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"It was software-driven, it's a ball-type camera system that has a camera within it, and within it's held in a gimbal that the software enables that gimbal to stabilise out all the vibration that a helicopter or an aircraft creates."

Episode 31

How to create cinematic aerial film footage, revealing all on the rise of drones, and life as a pseudo rock star

Stephen Brookes | Founder | Airviewonline.com

Stephen Brookes is the CEO and founder of Airviewonline. com. Over the last 20 years, he has helped revolutionise the way property professionals worldwide approach their marketing campaigns. Recognising the property industry’s struggle to source exceptional aerial images and video, Stephen has been dedicated to empowering his clients with the perfect resources. As a result, he has helped thousands of people collectively sell billions of dollars worth of property.

Airviewonline.com’s cutting-edge online solution has garnered widespread acclaim, captivating the attention of top Australian property marketing companies, esteemed architects, content providers, influential publishers, and prominent media outlets. Stephen’s commitment to delivering compelling marketing content has positioned him as an industry leader, leaving an indelible mark on the real estate landscape.

Stephen is on a mission to help one million property professionals boost their marketing engagement and increase their revenue by 2033. In this episode, Steve explains how to create cinematic aerial film footage, reveals all on the rise of the drones, and describes his life as a pseudo rock star. Enjoy

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Transcript

Anthony Denman:
Steve. Welcome to the Property Marketing Podcast.

Stephen Brookes:
Thanks, Anthony. How are you?

Anthony Denman:
Good, mate. I’ve got to tell you, Queenstown, Arrowtown, just the most beautiful place, I think, one of the most beautiful places, almost dreamlike over there. Everything’s just so perfectly manicured, and just scenically breathtaking. It’s just such an amazing part of the world. What was it like growing up in that location?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it was beautiful. I mean, as a kid you don’t really, you take everything for granted, obviously, it’s just where you grow up. But for me growing up, the best parts as far in my memory were really just being outdoors, camping, very rarely … My dad was a teacher, so he had all the school holidays off, so every school holiday we had the tent out, and we were going somewhere else, and disappearing up in another valley and gorge, and finding an amazing place to go camp and fish, and be very outdoorsy. And my dad being a skier, he ran the ski club at his local high school, and I was always, as the eldest in the family, kicked out the door with him, thankfully. So I was on skis at two and a half, and I’ve loved it ever since.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Wow, that makes sense then, while you moved from Queenstown to Auckland when you were eight, that must’ve been a bit of a shift, in a way you say-

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it was a culture shock, to say the least.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, totally.

Stephen Brookes:
It was having never lived in a city, to suddenly being in Auckland. And Auckland was vastly more multicultural than anything I was used to, so that was just a whole awakening for me as well. I had a Maori uncle who had married into the family, so I was very familiar with Maori culture, but we get to Auckland and there’s Tongans, and Samoans all around us. We lived in a place called Ōtara, and all our neighbours and all my friends were all islanders, and Maori background, and really blew my mind really as a kid.

Anthony Denman:
Why did you guys move to Auckland?

Stephen Brookes:
In New Zealand, when you’re a trainee teacher, your first six years have to be in the country. So my dad, who had grown up in Dunedin, moved to Central Otago to do his country service, and once the country service is complete, then you are able to apply for other work, and he got a great position at a high school in Auckland, and we subsequently moved up there for him to take the job.

Anthony Denman:
Then in 1979, bored of everything, you purchased a 1949 Ford pickup truck and commenced rebuilding it in a friend’s backyard, and then once you completed it, you decided to break ties with the city, and head back to the town of your childhood, being in Queenstown. Now you also go on to say, “Queenstown is a Mecca for skiers and anyone seeking outdoor adventure, and being a keen skier and all-round daredevil, I decided I needed to go live there.” What does an all-round daredevil look like?

Stephen Brookes:
Great question. It looks like me, I think. Just, look, I had grown up with skiing. Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, and there’s no doubt about it. There’s everything from bungee jumping to whitewater rafting, to all sorts of things. I know I was always keen on anything outdoorsy, so Queenstown for me just meant back in the mountains, and being able to go paragliding. My flatmate at the time was importing paragliders into New Zealand.

Anthony Denman:
Paragliding, that’s the thing, isn’t it, where the parachutes come off the back of your, and you sort of, is that what paragliding is? With the-

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it is. Yeah, and a big-

Anthony Denman:
… parachute, but it’s a bit more nimble, right?

Stephen Brookes:
It’s a big parachute that you take off from the ground.

Anthony Denman:
Okay. Oh, from the ground?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah. So you pull the parachute out-

Anthony Denman:
Oh, okay, oh shit.

Stephen Brookes:
… unfurl it, and find a good steep hill that you can fly off, and then you can run down it and take off. And that’s simple as it is.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Okay. So you like being in the air?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, I do

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. I’ve got to tell you, I’m the complete opposite, fucking hate heights. I hate heights. I hate flying. I mean, I’ve got to tell you, coming into Queenstown, the first time I flew into Queenstown, that was enough daredevil action for me right there, man. The way they just come in via those really steep mountains and that incredibly steep descent. I mean, half the people on the plane were shitting themselves.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
I mean, seriously. I can’t imagine putting a parachute on my back and jumping off a mountain. I’ve got to tell you too, the other thing too is we went, sorry, I know it’s not about me, but I just love that part of the world. And we went, we were in Queenstown and we took one of those little planes to Milford Sound.

Stephen Brookes:
Oh, that’s a great flight.

Anthony Denman:
Oh mate, great flight, fuck me dead. I was shitting myself the whole fucking time. I tell you, it felt like I was in a lawnmower, and we’re just going over this, and losing altitude, and looking down at the glaciers. And going, “Man, if we crash here, there’s just no way we’re going to survive.” I mean, seriously, it’s nuts over there, and everyone, it’s all second nature though, isn’t it? I mean, it’s all you dudes do is just fly around over glaciers.

Stephen Brookes:
Well, I grew up with it, so that flight specifically from Queenstown and Milford is one of the most awe-inspiring, gob-smacking flights in the world you could take, because it’s the mountains between the two. It’s a short flight. It’s funny, it takes nearly a day of driving there and it takes, what? Half an hour or 45 minutes to fly across?

Anthony Denman:
It felt like about eight days..

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah. But yeah, I guess it’s a bit second nature. I mean, my best friends back in Queenstown at the time were deer shooters and flying in helicopters all day, every day, and I did a bit of heli-ski guiding back then. And I got so used to flying around the mountains and stuff, it just became second nature.

Anthony Denman:
Have you had any close calls or scary moments in your flying career?

Stephen Brookes:
Look, I’ve had only one, and it wasn’t a scary moment, it was a scary couple of seconds, but no, I’ve been very lucky with it. Helicopters, contrary to popular opinion, are a very safe aircraft, very good. Even if an engine cuts out, there’s a very good methodology to get to the ground safely. There’s all sorts of things, but there was a moment, not in New Zealand, ironically, not in the mountains. I’ve always had incredibly good and safe flights over there, but it was out over Bankstown near Liverpool one morning, and we’d had a job. We went out early, very fresh in the morning, and bit of mist on the ground, but we had to get up to 10,000 feet. And we were in a two-seater helicopter, just me and the pilot, and at 10,000 feet a two-seater helicopter with the door off, it feels very small and a long way away.
I would much prefer to have a parachute above my head at that height, but I suggested to the pilot that casually, “Get us to the ground as quick as you can, once I’ve completed the shoot.” And he proceeded to drop the collective, and rocket into what’s called an auto-rotate, and auto-rotate is basically disconnecting the aircraft, or the aircraft being disconnected from the engine. So the aircraft becomes a whirly bird, falling rather than a powered aircraft flying. It just for a second there, I just had the world flash before my eyes, because I thought that we’d lost all engine power, and we were headed for the ground really fast. But as it turned out, it was all under control, and the pilot just reengages coming into the ground, and pulls it into a nice flare, and we landed perfectly safely, and nice and quickly, just as I’d asked.

Anthony Denman:
Fuck, he could have given you heads up?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, he gave me a little sly smile once we were on the ground.

Anthony Denman:
Right, “That’s it, I’m never flying again with you again, you …”

Stephen Brookes:
I had to go change my trousers, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Very good. Okay, so back to Queenstown, Ford pickup truck, decided to work as a kitchen hand, which somehow resulted in you becoming a talent show promoter and eventually landing a record deal? I mean, how does that happen?

Stephen Brookes:
That sounds so unlikely when you say it like that, but yeah. Well, it was a progression. It didn’t all happen in the space of a short time, but basically arriving back in Queenstown at 19, I needed to get a job, and along with the people I was traveling with, we all got employed by a hotel as kitchen staff and porters and what have you. But we all took the job and moved into a staff quarters, which was great, all on the same day. Thankfully, we’d run out of money by then, and thankfully the job came along and solved that problem.
But the hotel that we worked at was in Frankton, which is the end of the Frankton arm near Queenstown, and they have a pub Frankton Hotel, very well known, very well frequented, but it was quiet during the week. And I was a budding guitarist and singer, and I suggested to the boss, “Maybe we just have a little talent night amongst the staff, and just have a bit of fun on an early weeknight.” So they said, “That would be okay.” So we set ourselves up with a bit of speaker and a microphone, and the guitar’s out.
And had a great night to the point where more staff wanted to be a part of it. So it grew, and then we thought there were others around the neighborhood that were bringing their friends in. The staff were starting to bring their friends to do it. So it grew, and then the word got out around town, and we spoke to the bosses again, and yes, they would open it up for a talent night. And I was not, was able to not roster myself on any of the times, and it just grew to be a regular event. Every Tuesday night at the Frankton Hotel, we had a talent night there. Culminating, I might say, in Paul Simon showing up one night and playing.

Anthony Denman:
No way?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, so we-

Anthony Denman:
No way. What you mean? How did that happen?

Stephen Brookes:
Just it became an event in and around Queenstown, and one night Paul Simon was in town, and heard about it. And his people who were looking after him brought him to the show and he came and played.

Anthony Denman:
That must have been so cool, you must have love that.

Stephen Brookes:
So that was quite a talent to attract, I thought.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, totally, 100%.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
How did you end up landing a record deal?

Stephen Brookes:
It did extrapolate from that. I traveled around New Zealand over a summertime and came back for the winter in ’81? Yeah, early ’81. And we got back into town, and I decided to approach some of the hotel owners to see if I could get a gig, and I was promptly turned down, because I didn’t have much experience, and I’d only run these talent nights. But there was one guy that said, “Look, we’ve got a musician who’s playing here and he needs a duo to play at a wedding, so why don’t you go work up a set with him and go and do the wedding and we’ll consider you and see what you’re like.” So I did that, did the wedding, it was great success, came home. And then the guitarist that I’d been working with decided to up and go back to Australia, leaving the position open.
So I just said, “Well, okay, can I have that job, boss?” And that’s how it happened. I started playing music at that stage. I then worked through all the hotels. I met a very talented musician called Annie Rutherford from Melbourne in Australia that was traveling, and she was an amazing singer, just amazing. She came up in one of these talent nights, she came and sang with me on a song, an Eagles song, and one of the hotel owners was there and immediately offered us a regular five night a week job at a hotel in Queenstown. So that was the start of it, and then it just grew from us then having, putting a band together, and then starting to get more well-known around the area.
Touring around South Island first, and then all of New Zealand, and then finding a record producer that was prepared to come and produce a record for us. We were regulars on a TV show there at that stage called That’s Country. Happened to meet a great producer that was working in Emmylou Harris’s band that was out traveling from the United States, and he produced our record. And it went from there, really. We became Rutherford Brookes, and then we toured throughout New Zealand, a lot of work in the United States, and it was great time.

Anthony Denman:
Did you write your own songs?

Stephen Brookes:
Yes, we started out as a cover act. And at that time in that period, I’d been weaned on the Eagles, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Neil Young himself, Harry Chapin, all that genre. So all the sort of stuff that we did was in that field, and universally liked. But I started writing as well just to try my hand at it, and gradually became more and more a feature of our shows. So yeah, the answer is yes. I became a songwriter at the time. In fact, that’s the reason I ended up coming to Australia.

Anthony Denman:
No, I was just curious as to how you write a song?

Stephen Brookes:
Oh, it’s an-

Anthony Denman:
What does that look like?

Stephen Brookes:
You know what? It’s a great question, and the answer is any which way the songwriter does it. Because it comes in all forms, and some songwriters start with a melody and a tune, and then build into that, and then build lyrics to it. Some are lyricists. They come out with a lyrical idea, where then put music to it. Elton John and Bernie Taupin are a great example. Bernie Taupin is his lyricist. He writes lyrics, and sends them to Elton John. Elton John writes the music, puts it together. So it all comes in different ways. For me, it all just comes out the same time.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, right, that’s interesting.

Stephen Brookes:
I get a musical idea, and that musical idea has a feel to it, and that feel will lead me in certain ways with lyrics or ideas.

Anthony Denman:
And your ideas, do they come from a state of emotional engagement, if you like? How do you … Sorry, the reason I’m asking, is because I recently, I’m a lyricist then if that’s the word I’m looking for, the way you explain it. Because I wrote a song for a project that we launched recently, or semi-recently, called Rumbalara. And I had an idea as to how I wanted, because I’m hopeless with music, I can’t play music, but I knew the genre that I wanted the music to be in, and then I worked with a guy who was able to pull it together, put my words to the music, and that’s the way it worked with me. But for me to write those words, I really had to get heavily emotionally invested in the idea for those words to then just to flow onto the paper, if that makes sense?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it does make sense. I mean, look, some writing is hard. When you’re a songwriter and you sit down to write, and I used to make time to write, it can be like a job. You’ve got to sit down, and you want, nothing will come, and you try and work something and you work a song for days on end and then end up and you don’t like it, and it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. Other moments, a tune will come, and the lyrics will come instantly, almost like it didn’t come from you. It just like straight out.

Anthony Denman:
Well, it doesn’t. I don’t think that stuff comes from your mind, Steve.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
I think that stuff comes from a place of inner stillness. I don’t think you’re thinking. Well, I’m certainly not using my mind when it comes to my best creative thinking. It comes from just a place of absolute stillness, and no thought.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, I guess that correlates with my experience as well. Not to say that some songs I’ve written that I love, that I really loved in the Final Wash-up were hard work. They were hard work, because I had an idea. I started with the lyrics and then I just ran out of puff, and you’re just kind of, “Okay, what’s this idea about? Where am I taking it? How can I construct it?” And then you fall back on technique and ways of putting things together, and trying to get our ideas out and refining them, cleaning them up. I’m not in any way claiming to be the world’s greatest songwriter, but It’s an art and it’s a craft.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, totally. Listen, you’ve got to go and check out the show notes, because I’ve got a photograph. I found a photograph of Steve when he was in this said band that we’re talking about, and let me tell you, he’s all denim and leather. It’s pretty-

Stephen Brookes:
I don’t know where you dragged that out of, but-

Anthony Denman:
It’s pretty cool.

Stephen Brookes:
… I hadn’t seen it for years.

Anthony Denman:
1994, you decided to quit the music scene and focus on learning to fly helicopters.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, well, it was for a number of different reasons, but I’d been in the music business for nearly 15 years, and as much as I loved it, I had a young family. I was touring a lot, and I could see that staying in the business was going to mean more of that. It was more and more away from these kids, and I really wanted to be a part of their lives, and I had a number of different influences. But one of the things was I realised that with the music business, I wasn’t making the kind of income I needed to make to do some of the things in my life I wanted to achieve before it was over. So I made that decision to go and pursue a marketing career, and to then start my helicopter pilot license.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, it’s interesting, because it’s like the entrepreneur within, right? It’s the commercial decision, I guess, making that the more rational, left brain thinking, I guess, as opposed … Because you did go, and at that point you were working as the New South Wales state manager for APN News & Media, whilst you were learning to fly helicopters. I mean, so at that point, were you putting two and two together? Were you thinking, “I’m going to learn to fly a helicopter so I can figure out how to use said helicopter experience in the field of marketing?”

Stephen Brookes:
No, I was learning to fly a helicopter because I’d flown in so many over the years, and I was absolutely in love with them, and I wanted to acquire that skill. I never saw myself as a commercial helicopter pilot, and I still don’t. It’s not something, I love the ability to do it, but I don’t ever want to make money at it. I’m quite happy to fly when available. And if business life provides the opportunity to own my own helicopter in the future again, I have owned one. I’ll do so as a personal transport, and for enjoyment.

Anthony Denman:
Personal transport and enjoyment? That’s interesting. So working as a New South Wales state manager for APN News & Media, I mean, I imagine you weren’t wearing your denim and leather when you were working in that gig. It’s probably more, what were you wearing, more like a suit and tie?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah. It’s a much more a suit and tie environment. Yeah, that took a little bit of getting used to. The most painful process, wasn’t putting on the suit, it was cutting my hair.

Anthony Denman:
Right.

Stephen Brookes:
But once done, I got used to it pretty quick, and away we went. But no, it was-

Anthony Denman:
It’s good to see you’ve got a healthy head of hair back.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, thanks. Appreciate that.

Anthony Denman:
Nowadays, you’re looking more probably rockstar than you are APN sales manager?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, once I got my own business up and running, my hair got a bit more free rein.

Anthony Denman:
The longer the hair, the happier you are.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah. Well, I’m just thinking I’m going to grow it while I still can.

Anthony Denman:
I know, I’m hearing you.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, use it or lose it.

Anthony Denman:
So how did you end up with Airview Online? How did that all come about? Or sorry, I should say, because it was just Airview, right, originally?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it started as Airview Aerial Photography. It started with a friend of mine, Brad Thornton, who came to me one day and said, “Look, I’m thinking of starting an aerial photography company, and I know you’re in sales and marketing. Could you maybe come and give us a hand about setting up the sales and marketing side of it? And I know that you’re involved with helicopters, and maybe you could guide me to get cheaper helicopter rates, because I’m going to need to do the best I can with that.” So yeah, I said, “That sounds great. No problem.”
So sure enough, I put him in touch with some people about getting some less expensive helicopter time. And I looked over the sales and marketing strategy he had, which didn’t really exist. At that stage, he was setting up in supermarkets and malls with big plaques with photos of people’s homes from the air. And selling people, individual property owners, and just people off the street contracts to go shoot their property, and put them in frames and do all that sort of stuff.
They were amazing photography. He was a great photographer off the bat, untrained, just really good eye, and a great guy. So yeah, I helped with that. Then at some point, I can’t remember when, it was fairly early on, I’d spent a lot of hours in the evening at his place, in his home office. He said, “Well, why don’t you come and be part of this, and I’ll talk to my partner, and we’ll cut you in on some shares and we’ll go from there.” So that’s how it all started.
I came in and worked with Brad for two years while we initiated it. I quit my job at APN News & Media and moved into a home office, and lived on the breadline for a year or two. But I was used to that, being a musician, so no big deal. So we quickly gained some traction. At some point, Brad decided that the whole venture wasn’t for him after all. He got a very good offer back in the teaching profession that he came from, and he decided to take that offer up. So basically that business fell to me, and I proceeded from 2002 on my own. And yeah-

Anthony Denman:
How did you manage to buy your own airplane and your own helicopter, how did that all happen?

Stephen Brookes:
Well, it was one of those things where I grew the company from me and my home office, to me and four other people in my home office. Then we’d met through my son’s soccer team. My young son, Charlie at that time was playing schoolboy soccer. And one of the other dads at the soccer thing was a chap called Andrew Griffith, who became a good friend of mine. At some point, his company, which was at that time, SMB, I think it was, anyway, it was a car leasing company. And he got an offer from a South African firm that bought his company for a significant amount of money, and he found himself in a position to go looking for other ventures. He said to me casually, “Hey, if you’re looking for an investor anytime, give us a yell.” So I did have some big ideas of what I wanted the company to do, and where to go.
So I presented them to him, and in a pretty short space of time, he bought into the company, bought a sizable share package, and then started investing in the company. Soon thereafter, we bought the first aircraft, which was a Cessna 177 retractable undercarriage, an RG, which we could do a lot of our aerial photography from. Then followed that some months later with the purchase of an Arrow Star and the Americans call them A-Star. Well, we call a Squirrel here, a 350, an A350B helicopter. And that became the platform for a lot of our aerial filming work, and aerial surveillance work that we got into. Then that significantly changed the face of the company.

Anthony Denman:
Every time I’ve been up in the chopper with you, and it’s been a while actually since we’ve been flying together, you were the photographer, right? You weren’t the actual helicopter pilot?

Stephen Brookes:
No, I’ve never been a helicopter pilot, never been a commercial pilot. So my dad was a very keen photographer, and I followed him on many photography trips. So I’d also done that. At some stage in Queenstown for a period of time, I did daytime work. I was working as a musician at night, but I did daytime work as a photographer. So I had, had some training, and when Brad decided to go back to teaching, the whole, everything fell to me. So I had no choice but to pick up the camera, and go do the job. I found I had a natural way with it, and having a lot of flight experience, I think that helped. Flying with the door off is second nature, so I basically took to it like a duck to water, really.
I love it. To this day, I love it. It’s the thing I love to do the most. There’s not a day’s work I’ve ever done flying in an helicopter, taking photos. It’s always a huge pleasure. So yeah, I did it through many years, until such a point that the business got to a point where I needed to move into a more managerial role, and now we’ve got some wonderful photographers doing those jobs for us.

Anthony Denman:
What’s the best way to shoot from a helicopter? I know that we, I mean, there’s still images, I guess. And also filming, my favourite to this day, my most favourite piece of film that I’ve seen, and luckily I was very fortunate to be involved in the production of it, was for a job that we did, I don’t know if you remember, we did in Spring Cove.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, I remember well.

Anthony Denman:
In Manly.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
We had, I think, it was called a Cineflex.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, yeah, it is, Cineflex.

Anthony Denman:
Helicopter-mounted camera. To this day, I mean, obviously it was an incredible location.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Enabled us to fly around North Head and reveal the national park there, and the beaches, and eventually the actual project location. It really, I mean, when you’re marketing, selling real estate, fundamentally without oversimplifying it, it’s about where it is, and what it is.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
So where is it located and what is it architecturally and what’s the most compelling way to tell that story? I think that day that we were able to fly around North Head and on the edge of the world’s greatest Harbour, and then introducing the national park and the individual beaches, and then finally landing on Spring Cove, is that technology, for want of a better description, is that the best way to shoot film from a helicopter, with the Cineflex?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah. Up until that point, or very recently prior to that, all filming was done with handheld cameras, and many people had made tertiary attempts to stabilise a camera in a helicopter. And there’s all many techniques. there’s a company in the US that had made good strides with it, but really the Wescam and the company Cineflex, which was built by a guy called John Coyle, he had built the software. It was a software-driven, it’s a ball-type camera system that has a camera within it, and within it’s held in a gimbal that the software enables that gimbal to stabilise out all the vibration that a helicopter or an aircraft creates.
So that was a game-changer. That changed everything because it became accessible. It wasn’t cheap. They’re a million dollars a pop, and so it was an expensive exercise for us to acquire one, but it changed everything. They really made their debut in Sydney at the Olympic Games. That was when they first really appeared. So to be able to do aerial photography that was dead still, and incredibly photographic and emotive was-

Anthony Denman:
Cinematic, right?

Stephen Brookes:
Cinematic is the right word. So that was the piece of equipment we used for that particular shoot. And yeah, as you say, it enables you to move the helicopter wherever you want it, at the speed you want it, and the camera moves completely independently, can swivel around 360 degrees, can hold a shot, so that the helicopters can be going all over the place and the helicopter’s holding dead still on the position. Now today, everyone’s used to it. They see it every day. The Channel-7 chopper is the older brother of that original Cineflex. So now it’s everywhere. So we’re used to that. But back in the day, that was a big thing.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, no, it was fantastic. It was won a UDIA award for that particular project. So how did drones, do drones have a similar technology? They seem to provide … I mean, I don’t think you could have done what we did for Spring Cove with a drone, because we covered so much territory. I mean, I guess you probably could have, I mean, someone could have sat up at North Head, and redirected the drone around and quite possibly achieved as a similar result. I mean, how do drones work and provide that?

Stephen Brookes:
Well, the drones, just remember we are now, from that time, we’re now 18 to 20 years past that. In terms of, drones came along 10, 12, 15 years ago. It started to come through. And the technology at the beginning of drones was very rudimentary. They started to create stabilised gimbals to hold third party camera systems. But some companies started to build their own proprietary equipment, and cameras underneath drones. So let’s just go back a little bit. The answer is yes. A drone today could have done what we did back then with Spring Cove. They could easily have done that today with a drone, because we were all low level oddly. Now, drones are restricted to 400 feet and below, so they’re not allowed to fly above 400 feet, unless they’ve got CASA approval. And so they tend to stick between that low level. But the technology is advancing so fast with drones.
I mean, drone technology and the ability to film from drones is just accelerating at the rate of knots. And yeah, the quality is amazing. The benefit of having a helicopter-mounted camera system is its size. The gimbal itself is able to carry huge zoom lenses that weigh 25 kilograms, weights that drones currently are not carrying. So in the cinema world, there are large drones carrying that kind of payload, and they are doing work in the cinema now. Mission Impossible, you’ll see drone work all through it. There’s drone work all over the place. So drones are here, and they’re here to stay.
But back at that point, that Cineflex and look, Cineflex is still, Cineflex is now gone. It’s been replaced by a company called Shotover and Shotover is now of considered to be a world leader in this particular technology. Today, even when you look at events like the Sydney to Hobart race and Aerial News, the ability to move large distances quickly, and capture imagery is still a huge benefit. So that’s somewhere where the drones don’t really touch that market. So as much as someday in the future when full autonomy is approved and authorised and all set up, and part of our way of life, helicopters will be used to carry these systems.

Anthony Denman:
If you want to check out that Spring Cove footage – Go and have a look at ouragency.com.au website, and it’s on the homepage. We’ve got it down the bottom there. It’s still, to this day, one of my favourite projects, case studies. So you can view that on the Our Agency website so you know exactly what we’re talking about. But I think you and your son, Josh, and I was a big part of that too. I remember when it all happened, you guys really led the way, this is before every man and his dog had a drone, you guys, and we did some, I mean, Josh particularly, we did some incredible drone work, and we still do with Josh. So you guys, I guess, pioneered really, you did really in some way, drone aerial photography for the property market as well, right?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, look, it was all a bit fortuitous. It was one of those things that happens that you didn’t really intend to happen, but it came at exactly the right time. Josh had grown up in the business, all school holidays, he would be out flying, shooting for our fire surveillance contracts with the Royal Fire Service. He became ofay with helicopters and operations and cameras early on. So when come time to go to university, he chose aeronautical engineering, and he went through uni, and did that. He also majored in unmanned aerial vehicle sensors while he was at university. So he had a real interest in it.

Anthony Denman:
Wow.

Stephen Brookes:
So when he came out of uni, really his choice was to go and become a helicopter mechanic, or do something that involved drones and UAVs. So he started to build them. He was one of the first people to get a UAV license in Australia. The company was registered, one of the very first companies registered. We registered when there were 34 people registered. So we were really in the early phase. And I-

Anthony Denman:
34?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, I partnered-

Anthony Denman:
What would it be now? There’d be about 34,000 now at least.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, 34,000 yeah. They’re everywhere. So we built the company, and I invested in the company with him, and we bought our first drones, of which were built. Josh put the first drones together himself. You bought the parts back then, and put them together with the drone management system. And he did a lot of programming, and did a lot of early flying. It was hectic back then. It wasn’t like it is now, where you buy a drone and it does most of the work. Drones back then, you had to fly them. So each control did what it did. So there were a lot of the computerisation that’s come in now, and autonomy has changed the game again.
But we just grew that business. We let people know that we were doing it, and we made sure that, just to give you an example for aerial photography. In the residential field of shooting residential homes, there was a year, and I think it was ’93 or ’94 in an October, one month, which was in October, we did 64 aerial shoots for residential properties. Two years later, we did four. This is in the helicopter. Helicopter shoots, all of that other work had gone to drones. So thankfully we had Josh’s drone business that we were working with, so that we managed to capture a lot of that business, which was great. But we’ve just grown both businesses over the years. And yeah, we’ve recently merged those two companies together actually. So we’ve got a big drone division ourselves now.

Anthony Denman:
We very rarely, the only time we are using helicopters nowadays, pretty much, is for that high level location stuff, where you have to be at a certain height to capture everything around the site, or the particular property that you’re focusing on. But I find that just the flexibility of drones and Josh is a bit of a surgeon really, when it comes to flying those things, in and amongst trees and along pathways and stuff, obviously places that you couldn’t get a helicopter into, and view photography. So instead of … And I think there’s always this, whenever we look at doing view photography for a project, are we going to use a cherry picker? Or are we going to use a drone?
It’s really interesting, because generally we prefer to use a cherry picker if we can because, and this is, I’ll be interested in your point of view on this, because when you use a cherry picker, you’re putting up on top of the cherry picker, you’re putting a photographer, as opposed to a pilot. So I think it’s, and it’s a little bit like with your helicopter stuff, you are the photographer, and there’s a pilot flying the helicopter. But when you’re a drone guy, you are both pilot and photographer?

Stephen Brookes:
Both.

Anthony Denman:
So I’m-

Stephen Brookes:
It’s an interesting point, but yeah, it really, and a lot of the drone pilots, when they first started out, photography was abysmal. But that’s developed to a point where some of those guys today are the most amazing, talented photographers as well. They’ve really got it. And the beauty of a drone over a helicopter in this particular instance, is you can sit on a drone for the time of the battery in one place if you want, just waiting for that exact right moment to get the shot. That’s a huge benefit that we’ve found to be using. We used to use cherry peckers from time to time to get stuff too, but we had a friend of ours in Brisbane, was aloft in a cherry picker doing a shoot over a construction site and the thing fell over and killed him.

Anthony Denman:
No way? The amount of times I’ve been up in those things, I go up in those cherry pickers, and I must say I do feel safer in a cherry picker than I do in a helicopter. That’s crazy,

Stephen Brookes:
Definitely not me.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, no, because they’re scary too though. I mean, again, for me, because I hate heights, going up in those cherry pickers, shit, in those howling winds, and you get up to 45 meters, and I’m personally absolutely fucking shitting myself. But I think the good thing about those cherry pickers too, is you can, and I’m curious as to whether or not this is possible with a drone, or will be, the other really solid benefit of using a cherry picker is you can do time-lapse photography. So you can sit a camera, provided the conditions are right, it’s not too windy, you can sit a camera on a cherry picker for three hours and capture a sunset? Or something amazing and do that. Can you do that via drone?

Stephen Brookes:
You can do, it takes a little bit of planning, but yeah, you can.

Anthony Denman:
You can?

Stephen Brookes:
Beautiful.

Anthony Denman:
Can you really, a three-hour time-lapse in a drone?

Stephen Brookes:
Well, you would do it, you would have to do it obviously with batteries, you’ve got to come down and change them. So that immediately changes. So if your time-lapse includes a shot that takes within the time that takes a change of battery and put the drone back up again, then you’ve got a problem and interrupt it.

Anthony Denman:
But are they stable enough? Can they hold-

Stephen Brookes:
Oh, definitely.

Anthony Denman:
Oh right.

Stephen Brookes:
They’re so fine. And now there’s a technology called RTK, and RTK is like a finely-tuned version of the positioning system that comes in drones that you buy off the shelf. And RTK is expensive, but it’s highly precise. So it will categorically put the drone exactly where you left it. You can leave a spot, and with RTK, you can go straight back to that spot you’re on exactly. And it will hold it.

Anthony Denman:
Well, that’s cool.

Stephen Brookes:
And it will hold it in wind.

Anthony Denman:
That’s really cool, because that’s exactly what we need, I mean. And then the other thing we’re doing obviously is talking about shooting film and still images from high above, is managing and really analyzing the sun position, right?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
So Josh, I know Josh uses a technology or an app called, I think, it’s a sun surveyor.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Which is really cool, because you can, especially for view photography, if you want to make sure that the sun’s in a particular position, you can plug in a time and a date and it’ll tell you exactly where that sun’s going to be, to make sure you get the best possible light filtration. Which is incredibly important when you’re talking about selling property off the plan and CGIs, and making sure the light behaves through that scene in a particular way. And that enables you to ensure that you’re getting the best possible outcome that you can. Creatively

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, look, it was interesting working with you was one of our first introductions to really working with light more effectively, and that was many years ago. But yeah, that’s been somewhat perfected over the years. There’s so many apps and ways to help with that. But there’s this thing called golden hour, and it’s at dawn, and it’s at dusk, and it’s that hour of light where the sun is still up or not, and it’s casting the most dramatic light, and beautifully filtered through the atmosphere light, that it’s magical and it’s very good for a lifestyle type of presentation.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, there’s nothing more frustrating for me than when people provide us with their own content aerial photography that’s shot in the middle of the day. That’s just high contrast in lighting, and just looks really flat and uninspiring. Tell me what’s the most difficult place? I know that we’ve tried to do stuff around inner city stuff, and we’ve been frustrated because we can’t get in there at the golden hour, because of closer to the airport. So what’s the most difficult place/subject matter to shoot from the air and why?

Stephen Brookes:
Depends on whether you’re talking about flying and/or photography, because photography, when you’re speaking purely photography, one of the most difficult things we have to deal with, is shooting high rise buildings, or low rise buildings in a heavily or densely populated area in a city, because they’re down amongst others. But you’ve got to get your timing exactly right to get any kind of conducive light onto a site. So that is technically the most difficult photography-wise, shooting through buildings, and trying to get the right angle, and trying to make it look right, and make it look like it’s in the environment. All that sort of stuff is incredibly difficult. But in terms of just going and shooting, the most difficult is dealing with air traffic control in and around major airports and/or smaller airports actually. They are very, when the different flight paths of different, or aircraft patterns going into the airport completely condition whether we’re going to get permission to get in to, say, a controlled zone like Sydney CBD, a great example.
And if you’ve got aircraft taking off on the north-south runways, then that immediately impacts our permissions to get into those spaces. Literally you can plan a shoot, and you can get there, and they will literally refuse to allow you to get into the site. Now we put in flight plans, detailed flight plans, we talk to the tower through our pilots, we ensure they know what we are doing, they ensure that they know that we know what we are doing, and we can follow instructions. There’s many different ways that we try and mitigate those problems. But all the planning in the world won’t change a controller that doesn’t want to let you in. So we do everything we can to try and avoid those situations. But some of the times too, just remember that some of the best light, which is early morning and late afternoon, are also the busiest time for commuter aircraft coming and going from our airports. So as much as they’re the best time to shoot, they’re the worst time to shoot as well.

Anthony Denman:
I know that firsthand.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
The amount of times we’ve been talking, you’ve been stuck on that bloody tarmac.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, exactly.

Anthony Denman:
How did 9/11 change what you do?

Stephen Brookes:
That’s an interesting question, 9/11 changed things actually quite dramatically, because aviation got a wake-up call, and that was an act of terrorism on a grand scale, but no one really is immune from that type of activity. Everyone has to stay vigilant. Like the recent events in Israel proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we don’t know everything. So the aviation authorities around the world really sharpened and tightened everything up. For quite a long time, even in Australia, those permissions to fly, the way that things were handled, and the reticence on the part of the air traffic controllers to allow us anywhere near commuter aircraft increased dramatically.
So today, still today it’s way harder to get these permissions, and to get allowed into sites than it used to be. Prior to 9/11, it was a lot easier, but just remember we’d really only been around at that point for a year and a half. It was September, 2000, no, sorry, it was 10 years. No, we’d had 10 good years. That’s right. So we knew our experience had been flying small helicopters, in and around Sydney had been pretty unencumbered, but at that point it really tightened up, and got a lot more difficult to do.

Anthony Denman:
How did you get into bushfire surveillance?

Stephen Brookes:
Oi, okay, that’s a leap. Okay, we’ll just move sideways there. It’s a good, that is a great-

Anthony Denman:
Sorry to jump around a bit without warning, bushfire surveillance.

Stephen Brookes:
Oh, it’s a great question. It does segue a little bit, because when we brought the Cineflex camera system in that we’ve spoken about, Camp Cove about, we realised that there was stabilised solutions for camera systems that did more than do cinematography and film and television. One of the purposes they built these camera systems for was for … Okay, I’ll tell you the truth. Here’s what happened, okay? When we were looking at the camera systems to buy, we found a multi-sensor camera system and we thought, “Great, we could do all sorts of maybe bushfire surveillance work, plus we could do film and television with it,” because it had a film and television camera in it. What we didn’t realize is that it was so specialized that it wasn’t really set up for film and television work. So when we tried to do it, we were unable to achieve the results we wanted to with film and television.
So we ended up setting up another division and went and acquired the film and television Cineflex that you used. And so that left us with a multi-sensor sitting in Australia, and we immediately bolted it to our helicopter, and invited the Rural Fires, New South Wales Rural Fire Service to come and see what we could do for them. What we could do for them is fly to any running fire event, film it in daylight imagery and normal camera system vision, and in thermal imagery. And we could send that live via microwave link back to their headquarters at Homebush. So anything within 140 kilometer radius around Sydney, we could send live pictures back to them. So we demonstrated it to them, and we flew down the Parramatta River with them. At one point, one of the chaps, a guy called Keith, and he said to me, “What’s that in the river? I think I can see something down there.” So we’ve put on, with our long lens, we switched to the daylight camera, and pushed in and could identify a Coke can from 2,500 feet.

Anthony Denman:
No way.

Stephen Brookes:
So they went away impressed, I take it, because we had a phone call very soon thereafter to say, “Look, we’d like you to be on standby for us.” And this was late 2006, the beginning of 2007. Then we subsequently won the first specialist information gathering, which is what that whole genre became known as specialist, SIG, we were the first SIG team to get a NAFFC, a National Air Fire Fighting Contract from the New South Wales government.

Anthony Denman:
And you’re still doing that to this day?

Stephen Brookes:
We’re still doing that. We’re not only still doing that, Anthony, but we’ve now grown the company so that we’re operating, now we’ve got a standing contract in Queensland, and it’s going well. We’re about to approach New Zealand about having the same sort of technology. And we’re presently discussing with Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy about having our technology come there on the offside, and yeah, into the United States as well for some of their running bushfires. So it’s growing and very fast, and we have now three complete systems that we operate and yeah, it’s good.

Anthony Denman:
How might drones and particularly AI, predictive AI, how might that actually assist in managing bushfires moving forward?

Stephen Brookes:
Well, there’s different, yeah, there’s a lot of discussion about the use of drones. The fire services themselves have been very proactive and looking at demonstrations of drone operations, and what they can do to help. Yes, they can carry thermal cameras. Yes, they can take daylight imagery. To this date, though they only have a flight time of about half an hour, effective flight time. So it limits the amount of time that they can stay on scene until they’ve got to go back and change batteries and come back on scene. They have a limited range. We have rules in Australia, and the rest of the world at this time, which limits over the horizon flights, so they can’t go too far away. Currently, the laws in Australia are that you have to be visually line of sight with your drone, so that you can operate. There is a lot of push and development with the regulatory bodies to change that.
There’s now been a company here in Australia authorised to operate over the horizon operations. In fact, there’s been companies here for quite a long time working with the military on a lot of these operations. But they’re more fixed-wing. They’re less what you think of drones. You think of drones as those things with the spinning propellers. Drones come in all sorts of sizes. And when you want to travel long distance, a fixed-wing drone is far superior to a rotor. So rotors are much better for precision work. But the work that we do enables us to cover vast amounts of space, and deliver huge amounts of data and information to these emergency organizations real-time, and to enable us to stay in the air for long periods of time. So the answer to the question is drones can and will do amazing things with bushfire control and mitigation, but it’s a fair ways off yet. On any fire ground in Australia, if there is a drone flying, every single aircraft attending that fire will go and land as a safety precaution.

Anthony Denman:
Wow, okay.

Stephen Brookes:
So there’s no way that anyone can control or run a fire control program where drones are active. Now things will change, to sit here and say, “No, that just won’t happen because that won’t happen,” is bizarre. Because aircraft will become more and more autonomous themselves. There will be technology, an AI technology that will enable aircraft to travel and fly and operate together in a confined space, and not hit each other. Eventually, these types of hazardous kind of environments will be completely run and managed using autonomous vehicles. But that’s not here yet. And we’re looking at some time until that is, and so-

Anthony Denman:
Let me just paint a picture. So that massive fire that we had, Black whatever it was recently, down in on the South Coast, through a very good friend of mine’s property in Kangaroo Valley, Nick Turner. If you haven’t listened to Nick Turner’s podcast, go and listen to his podcast on this show, regarding Kangaroo Valley firestorm, and how he handled that. In fact, I was down at his place, went down and had a night down there, and we were chatting about this idea, which is with AI you could potentially predict … So theoretically you could have predicted the magnitude of that fire before it took hold with AI. And then in a perfect world, you send in fixed-plane drones carrying water, whatever, to put those fires out. So the AI predicts, “Oh, this one’s starting in the Megalong Valley and it’s going to spread and it’s going to cause widespread destruction. We can see that, because we know through predictive technology that this is going to happen. So let’s put this fucking thing out now before it becomes a firestorm.”

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah. And Anthony, I’ve got to say, through 18 years of flying above, surveilling and working these fires, and working with them at the fire services, once a fire gets a hold, and gets running, there’s very little you can do about it. You can put the largest aerial firefighting tankers on it in the world currently available, and the best you’ll achieve is managing to steer it, and maybe create some safety for urban interface areas. But once they get going, and they’re 150 kilometers long, and they’re leaping 40 feet high in the air, pushed by 60 kilometer per hour westerly winds in a dry … It’s just arrogance to think we can do anything against that. So the reality is that mitigation, or catching a fire at its first instance, right as it starts, being vigilant and making sure that the resources are there to put those fires out right at the beginning, is really a great, is what our fire services strive to do. That’s what they’re all about. And looking after people and property.

Anthony Denman:
Don’t throw your cigarette butts out the window, people.

Stephen Brookes:
Exactly.

Anthony Denman:
Shouldn’t smoke anyway, fuck, it’ll kill you.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, exactly.

Anthony Denman:
Prematurely, that is. Back to Josh. So he’s now running the operations of the Airview-

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, he’s general manager of the Airview Group.

Anthony Denman:
Okay.

Stephen Brookes:
He oversees all our drone activities, all our helicopter filming and photography, and he’s the crew boss for the fire teams as well.

Anthony Denman:
What’s it like working with your son?

Stephen Brookes:
It’s always been great. I mean, I’ve had this discussion, actually, with a number of people saying, “Oh, working with family …” There’s quite a lot of negative about it out there. But the truth of the matter is, Josh has come, he was weaned early on the whole business, so he’s understood it from grassroots level, from years since he was 15-year-old. So he’s well versed in all areas of the operation. He understands it completely. And let me put it to you this way, in business, one of the great things to do, one of the important things to do, is always hire people that are better than you. And I’ll categorically state that Josh’s beats me hands down in so many of these areas. He’s got a scientific brain about him. His analysis skills are second to none. He’s thorough and all the things I’m not.

Anthony Denman:
But can he write a song?

Stephen Brookes:
Probably could knock one out, but he’s a great musician as well. But he does-

Anthony Denman:
Oh, is he? Really?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, he’s an amazing saxophonist.

Anthony Denman:
Is he really?

Stephen Brookes:
And drummer.

Anthony Denman:
Saxophone?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, saxophone and drums.

Anthony Denman:
And a drummer?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, wow.

Stephen Brookes:
So yeah, look, he’s great to work with, but we have got an understanding. When I give him something as a role, I step back, okay, I’m there as an advisor only. I’m not there. And if he’s going to make a mistake, in many cases, I’m just happy to let him make it and learn from that. I’ll advise, but it’s his decision. So once you get the pecking order in place, it’s not a bad deal. It’s great. It’s worked great.

Anthony Denman:
That’s good. No, I’m glad, he’s top bloke. I really love working with him. And both of you are. What I enjoy most about working with you and your team, is that I think your level of integrity is unsurpassed in that sense.

Stephen Brookes:
Thanks, man.

Anthony Denman:
Interested now scaling your business. So Airview aerial photography has now become the Airview Group.

Stephen Brookes:
Yes.

Anthony Denman:
Which offers a wide range of aerial and ground-based photographic and video solutions. So you’re doing lifestyle stuff on the ground as well now?

Stephen Brookes:
Yes, we are.

Anthony Denman:
Which is to the greater property market industry. So not just off the plan, but in fact in more so completed residential real estate, servicing all of Australia with trained photographers based all over the country. And if you go onto, it’s airview.com?

Stephen Brookes:
Airviewgroup.com. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Airviewgroup.com, you see there’s photographs from everything from Ceduna to bloody Coogee to Mount Isa and beyond, in terms of scaling, how do you recruit good aerial photographers?

Stephen Brookes:
It’s a great thing. Somewhere along the line, Anthony, we had a lot of requests for stock images. Images that we owned that the industry wanted to get their hands on immediately without having the expense of taking a helicopter or a drone out there and getting them. That comes from commercial real estate and architecture, like industry where they have a submission that they need, and they want good material for that submission to win the business. It’s the opposite of what we’d been working for up until that point, which was the marketing of a property that’s ready for sale. So we built a website called Airview Online, and we put a lot of our photos that we weren’t using, or we’d captured on flights that wasn’t part of a client brief. And we loaded them onto the website, and we directed those inquiries to that website.
That website organically grew and grew to the point where we were just trying to upload as many photos as we could find, digging through our old files. That had the net effect of creating a lot more requests for photos than we had. So I immediately got on the road and amassed up, well, we’ve currently got 38 different aerial photographers and drone operators nationwide that would also load their photos to the website. Obviously we represent all those photographers as well.
So come COVID, when everyone’s locked down and the borders are uncrossable, then we drew upon a lot of those contributors to Airview Online to become operators for Airview Group as well. So now we have handpicked people that meet our standards of photographic excellence, that know how to fly their drones safely and legally, and can do prompt and fast work, which are all areas we look to cover. And that built us, without us knowing, COVID actually helped us in that sense, as it built up a solid network of these operators nationally that we could draw upon, and we could start helping our clients do national portfolio work. Which is something that we hadn’t been able to do effectively in the past.

Anthony Denman:
How do you keep up to date? Because I mean, if you look at a photograph of any, well, maybe not so much unspoiled natural landscapes. But when you look at, say for example, I mean cities, obviously new buildings going up that really do change significantly change the cityscape and the view from up high. How do you manage to, what’s your strategy on making sure that all your images are as up-to-date as they can be?

Stephen Brookes:
Well, all our contributors, including Airview Group, Airview Group is a contributor to Airview Online, all of them. We encourage them as they fly in these built-up areas to make sure that they just take the time while they’re doing the flight, while they’re doing the drone shoot, just to swing around and grab some current and updated photography. Because yes, you’re right, you’d take two years in Sydney, and the skyline’s changed.

Anthony Denman:
What’s the difference between, because you’re now doing other photography, lifestyle photography on the ground, what’s the difference between a good aerial photographer and a good on the ground location lifestyle photographer?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it’s a good question. The aerial photography does have a unique set of parameters, and when I say that, it’s because of the height, the way that you work with light. But photography is start and finish, the use of light. So some photographers, ground photographers use light well, and aerial photographers as well. It’s the ability to use the tools you have. Just imagine a helicopter as a really tall tripod, okay?

Anthony Denman:
Okay.

Stephen Brookes:
So usually a good photographer in the helicopter-

Anthony Denman:
A really, really tall?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, usually a good photographer, a great photographer in the air is a great photographer on the ground, and vice versa.

Anthony Denman:
It’s composition and light, right?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it is composition and light.

Anthony Denman:
So let’s talk about pivoting again, and rebranding to Wotstock?

Stephen Brookes:
As part of the endeavours and the growth of Airview Online. Airview Online is a separate company to Airview Group, completely separate. It’s a stock image and lifestyle and video stock library for the property marketing industry. That’s generally what it’s … And it hasn’t, wasn’t designed, it evolved. It’s been an organic evolution from, and everything we’ve built into the site has been a requests from our client from the market. So Airview Online has grown and grown and so have the contributors to Airview Online. We are now at a point where we’re nearly ready to take the whole platform, which is really a tech platform offshore. So we’re starting to look at partners in New Zealand. We’ve signed up with a partner in New Zealand. We are looking for partners in the United States and English-speaking parts of Europe initially, and then into other languages once we get ourselves established in a few other countries.
With that, with the change from being just aerial photography to being ground-based lifestyle and aerial video and ground-based video being available, we really needed a more generic name for the site. In finding that name, we went for the simplest possible thinking of saying the whole thing started with people saying, “What stock you’ve got on the site? What stock you’ve got of Richmond right now? Oh, what stock have you got of down just the main street of Redfern?” And so when we actually came to rebrand, we had a good think and thought Wotstock’s going to do it. Why don’t we just go with that?

Anthony Denman:
But how do you spell it?

Stephen Brookes:
W-O-T-S-T-O-C-K. Wotstock.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, Wotstock? Wotstock.com.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, wotstock.com and look wotstock.co.nz and whichever territory we’re operating those units in. So that’s how that’s going. And we also have started to open up some things with what will become Wotstock in terms of the use of AI technology to refine searching for the song … For the song? For the images or videos. Yeah, it comes because someone said, “Describe Wotstock,” the other day in an interview. And I said, “We’re kind of the Spotify, we’re trying to be the Spotify of the content marketing, or the content world, where we’ve got it all in one place. And people can have subscriptions that is not super expensive, and they can access these great shots as and when they need them.” So anyway, sorry about the song slip, but that’s generally where we ended up where we are today. So although the badging and branding at this stage is Airview Online, within a month, that will all swing over to wotstock.com.

Anthony Denman:
That’s exciting. That’s a big pivot, right?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it is a big pivot.

Anthony Denman:
How hard was it make that pivot? Because essentially you were a very, I mean, super high touch boutique business, to the point where you were in the helicopter taking the photographs. I mean, how did you find that journey pivoting from a high touch boutique business to a large scale PropTech business?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, it’s interesting, Anthony, but as usual, I tend to have an entrepreneurial brain. So when it dawned on me that the library actually had some legs on its own, and completely aside from Airview Group, then it really did, it was a pivot. It was a move at a decision, and it wasn’t the least part of having Josh move into a managerial role in Airview Group because it frees me up now to really do what I’ve got to do.
And a lot of what I’ve got to do, is to learn my day involves marketing Wotstock to the general community, and finding and managing new contributors. The third thing, and probably occupies the biggest part of my brain space, is learning the tech, working with my tech team, and trying to figure out what and where we should go now, and how could we make the experience for the client much better. What could we add to this to mean that the client can access a lot more from our site? Who are the third party CRMs that could possibly API into and use our database and open up? It’s very different from anything I’ve done in the past.

Anthony Denman:
Do you enjoy it?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, I love it. It’s hugely stimulating. It’s entirely maddening most days, but I really believe in it. I think we’re now really actively seeking some new tech partners. I would really like to find someone who knows more about it than I do, because I’ve got the idea, had the idea, I’ve built it to a moneymaking venture, and now I really want to take it through to the next step. I don’t want to miss this. And I don’t think anyone in business should be, they should be looking for how AI is going to change their world. Because AI,, to my mind is absolutely the next big thing that’s coming down the pipe. And those that encompass it and embrace it and can utilise it in their businesses, are going to be, should do it now.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s not something that anyone should be afraid of. In fact, quite the opposite. We’re finding it’s an incredible tool to get things done more efficiently, I guess, you’d say. So there you go. Anybody who’s out there, who is wearing a turtleneck, as I often say, sweater, maybe a beret, or something, I’m not sure. But in any case, if you’re somewhat tech-orientated and you think you can give Steve a hand, you can contact him. We’ll give you contact details later on. So is that what you get the biggest kick out of nowadays, is learning and exploring that tech space?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, I do. I really enjoy it. I do get a kick out of it, but look, it’s like building a business from the start, from again. It’s like I’m starting again with a new business, and business is hard, it’s not … To get started, I take my hat off to all those people with start-ups and plowing on through with a new idea, and getting into debt. But not only do I applaud them, but as a person who’s been through business for a lot of years, I’m no spring chicken. I’m the first person to pat every single one of them on the back and say, “Go for it.” Because you’re really changing these things, you’re changing the world and you are … There’s a lot of people that’ll say, “Well, it’s not making, the technology doesn’t necessarily make the world a better …” No, it doesn’t necessarily, but it is.
And you categorically, even 20 years look back, we live in a more cohesive, connected environment than we did 20 years ago. I mean 20 years ago, technology has changed everything, but it’s not an easy environment to build business in. You’ve got to do the hard yards, and there’s some amazing unicorn tech stories out there. And take my hat off to all of them, but it’s hard graft getting it going, and it really is hard work. I wasn’t going to bring up the tech partner thing, but I’ve recently spoken to an amazing guy called David Shein, who wrote a book called The Dumbest Guy At The Table, I think it is. Or yeah, The Dumbest Guy At The Table. And-

Anthony Denman:
How does he know about me?

Stephen Brookes:
Exactly. That’s right. I thought, “This book is for me.” And he initiated and grew a company called Com Tech in the ’80s, was it? No ’90s, through the ’90s, and became Australia’s, arguably Australia’s first tech unicorn, selling in 2001 for over a billion dollars, 2001. So that’s a fair while back when. And really now runs a venture capital firm. I had a meeting with him recently, and such tremendously good advice. One of them was always surround yourself with people who know more than you do.

Anthony Denman:
Well, that’s really easy from my perspective.

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah, me too, as it turns out.

Anthony Denman:
Do you have a purpose? Everyone talks about purpose. Sometimes it’s lip service, sometimes it’s genuine. Is there a reason why you get up in the day, every day, to do what you do, that drives you and fulfills you the most?

Stephen Brookes:
I think, I’ve wrestled with this just like a lot of people, and I do hear it, “You’ve got to have a purpose. You must have a purpose out there, that drives you to do … What’s your purpose?” And the funny thing is, for me, it’s not an easy one to nail down. I’ve got a number of purposes. I’ve been … And not the least of, which is to put food on the table for my family. That was my purpose for many years. Then my purpose became, how can I support those children as they grow up? So I’m a very family purposes kind of guy.
Now it’s how can I support grandchildren? What’s going forward? So to build big businesses to me is really a number of different things. What I’ve nailed it down to for me, is how can I help? I get the biggest kick out of helping people do better, do well, succeed, achieve things. I’ve never needed a pat on the back, I just enjoy it for myself. It’s just a big kick. I think going out, speaking with a client, talking to them about what they want, articulating what they hope to achieve from a campaign, and us to go and deliver something that not only helps them do it, but completely enhances it, to the point where they come back and go, “We’ve never seen anything like it. Thank you very much.” That’s where I get my biggest kick, and locked in somewhere is my purpose. My purpose I think is to bring … I get a big kick out of doing that on a large scale. I guess, from the spesaker kit, I’ve been clearly, I’m clearly articulating, I want to help a million people improve and grow their businesses by the year 2033.
The reason is because I genuinely get a kick out of it. I love it when clients come back to us. We had a client the other day that hadn’t renewed their subscription on Airview Online or Wotstock, and I called them and said, “Look, the subscription didn’t renew. I’d just love to know why. Is there anything we can do to improve our service to make us more workable so you’ll renew?” And she said to me, “You know what? That’s a complete oversight. That’s a mistake. We love what you’re doing. We love it, we use it,” And went on for a good amount of time about how we’ve helped the business, and what we do and how we do it. That to me, like it’s a source of immense pride, but it also plays into my purpose. I’ve helped that company do something more effectively.
When you talk of companies, sometimes they’re individual people, but they’re, in many cases, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 Australians who are all working to support their families, to create a great life for their kids to do. There’s a lot to this, but I think in the world, there’s a lot of bad things going on. But I think my purpose is to make sure that anything I’m involved with, and anything I touch, is considered on the upper end of the register to do things well with integrity, to bring real class and excellence to everything we do, and help people succeed.

Anthony Denman:
What a great response. Hey, listen, being just such a committed family man, I just want to ask you this question. It’s a new one for me, I haven’t asked anyone about it before, because I’m thinking about, I want to actually, I want to do this for my own children. And that is the question is, and it’s, you’ve got to keep it simple, right? I want you to keep it as simple as you can, if you can. And that is, if you could only you had a brief moment to leave your children with a simple life message, what would it be?

Stephen Brookes:
I’ll get it down to one sentence. Suck the life out of life. Enjoy every second, and bring light into the world.

Anthony Denman:
I like it. Beautiful. Hey, listen mate, we’re done on that note. Unless do you have a final word? Anything else you want to say before we depart?

Stephen Brookes:
We’ve covered a fair bit of territory, actually. No, I guess, just to say thanks for the opportunity to chat. It’s been great to catch up.

Anthony Denman:
No worries, mate. I’ve been wanting to do this one for a long time, so it was good that we finally got the opportunity to sit down, and get it done. What’s the best way, if people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Stephen Brookes:
Either of the websites, obviously Airview Group is fully active, and the website’s there with all our contact details on it, airviewgroup.com. And with Airview Online and the stock library, that’s airviewonline.com. And within a very short space, it’ll be wotstock.com, but the old Airview Online addresses will go there as well, and all that contact details on there. I’m easily available on LinkedIn. Stephen Brookes, just reach out. I’ve got a huge community on LinkedIn and love that platform. And yeah, it’d be great to get to know any and all.

Anthony Denman:
That’s P-H, isn’t it? Stephen?

Stephen Brookes:
Yeah’s, it’s P-H, Stephan with a P-H, Brookes, B-R-O-O-K-E-S. Remember the E.

Anthony Denman:
E-S? Okay.

Stephen Brookes:
E-S.

Anthony Denman:
E-S? Geez, I think I get that wrong. I have got that wrong. E-S? Okay. Mate, thank you so much.

Stephen Brookes:
Pleasure.

Anthony Denman:
Really appreciate that. Great chat as always. And I wish you and your family all the best that the world can bring you.

Stephen Brookes:
Thanks so much, man. I appreciate it. And to you, and enjoy that beautiful place you live in as well.

Anthony Denman:
Thanks, mate. We’ll see you soon, hey?

Stephen Brookes:
Cheers. See you.

About Us

The Property Marketing Podcast is an original podcast hosted by Anthony Denman, co-founder of Our Agency. In each episode Anthony talks to Australia’s most experienced property professionals, exploring their personal & professional stories whilst unearthing insights on how to create the most successful property brands possible.

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