Red Bull's Flight Over NYC

 

When Red Bull called us and said that they were planning to have four members of the Red Bull Air Force wingsuit over the financial district of New York City and they wanted us to shoot it, we were honored. For us, this was a huge project and the stakes were high - we only had one shot at getting it right.

 
 

We’ve been working on sports and adventure video content with Red Bull since 2008. One such project was “Josh’s Idea”, a TV series featuring Josh Sanders as he attempted to set wakeboarding world records on every continent. More currently, we filmed  Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series in Boston, MA, where we needed to capture divers as they leapt from the roof of the ICA four stories above the water and traveled faster than 60 MPH into the water below. Despite our past collaborations, Red Bull’s most recent request posed new and unique challenges from a production standpoint. Even though we’ve done a significant amount of aerial work before, we had only one chance to perform this jump, and we had to make sure everything was in order to capture that one money shot Red Bull stressed to us as “...vital…” in all our pre-production meetings.

 
 

We had Three Main Challenges on this Project:

1. Logistical Challenges: After months of planning, including countless conference calls, location scouts, and crew strategy, the time finally came to execute our plan. We had only one day to do our test jumps and rehearse our camera angles with the helicopters in relationship to the jumpers. The weather, however, was not on our side, so we had to push everything back a day. We could not eliminate this practice jump; it was crucial for the Air Force Team be able to plan their flight pattern and formation for their NYC jump. When we finally got to practice, less than 24 hours before the Sunday jump, we learned why practice makes perfect. On one of their first practice jumps, the team undershot their landing zone by more than a mile and landed in the middle of a cupcake festival... which added some light humor to a potentially dangerous oversight.

The practice jump was also crucial for us. We had to organize our various cameras and test the angles they would shoot from. The Cineflex shot needed to be rehearsed with our helicopter pilot and Cineflex operator. Most importantly, the helmet camera shot, which was going to be captured by a RED Epic Dragon, needed to be tested to find out what lens we’d use based on the jumper’s distance from his four fellow jumpers. In total, we had five Sony F5s to film the jump, one on the plane, one on the barge with an audio tech where the team would land, one on the 60th floor of a hotel in the financial district, one on the New Jersey shoreline, and one on the shore of west Manhattan. In addition, we had a RED Epic Dragon mounted on a jumper’s head and a Cineflex on the helicopter. To top it off, we set-up 15 GoPros in various locations on the plane and on the jumpers. To keep the weight of the RED Epic Dragon below 10 pounds, we had to use the carbon fiber version, which we mounted to aerial videographer Andy Farrington’s helmet; it weighed 8 pounds!

2. Technical Challenges: One of the biggest challenges was making sure all of the cameras were able to capture the action. This was a difficult feat not only because of how many working parts there were to our operation, but because the jumpers were very small, very far away, and moving at incredible speeds. The flyers jumped out of the plane at 7,500 feet above the ground and were moving around 80 MPH, and they opened their parachutes about 2,500 feet above ground (about 800 feet higher than the Freedom Tower) and eventually slowed down to about 40-50 MPH when approaching the barge. To make sure we were able to capture the jump with our only take, communication was crucial. The air team successfully communicated with our ground personnel with a “jump countdown” to ensure all camera positions were rolling at the right moment. 

Also, the jump was planned to happen between 6:30-7:30 AM, and in order to frame the jump in the city skyline as they glided over Manhattan’s iconic financial district, we had to shoot into the sun. Thus, we felt it would be crucial to shoot on cameras that recorded in a RAW format with a high dynamic range giving us significantly more latitude if/when we needed to color grade our footage.  

 
 

3. Deliverable Challenges: This project required a very quick turn-around, so Red Bull could spread their story to the WORLD. No members of the press were invited to watch this event; the jump would spread to the world soley based on our footage. We had the VNR (video news release) done within 4 hours, a 2 minute action clip done within 24 hours, a GoPro POV video done within 25 hours, and a 3 minute story clip done within 72 hours.  In addition to our video content, the RED Epic Dragon captured such great and high quality (6K) video that we were able to provide the still photography team with high quality still images of the jump.

 

Here's a closer look behind the scenes at how our team conquered this endeavor. 

 
 

The event was a success, thanks to our excellent team, and one of our most memorable to date! Check out our final video below:

 
 

“Recognizable all over the world, the New York City skyline is a dream come true for those who love to soar, live to fly and just have to push their limits.” -Kerri Holt, Red Bull

 
Jay Jalbert