Douglas Spotted Eagle
Broadcast Beat’s “NAB Show New York Profiles” are a series of interviews with prominent professionals in the production industry who will be participating in this year’s NAB Show New York (Oct. 16-17, 2019).
As the Director of Educational Programming for Sundance Media Group, Douglas Spotted Eagle is the primary UAS instructor and industry consultant for Sundance Media Group and VASST. He is also a well-known musician, a world-traveled speaker/instructor, and is prominent in the video and audio industries, having won a Grammy Award in 2000. In addition, Douglas is the author of several books and DVDs, and continues to serve as an adviser and guide for videographers, software manufacturers, and broadcasters. He now focuses his energy and experience within the UAV/sUAS (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/small Unmanned Aerial System) industry. Douglas was a co-founder of Sundance Media Group in 1996.
Skydiving since 2006 and instructing UAS since 2012, Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. Appointed as a Safety and Training Advisor in the aviation world, he is a risk management/mitigation subject matter expert. Douglas is an audio and imaging pro with numerous awards for his productions; with an intimate knowledge of the FAA FARs and FSIMs, Douglas’ vision is to incorporate his years of imaging and aviation experience into best-practices for everything drone/UAV/UAS. Douglas is a frequent speaker and consults on UAV cinematography, public safety implementation of UAS, commercial and infrastructural UAV applications, UAV risk management, night UAS flight, aerial security systems, and 107 training to ensure pilots clearly understand the FAA laws.
I had an opportunity to interview Douglas just before he embarked on a multi-city cross-country production tour from the east to the west coast. I began by asking him when he first became interested in music and who his influences were. “I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a significant part of my life,” he said. “I was able to take 3 or 4 guitar lessons somewhere around 1970, but it never really gelled. When I turned 12, I discovered the Native American flute, and built my first flute around that age. I was deeply influenced at the time by artists like Jean Luc-Ponty, Tomita, Dan Fogelberg, and Gentle Giant.”
In addition to recording several albums, Douglas’ music career also branched out to film and TV. “My music, being somewhat a standout in a rarified field of flute/jazz combinations, led to ‘needledrops’ [prerecorded music used as background scoring] being used in many television and film projects,” he explained. “My first actual scoring piece didn’t happen until my third or fourth album, and I had the pleasure of working with Brian Keane, who is a multi-Emmy winning producer. He taught me the pain of compiling tracks in a different way than I’d previously done, and he taught me the patience of finite detail. Perhaps the most memorable experience was scoring a documentary on the Sami people of the Scandinavian countries, where I traveled to their location and spent a great deal of time amongst them. One of the tracks was recorded in Benny Andersson’s ABBA studio in Stockholm.”
Douglas has authored several books covering a wide range of subjects. I asked him how he began his writing career. “My goodness….books,” he responded. “I’ve always loved reading. When I was young, we had no electric on the ranch, so books were the only media available. Until recently, my home has been filled with books in every nook and cranny. I’ve written books on cameras, broadcast production technology, CMX editing systems, NLE systems, lighting, DV and HDV codecs, LDS Psychology/Suicide, Drones, Surround Sound, Microphone techniques, Parachuting… 34 books in total. All but one topic center around capturing and exporting great images and/or great audio.”
Douglas also gave me some insight about his work with Sundance Media Group. “I founded Sundance Media Group in 1994 as a means of training producers and musicians to use the new digital recording technology, such as Turtle Beach and Digidesign. I took on a partner a few years later, and in 2012, my partner sold his share to the current majority holder of the company, Jennifer Pidgen. Rebranded as ‘SMG,’ the group now offers nearly 100 classes on topics varying from Audio Production to underwater/ROV photography.”
As mentioned before, Douglas is a highly regarded aerial photographer, so I asked how he became involved with that field. “My sUAS photo/video work grew out of my work as an aerial cinematographer. Whether flying in a Skymaster 210, freefalling, or under canopy, aerial photography fascinates me. In 2010, I discovered this new tool now known as ‘drone, RPAS, sUAS,’ and began to experiment and learn. Not long after, I found myself teaching components of sUAS to broadcasters. In 2016, just prior to the new federal regulations, we created sUAS training standards for broadcasters, and presented it at the 2016 NAB Show.”
Douglas’ contribution to NAB Show New York this October will be a workshop called “Creative Lightning on a Budget,” which will be presented as part of the Post/Production Conference. “My first NAB Show was in 1985 as an attendee. My first year as a presenter was 1997, and I’ve been presenting every year since that time. There is no doubt that my relationship with NAB Show has enhanced and enabled my career. I was introduced to James Cameron, Dean Devlin, Jodi Eldred, Sony, Panasonic, RedRock Micro, FoxFury, hundreds of broadcast clients as a result of NAB Show. It’s one of the most highly-valued institutions in my career, even after 40 years.
“‘Creative Lighting on a Budget’ will show attendees how we have effectively packed a grip van into a single bag that can go into an overhead bin. I’ve carried this system—and similar systems—to Mt. Everest, many reservations, and other places where power is either not available, or not viable in quantity. I will demonstrate how cost-effective micro-lighting is an affordable—yet without compromise—means of lighting for small set, interview, corporate event, etc. The target audience is anyone who is involved in ‘predator’—producer-editor—roles, run n’ gun documentaries, corporate interviews, talking heads, or users of small-area video or photo production lighting systems.”