A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Outdoor-Themed Car Commercials
By Outdoor Prolink Editorial Intern Sara Aranda. Sara likes to climb, trail run, and travel. She comes from California and will be traveling the West chasing adventure this fall. Look for more blog posts and photos from Sara coming soon!
Mid-June and the climbing gym was at its typical summer-empty. A gym regular and friend, CP Santos, and I were catching up when a familiar woman approached the front desk. I had never learned her name previously, but she came bearing exciting news. Emily Choi, a freelance stylist and makeup artist was conducting a casting audition the very next afternoon for a Subaru commercial, and she invited both CP and I to show up. The goal was to cast real-life climbers and outdoor enthusiasts as opposed to models who could only pretend. With few details but major dollar signs mentioned, CP and I were jumping around, joking about becoming movie stars. Work? I’d figure that later. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by.
By whatever luck or universal shift that came my way, I was selected, along with two males and another female, to be the apparent “talent” as the lingo went. Funny enough, CP was selected as one of the males, the remaining two “talents” being Dan Proudfoot and Jeanne Eisenhaure. Jeanne is the Executive Creative Director for Jett DIGiTAL, a creative production company, and Dan is the Community Manager for Backflip Studios. Emily sent us lists of camping and climbing gear she wanted us to bring, and even visited each of us in our respective homes to investigate our wardrobes. A few days later we had to head down to Denver, where we met the crew and began filming the “city” portion of our story. Since the car was not on the market yet, we weren’t allowed to take photos of it, so I tried to focus on everything else going on, as far as documentation went.
Subaru had hired a chef from LA, who rented and drove a motor home to produce some of the craziest meals for us. The crew was all from the LA area, actually, which was neat, as I grew up less than an hour East from greater Los Angeles. Terry Prine was the art director, with head photographer Brian Konoske, and film crew Chad Huff, Kevin Lachman, Jeff Stockwell, Jen Britton, and Morgan Dabbs sporting their heavy-duty Red Camera and all the other fancy things.
Take 1: we sat inside a 2016 Subaru Crosstrek, waiting for Brian’s voice to dictate “action” over the walkie-talkie. All we had to do was get out of the car and walk inside The Source, a very hip and popular marketplace. “I’m a little nervous,” I whispered to CP, who laughed at how simple our tasks were going to be. Action! Doors open and I step out when I hear over the walkie, “CP, get out. CP, open your door.” Turns out, the child lock was on his door. Fortunately, the rest of the day went without hiccups, but it was definitely repetitive. We became experts at driving down a street to park in front of the Wilderness Exchange gear shop, or at getting out of the car to walk into the shop, then walking out of the shop, over and over again. But don’t get me wrong, we were having fun and joking around the entire time. The crew was nice and easy to please. Then again, we weren’t high-maintenance people, necessarily, being simple, nature-loving folk and part-time dirtbags. I think the crew was very grateful, actually, that we didn’t need much to keep us entertained. I mean, free gourmet meals? Snacks up the wazoo? Iced tea and fancy carbonated water? Paid-for hotel rooms? This was beyond star treatment in our books.
We were all looking forward to the following day, because it meant we got to climb (a little bit), and the sunrise in Eldorado Canyon proved to be something special. We had the Subaru parked at the roadside Milton Boulder, of course, so we all set up to boulder the V3 “Undercling Problem.” A few attempts at the 3 and I finally figured out beta that worked for me. Dan of course sent it first go and they had him repeat it several times with different “flair.” I remember him kicking his feet back to make things extra spicy. It was funny how the direction of our bouldering session was leaning towards making things look unnecessarily epic – but epic is what they were after, and I didn’t doubt that the magical effects of editing and sun flare (not to mention flawless makeup) would achieve just that. We had to look inspiring!
Next up was the first pitch to The Bastille Crack, the ultra-classic and iconic 5.7. Dan and I were more trad heads than CP and Jeanne, so they asked me to lead first. What was even cooler, was that they had Jeanne belay me for a girl-team combo! And of course Dan and CP manly-manned their way up next. All in a day’s work, right? When you get paid to climb cruiser classics.
Well, we all got to know each other pretty well over the next week. The production assistant, Devyn, whose day job is working for the American Alpine Club Museum in Golden, CO, carpooled with CP and me when it was time to head West to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We talked about climbing and solved riddles for the entire eight-hour trek. The plan was to film an “adventure day” and a “camping day” in Grand Teton National Park. Subaru had us in a very nice hotel for two nights, and we definitely hit up the pool and jacuzzi. Breakfasts were fancy and lunches were always fancier. I remember eating grilled lamb steaks with sweet potato fries overlooking Jackson Lake, all thanks to Randall, our “moho” (motor home) chef.
Pretending to laugh and smile all the time when shooting is weirder and more difficult than you’d think. I think when we were directed to laugh, we pulled it off only because we were laughing at how ridiculous “forcing” laughter made us feel. Jeanne became an expert at blowing dandelions and I became the expert at drinking from my camping mug. CP ended up performing a few takes with his shirt inside-out, and of course we couldn’t let him get away without a few jokes. Dan was the designated driver of our Subaru, so his hands were used to model the car accessories and touch-screen functions (good thing he had no nasty gobies). I think us not being professional actors and models actually made this shoot that much more fun. We got to off-road one day and jump into a lake, pretend to take photos of each other, and gawk at a herd of buffalo. Jeanne and I jokingly asked Brian to photoshop our butts after we had to run in bikinis into the lake (maybe not so much joking!) There was also a certain point where the crew told us we weren’t allowed to high-five anymore. And our campsite! I couldn’t believe the extent of work that went into our glorious lakeside getaway. In pure glamping style, there were throw pillows for our camp chairs, Pendleton blankets, vintage oil lanterns and candles, woven baskets for our food and classic metal dishware, and strings of lights hanging between the pine trees. When were helping screw on each bulb, I turned to CP and one of the crew members and playfully asked, “Who camps like this?” “Apparently we do,” CP chimed in.
Yet, despite any exaggeration of luxury, the crew actually asked quite a handful of questions about climbing and what gear we’d actually bring in an attempt to make things more realistic than they would have originally been. It was exciting to teach them about gear and we even took them sport climbing at a local crag on our day off, with the Tetons looming off in the distance.
So what did I learn about these types of commercials and outdoor product media in general? Realistic or not, of course the objective was to sell the product. In real life, we would never spend so much time around the vehicle. The storyline and settings had to include the Subaru in some way, which crushed my vision of having epic drone shots of us climbing up the Grand Teton, or sweating up a trail with heavy packs and mud-caked calves. But the story was more about city-dwellers chasing the weekend into the woods. Outfits served to be trendy and “athletically casual” and not so much the practical minimalism we (the “talent”) would usually practice when going on climbing trips. I had laid out the few things I’d bring when Emily came to my house to inspect wardrobe, but I soon realized that I was dealing with a whole new world of media when she grabbed almost everything from my closet. Accessories were superfluous but it’s all about a well-thought image in the end, and despite all the “pretending” we had to do, it was actually an incredibly fun experience. Behind the scenes, we were all real people, with real stories and real dreams still, and the crew of course wanted to bring it through to their prospective audience, to keep us relatable. They sat us down and did interviews with us, asking us about climbing and real-life stories.
Brian drove his awesome camper truck and pretty much all of the crew were well-traveled, humble folk. We learned a lot about marketing oneself, while also achieving several other selling points at the same time. And whether you’re on-board with materialism or not, it was an interesting perspective on product placement and definitely an eye-opening lesson on the dynamics and relationships between advertisers and their target audience. Dan, Jeanne, CP, and I were essentially their target audience, but it was interesting to see how we still had to conform to the current trends of “what sells” or what’s “aesthetically pleasing” to the media-dwelling eye. Every time I see a car commercial or a print ad where there’s people laughing around a campfire or pulling gear from the trunk, I can laugh to myself and understand how many times they had to unpack and re-pack, or the twinkle in their eye pleading, “How funny can poking a fire be?”
The end of our week with Subaru finally came, and it was back to the real world. On our last night, Devyn asked Subaru if they could book us a hotel by the lake. I felt like a queen. That morning I had hit the snooze button, when CP came rushing into the room. I thought he was there to shake his finger at our refusal to get up, but he began to whisper, “Guys! There’s a bear outside our door!” We jumped up and I almost fell over trying to put pants on. With barely a glimpse of the brown bear strolling the waterline, the morning felt so magical. Sunrise colored the water pink and the Tetons bore their broad chests just beneath morning clouds. And after a terrible cup of hotel coffee, we threw our things into the car and drove home to Colorado. That evening, CP, Dan, and Jeanne all showed up at the gym to get some post-drive climbing in. “Long-time no-see,” we all echoed. And it was back to the grind. At least until the next weekend adventure.