It’s always drone-y in Philadelphia for Max Tubman’s Steam Machine Pictures


The MQ-9 Reaper is an unmanned aerial vehicle developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in 2001. At around $56.5 million apiece, they boast a 10,500-pound takeoff weight limit that most often is largely taken up by weaponry in the class of the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missile.

Thanks to their deadly presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are, in effect, what we have come to know as the definition of the dreaded “drone.” The term alone calls to mind NSA-style privacy invasions, aerial assaults, and much worse, our perception clouded by the often nefarious purposes to which the technology has been applied. But for Max Tubman, the drone is just the next step in the evolution of his bag of cinematic techniques.

“People get upset because there instantly is the connotation that it can’t be good,” he says. “There’s the image that drones have to be spying or shooting or destroying something, which sucks because it’s a cool word.”

It also is increasingly the focus of Tubman’s Steam Machine Pictures, a film production outfit run out of his South Philly home that these days has the man himself, more often than not, on the business end of a quadcopter controller. For whatever negative connotations we associate with the term “drone,” it hasn’t stopped institutions like the Parks and Recreation Department, Mural Arts, or the Philadelphia Zoo from contacting Tubman for some drone work.