When the Wedding Crasher Is a Drone

Flying robots: a fun new thing for everyone—from normals to celebrity wedding planners—to worry about when planning a ceremony

Here is the celebrity wedding planner JoAnn Gregoli, telling The New York Times last month about a new problem that has emerged in her field:

Really only in the last year, these magazines are buying drones. They are able to launch them, hover them low. You could drop a drone outfitted with video cameras into a property almost undetected. At one event I did recently in the Hamptons, one came in over the water. There is no way we could have stopped it. They are a lot more annoying than helicopters ever were. Before, with a helicopter, you had a TV crew on board, and you’d have to wait for the show to air. Now with drones, they can put it on YouTube, on Periscope, on Twitter, almost in real time. To the world of celebrities, that is horrible. What do you do: shoot them down?

For the record, you cannot shoot them down. It’s potentially dangerous; it’s destructive; and, for both of those reasons, it’s also illegal.
So what can you do?
In a talk at the Washington Ideas Forum this morning, the Atlantic contributor Amanda Ripley, discussing the rapid normalization of drones and “what the world might be like once these drones become truly commonplace,” told the story of a wedding planner in the Hamptons. The planner was organizing an event for an unnamed celebrity, and she ended up facing, in her efforts, an unexpected foe: a paparazzo’s drone.
The robot flew overhead, Ripley, recounted, as the ceremony was taking place. The planner caught sight of it. She grabbed the videographer she had hired to document the ceremony—he, too, had been using a drone to get aerial shots of the event—and said, “Send up your drone! You need to fight the other drone!”
An epic aerial battle might have taken place, save for the fact that drones are expensive. The photographer had no interest in an aerial battle with the anonymous drone, sacrificing his piece of equipment to the cause of celebritorial privacy. Instead, the pair came up with an ad hoc solution: They used the photographer’s drone simply to block the shot of the other one. They flew the drone so that it hovered directly in front of the invading one.
And that strategy that came, er, on the fly is now part of the wedding planner’s standard repertoire. “From now on,” Ripley said, “she places a lookout at every celebrity wedding standing guard looking for drones.”
Celebrity weddings, of course, are quite different from the celebrations of normals. And drones are simply the latest entry in the long history of celebrity wedding planners cleverly battling paparazzi (staging weddings under tents, blocking the shots of helicopter-carried cameras, eliminating brushes and shrubs to prevent camouflaged paparazzi, etc.). Most brides and grooms, thankfully, will not have to worry about their ceremonies being interrupted by flying robots.
But Hamptons Wedding Problems can nonetheless be revealing for everyone else: Drones have recently, and rapidly, increased in popularity as a tool for documenting weddings. Last year, the New York representative Sean Patrick Maloney hired a local videography company to get drone-shot aerial footage of his Hudson Valley wedding. Media outlets regularly offer headlines like “The Complete Guide to Shooting Your Wedding via Drone and recommendations for “The Best Flying Camera Drone for Wedding.” As the cinematographer Justin Fone told The Washington Post earlier this year, “Drones are definitely the hot topic in wedding photography and cinematography.” He added that 50 percent of his potential customers express interest in aerial footage.
That gives couples—and wedding planners, and wedding guests—yet another thing to think about and worry about as they engage, in their own way, in the wedding industrial complex. Drones aren’t just another expense; they also represent one of those classic cases of technology outpacing the law. The FAA has previously declared the kind of photography Fone engages in to be generally illegal, since filming an event for pay is technically a commercial, rather than recreational, use of unmanned aerial vehicles. (Instead, the FAA issues individual exemptions for operators.) Love itself may not be a battlefied, but weddings, for the moment, may be.