Get to the Choppa – 3 Things We Learned Producing Content 1000 Feet Above Chicago.

Earlier this year we were tasked with producing a helicopter shoot for 360 Chicago – the observation deck at the Hancock Building. We were reminded of a few basic production principles that were magnified by the working with the helicopter, so we wanted to pass along some of those key takeaways.

1)    Be 100% prepared to be 100% in the moment.

You often only get one chance to get the shot. The stakes are even higher when you’re working with a helicopter and every minute of fuel burned matters. You don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute, dealing with confusion over what exactly needs to get accomplished on the day.

So always have a client-approved shot list, shoot plan, or storyboards before the shoot – even if it’s documentary style. Have a detailed schedule. And have a few contingency plans mapped out in the event of delays.

That way, when weather changes, or technology doesn’t cooperate, you are quickly able to assess where you are in the schedule, what you have accomplished, and shift priorities for what still needs to get done.


2)    Communication is key.

Miscommunication is often a pitfall for production, and when it’s air-to-ground (or in our case, air-to-94th floor), you want to make sure you have a clear chain of communication between the client and the production to avoid regrets after the shoot is over.

In our case, we couldn’t have everyone communicating into the helicopter cockpit, so we tapped the Assistant Director in the cockpit and the Producer in the observatory as the dedicated communicators between the client and Director.

Whether or not you have an AD, it is a good idea to appoint one production representative who will communicate client needs to the creative team, so that everyone’s voice is heard and notes are fielded and addressed at the right moment.


3)    Trust the experts.

Turns out, most of us can’t fly a helicopter or operate a camera mounted underneath one. But there are awesome people who can. The same is true for all specialists. When a specialist is required, make room in your budget for people who are at the top of their game.

Just like you don’t want to be counting on the junior pilot, you also want experienced folks doing any critical role on set. If you are using a jib operator, drone operator or even an audio person for the first time, review their work and verify their references.

Of course, not all shoots can be helicopter shoots, but we were glad to be reminded of a few tips that apply to any production situation. We are so grateful to be part of 360 Chicago’s awesome shoot and are proud of the videos we helped create.