Hollywood likes killer drones. Over the past two years, drones have killed mutants in “X-Men,” attacked the good guy in “Elysium,” served as weapons in “Iron Man 2” and struck down shopping malls in “American Ultra.”
But Chad Kapper, who rose to fame in the drone community as former director of beloved web series “Flite Test,” is creating a new archetype for the drone in Hollywood. A drone stars as the protagonist in the movie “Rotor DR1,” a film produced and directed by Kapper in partnership with Cinema Libre Studio. It is set to release on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD on October 20, 2015.
The film “Rotor DR1” hinges on a post-apocalyptic world where most of the population has died because of a viral outbreak, and the world has fallen into a state of disrepair. But, one thing kept working — the drones — carrying out monotonous duties like inspections and vaccine deliveries. One of the drones, named DR1, befriends the main character Kitch (Christian Kapper), a teenage boy on a mission to find his father. Along the way, he meets up with an abandoned and charismatic teenager, Maya (Natalie Welch), fights off the antagonists trying to track him down, and enters a drone race in one of the film’s most exciting scenes.
The film went into production in July 2014 with a budget of about $350,000. Written by Steve Moses, Megan Ryberg, Scott Windhauser and Seth Yergin, the film is more intellect than action. Not to mention it is gorgeously shot – though not a surprise coming from the creator behind Flite Test. But the real joy in this film is watching a drone come to life and shaping the story beyond the cliche’d prop of the villain’s weapon.
“It’s a character piece,” Kapper said. “DR1 has personality.”
It’s a refreshing story, particular for a drone community all-too familiar with explaining to the general public that drones they make in their garages or buy off Amazon are for useful purposes that don’t entail spying or militarization. In fact, Kapper said one of the first iterations of the story was to make a film only with drones.
Beyond being the first movie to showcase drones as a star not trying to kill, Kapper also says this is one of the first “community-collaborated” films. Thousands of online community members used forums, GoogleDocs, Facebook and Youtube to develop a ten-episode online series, making decisions on everything from casting to wardrobe to storyline. (You can see many of those notes on the Rotor DR1’s own wiki.)
“Because it was primarily contributed to by the drone community, we show drones in a positive light,” he said.
That’s not to say the film is perfect. Because of the community-collaboration aspect, some aspects of the plot feel disjointed. The drone racing scene in some ways serves a pivotal plot point, but also feels detached. Too many characters convolute the storyline and prevent real development beyond the main character, Kitch.
As many media goes, “Rotor DR1” really has the power to shape perception of drones, and Kapper captures that perfectly. Kapper created a beautifully produced film set in a world with characters not unlike ourselves, but who, much unlike us, live with drones flying around their heads as part of everyday life. In “Rotor DR1,” drones are no longer extraordinary, but simply a fact of life and a means of transporting vaccines. Yet, following in the likeness of R2D2 or Wall*E, the drone is integral to the story and moves the plot forward forward. When “Rotor DR1” hits shelves in late October, it seems “Rotor DR1” will have the power to move public perception of drones forward as well.