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Behind The Scenes At A Jeep Commercial

Posted in Features on October 14, 2016
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One of our favorite tips in the Jeep rental business is, “Don’t drive like they do in Jeep commercials.” Television producers love the drama and tension of splashing water, flying mud, billowing dust, and a foot-to-the-floor throttle. I admit that I get excited at the loping sound of a big motor with a sweet exhaust, but I also understand that this is not the way to drive a Jeep on public trails, or if you want to preserve your vehicle for any length of time. To television producers, the vehicle is an expendable asset, something they only need to get the shot—not to get them home afterwards. Most 4x4 owners can’t afford that luxury.

We regularly run trail support for film and television crews producing off-highway–related content and product advertisements. Whenever we are hired for a production, I take it as an opportunity to provide as much outdoor ethics and etiquette training as possible to the crew. They are usually receptive to my suggestions and options for stunts and scenarios that would be more responsible and realistic than some of the things they dream up.

I am often pleased at how professional, polite, and generous they are to local landowners, public land managers, residents, and other trail users. There are exceptions, but most of these people are professionals who understand that they may not be welcome back if they treat anything or anyone with any disrespect.

Though the actual production is usually very professional and responsible, how the footage is edited and portrayed in the final aired version is often much different. What we see on the finished show or commercial if often a highly distilled, distorted, and edited version of what was actually filmed on the location. For example, a producer’s choice of camera angle, clever editing, and film speed can make what was actually a reasonable obstacle crossing look fast, dangerous, and dramatic.

Anyone who has been on location with a major production knows that when a vehicle is flopped, wrecked, or broken, there is a team of medics, firefighters, and mechanics standing just off-screen within feet of the vehicle. However, the on-air representation is often the talent bent on screwing up their trip and their cars on every episode. Why is this? Quite simply, their job is to entertain, not necessarily to educate. They are all about the ratings and clicks. On YouTube, a video of the Jeep rolling gets 100 times more views than the driver who easily and gracefully traverses the exact same obstacle. People are drawn to the tension and drama. Producers know this and will continue to play to that.

If this type of invented drama didn’t get the ratings and advertising dollars, they wouldn’t make them. In spite of my begging and pleading over the years, I have not been able to influence commercials and TV shows to cover the nice image of people responsibly enjoying a wheeling trip without anything breaking. If those pleasant trips start getting more hits on YouTube than the Darwin-contestants, then maybe we have a chance. That choice is really up to you.

Filming for this 45-minute episode involved a total of five days on location.
Here is what the ads will show. It looks like this white Jeep is traversing the spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Here is where the white Jeep actually is: on a man-made line of rocks dumped along a pipeline road and artfully arranged by seasoned guides.
This is the shot that made it into the cut–lots of water splashing as the professional driver knew how to just drop the front of the car in quickly for the light splash upward, rather than full throttle all the way in and drown the car.
This is the actual water crossing as the driver continued across, but that didn’t make the edit. Also note that this was on private land, as there are no longer unimproved water crossings on most public trails.
“But the driver’s side still looks great in photos!” Yes, gaffer’s tape is great for holding car parts on.
Sure, you wouldn’t hesitate to go all out with your rig, if you had a team of mechanics following you around.
This is the glamorous life of a production support crew. Note how many rigs there are to support and film three guys driving across the Rubicon Trail.

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