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Bodangora by drone: A young filmmaker shoots the breeze

Bodangora

Steering a drone around a wind turbine while maintaining perspective on the images captured by a drone-mounted video camera requires skill, focus, and absolute certainty of where the drone is in relation to its subject.

Although Jedd Manning says it’s not much more difficult than shooting an aerial perspective of weddings, dirt-bike competitions, or prospectus videos for real-estate vendors, he adds,“You’ve got to get it right and know the safety requirements.” Before monthly progress shoots at the 33-turbine Bodangora Wind Farm in Western New South Wales he does, “a heap of planning, checking the weather, and making sure my drone is up to date in its log books and maintenance checks, so that I comply with insurance and licensing requirements.”

In 2017, when Manning started documenting the construction of Bodangora Wind Farm, he was in Year 10 at high school in Dubbo. The 16 year old had recently set up his drone-photography business, Western Aerial Productions, online when Infigen Energy contacted him to undertake aerial surveys of its site. Like many of his clients, the team at Bodangora were surprised by Manning’s youth, but they were reassured by his skills and professionalism.

“It happens often,” says Manning that people are taken aback at first meetings, “but what you see on my website is what you’re getting. It’s quality work.”

Photos and video by Jedd Manning, Western Aerial Productions.

Infigen Energy and its construction partners in Bodangora Wind Farm — CATCON and GE Renewable Energy — strive to contribute to regional economies in all their wind-farm projects by employing and buying locally. Says Infigen’s Bodangora project manager, Stuart Black, “We found Jedd through a search of local providers in the Dubbo/Wellington area. I met him back in September 2017 and we engaged him initially on a trial basis, to see how he got on. He had a great attitude and worked well with others at the site, so we haven’t looked back.”

Manning is proud to be working on a renewable-energy project: “Everyone sees it as creating something for the better — environmentally friendly energy. It’s meant a lot of new jobs for the region and farmers who have turbines on their land get commission, so that helps them a lot.”

Memorable moments in the many hours of footage Manning has already shot include: “When the blades are carried on huge trucks more than 60 metres long down the road, and you watch from above as that big piece of machinery tries to turn corners — that’s pretty spectacular.”

And he has enjoyed, “creating a different perspective that even people at the wind farm hadn’t seen before”. Wind farm employees either viewed the 3.4MW GE Renewable Energy turbines from the ground, or while harnessed to the towers as they assembled the massive tubing, attached the mini-bus-sized nacelles and affixed those long blades. “When you get up above the turbines and orbit around them, it’s a whole new perspective,” says Manning.

Bodangora Wind Farm

As construction of the wind farm progresses to completion in early 2019, Manning says he’s noticing different transformations taking place. For example, with NSW in catastrophic drought, the effect of Infigen seeding grasses to restore pasture around the completed turbines has posed a vivid contrast to earlier construction phases which took place against a backdrop of dry red earth. “It’s a lot greener!” says Manning.

Over time, Manning has added stills and ground-based footage to his visual study of construction. He now looks forward to interviewing key players from Infigen Energy, and construction partners CATCON and GE Renewable Energy, to complete the story.

Says Black, “It’s important for the project that we keep records of the site and our contractors’ works during construction. It is also useful that we can show other key stakeholders what’s involved during the construction of the wind farm.”

Now at Dubbo College Senior Campus and in his first term of Year 12 studies, Manning is starting to skew his time a little more toward major high-school assignments, but he’ll still deliver on all his film-making projects. “I schedule everything,” he says. “I’ve got all the shoots I currently know about  scheduled up until mid next year.”

Since he shot his first films at 13 using a GoPro fixed to a Walkera X350 Pro, Manning has carefully channelled funds from his work into purchasing more sophisticated technology, all while meeting the costs of running a business, sometimes hiring a second camera operator as needed, and organising lifts, sometimes with his own employees. Since he gained his license in September this year, he now only has to borrow a car to get himself and his DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone to assignments.

Manning’s portfolio includes films of weddings, promotional videos for X-treme Bulls competitions at K Ranch Arena near Sydney, a film for Sydney Youth Orchestra of its work with students in Western NSW, and a documentary of his family’s more than 500-kilometre horse ride from Tilpa to Dubbo, to raise funds and awareness for Limbs4Life, a charity that provides support to amputees, their families and carers. Jedd’s father Jamie, a former rodeo star, became a double amputee after an horrific car accident; the story and film of his ride in 2016 raised $30,000.

Manning the filmmaker sees his future in documentary. “I want to tell stories that have real meaning for people,” he says. “And I enjoy creating new perspectives that not everyone gets to see every day. Visually amazing content can just blow people away.”

That’s the perfect teaser for Jedd Manning’s forthcoming documentary on Bodangora Wind Farm. Watch this windy space!

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