On the eve of the New Year, one YouTube user, claiming to be a 16-year-old vacationing from Canada, remotely flew a consumer drone over a crowd of hundreds at Disney's Magic Kingdom's fireworks display.

His intent, like that of other aspiring and amateur filmmakers alike, was probably to capture aerial footage and provide a new perspective through a relatively simple process.

"I strap my GoPro to my drone and I have at my fingertips a tool and means for accomplishing something that used to be feasible only to professionals in the field," said sophomore Bryan Dexter, owner of a DJI Flame Wheel drone.

Drones like these, or unmanned aircraft systems as the Federal Aviation Administration would refer to them, are regulated by the FAA and must comply with certain safety standards based on its classification as public or civil operations, or model aircraft.

What the Canadian tourist did, which extended to several other drone flights over Disney property, may have been illegal, not only because Disney's restricted airspace was modified in 2014 to specifically prohibit UASs.

According to the FAA, it is illegal to operate a drone for cash in the United States, but the increasing popularity of consumer drone usage for filmmaking purposes has created a gray area among students, filmmakers and hobbyists.

"I feel like it's an overreaction to want to make them illegal," said Dexter, an Aerospace engineering major who has used his remotely operated drone to shoot personal and commercial videos.

UCF alumnus Chris Williamson, who graduated in 2015 in MFA Film and is currently directing his first narrative feature film Treasure, said that consumer drones do present certain risks, but not enough to restrict its usage.

"Government regulations haven't quite caught up to the technological reality yet," Williamson said. "Like any technology, drones can be used for nefarious purposes. What I think is required is a middle ground that gives citizens the freedom and the right to pursue happiness while at the same time providing a measure of security."

Some common concerns regarding consumer drone usage, regardless of the purpose, include propeller speeds, unwarranted surveillance and the risk of a UAS falling out of the sky and hurting people.

The FAA, however, has established safety guidelines for pilots remotely controlling consumer drones, including remaining clear of people and stadiums, ensuring the craft weighs under 55 lbs. and restricting flying above 400 feet.

"They're trying to wrap their heads around that now and I hope they don't restrict the technology too much because it holds quite a bit of promise for us all," Williamson said.

According to Orlando Helicopter Chapters, the price for an eight-hour day of shooting in the air is estimated to be $750 an hour. For rising filmmakers, such as Williamson, whose movie budget is $13,000, an hourly rate this high is not always feasible.

"Drones open up the door to a lot of opportunities for filmmakers," he said. "We can more inexpensively get shots we couldn't before. I never could've dreamed of having an aerial shot in my film before drones. So it's a dream come true."

Williamson and his crew will be using a drone-camera to film the last shot needed to complete the film in the coming weeks.

"Before drones, it would be impossible to get shots like this in a movie with a $13,000 budget. That one shot would have been the budget for the whole film," he said. "Just like the invention of many pointy tools, someone will get hurt by its use, but is that a good reason to restrict it? I don't think so. They serve a good purpose for a lot of us."


Daniela Marin is the Entertainment Coordinator for the Central Florida Future.

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