It was November 2012, and I had just moved from New York City to Los Angeles. My girlfriend and I were walking down the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CA, and I noticed the Tesla retail store.
I’d heard about Tesla, but seeing the car in person…I was floored. Beyond the car itself, Tesla was creating a network of free, solar-powered Superchargers in partnership with Solar City. This was the future of transportation.
As I looked around the store, my eyes wandered to plasma screens showing footage of the Model S. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed. Where was the cinematic flair, the story, the emotion? I knew I could do better.
As I stared at the monitors surrounding me, I saw an incredible opportunity: to create a commercial that tied together the Model S and the Superchargers.
I went home and contemplated the challenge I was up against. Where would I get a Model S for my project? A hot commodity, the car was massively backordered.
The prospect was daunting to say the least.
Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.
Then I thought, what if I engaged a Model S owner in the project and created a document of the driver’s first long-range journey in the vehicle? To begin the search, the internet seemed like a good place to start.
The first website I visited was the main forum for Tesla owners, teslamotorsclub.com. Amazingly, one of the first posts I saw was from a father of two who had travelled to the Fremont, CA factory to pick up his Model S. Check out the post that started it all:
I emailed Jason Knapp, the owner, and suggested that we film his family taking a road trip using the Superchargers. He responded in just a few hours, excited about my proposal. His kids had even made a film of the first ride in their Model S.
There are those times in life when the universe speaks to you. It often happens when you’ve been holding an intention in your mind…something you want to accomplish…and then a sign comes unexpectedly. For years I’d been on the lookout for the right opportunity to combine my three obsessions: filmmaking, technology and sustainability.
And here was the opportunity, staring me right in the face, and the pieces were falling together effortlessly.
Really, the only thing that makes sense is to strive for greater collective enlightenment.
As life’s agents, it’s on our shoulders.
Whenever I start a new project, I look for inspiration. Thomas Kolster’s book “Goodvertising” contained countless case studies on advertising campaigns that made a difference in the world. It inspired me to dig deeper into my creative vision for the Tesla film.
A key element to the piece was the voice over script. The narration not only needed to tell the story of the journey, it had to explain the technology of the Superchargers and create an emotional connection with the audience.
For the task, I commissioned an incredibly talented author and advertising copywriter, Kathy Hepinstall. Kathy was intrigued about the idea of a car being fueled by sunlight, and came up with the phrase “Gallons of Light.”
I visited a number of Tesla’s Supercharging stations as I planned the logistics of the shoot. This Supercharger in Tejon Ranch, CA is located at a busy rest stop, an oasis of clean energy amongst the surrounding gas stations.
Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.
One of the first questions asked when planning a production is, “what camera should we use?”
After much deliberation with Benji Bakshi, my good friend and cinematographer on “Gallons of Light,” we decided on the Red EPIC camera. Used in films such as The Hobbit and The Amazing Spiderman, this camera packs a big punch and comes in a small package.
One of the most stunning locations we visited, Oceano Dunes State Beach.
As I watched the sun disappear behind the horizon, a moment from the day’s shoot played over and over in my head…the Model S driving down the beach as a seagull fortuitously flew by the camera lens. It was a magical moment, one that made me reflect on the overwhelming beauty of nature. I thought about the dilemma that had plagued me for years…was it possible for technology and nature to live in harmony, or were the two inextricably at odds with each other? Were the critics right in saying the Model S would never take off…a token gesture in a world addicted to hydrocarbons? Or would the technology I witnessed that day – from the Supercharger to the Model S – give a much needed push into a clean energy economy?
Perhaps that’s what I was creating: a document of this paradigm shift.
New stories are necessary to change the world.
And here we were, a small team of young filmmakers hungry to make a difference in the world. When it came to the issue of financing the commercial, it wasn’t a matter of if but how we would complete the project with our limited resources (remember, Tesla was not paying us to do this). That left us utilizing “old school” technology for our camera rigging. It’s not what the big budget commercial guys use, but it did the trick.
All of the hybrid SUVs were booked, so ironically we ended up following the Model S with a Suburban. Bring on the Model X, Mr. Musk.
The Knapp family and crew at the Tejon Ranch supercharger (minus our producer taking the photo).
Normally I work with an editor in post-production. But given the limited budget for the project, it was on me to edit hours of footage down to a perfect 60-second commercial for Tesla. So I stared at a screen like this for days and days on end…no pressure, right?
The next major decision was: who would be the voice of the commercial? I auditioned a number of professional voice actors, but everyone sounded too “commercial.”. One day I was speaking with Jason, whose family stars in the film, expressing my frustration with not being able to find the right voice. Much to my surprise, Jason had recently met a very famous voice actor at a Tesla dealership… James Arnold Taylor.
I looked up James’s credits and saw a list a mile long. Check out his IMDB profile here. Needless to say, his voice was perfect, and the spot was finally complete, thanks to not one but two real-life Tesla owners.
PICTURED LEFT: James Arnold Taylor with Jason Knapp, the Tesla owners behind “Gallons of Light”
There are many talented people who haven’t fulfilled their dreams because they over thought it, or they were too cautious, and were unwilling to make the leap of faith.
You might be asking, “what’s next?” It’s quite simple: I have a burning desire to use my talent as a storyteller to further the evolution of humanity. There are three projects I have in mind, one for each of Elon Musk’s companies: SpaceX, Solar City and Tesla.
A branded film on the Model X.
A broadcast commercial for Solar City.
A behind-the-scenes film on the Falcon Heavy.