Meet Jay Christensen, the drone pilot behind the Vikings schedule release

It was a normal day at TCO Performance Center. That was the hardest part for cinematographer Jay Christensen earlier this week as he tried to fly his drone around the practice facility in Eagan.

“Everyone is there working,” said Christensen, founder of JayByrd Films, and the drone pilot behind the Vikings’ schedule release. “We wanted to make sure we made every shot count.”

That, he did. The results spoke for themselves on Thursday night when the Vikings tweeted out the video. It featured an aerial view of TCO Performance Center as a whole, with the Vikings using the footage to present a game-by-game breakdown of their schedule for this season.

This has become a common trend throughout the NFL with pretty much every team looking for a creative way to unveil its schedule on social media.

For the Vikings, the idea to commission JayByrd Films proved effective as the video gave fans an inside look at perhaps the best practice facility in the league.

It starts with star quarterback Kirk Cousins pulling up to the indoor practice field. He puts his conversion van in park, tosses a football to team mascot Viktor, and the tour of TCO Performance Center begins.

All the while, Christensen, 27, is stationary with goggles strapped to his head, flying the drone with precision to capture every moment. He weaves through the indoor practice field, then cruises toward the studio. There are a couple of cuts in between with the drone flying through the locker room, the outdoor practice field, the team offices, the weight room and, finally, on the roof with Vikings legend John Randle.

“Normally the goal with this stuff is to get it all in one shot,” said Christensen, who grew up in Mahtomedi and launched JayByrd Flims in August 2021. “With so much going on over there, we ended up having to cut this up into a few shots.”

There were a lot of moving parts that went into the Vikings’ schedule release. The filming took place on Wednesday morning with the video dropping on Thursday night.

“Some of the stuff we only got one chance to shoot, so we had to live with whatever we got,” Christensen said. “It wasn’t like we could go back and try to fine-tune it.”

After meticulously designing a flight plan for the drone, Christensen arrived at TCO Performance Center at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. Though he initially anticipated having more time with Cousins for the opening scene, a scheduling conflict forced things to get done rather quickly.

Because of that, Christensen filmed the opening scene with Cousins, then spliced it together with footage he captured later. In a perfect world, Christensen said he would have filmed the opening scene in one shot, starting with Cousins, then going all the way to the studio without having to cut.

“Most of the stuff with the players was like whatever we got in the moment was what we got,” Christensen said. “They are working toward their ultimate goal, so we tried not to get in the way of that.”

As for the rest of the video, which spans 4 minutes and 2 seconds, Christensen loved how everything turned out. Some highlights included flying the drone through a bunch of paper airplanes in the team offices and directly above receiver K.J. Osborn on the bench press in the weight room.

Then there’s the closing scene of Randle hitting a golf ball off the roof with the drone tracking it through the air.

Something interesting to note is that the drone does not record sound in real time so the audio heard throughout the video was added during the editing process.

“You want to hear from these players in these shots,” Christensen said. “You have to be strategic and crafty because that’s such an important part of it.”

Looking back on the production now that it is complete, Christensen still can’t believe he got to work with the Vikings on such a special project. He grew up cheering for the local teams, and now that he’s getting to work alongside them on a regular basis, he can’t imagine doing anything else with his life.

“It’s been cool to go from being a fan to getting to work with them professionally,” he said. “It’s definitely not something I take for granted.”

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