How Toyota got back on the streets
At the tail end of last year, after a pandemic-enforced abandonment of foreign shoots, Executive Creative Director & Partner at The&Partnership, Andre Moreira, headed to Spain for a Toyota Aygo job that's just been released. Here, he explains what it was like being back in the saddle, and how some things never change.
Monday November 22, 2021 — BA Lounge, Heathrow
Here we go again, back at Heathrow Airport, and back eating and drinking for free at the BA Lounge (it's the little things, right?). I'm starting healthy by having a Vietnamese veggie curry, the soup of the day and a small glass of white wine. The food isn't great, but the feeling of being able to experience these small pleasures again definitely is.
Here we go again, back at Heathrow Airport, and back eating and drinking for free at the BA Lounge.
A cliché, I know, but I continue to be grateful for my job and the opportunities it provides, and I try never to take it for granted. Despite all the difficulties inherent in any creative project, (and this one had its fair share) it's still a great idea, about to be shot by a great director duo, Los Perez [Tania Verduzco and Adrián Pérez], in the great city of Barcelona), surrounded by a great team.
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Above: The new Aygo X spot for Toyota.
Tuesday November 23, 2021 — Hotel Seventy, Barcelona
Long, tiring first day in Barcelona; cold, windy, rainy... yet productive. Today we reece’d. It’s an invaluable opportunity for the director, cinematographer, production designer and all other crew, to go through the technical aspects of each scene, in the place where the action will actually happen. On the other hand, for us creatives, it’s the perfect opportunity to meet the aforementioned crew but, more importantly, to discuss with directors any remaining storytelling points in a more relaxed fashion before the shoot days, when time is short and the pressure high. Plus, when it comes to shooting cars, locations are even more important; from the quality of the tarmac (smooth lanes = stable shots) to the width of the road (so the camera car, aka ‘u-crane’, can easily manoeuvre), or even how long you’re permitted to block the road before its returned to its civilian use. Every detail truly matters.
When it comes to shooting cars, locations are important; from the quality of the tarmac (smooth lanes = stable shots) to the width of the road (so the camera car, aka ‘u-crane’, can easily manoeuvre).
At a more personal level, it’s exciting to see an idea you’ve worked on for so long start to take shape, especially when everyone around you also feels the same buzz. That happened today, at the beautiful train station location where we chose to start the film. While rehearsing the extras, Adrián (one half of Los Perez) and Roman (the cinematographer) ‘found’ this beautifully cinematic camera move that will reveal our hero. Despite the cold, the rain and the tiredness a (small) smile broke on both their faces and Adrien rushed to show me the recording on his phone. It looked great. I smiled as well.
Above: Some of the research and sketches for the film.
Wednesday November 24, 2021 — Hotel Seventy, Barcelona
Wardrobe Wednesday. Usually this is not something we (as creatives) would spend almost a whole day doing, but a big part of what makes Los Perez’s work so special is their attention to every art direction detail. I must confess, the ease with which they combine colours and patterns is both impressive and uncomfortable (at first). Who knew green, pink and orange would work so well together? Such bold combinations immediately establishes the character as someone confident in their own skin, and with a brave sense of style — traits that are subsequently passed on to their choice of vehicle. Plus, spending some quality time with the director and the cast in a relaxed and creative environment, as they work through their ideas, really brings everyone together before the shoot.
Whenever choices have to be made, disagreements are bound to happen. Shoots are nothing if not a long sequence of decisions, all of them important.
On the other hand, whenever choices have to be made, disagreements are bound to happen. Shoots are nothing if not a long sequence of decisions, all of them important. You have to go in prepared to challenge and be challenged, with both a clear vision of the idea and an open mind as to how it can be best brought to life. No matter what, you will have to be decisive, even if that means some hard conversations.
In the afternoon we went to see the other main character of this project, the new Aygo X (four of them, in fact). Again, having the time to walk around the cars with the cinematographer is key. Discussing the angles that best reflect its design (and the ones that don’t) at this stage, helps to streamline the process when, later on, the camera (and the £££’s) are rolling. Cars are like people, they all have their ‘good sides’ and their less flattering ones. Make sure you, and everyone else (especially your client) is aware what those are — and be honest, there is no such thing as perfection.
Above: Andrew Moreira inspects the costumes on Wardrobe Wednesday.
Thursday November 25, 2021 — Hotel Seventy, Barcelona
Prep day; the last 24 hours before the shoot. Not fun. Meetings followed by more meetings to go through Every.Single.Detail (despite knowing things will always change). Frustration around last minute ideas that we ran out of time to produce, excitement around enthusiastic descriptions of what a shot will look like, gentle drooling for all the kit we’ll be using — the Phantom, the drone, the u-crane — an intoxicating blend of anticipation and anxiety.
Call-sheet is in; 7am pick-up. Not much sleep. Let’s do this!
Friday November 26, 2021 — Hotel Seventy, Barcelona
Shoot day 1: Covid hits. A member of our team has been in contact with someone who tested positive. UK rules state that if you are double-jabbed you should take a PCR test, but do not need to isolate. Shoot rules are stricter and he’s asked to do so, and a few of our team are asked to stay away from the set. We are furious because we want to be where the action is, and the client is furious because his agency isn’t there for them. Everyone waits patiently for the PCR test results to return. In the meantime, and after much debate (insert harsher word), we agree a plan with the local production team. We will be allowed on set, albeit distant enough from everyone else as to keep things safe. A tiny monitor is set-up, the stream of imagery from Roman’s camera starts to flow, we gather around the pixels like moths to the light… and we’re back in it — nerves still ragged, but the shots come in looking fantastic.
We are furious because we want to be where the action is, and the client is furious because his agency isn’t there for them. Everyone waits patiently for the PCR test results to return.
After a few hours, the news everyone wanted — PCR test is negative! Just in time for lunch.
The rest of the day feels like a breeze after the morning's events. This shoot is unique (and therefore challenging) in that it needs great performances from the main characters to bring together all the individual scenes, great car footage (obvs) and extreme attention to detail, as there is a big post production element at the heart of the idea. That’s why, even when writing it, Los Perez were always in our head (and our references). Their reel is as distinctive as the needs of this production, and I can’t tell you how happy I was when they accepted the job.
As the light goes, so do we. Back to our hotel for a well-deserved rest after a challenging day. Only, the thing is, we’re in Barcelona, remember. The land of great food and great wine. So, the hotel becomes a pit-stop, and after a quick refresh we head off one more time for a well-deserved meal instead. A delicious fish dish accompanied by a glass of white wine and an ample serving of conversation. From Covid to cod, what a day. 7am pick-up again.
Above: Tania Verduzco and Adrián Pérez, aka, directing team Los Perez.
Saturday November 27, 2021 — Production Van, Barcelona
Shoot day 2: Today the focus is on the new Aygo X. And, when I say new, I mean not just an updated version of an existing model, but a whole new one. In fact, a whole new category. The only SUV in its class. A fact that brings with it two big challenges: One, how to showcase its uniqueness, and two, how to do so in the limited amount of time we have. Because there are no miracles, much less so in production, so we decide to use two units. One to continue shooting the storytelling elements, the other fully dedicated to shooting the car. It made sense for Los Perez to lead the former, as that’s their expertise. Guess who stayed back to do the latter?
A busy restaurant kitchen is the closest comparison I can think of; absolute precision in the midst of chaos.
Which meant stepping inside the most expensive roller coaster you’ll ever ride, the Scorpio Arm (u-crane). This is how it goes in the belly of the monster; in the front seats there’s the driver, wheel on one hand, walkie-talkie on the other (to talk to the precision driver in the car we’re filming), next to him sits the focus puller, making sure every shot is sharp. Behind the driver sits the cinematographer, framing the shots, and the director calling them (me, in this case).
Finally, stuck in the trunk, goes the arm operator, positioning it where it needs to go. At any given time everyone will be talking to everyone else, while driving at high-speed. It’s mental, scary and fuc*ing exciting! To add even more excitement, when you’re shooting in city streets, you’ll also have stressed policemen blocking the roads, with even more stressed drivers honking at them.
A busy restaurant kitchen is the closest comparison I can think of; absolute precision in the midst of chaos. We spend a long time making sure that the teams we shoot cars with are as good as possible, without exception. They knew each other, they knew the roads (makes a difference) and they knew the cops (even bigger difference). So, it all went pretty smoothly. By mid-afternoon we were done, and back with Unit 1. Happy days.
Above: The ‘u-crane’ car.
Sunday November 28, 2021 — Hotel Seventy, Barcelona
Shoot day 3: 6.30am pick-up today. It’s cold, it’s windy (more on that later) and it’s going to be a long one as, inevitably, we left a few extra shots to the last day. Following Murphy’s Law to a tee, things quickly start going wrong. To begin with, the wind decides to blow away our tent. Annoying, but not important. Then it decides to blow away our drone. Annoying and important. All eyes are now on Roman, the cinematographer. Every shoot has moments like these, and that’s why it's important to be surrounded by people who know what they’re doing. I can’t stress this enough, in the creative industries, great talent is, and always will be, the deciding factor for success. So, in the time it took to write this, Roman hatches a plan. A Steadicam is brought in and we do the shot ‘by hand’. It works. Frowns are replaced by smiles, and we carry on. The problem is, we’re now late. To gain time, we decide not to replace our actress, who’s supposed to ride a food delivery bike through traffic, with a stunt woman. Smart, right?
There’s an understandable tendency in these situations to rush. The clock is ticking, the light is going, we must make up for lost time. Well, in my view, rushing is the last thing you should do.
3, 2, 1, action… and crash. Luckily, no one is hurt. So, back to plan A, back to stuntwoman and, if we were late before…
There’s an understandable tendency in these situations to rush. The clock is ticking, the light is going, we must make up for lost time. Well, in my view, rushing is the last thing you should do. Yes, try to do it in three takes instead of five. Yes, lose the ‘nice-to-have’ close-up if needed. Yes, prioritise, but do not rush. Please. Instead, focus. Stop the chit-chat, stop looking at your emails (or social media). Put your undivided attention on the monitor in front of you. Try to be as close to where the action is to speed up the decisions… and just FOCUS! So, we did.
We still ran late. We still ended up shooting night for day (never ideal). More importantly, we still felt confident with everything we captured. It’s a wrap. Crack open the beer/wine/bubbly… and breathe. Everyone is exhausted, yet with enough energy for one last chat with the full team in a less pressured environment. It’s called a wrap party and it usually involves tequila.
Above: Behind the scenes of the Toyota Aygo shoot.
Monday November 29, 2021 — Brunells Café, Barcelona
Sleep in, pack-up, one last walk, one last coffee, a few more pics, a few more videos, the sun is shining, the music is playing. Barcelona is beautiful, but I miss my family. Time to go home.