…of the aerial variety that is. Filmmaker and owner of CreativeJigsaw, Nigel Edwards, is filling me in on the fascinating world of drones. ‘Getting my remote pilot licence involved about 30 hours of lectures and a practical flight assessment, essential in order for me to be able to commercially film from the air.’
I’m in the dark when it comes to the rules, but luckily he knows his stuff: ‘You don’t need a licence to fly a drone recreationally. But there are plans to force people to do some kind of training, perhaps at least to force knowledge of the drone code of conduct. They have the potential to be very dangerous. My licence allows me to film above a congested area. I need a site for take-off and landing, with a 30m radius surrounding it. And I have to stay at least 50m away from anyone not under my control. It’s a bubble.’
Unfortunately not everyone is risk-adverse and flies responsibly: ‘You hear stories of pilots at 7,000ft who see a drone. And they will physically fly to those sorts of altitudes, and higher. You can get to a point where you don’t have the battery (which lasts about half an hour) to get back down – it would just fall out of the sky.’ Here’s a story about a near-miss at 7000ft if you’re interested.
Rookie over here is keen know if birds pose a regular problem to high-flyers: ‘‘Not so far. 90% of the training was about safety, about awareness of the dangers and different classifications of airspace. Obviously you can’t film anywhere near an airport, or above 400ft.’
I’m disappointed to find out that unlike the driving theory test, there’s no hazard perception equivalent involving seagulls and falcons. ‘‘No, you don’t have to click away under attack from birds!’
And how hard is it for him to capture those scenic, sweeping shots? ‘Drones are unbelievably easy to control and contain impressive technology. But you need to prove, to get the licence, that you can control it in Attitude Mode – non-automatic. The first time I tried that it was just gone, off with the wind! Automatic mode uses GPS – if there’s a cross-wind the drone detects it and in a time so brief you don’t notice, it compensates.’ Filming in the rain is not advised. He tells me the battery features all sorts of warnings about exploding when wet. Hopefully it would take more than a fine spray.
Nigel achieved his licence in summer last year, shortly after setting up CreativeJigsaw – a business focused on shooting footage for business and education. He tells me the aerial stuff is a nice little bolt on which opens up additional creative opportunities but it’s not his bread and butter.
He recently equipped and trained a group of year 5 and 6 children to make a film for Safer Internet Day (watch it here). They entered it into a competition – Wales wide, and won. ‘I went in with the equipment and the children loved it – we did some green screen stuff to make the kids look like they were flying. It was a day filming, and two days for post-production with iMovie. I definitely want to do more in schools – they were so engaged, and it makes a nice contrast to working with businesses.’
I’m curious to find out if that’s all part of the CreativeJigsaw brand; different pieces, different things – ‘It’s about bringing things together in a creative way – any kind of filming project is a bit like that. I first used the name over 10 years ago, before I finished at M&S Bank, someone asked me to film a wedding, and I wanted to have an identity.’
Nigel worked for M&S Bank for 17 years in IT, before deciding to make something of his penchant for film, and go it alone. ‘My passion for film came along with the birth of my son, who’s now 18. In 1999 digital video footage was just coming into being – in near-broadcast quality even still as tapes. I started filming him but didn’t want dull and boring to watch footage, so I got into non-linear editing software. The digital era made that possible. All self taught – but you can learn so much on the internet.’
That’s one of the things I find so interesting about Nigel, his tendency and ability to find things he loves, and skill himself up. He’s never attended a filmmaking course or felt the need to qualify in any way. His work speaks for itself. And this commitment and self-motivation appears in lots of ways – like deciding he would teach himself and his son Welsh. ‘I just read books with him, very simple to start with and watched TV. I’m from Wales but lived in Manchester for 6 years and everyone was really disappointed that I didn’t speak the language. It’s not easy to learn coming from English, but you can read it without trouble, once you know the rules, and at least (unlike English) it’s consistent.’
Nigel recently completed his first business meeting entirely in Welsh – definitely another string to his bow. He’s keen to travel about for clients, and definitely has a soft spot for Chester too, ‘It’s most scenic down by the river – that’s the nice thing about rivers in city centres, a bit of an escape. I visited Storyhouse recently and love the way they’ve integrated the library into everything else. To me that makes books far more accessible, and it’s clever to sneak the library on people who might not normally find themselves in one.’
What’s he excited about taking on next? ‘I’m working with Techniquest – they’re about hands on science – things exploding, exhibits, activities like building a bridge. I’ll be filming what happens when a daffodil freezes in liquid nitrogen (spoiler alert – it shatters).