Thank you, Skype

Behaviours you acquire while working in IT can help you through life, sometimes in funny and unpredictable ways.

My job in Skype was (among other things) making sure that our paid services (SkypeOut, SkypeIn, SMS) function no matter what. Building multiple levels of redundancy became almost an obsession during those 10 years — every single component or process had to be duplicated in different locations and at some moment we got to the point where if 70% of our server park would die (for whatever reason) we’d still survive and customers would barely notice, that something happened. It’s not only our own infrastructure that was duplicated, but we also had extensive network of partners around the globe, who’d be able to replace each other. That all would function without much interference, fully (or almost fully) automagically. I’m still pretty proud of that all, even I’m gone long ago — but we definitely grew together with people who are running services today.

Now for almost 3 years I’ve been full-time aerial cinematographer — flying drones with cameras, different shapes and sizes in different environments. It started as a hobby, but gradually became my only job (though, demand for Mōvi operations is growing).

There were very obvious things I did from day one in my new venture — on set we always had 2 drones, 2 cameras, 2 monitors, 2-3 of everything. Even 2 people. Most of the time you don’t need those duplicates (except second team member), most of the time everything works — but it’s the cases when you fail your preparedness pays off and despite visible disaster (crashed drone looks everything but beautiful) you can continue and deliver. That’s the only way to build trust — delivering. Trust both for your company and drone industry in general — and let me assure you, many producers and directors are quite reluctant to embrace something completely new and in many cases unpredictable — and drones were sometimes quite unpredictable in their early days.

We had some completely unforeseen cases, when for example live videofeed monitors stopped working in Norway for no obvious reason. Of course there were reasons — LCD’s just won’t last long under -20C, but that’s not something you necessarily know from day one. But you’re patting yourself on the back while unpacking second monitor from warmth of your car and continue shooting.

We had those cases when we just pushed too hard — going too far, too low, too quick, too close. Wreck looks ugly, but most directors at a time did not expect you unpacking your backup drone and going airborne in a matter of minutes — their facial expressions were (and still are) indeed rewarding. And while many people consider damaging the idea of publishing reports of your crashes I think that’s not always true — it’s not failure if by the end of the day you delivered. Everything that flies — crashes sometimes. Airplanes are there for over hundred years and still crash sometimes — drones are here for merely 10 years, you can’t expect them to be flawless. If aerial cinematography company of your choice claims they never crashed — they’re either lying, aren’t pushing hard enough or are very young in business.

Even today, when you can insure your drone operations and technology has advanced so far — it’s not only redundancy built into drones themselves, but additional sensors helping you to avoid obstacles and all those other helping bells and whistles — even today everyone who considers themselves professional in the field does bring redundant set of equipment on the shoot. We’re often questioned whether it really is necessary, how often do we crash, when was the last time we replaced this or that piece of equipment and answer is “not often”, “long ago”.

So is it really worth spending 2x times money (and weight) on equipment to be able to deliver in an unlikely case of crash? Well, look at this from another point of view.

In most cases you’re just one little piece of what’s happening on set. Remember, you are usually just one of cameras — not the only camera. Meaning, there are different angles captured right before (or after, or during) drone shots. You are only capturing what was built by so many people for that special day — location manager (or whoever responsible) made sure that nobody will be interfering and all permits are in place, producers synced all the schedules across so many teams — lightning, grips, costumes, make up and many others I still have no idea about what’s their job description is. Actors are ready to act, director is directing, DP is DP’ing. AD is commanding the forces and soon it’s your turn to step in, fly and make the magic happen.

And now imagine someone accidentally stepped on your baby-bird and broke one of propellers and you don’t have replacement. Or you had only one HDMI cable and because it’s very thin and flexible and even looks very tender .. someone was too harsh on it and it just died without further notice. And you can’t connect camera to video transmitter, meaning, you can’t operate camera. Or — rarest case of them all — your drone just won’t start because flight controller fried. And you’re, like, “Well, ups. Can’t do no more. Let’s fly some other day, okay?”. And all those people are now staring at you with one single question in their eyes — “REALLY!? One fucking cable and you’re out of business??”

Do you think you will ever be invited again?

P.S. In Estonia almost any paperwork can be done from laptop. You have ID-card to authenticate yourself anywhere — filing taxes, issuing invoices, making payments. Checking your daughters grades. Selling your vehicle. Getting your speeding camera ticket with photo of your dumb speeding face attached. For 10+ years I’ve been using ID-card without a single issue, really. Today I accidentally blocked it by entering PIN wrongly 3 times in a row (well I put PIN wrongly once, but then refreshed browser page 3 more times and there you are). Not a big issue, when you’re in Estonia — pay a visit to bank or police to reset your PIN and you’re good in 5 minutes. Except I am now in Mumbai. Fucked? Well, almost. 2 weeks before going to India I finally (after hesitating for 10 years) managed to activate Mobile-ID on my mobile phone. Mobile-ID perfectly works as replacement for ID-card in case, you know .. something happens.

Thank you, Skype, once again.

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