Brett Marks, 45, ran his own film-gripping company in his native Australia for 10 years before making the jump to helicopter pilot nearly a decade ago. The father of two now works as head flight instructor and pilot for Wings Air, a helicopter charter company located at Westchester County Airport. But he’s kept to his cinematic roots.
Q: How long did it take you to get your pilot’s license?
A: You can do your training in four months or in three years. It all comes down to how frequently you train, but it took me two years to get my Australian license—that’s all the theory and flight [hours] to be a commercial pilot. Then I moved here, and I had another two years of training [to get an FAA commercial license].
Q: How many hours does it take in the air to receive a license?
A: To be a private pilot, where you can’t get paid to fly, the FAA minimum is 40 hours, but I say 50 to 80. I don’t know anyone who has reached a private license in 40 hours. For a commercial license, it’s 150 hours minimum.
Q: Your grip company worked on films in Australia. Why the transition to helicopter pilot?
A: In the department I was in, I worked directly with the pilots, putting camera rigs in the helicopter. I was also a dolly grip on a lot of big-budget films, [doing] essentially what a helicopter pilot does in the air. So I thought, why not go a step further? I’ve always wanted to do it, but I never had the opportunity or the money to.
Q: Wings Air does aerial film production on top of charters and instruction. So, besides managing the flight school and doing chartered flights, you’re also flying in films now?
A: On Now You See Me, I was a co-pilot with Javier [Diaz, owner of Wings Air], so that was my first job as an actor in a helicopter; I’m now a SAG member. I’ve worked on a couple TV commercials as the pilot flying with the rigs, and as the ground coordinator on a couple of films. It’s like starting a new career—you’ve got to earn your reputation, and that takes quite a bit of time.