Nashville drone firm brings Southern charm to Hollywood | Crain's Nashville

Nashville drone firm brings Southern charm to Hollywood

  • snaproll

    Founded in 2004, Snaproll has risen to become a leader in the UAV industry. | Photo by Snaproll.

  • baywatch

    Recently, Snaproll wrapped up shooting for the new Baywatch. | Photo by Snaproll.

  • the grand tour

    Snaproll was able to shoot for The Grand Tour when they filmed an episode in Nashville. | Photo by Snaproll.

Lights, camera, action, and ... liftoff!

Since starting their drone company, Snaproll Media, in Nashville 13 years ago, founders Preston Ryon and Spencer Valdez have managed to stay ahead of the pack, landing Hollywood movies and TV shows from their Nashville offices.  

Snaproll prides itself on the fact that it was among the first six companies approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones for movie and television productions. The first company to fly the RED One  digital alternative to 35mm movie cameras on a commercial basis, Snaproll put Nashville on the map as a go-to market for drones and drone-related services.

Last August, the FAA introduced new Part 107 rules, making it easier for more people than ever to take to the skies. Luckily, Snaproll’s early success has kept the company at the top of Hollywood’s short lists.

“It has gotten to the point where it's almost expected to have a drone on set,” said Ben Linderman, Snaproll’s director of marketing. “The technology is getting so good that people want to go buy it themselves and try to get these shots and then they realize that if we're going to fly these high dollar cameras and do extremely technical maneuvers then we may need to bring in someone with the experience level.”

Linderman rattled off an impressive list of big-name films Snaproll for which Snaproll has produced footage: "Baywatch," "Point Break 2," "Fast & Furious 6" and "The Nice Guys," along with TV shows like "Shark Week" and "The Grand Tour."

While the team can’t discuss current productions, co-founder Preston Ryon did reveal that they are headed to China for a month, the third time the firm has filmed there.

“There are some large films that we will be working on [this year]," Ryon said. "It's more stuff that we have done in the past in terms of working with large, A-list actors. We do a lot of work with several of the studios like Paramount, Columbia Pictures and Lionsgate.”

Leveraged connections

In Nashville, Snaproll continues to fly at the top thanks to its strong reputation and relationships with various tech companies, allowing its personnel to get their hands on advanced technology before it hits the market.

Not only is Snaproll set apart by its reputation and impressive repertoire, but it is also one of the only companies in America that can carry heavy payloads. For example, Ryon explained that they were chosen to fly and film the re-opening of the Panama Canal last year because of this capability.

“We can fly really high-end cameras, and one thing that we have been doing lately is flying 3D rigs. That's two really heavy cameras at the same time. We were the only company they could find that had the capability to fly that much weight for long enough to film the first ship going through the re-opening of the canal for IMAX.”

As drones only continue to become more popular and sought-after for movies and TV, Crain’s Nashville asked Ryon if he was worried about any competition popping up in Nashville or elsewhere, but he didn’t seem fazed.

“The technology has gotten a lot more advanced and it's allowed more people to have access. From my point of view, it's a good thing. When we started, no one knew what a drone was. It's educated our potential clients on the technology,” he said.

Next up for Snaproll? Beyond continuing to shoot blockbuster flicks, the company aims to dive into commercial purposes like flying for disaster relief and insurance purposes. 

Plenty of opportunities

Edward Lanquist, a managing shareholder at Patterson Intellectual Property Law, is currently active in Nashville's drone scene, working with companies seeking to develop drones for agricultural purposes. According to Lanquist, Snaproll is clearly filling a market niche in Nashville and beyond. 

"There is an incredible opportunity for drones in and around Nashville. If a drone can be used to make the shots that drones did in 'Skyfall' and 'Game of Thrones,' then think about what a drone can do for disaster area examination or even traffic reports," Lanquist said. 

March 31, 2017 - 11:16am