There are only a few ways to safely capture high-quality video during this period of social distancing. The most popular method for collecting cinematic interviews (A-roll) is a drop kit.

With a drop kit, it’s suddenly a lot easier to produce videos and conduct interviews from the comfort of your own couch.

What is a Drop Kit?

Drop kits are a combination of a cinema/ENG camera, lens, microphone, lighting, and live web streaming device. The drop kit is designed to be monitored remotely, over the internet, while recording high quality (high bitrate) video locally. Drop kits can also include a teleprompter/interrotron, wireless camera and lens control, walkie talkies, and other video production equipment.

The drop kit technician sets up the camera, lighting, audio, and web streaming in advance, and leaves the room before the talent enters. This helps minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Why Should I Use a Drop Kit?

Videos made by your talent in isolation will age very quickly. Cutting between broadcast-quality video and user-generated cell phone video will be distracting for audiences and lower the overall value of your work. If you’re creating content that will be in use after social distancing restrictions are loosened, a drop kit will smooth that transition.

Will Drop Kits Solve All My COVID-19 Problems?

In a word, no. Drop kits are just part of a video production plan for the post-coronavirus world. They are incredibly useful for collecting A-roll on location. They aren’t useful for B-roll. There is no “official drop kit.” Each kit will have different capabilities, and can be tweaked to meet the needs of production. A good drop kit tech will be able to design a rig that gets results without blowing the budget.

Are Drop Kits Easy to Use?

As a producer, using a drop kit is almost as easy as an on-location interview. Depending on the kit, you may also need to operate some basic functions, like the record button. You may also need to help direct the talent, guiding them to stay in frame, making sure they are wearing their microphone, and other considerations.

If you’re a drop kit tech, you’re responsible for four or five departments at once, and if you make a mistake, you can’t just go in and fix it. It can feel more like packing a parachute than making a video, but it gets easier with practice and training.

What Are the Limitations of a Drop Kit?

As with most things in video production, the only real limitation is your budget. Usually, the goal is to get A-roll that looks better than a FaceTime call, without spending more than it would have cost to send a four-person crew. I cover some ideas for how to balance cost and results in my Getting the Most From a Video Drop Kit post.

How Do I Get the Data?

If you’re working on a deadline, I suggest recording the videoconferencing session on the producer’s end. This file can be used as a proxy by the editor. The most reliable way to move the original video and audio files is with an external drive, shipped by UPS or FedEx. While it’s possible to transfer the files directly over the internet, it’s not advisable over most home internet connections. It could take your drop kit tech multiple days to upload a few hours of high bitrate video footage.

What Is the Minimum Equipment Required for a Drop Kit?

All drop kits should include a camera that can record in high quality, a microphone, and a device that can stream a lower quality version of that audio and video live to the internet.

What Should a Drop Kit Cost?

A drop kit is billed per day, and is usually a similar price to a 2-3 person video production crew with equipment. Making sensible production choices, like choosing a location with power and internet, can keep the budget from ballooning.

While it’s possible to shoot for a full 10-hour day using the same drop kit, most of the time, drop kits are used for interviews of a half day or less. Since the bulk of the work a drop kit technician does is before and after the shoot, there aren’t half day rates.

Who is Qualified to Be a Drop Kit Tech?

A drop kit tech needs a lot of specialized skills, including camera, lighting, electrical, sound, and computer networking. I would guess that as of April 2020, there are probably only 100 or so people in the US with the experience and equipment to reliably create quality content this way. As restrictions are lifted, there may be opportunities to train more people, but for now, I suggest hiring directors of photography that have experience as a one-person band and working with live webcasts or broadcasts.

Can I Use a Green Screen?

Since COVID-19 has limited a lot of travel, it’s likely you may have to shoot in a less-than-beautiful location. If your best option is to shoot in a garage, it’s possible to use a green or blue screen with your drop kit. Since this is extra equipment, make sure that space will allow it. My suggestion would be to only attempt this if the area is at least 10′ x 12′.

Can I Use a Teleprompter or Interrotron?

Absolutely. Since there will already be a computer on set for the talent to see the interviewer, it’s possible to display that image on a screen over the camera lens. If you want to use a teleprompter, we suggest that the drop kit tech operates it remotely from an adjacent room. Trying to run a teleprompter video feed over the internet can be laggy, and glitches can be very frustrating for the talent.

What About Insurance and Liability?

Any video production professional renting drop kits should carry industry-standard liability insurance. While the liability landscape of COVID-19 video production is still being litigated, we believe that video production teams that operate within the guidelines established by the CDC, the laws of their respective state, and the boundaries of common sense, can operate without posing an undue risk on anyone’s health or safety. While no video production is without risk, by limiting the crew to one and contact to zero, drop kits are the first choice of most producers looking to limit liability while shooting a video interview.