Picture Car Prep

A specialty service has evolved over the years to obtain, modify, paint, transport, keep clean and keep running vehicles for filming. They are very helpful to making a shoot go smoothly. There are many different relationships to the Production Company, ad agency and client. The client (Manufacturer) owns some car prep companies, some by the agency and some are free lance hired by the agency or Production Company. I prefer ones hired by the Production Company so that there is more control, but this is rarely the situation today.

Your relationship to the car prep crew can make a difference in how easy the shoot goes. It is the job of the car prep crew to both protect the vehicle and make it available for you to shoot. Keeping them informed can save them extra work, for example if only part of the car will be seen in camera and they are cleaning the whole car. Everything takes time and keeping them updated will make their life easier. A schedule and any change information will be appreciated. Including them in making the schedule can save time, because they will know how long things should take from their side.

Don't think that your job is the only one that they have going. It gets very crazy during car season and they have to juggle vehicles, crews, paints jobs and parts to keep the right vehicles ready for each shoot they have going. You may think they have a lucrative business, but their season is short and their overhead large.

When I am going to work with a crew that I don't know, I like to meet with them personally or at least send someone out to talk with them. I make a list of special requests and call again before they leave for location to check how things are progressing.

Your every request may cost money. Check with them and clear your requests cost wise. Be very careful to keep things on a cooperative level and not on a competitive level. Rigging can become a touchy situation. Some car prep people are very good riggers. They may or may not care if you rig the vehicle, but if you do it, you had better be good at it. If they do it, they will want to know exactly where the camera goes and may or may not provide the flexibility on short notice if the director changes his mind.

I have found that the really good riggers have little ego involvement in rigging and just want to get the job done easily. I have had some car prep crews help us considerable even though they were not being paid to do it. We also try to make their life easier too. We worry about their fresh paint job and help keep the car clean. Ask if it is OK to do ANYTHING to THEIR car. Make your crew respect the car and the car prep crew. Keep them informed and updated. Willingly give them a hand if they need it and want it.

Removing doors, windows, hoods, trunks and dimming headlights can be easy or very difficult. Some things come off easier than they go back on. Some models aren't as easy as others. I have had a few car prep people assure that my "no problem" request turned out being a very big problem. "Well, you got the shot didn't you?" didn't make me very happy about it. But I didn't get a lot of other shots while waiting. New cars have lots of plumbing going into the doors. I have heard of cars being driven home with the door tied to the side of the car. Ask how long they think something will take and consider alternate solutions. Do you really need the door off? What dolly/arm combination would avoid having to remove the door? For close-ups does the car really have to be moving, can the light be broken up with moving branches to simulate motion?

Larger car prep companies have different crews, some more experienced than others. Be prepared to make adjustments if a crew that is new to you is provided. They may be faster or slower than the last crew from the same company. Rarely do you have a choice if the agency or client is paying their bill, but you might have the agency request a crew that you already know.

When it comes to major effects with cars, it can get tricky. There can be problems about who is calling the shots. I like to do a lot of listening about how things MIGHT be done before offering my viewpoint. You should let people contribute to a project. Hear them out before you offer a possibly better solution. If you can let them discover your solution, it will be more acceptable. Give people credit for a good solution. I have had to let some stubborn people fail with their approach before they did things my way. It's not a great situation. I have even had a car prep company tell me how to shoot the shot. Time spent talking will make it go easier. Be humble, listen, and offer suggestions tentatively.

Thanks to Tom Ramsey and Bata of Bad Company, Sun Valley, Calif. for comments on this section.

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