of course that meant a height limitation. I couldn’t lift it more than a metre high. It was hard at the beginning because there were no YouTube videos or simulators to help you. Nowadays, you can spend three months in front of a computer learning on a simulator before you go out to a field and fly."
“When drone racing became a thing, I met people like Johnny FPV [Phil’s fellow FPV drone pilot who shot the Drive2Extremes: Taycan Cross Turismo x Johnny FPV film this year], and we became some of the first professional drone racers. Big brands soon caught up to it and we travelled the world, taking part in races from Dubai to Shanghai to the US. It was super cool to do that every weekend but after four years I got a little bit tired. Every time you crashed, you’d spend two days rebuilding the drone. Then the image quality of cameras began to improve, and people said to me that I could do some cool things with that and the drone. And we slowly moved into the commercial world. Today, we’re pushing the limits of what is possible with the drones as far as making them smaller and improving quality. But I think the physics are at their limits as far as what drones can do.”
What are the challenges you face on a shoot like this?
“Apart from the pair of kites – of the feathered kind – that decided at one point to get a little too close to our drone for comfort, the model we used for the shoot has way more acceleration than a car. Remember, it’s just five inches (13cm) in size and they can reach up to 200km/h. So, at the beginning, we had an issue with how to film a car with a drone that was just way too fast. Nothing else has a chance against it, even a sports car – and the driver was driving at speeds of around 130km/h. So the challenge is to keep it smooth, moving back and forth [behind the car] and don’t go too fast. You also have to memorise the best angle to take for each curve. Even how tight you get or how much you pull back from the car alters the narrative you are creating. The result is that we believe we’ve created the world’s first one-shot car commercial with a FPV racing drone.”