Aerial America returns for its 68th episode this Sunday, June 4th at 8:00 PM ET/PT on the Smithsonian Channel. Sunday’s episode is titled “New York City 24” and will give viewers an opportunity to view the Big Apple like never before.
CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke with Aerial America‘s executive producer Toby Beach for an inside look at how the show is created and some of his favorite moments caught on camera. For a sneak peak at Sunday night’s episode, check out SmithsonianChannel.Com.
MW- Good morning Toby! New season of Aerial America kicks off on Sunday, June 4th. I think it’s pretty incredible the view that you and your crew are able to give people, what’s been your ultimate goal while working on this show?
TB- The Aerial America series gives viewers a rare chance to learn about the history of the nation state-by-state but it also does it through a pretty unique perspective. The aerial perspective allows for an understanding of really the big picture as well as individual stories.
MW- Each episode tells the story of a location through its history, how do you gather all the information that you share on the show?
TB- There’s a lot of research that goes into these programs obviously, especially state-by-state programs since they are so history focused. We do extensive research to try and pick out stories that will really work from an aerial perspective. It’s not necessarily an easy task, there are great stories in each state that might be perfectly suited to doing interviews or archival footage but the Aerial America series is all brand-new cinematography. There aren’t any interviews or archival footage in the show so it’s really a challenge to pick out the stories that will work well from the air and then go out and get them. In our filming we come across things we never expected which is always exciting and those are some of the strongest elements of the show.
MW- What are some of those unexpected elements you’ve been able to catch on film?
TB- There’s a pretty remarkable moment that only lasted two or three seconds in Alaska when we were filming a group of grizzly bears on a river trying to catch fish. With the helicopter we normally do circles around what we’re filming and we came across this grizzly bear lumbering up the hillside on the side of a river and there’s a bald eagle just standing there as well. To see both of those creatures in such close proximity was incredibly exciting.
MW- I’d imagine there probably aren’t many instances of something like that being caught on film and you were lucky enough to be at the perfect place at the perfect time.
TB- Exactly, there’s a lot of luck involved with aerial cinematography but it’s all about trying to capture the moments that you see and use the opportunities you get. Sometimes it’s light, if the sun is working a certain way on something you’re filming or if the weather moves in and you’re able to get dramatic shots of lightning storms, thunder storms, etc.
MW- How many hours of recording do you capture for each episode?
TB- I think we record something like 20+ hours of footage per episode, it all depends on which state. Texas required more and for Alaska we did two special episodes. It’s something around 20 hours of footage and we normally fly 40-50 hours in the helicopter per state.
MW- And how long does it take to edit all that footage down?
TB- It all depends on the schedule but normally it’s about four to five months after we get back from a shoot.
MW- Wow, for every single episode it takes four to five months?
TB- Yea, but we’re doing multiple ones at a time so things are overlapping.
MW- You’ve mentioned Alaska a few times, was that you’re favorite shoot so far?
TB- It was certainly spectacular to be in a helicopter in some of the most remote places in this country. Up in Alaska it’s just an amazing experience and I think the visuals that we got capture some of that. Experientally that was certainly one of the highlights but there have been highlights in pretty much every state. When you’re in Nebraska, racing across a cornfield when the corn is high, that can be just as exciting as crossing a glacier.
MW- Well in this upcoming episode you’re about as far away from cornfields and glaciers as possible. Sunday night’s episode is called New York City 24, it will be the second time you’ve covered New York. Last time you filmed the entire state of New York and this time around there was a focus on the five boroughs that make up New York City, was there a greater degree of difficulty having to navigate that environment where it’s as urban and congested as it gets?
TB- Yea I think the two challenges in New York City were the weather, which is always a challenge but often in some states if the weather is bad in one part we can go fly another part. Weather was definitely an issue and the airspace over New York City is incredibly complicated, especially when you’re filming there are three different airports that all own a different piece of airspace over Manhattan and the five boroughs. Then there are temporary flight restrictions that are in place during different events on the ground. There’s also unrestricted airspace down along the river where all the tour helicopter operators fly. You’re kind of working throughout this airspace all the time and that puts a lot of pressure on our pilot to constantly be on with the tower which takes away his time from being able to focus on us getting the shot. That’s just one of the challenges of this kind of work.
MW- Were there any of those one-in-a-million type shots, like the grizzly bear and the bald eagle, that you were able to capture while filming New York City?
TB- Sure, one of the great things in New York is its verticality. It’s the tallest city in America, it’s the biggest city and for aerial cinematography that just offers an enormous number of possibilities. We got some engineers working on the very top of the spire of the Freedom Tower, they were actually installing antenna panels. When you see them up there, almost 1,700 feet above the city streets locked in to the spire with just a couple of clips it’s pretty amazing to think that people like that are constantly working in New York and we never really think about them because we can’t see them.
The focus of this episode is two operating engineers who operate the two tallest construction cranes in Manhattan, or at least they were during our shoot period. They were working on 3 World Trade Center and part of the focus of these city shows is to try to capture a day in the life of the city that we’re filming. We wanted to really capture that moment when the crane operator gets to work because it’s one of the most unique commutes in the city. We filmed him at 6:30 AM as he climbs up the crane right up to his cab where he’ll spend the entire day moving around giant pieces of steel on the ground below.
MW- Can’t wait to watch this weekend, I’ve been binging episodes lately and I’m really looking forward to watching New York City 24 on Sunday. Thanks a lot for the time today Toby, have a good one!
TB- Awesome, thanks a lot Matt.
Aerial America will air on Sunday, June 4th at 8:00 PM ET/PT on the Smithsonian Channel, check your local listings for more information.