Creating a video when the world has other plans

By Steve Cox | Group Creative Director

When you’re launching a new product, especially a vehicle, you expect to have a few challenges along the way. But this year has been something else, especially when it came to creating a video for the launch of the Western Star 49X. In fact, it was a shoot unlike any other I’d been involved in, with 11 shoot days and three separate shoots over two and a half months in Central Oregon during a global pandemic. And, like any story worth telling, it happened in three acts.

Act One

The shoot got off to a great start in late June, with a civilized start time of 8:00 am. Everything went smoothly until around noon. One of the challenges with shooting prototype vehicles is that they have prototype vehicle gremlins. And these particular gremlins suddenly wouldn’t let the trucks run. We shot around that issue, working on getting a team of engineers in from Portland when the decision was made to delay the launch of the truck from July until September, and the shoot was postponed. The drive from Portland to Madras and back is beautiful.

Act Two

The shoot picked up again in mid-July, gremlins vanquished. At least, those particular gremlins. Because availability to prototype trucks is limited, the shoot was also expanded to include sister brands. Our goal was to shoot separate videos and stills for three clients over five sixteen-hour days with two video crews, three photographers, two drone operators at several locations. Being summer in the high desert, the highs ranged from 103 to 106 degrees, and it was even hotter on the asphalt. Fortunately, the only casualty was a drone battery, which exploded mid-flight. Somehow the drone survived the crash landing with minimal damage and was up and running after a short five-hour round-trip drive to Portland. Drone batteries are hard to come by in the desert.

Act Three

The history of Western Star is in logging. But the one truck that didn’t make the previous shoot was the log truck. We couldn’t launch without this modern take on the company’s history. However, ten days before the third part of the shoot, the builder couldn’t guarantee it would be done. Engineers at Western Star set about building a log truck in record time, but we had to find a logging location that looked remote but still had space for a wrecker and to switch a loaded log trailer from one truck to another in case the prototype had gremlins. Not an easy task.

This last portion of the shoot still had long days and went well until the second day of the shoot when the afternoon brought high winds and orange skies that looked from another world. We shifted to an indoor shoot and started hearing stories about wildfires, including in the area of our next day’s location. A group of us drove out and found dozens of firefighters leaving the area, some of whom told us the flames were a hundred yards away. Not a good feeling. We spent the next few hours in the smoke and dark, looking for another location without luck.

That night we made a plan to send different teams out to a wide number of areas to find a place we could film. News was still spotty and everyone on the crew was getting different stories from people they knew. The next morning we were able to secure a location for that afternoon. The sky was clear and blue, with no sign of fire, only a dozen miles from our original sight. We got ready to shoot only to find the FAA had closed the airspace to drones. Then, near the end of our shoot, a ranger came by and told us we had 30 minutes to evacuate. It was a first for all of us.

Being remote and out of wireless range, it wasn’t until we were returning home that we fully realized how large the fires were and how fast they were moving.

The shoot was followed by crazy days and nights of editing, music composition and voice over. And the video was everything our clients wanted and more for the centerpiece of a launch. Everyone involved did an incredible job to make it happen, and now they all have a story or two more to tell about 2020.

Of course, it needs to be said just how lucky we were not just to finish the video, but to get out of it safely. Many others weren’t so lucky. Even though it was a big accomplishment, it was tempered by the knowledge much bigger and more important things were going on in the world and right around us.