Filmworks gets on the race track for a commercial

Anthony Smythe and his team redesign high-speed tracking cars, make rigs and get on the race track in Dubai to produce a commercial.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  March 2, 2005

I|~|smythe.jpg|~|Anthony Smythe of Filmworks|~|When Europe has some of the best centres and skills to produce commercials that revolve around racing cars, why would an Italian production company come to Dubai to make a commercial for a European client? The answer lies in a combination of factors that reflects Dubai’s rapid growth as an emirate that has the infrastructure and the resources today to make commercials cost effectively. One firm that has facilitated the production of such commercials and feature films in this region is Filmworks. The company’s most recent venture was a commercial for an Italian production company. “This commercial is the first of its kind to be produced in this region,” claims Anthony Smythe, general manager of Filmworks. “We have done such commercials elsewhere but it’s the first time we have dared to attempt something like this here in Dubai,” he adds. The commercial, made for an oil company, revolves around a family that pulls out of a petrol station with a full tank and pulls into a racetrack. On the track, they stay ahead of all the racing cars. The sixty-second commercial, shot at Dubai Autodrome, may have a simple story line but a look at the work behind the scenes to produce the commercial is impressive. First off, Filmworks needed a couple of high-speed tracking vehicles that could carry a camera and travel at a speed of 180 miles/hr so that they could keep pace with the rest of the racing cars on the track. For this purpose, the production house redesigned and tested a four-wheel drive to make it suitable for the commercial. “We also had another high-speed tracking vehicle very similar to the Shotmaker, which is an American tracking vehicle,” says Smythe. The shoot itself was not so much the challenge as getting together the equipment necessary to shoot in a fast-paced racing environment. Two days before the shoot, the production firm was grappling with different components of the camera support system and working out ways in which they could install the whole thing safely on the high-speed tracking vehicle. “We had custom designed this car to suit our special requirements,” explains Smythe. “The whole camera support system, for instance, was welded to the roll cage and that, in turn, to the chassis so that the whole installation and the car functioned as one unit. We only had two days to test the whole thing and luckily, it worked without a single hitch,” he explains. The crew also used an Audi for the shoot and the cameras were sometimes mounted on this car for the shoot. “We had mounted two cameras on the front of the Audi. This car is actually the safety car, which pulls into the track and flags vehicles down when there’s an accident or when there’s a problem,” explains Smythe. “We got some dynamic shots of the Audi. We took the camera about six ms away from the front of the car and took some footage,” he explains. The family car itself was a Passat and on occasion, Filmworks used this car as well to mount its cameras. ||**||II|~||~||~|Several specialists and a lot of equipment was brought into the country for the production of this commercial. Some of the equipment, in fact, are new launches. Two Arri 235 cameras — a small, compact model launched for the first time at IBC 2004 — were brought into the country for this production as were a Scorpio stabilised remote head and a Mega Mount remote head. The Scorpio stabilised head, which was mounted on the front of the car, enabled them to race with the fast cars and film without fear of shaking. The Mega mount, sourced from Rome, was equally important. The Mega Mount comes with a computer and is meant to memorise certain moves so that they can be duplicated later in another environment. In this case, there is a scene where the family car pulls out of the petrol station and this scene had to be duplicated back in Rome. “So we had to memorise the moves that we did in Dubai and duplicate the same moves in Rome. This could be done easily with the Mega Mount, which works on the concept of motion control,” explains Smythe. One other highlight of this project is that several specialists were flown in from different countries for the production of this commercial. For instance, driving a car at a 180 m/h required precision drivers and Filmworks brought them in from South Africa. “We brought in two precision drivers, one for the safety car and other, for the tracking car,” says Smythe. A technician was also brought in from Munich to handle the Scorpio stabilised remote head. Although the Director of Photography, the director and the Assistant director came down from Italy for the production of the commercial, Filmworks was responsible for designing most of the equipment locally. This meant not just custom-designing a high-speed tracking vehicle but also designing a rig. This was built locally with the help of Dubai-based equipment company, Filmquip. “Most big rigs are made in Europe. But we made this one locally with help from a couple of companies,” explains Smythe. Compared to these tasks, the bad weather and the excess sand that needed to be removed from the race track at the Dubai Autodrome were but small challenges. One important addition to the equipment was an Optimo zoom lens from Angenieux. “The Angenieux lenses are very versatile. The Optimo 24-290 lenses are quite wide and very long, and the optics are fantastic. It’s very new generation and no other brand comes close,” says Smythe. After two days of working, a day of rehearsal and two days of filming, the production was done. The whole commercial was shot on 35 mm and Filmworks used Kodak film stock for the purpose. Film stock, however, is now easily available in the emirate thanks to Kodak now having a presence at Dubai Media City. More and more production companies and filmmakers are beginning to look at Dubai as an ideal location for shooting. The new Autodrome is an attractive location for those looking to make movies or commercials on a Formula One racetrack. The fact that they can be produced more cost-effectively is an added benefit. “What’s special right now about the Dubai Autodrome is that it is a new track and, therefore, does not have as much branding on it as most other race tracks in the world, says Smythe. “So it’s perfect for filming. We don’t have to look at how to avoid the branding. More importantly, if you look at what Dubai can supply the Italian company in terms of a race track, equipment and skills compared to what they’d have had to pay in Europe for it, it’s a great deal.” ||**||

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