Wild about Hovercam

Hovercam Ltd. are industry leading specialists and have a team with over 20 years of experience in aerial filming and photography. The company was established in 1992 and now offers a wide range services including Full-size helicopter, Remote controlled helicopter and Airship filming in various formats including 35mm and HD. In addition to this, Hovercam offer break-through pricing for library footage from as little as £150+VAT royalty free, which means putting quality images into a production has never been cheaper.

Wild about your garden

At the beginning of 2008, Hovercam were contacted by the BBC to work on a new series of programmes focusing on garden makeovers. The working title at the time for this project was “Wild SOS” (A horticultural take on the already successful series “DIY SOS”) to be headed up by Nick Knowles. As the project moved on the name soon changed to “Wild about your garden”.

The synopsis was for Nick Knowles, garden designer Chris Beardshaw and wildlife specialist Ellie Harrison to give urban gardens across Britain a reverse makeover by ripping up concrete patios, introducing luscious planting and completely re-designing gardens as they try to encourage some of the nation's most endangered animals into the city. In a way, this series is all about undoing the work of Alan Titchmarsh, Charlie and Tommy from “Ground Force” in the 90’s.

Our brief at this point was to get low and close imagery moving towards each house featured in the program and to lift over the roof to reveal the garden at the rear of the property. This imagery could not be achieved via a conventional helicopter simply because of the height restrictions that apply over urban areas. Generally, a helicopter should not fly within 500 feet of any building, vehicle or vessel. In urban areas height restrictions vary but are generally between 1000 and 2000 ft. This was clearly a job for our Remote controlled helicopter (Hovercam).

The “Hovercam” is a remote controlled helicopter specifically designed to carry commercial film, video cameras and download links. These small, five feet long, radio controlled helicopters fly just like the real thing and are capable of hovering, flying forwards/backwards, sideways, up and down as well as rotating horizontally. In addition to being highly manoeuvrable, the camera maybe panned and tilted individually in a gyro-stabilised mount.


The client developed a plan to visit 6 locations between April and May 2008 with a one day shooting schedule at each location for the Hovercam team. The locations were in Crayford (Kent), Bristol, Dundee, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Ilford. The series was to kick off in a small back garden in Crayford, Kent. Traditionally, in years past it would have been necessary for one of the Hovercam team to recce the location prior to the shoot day to assess the location for safety and obstructions, as well as to determine whether any other equipment maybe need, i.e; raised platforms, cherry picker, etc. However, nowadays a good general assessment of the site can be conducted through Google Earth. Quickly from a Google Earth image you can start to determine things like is house is on a major road or in a close and start to find the best location for the team to set-up in relation to the property.

If you remember, the brief was to approach each house from the front, lift over the roof and reveal the rear garden. Therefore, if the house is on a busy road this may cause a problem. Thankfully all the locations were in relatively quite suburban locations and only one location required part of the road to be closed to complete our work. Other locations had interesting features like an allotment behind the rear garden of the house which provided a good perspective from the rear of the property. In coordination with the BBC we were able to determine a significant amount of the plan at each location prior to the shoot day.

Working with Hovercam

Most producers or directors that have not worked with Hovercam before are slightly sceptical and/or apprehensive as to what can be achieved with a remote controlled helicopter with camera onboard. Thankfully, most are surprised and impressed with the results.

The Hovercam crew always arrive prior to call time to conduct a risk assessment of the area they will be operating in and set-up equipment. After meeting the crew on location and going through the brief and any modifications, it is important for an inspection to take place. Obstructions like power lines and alterations at the location that cannot be identified through Google Earth can only be picked up from an inspection of the location.

Once a risk assessment is completed the Hovercam crew will conduct a flight safety briefing for all at the location. This is to ensure that safe operating areas are maintained and all are clear on what to do in the event of failure. In essence the Hovercam is a machine in the air and it is possible that it might fail; therefore every precaution possible must be taken in the air and on the ground. Much like a full size aircraft the Hovercam team maintain flight records and conduct routine maintenance on the Hovercam to prevent the likelihood of machine failure. With this and our attention to detail at each location we have successfully maintained a 100% safety record over the past 20 years.

Ready for action

Wherever we go the Hovercam tends to be a crowd pleaser. Sometimes it can be difficult even for those involved in the shoot not to get carried away. For instance, in the “Wild about your Garden” series, on more than one occasion owners of the property we were shooting were peeking out a window of their house to see our Hovercam in the middle of a rush. This would be fine if they were planned to be in shot at that point. Generally, people come out of their houses, look out of windows and park cars to have a look at what we are doing, this is something the Hovercam crew are aware of and cater for in an approach to shoot.

On the “Wild about your Garden” series we spent around 3-4 hours and took between 15 and 20 rushes of 5-6 different sequences at each location. The whole project from our perspective went extremely smoothly, even the British weather held off at each location.

The results

After sending the tapes to the BBC, the Hovercam team were still keen as they were 20 years ago to get feedback from a Director or Producer and see results in the end program. After the first location we were already getting positive feedback from those around the BBC project. Towards the end of the project the series producer called to thank the team and comment on how well the shots have worked for her.

Some of the shots taken by Hovercam can be seen in the series trailer opening sequence on the BBC’s micro-site for the series. http://www.bbc.co.uk/wildaboutyourgarden

Tags: hovercam | helicopter | wild about your garden | bbc | nick knowles | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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