'One take, no CG': How that viral Bryant Lake Bowl drone video was made

By Kent Erdahl | KARE 11

If you're a fan of Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, or just a fan of unbelievable video, chances are you’ve seen or shared a viral, single-take drone video that is almost too good to believe. 

"Everyone is like doubting it," said Farrah Donovan, bartender at Bryant Lake Bowl. "I can vouch that it's 100 percent real. I was here."

Donovan was among several staff members and volunteers who showed up to act for the drone shoot, produced by Sky Candy Studios, last week. 

Director Anthony Jaska said the video wasn't produced as a commercial for the business, it was meant to serve as a way to showcase the potential of storytelling through the use of a first-person view drone, which is a very small drone that can fly into tight spaces that once seemed impossible.

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"It's just doing something unique," Jaska said. "It's taking a traditional storytelling and putting new technology behind it. There's no cuts. It's one take, no CG."

Jaska helped develop the plan for the video, which involved a day of scouting the building and planning the path of the drone and various scenes that would play out as it moved through. 

The final version last about 1 minute, 30 seconds. It begins outside Bryant Lake Bowl and then flies in through the front door and circles through the building, all while revealing interactions between customers and staff.

The only thing that was added in post-production was the audio and dialogue, due to the loud buzz of the drone.

"I'm walking through the scene and I'm cuing each person to throw the ball, or it's coming back up," Jaska said. "It takes a lot of effort. A lot of time."

It all looks effortless in the final video thanks to the work of drone operator Jay Christensen, who says it took about five practice runs, before the team started filming with the actors and movements.

"We probably did 10 takes with the camera running," Christensen said. "The first few, the timing was way off and we would get to a certain part and the bowler wouldn't be there, or maybe the drone was a little out of position, so it was cool to see, halfway through the process, how we had to kind of restructure everything."

Christensen says most of the questions he has received is about a portion of the video when he flies the drone through a tight space where the bowling lanes meet the pin machines in the back of the bowling alley. 

"All morning I was like stressed about that part," Christensen said. "I thought, that's going to be a hard move. I ended up going 15 for 15 on that (including practice). I never crashed once on that move."

Christensen said the hardest part turned out to be the beginning of the video, when the drone starts high above the bowling alley, descends to street level and sneaks through the front door as two people enter.

There was another part of the video that was also pretty challenging for someone not flying the drone. Mike Welsh, owner of Sky Candy Studios, volunteered to have the drone fly through his legs while he polished a bowling ball like a famous scene in the movie “The Big Lebowski.”

“I've got total faith in Jay as a pilot,” Welsh said. “I've been watching him fly for the last six years and the guy is incredible, so you build trust over just seeing him accomplish awesome drone shots."

The only time Christensen did crash the drone, it was intentional. At the very end of the video, the drone flies down a bowling lane and strikes the pins.

"It actually completely went into (the pins)," Christensen said. "It's got this little break on the protective casing, but it still flies perfectly and we flew it right after we crashed it into there."

It was well worth the wear. The video has now been viewed more than a million times on various platforms, and it even got shoutouts from some famous movie directors, including James Gunn, director of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies.

"Several well-known directors have been reaching out and saying that they like the footage and they'd love to have a drone operator on their movies, so it really escalated quickly,” Christensen said.

And as for why they decided to film at Bryant Lake Bowl?

"It's been a tough year for Lake Street, and not just because of COVID. All the buildings that were burned made me really think that if there was a day where Bryant Lake Bowl wasn't here, that'd be a bummer for sure,” Christensen said. ”So if we can help out with the shot and be creative in the meantime, I think it's a win-win all around.”