DroneFutures.org: Hello there and welcome to SightLines—a talk show by dronefutures.org in which we speak to leaders in the drone sector to learn about what’s happening on the horizon and how to make the most of this rapidly growing industry. Today we are going to be talking to Craig Baird, cofounder of BlueBox Media—a video
DroneFutures.org: Hello there and welcome to SightLines—a talk show by dronefutures.org in which we speak to leaders in the drone sector to learn about what’s happening on the horizon and how to make the most of this rapidly growing industry. Today we are going to be talking to Craig Baird, cofounder of BlueBox Media—a video marketing services company that is pioneering the use of aerial photography in the Canadian Prairies. He is also the founder of —DroneFest, the soon to be famous drone and UAV event that will be taking place in Saskatchewan, Canada this coming July. Craig, welcome to SightLines and thank you for spending time with us!
Craig Baird: Oh no problem thanks for everything.
DroneFutures.org: I’ll just start by asking, why would a marketing company in the prairies be interested in making an investment in drone VR photography equipment?
Craig Baird : Well we actually use a drone in our video promotion. We do a lot of video marketing. It’s all about showing things from a new prospective and drone camera helps to do that: you can get video from the air of town or a business and we also do aerial photography and it just fits with what we do. Using a drone for the story here now for business.
DroneFutures.org: So help me to understand. You’re using drones to capture photos and videos of acreages and towns and it’s all with the tourism flavor. Is that what you’re focusing on?
Craig Baird: Yeah. We focus a lot on video promotion—especially on towns. We have a bunch of towns this year that we plan to be going to and you know filming things about why it’s great to live there. Why people should be investing in it. Why it’s good to travel there for tourism. And so we have a bunch of cameras that we use and we kind of treat the drone as an advanced camera—you know no different than back in the day that have crane cameras and you know they take a plane or go up on a helicopter and get video from a helicopter. We do that but now we can just do it through the use of a drone.
Craig Baird: There are quite a few drone companies out here. There is one that does use drones for film making. But I mean there’s not a ton, so I think that we’re certainly on the leading edge of that, especially in Saskatchewan.
DroneFutures.org: Okay. And what has the reaction been from your clients?
Craig Baird : People really like it. I mean, it can give you such a unique perspective on the videos and there’s so much you can do with drones these days. Clients like it—the drones have high definition video, it’s not poor quality or choppy, or anything like that—so I think the clients really like having that different perspective in their videos.
DroneFutures.org: Something that’s a little bit, kind of different for a small town who may not have the resources to pay for a more expensive option.
Craig Baird: Exactly. Yeah. Once you buy the drone that’s it. All you have to do is charge the battery and you can take it up and fly it. Whereas if you want to rent a crane camera or you want rent a helicopter, you’re paying for that each time and the cost is huge. So for smaller outfits like ours, it would be impossible for us to do that so we’d never get those videos from the air or those unique perspectives. If we did, we would have to increase the price to the end consumer or the end town because we have to cover that somehow. With the use of drones, we can get those shots but at the same time, we are not increasing the costs to our clients because the only cost is the purchase of the drone. And once you’ve done that, there is no more costs after that.
DroneFutures.org: Okay. Talk to me a little bit about whether there are any regulations that you have to abide by in terms of recording the images of the people or their properties or the whole town at once.
Craig Baird: No too much. There are regulations through Transport Canada for example, obviously we can’t take our drone out and fly it over even a rural property because it’s actually defined under the Canadian criminal code as trespassing—you are taking something onto someone’s property even though it’s in the air. So you have to get the permission of the property owner first to do that. And then with towns, it’s okay with that because you’re way up in the air, you’re not really in front of somebody’s window filming or anything like that, you’re just getting an image of the town as a whole. But again there’s a lot of regulations that apply through Transport Canada. You’re not allowed to use a drone for commercial purposes and that does include things like YouTube because you can make money through the partner program with a drone because you have to have a special flight operative certificate. And you have to be approved by Transport Canada to do that. If you don’t have that and you are making money with a drone, you’re using a drone in the city, things like that you can face up to $25,000 in fines if you’re a business and $5,000 if you are just a person flying the drone.
DroneFutures.org: And was it difficult to get that special certification?
Craig Baird : It’s a long application—I think it’s about 20 pages and it’s just all questions: where are you going to be using the drone, why are you using it, how are you using it. The drone that we have is more of a consumer drone—it’s not like one of those big ones that are custom made. And so it’s a bit easier to get by with this one because when they ask for the composite of it and what fuel does it use; it’s a plastic drone and a battery. The same with payloads and hauling hazardous materials; it’s nothing we do. Ours is pretty lightweight; it’s about 4.5 pounds I think but still a fantastic drone.
So with that some of the questions don’t apply to us. But it’s still a very long application, and you have to send it away and get approval. But it is free to do, all you have to do is sent it away. There are new rules coming into place with Transport Canada so that they can focus more on the larger drones that are operating in places like cities that are high risk environments that take more skill to fly. There’s YouTube videos of 90 year olds flying the drone we use; it’s easy to use.
With the applications, some of the questions are—is there a way for emergency services to get to where you are. I drive a tiny little Chevy spark, and if I can get that vehicle somewhere, I am certain that anyone else can get where I am. Same with any type of emergency plans: what happens if you lose control of the drone? Again, it’s plastic propellers on mine. Most of the damage is going to be on the drone itself, but nothing else. But you have to assure them that you know how to use it and you’re using it properly.
Go onto YouTube and search for drone fails and you’ll see hundreds of videos of people who don’t use the drone properly which can cause a lot of damage. There’s one person in New York City, he had a video up and he was flying around Times Square and he hit a skyscraper and the drone fell to the ground. And you’re talking thousands of people walking around Times Square at that point.
So the FAA is actually investigating that. Same here with the guys who decided to attach roman candles to their drone and shoot at each other even though they’re out in the middle of nowhere, there’s nobody around. It’s still classified as hauling a hazardous material. And Transport Canada is investigating that. They can face fines because they have to set a precedence somehow or you’re going to have people putting fireworks on these things in the city, and firing them all over the place and someone’s going to get hurt. So they’re trying to be proactive with it but at the same time try to understand that most people who fly drones just think they’re a cool toy. They’re not trying to use them improperly or anything like that.
DroneFutures.org: Right. Okay. So I understand that as you were sort of building your business you decided to tinker on a project yourself that you called Southwest Stories. Do you want to talk about that?
Craig Baird: I moved here from Alberta a couple years ago. And we came here kind of thinking that southwest Saskatchewan was flat. You know, kind of like how a lot about how birds see Saskatchewan: it’s flat and there’s really nothing here.
We discovered that there’s actually quite a bit here. The highest point between Banff and Labrador is actually found in southwest Saskatchewan. And the Cyprus Hills, its highest point is actually higher than Banff is, but people don’t really see that because of how they see Saskatchewan.
So we decided we’re doing a lot of filming around the whole area; let’s do a documentary. So we filmed for six months all over the place, interviewing people who were going to events, and we made a feature length documentary; it was about 40 hours of footage—we had to edit down—it took us four months to do that. And we released it in February. We had a premier at our theatre and then we released it online. And it’s still doing well online. It helped train us a lot with doing videos and also helped us network with a lot of people because we were promoting towns through it and it’s what we essentially do for a living.
DroneFutures.org: So you’ve seen some positive benefits to taking this project on in terms of your next step?
Craig Baird: Absolutely. Because now when I go to a town I can say you know I filmed this documentary covering 70,000 square km and dozens of towns. And this is what I can do for your town using what I’ve learned from making this documentary.
DroneFutures.org: So did you go into it thinking this was going to be a way to build my business or is that something that just kind of naturally grew out of it?
Craig Baird : I think it was just something that kind of grew out of it. I just wanted to do it. -I like just taking big projects and seeing what happens with them. So it kind of grew from that. Last year and the previous years, our business—we were trying to find our niche: and we were filming everything from weddings to anything people needed to do. This helped kind of narrow us and define us as more promotional and video marketing. So it helped us figure out exactly what we want to do with our business while at the same time providing us with a lot of great connections and a backlog or portfolio that we can use to gain work in the future.
DroneFutures.org: Right. It just seems to me like a great idea in terms of finding new customers just by offering or deciding to build something for free and then naturally you make connections and start to grow your client base. But yours required quite a bit of investment in terms of time and effort. I suppose there are some ways that you can do something similar to build a business without putting in 10 month’s worth of work.
Craig Baird: Ya without a doubt. It was a lot of work. But it also gave us the ability to train how to film and do things like that. We did a lot of promotional videos for our home town of Gull Lake. And so we just go around and film events and film interviews of people in town and again that trained us how to do it for other people for money. It’s not always the best work for free but it does help us learn how to do things. And then we can translate that into clients down the road where we actually make money from.
DroneFutures.org: Right. And so did talking to all these people and seeing a growing interest what inspired you to think about starting DroneFest or was there something else that was the spark behind that?
Craig Baird: I think what happened was last year I was looking at camera equipment and then I saw somebody doing a video and I saw that he had a little drone and it was filming. I didn’t even realize it could do that. This was when drones were just taking off. And so I saw that and I thought okay, and I did some searches for drones and I found out there was a store right near me called the Source that had a relatively simple drone for $300. So I thought okay well I’ll give that a try. And so I bought it.
It was decent but not as good as I needed for things like filming a documentary. But then the committee I was in was entered into the Communities in Bloom and one of the judges had a drone. So he was talking about that and said, “I don’t think there’s ever been a drone air show.”
And come December, I decided well I might as just well get started on this and I picked a date in July and you know more or less created DroneFest at that point.
Originally, we were going to have an air show and drone air film festival and things like that but because of time constraints and the level of work that has to go into making the application for an air show, we decided that this year we’re just going to be on the educational side of things: teach people about drones. Then next year we’ll have our air show:. We’ll have companies with people coming out and showing what their drones can do. And so it kind of just builds from that point.
Craig Baird : It’s been pretty good. We have several volunteers. We have a committee that is working hard on it. And we’ve been in media all over the southwest; people seem to have really interested in it. We’ve been working with Transport Canada on it; they’ve been getting calls about it. So the community here has certainly been behind it for sure.
DroneFutures.org: And you have some industry people also going to be presenting their services and talking about the equipment that they have, etc. Is that right?
Craig Baird: We kind of wanted this to be the Comicon of drones. And so we wanted to bring out companies to talk about drones and what they can do. And so we have I think 5 or 6 companies that are coming out and they’re going to talk about a wide range of drone applications: from agricultural filmmaking to mining exploration and law enforcement. Just to show people all the things they can do. It’s not just about people buying drones and flying them around and crashing them into things. It’s about how these drones can be used for many different things from protecting wildlife in Africa to search and rescue, first aid. There’s just a multitude of things they can do now.
DroneFutures.org: Well the industry certainly is growing quickly. But given your prairie experience and expertise in where you’re seeing them used in your particular community in the provinces in general, do you have any thoughts as to what’s going to be the biggest growth area for drones in prairie provinces.
Craig Baird: I think probably in the prairie provinces it will be through oil and gas and agriculture; especially agriculture because a lot of people like the idea of being able to stand on their property and fly a drone a kilometer away, being able to count their livestock, monitor their livestock, and they don’t really have to leave their house to do it. And with drones these days, you can even just set them on a course and they’ll go fly that course and come back and then you just review the footage.
I know a lot of companies are offering things infrared imaging for your crops and things like that. Because of their low costs, compare that to the cost of flying over and things like that—it’s pretty low. Eventually you’ll see larger drones being used for crop spraying and things like that. So I think especially in agriculture, you’re going to see a lot of growth of drones in Saskatchewan.
DroneFutures.org: Now, it sounds like you have gone through a bit of a transition in terms of your equipment. Is that right? You started out small and went from there?
Craig Baird : Yes we did. We had a Parrot AR2.0 and it was a nice little drone, it was a good training drone; it had a high definition camera on the front. But the problem with it was that the camera was built into the body. Because it was lightweight. Gull Lake I think is the fourth windiest place in Canada—we have a bunch of wind turbines to attest to that fact. So the footage would often be shaky because when the drone would shake, the camera would shake.
So this year we upgraded to a Yuneec Typhoon Q500+ that comes with a special control station—it’s not controlled by a smartphone—it has a bunch of things like geofencing and follow me and things like that. And it has a camera that hangs below the drone and when the drone moves the camera stays stable so we can get that stable footage in high definition. So we upgraded to that this year because we are doing quite a few promotional vides for towns.
DroneFutures.org: And would you recommend that progression of equipment you know to somebody who’s looking to start a drone business for themselves?
Craig Baird: Absolutely! I crashed my other drone quite a bit just learning how to fly. I mean I always flew in rural areas; I was never flying it down the street or anything like that. But I crashed it; it’s flown all over the place. It was a hardy little thing; it survived quite fine. With this drone, I’ve taken it out just once to test it; and I’m terrified of flying it anywhere. If it’s even a bit windy, I’m worried I’m going to lose my drone just because it’s more expensive.
Learning with the AR, I have a better understanding of how drones work. And I mean eventually, I’ll get over the fact that this thing’s not going to crash. It’s extremely stable. It’s kind of like training wheels. Start with a small one—you can buy them for $40—and progress up from there. And it’ll help you understand how drones work better. Because it’s not like flying a model airplane; it’s not like that. It does take some practice to do it right. So, start small and go up from there. I’ve seen a lot of YouTube videos of people who buy really expensive drones and they take it up and crash it because they’ve never flown a drone before and they don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. So you don’t want that to happen with a $2000 drone.
DroneFutures.org: Right. Fair enough. So obviously you haven’t been doing drone videography or photography or hosting festivals for drones all your life. What did you do before this, if you don’t mind me asking?
Craig Baird : Originally I went to school and I got a Bachelor’s of Science in computer science back in the early 2000s and I did that for a few years. And about two weeks after I got married, in 2006, I said to my wife that I was going to leave doing computers and I took a quite a low paying job as a sports reporter in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. Because I wanted to—I didn’t like the stress of computer work. And we moved there and then six weeks later I was offered an editor position at CBC there. And then from there I had done editing work at a few different towns through the prairies. Then we finally just settled here for a little while. I had always been doing freelance writing before that but I’m trying to transition away from the freelance writing more to the video marketing work, because it’s a rapidly growing industry and I’ve always enjoyed making videos. So that’s kind of how I transitioned into that.
DroneFutures.org: So you’re pretty pleased with your change?
Craig Baird: Absolutely! Yeah I mean. One thing I like about promotional videos for towns is that I travel to these towns and spend a couple days there. You know I’m in a new town, a new place, learning about it, and then I can make videos that get other people go to those towns and learn about them.
DroneFutures.org: Great! Wow! Thank you again Craig for joining us here on SightLines. Again just a recap: Craig is organizing DroneFest, which you can find out more about at GLdronefest.com—that’s coming up this July. His business is BlueBox Media and you can find him at bluemedia.com. And again, this is dronefutures.org, you can find us at dronefutures.org and learn all about the industry and how it’s changing and get ideas for making the most of it yourself or just watch from the sidelines to see what’s cool and happening today. Thanks for joining us!
Top image via Prairie Post (feature Craig and his wife Layla Baird, Co-Founder of BlueBox Media). Additional images courtesy of BlueBox Media.