Intel TV Commercial

Elephants, California

For someone who has spent the last three decades behind the lens, it’s more than a little disconcerting to find oneself on the other side of the camera.

Especially when the camera is an enormous jib-mounted Arriflex and you’re surrounded by a crew of sixty, all part of an enormous production involving four tractor trailers, catering truck, wardrobe and make-up, my very own driver, multiple layers of agency and client management flown in to watch every dollar fly past , along with trained elephants and one shiny, black rented Land Rover.

But the end of it, I was in love. With the Land Rover, anyway.

Mostly, I devoted my two days of filming to not embarrassing myself. And not throwing up. That was important, too.

Intimidating isn’t the world for what I felt as we drove out to the Serengeti Ranch near Palmdale, an hour outside Los Angeles. Somehow all the emails and conference calls and dreams of television glory crystallized into one pure and shining thought.

I’m gonna’ be sick.

But the feeling passed after I wolfed down a cinnamon roll and some coffee from the catering truck, and I hid out in the make-up trailer until someone called for me. A huge commercial production is sort of like an aircraft carrier.  Slow to start, hell to turn, but it proceeds inexorably forward: over, past or through any obstacle. Stage fright wasn’t even a speed bump to these folks.

My part of it was in fact quite small; helpfully broken down into easy, bite-sized tasks.

You need me to walk through the grass? I can do that…

Make abstract hand gestures on a table? If you say so…

Drive the Land Rover? Dude, I thought you’d never ask.

The elephants lumbered in, hit their mark, and acted their enormous pachyderm hearts out. I mostly tried to stay out of the way.

Our mission was to talk about how technology can help a wildlife photographer, even a balding middle-aged technophobe, expand their vision and create compelling new work. And I truly believe it. It was only ten years ago that I would fill my carry-on backpack with 400 rolls of Fujichrome, a dozen paperbacks and Lonely Planet guides, and head off on safari or assignment. Now I can carry a laptop, my CF cards and a tablet. How cool is that?

I will grant that we used a little Hollywood magic to make things look a wee bit sexier, and a whole lot easier than has been my experience. But I would remind folks that it IS a commercial. If you thought everything you saw on TV was the literal truth, I have some very bad news for you about Santa Claus.

The best part, and the scariest part of the project was that at some point, I had to stop stomping around in front of the camera and actually go shoot a picture. Not just any image but the contractually obligated Hero Shot. It was to hang on the gallery walls alongside a portfolio of my other work. The day’s filming ran long. The sun began to slide toward the mountains and I spent a lot of time walking back and forth with tripods, getting in and out of the Land Rover, staring determinedly into the middle distance.

At the end of the day, I had eight minutes to run across our faux water hole, get on my hands and knees and pray to any deities on offer to pull this off. The smoke machine wasn’t working, the trainers were tired, the elephants were bored but somehow it all came together in one magic moment. I had the best elephant shot I’ve ever made.

No sleeping in the dirt. No eating bad food or driving around the ass end of Botswana. There it was, in the golden California sun.

Maybe I’ve been doing this wrong all along.

Click to view the Intel TV Commercial on YouTube…

Click to purchase a copy of the Intel Elephant photograph…


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