The “Bearded Driver”: my experience shooting a commercial for BMW of Chattanooga

September 24, 2012
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Did you see that bearded dude with the glasses in the latest BMW of Chattanooga commercial? Don’t blink or you might miss him. His role is brief, but his on-screen presence steals the show. I see his character as a sort of relatable “everyman,” the Paul Giamatti of local television commercials. Ladies may not swoon and awards may not be handed out, but message is clear: this bearded man is driving a BMW. He is driving the “ultimate driving machine” with a quiet sense of pride. He says nothing but everything is understood. He is one with the automobile.

That bearded man is me.

I am a 29-year-old dude living in Chattanooga. No, I don’t own a BMW. I drive a 2009 Nissan versa. The gas tank won’t close all of the way and my driver side door handle has a tendency to fall off for no reason. My monthly rent is less than the monthly payment on the 2013 BMW 328i that I’m driving in the commercial. Would I someday like to be a BMW owner? Maybe. But for now, I’m content with having spent two-hours driving one in a parking lot.

Here’s a recap of our day shooting the commercial:

8:30a.m. : Dunkin’ Donuts doughnuts (that’s weird to write, but whatever) are consumed and a game plan is formulated. Our team consists of a flight director, two videographers and myself. My role is to be a sort of cheerleader/wrangler for the group. At this point, I have no idea I’m about to be in the commercial. My sugar level is spiked and we venture out to begin shooting.

9a.m. : The exterior shots are set-up and completed. Conceptually, we want the feel of the commercial to be organic and cinematic. The most important component is the opening shot of the outside of the building. This shot had to be perfect and the light had to be just right. We were lucky to have everything place just as the sun shone perfectly. I think I cried a little bit, but it may have been the sugar coursing through my system.

9:45a.m. : I volunteer to be the stunt driver for the “car” shots. I’ve never driven in a commercial before, but I have experience in high-speed pursuits from those times in high school when I would run moonshine from one county to another, avoiding the police by peeling furtively onto hastily constructed dirt paths. I was ready, to say the least. As it turns out, this commercial just required me to make a circle in the car and stop in a specific area. It wasn’t as much fun as running moonshine, but I also didn’t get arrested. A win-win.

11a.m. :  The folks at BMW would not let me do a NASCAR-style burnout in the new car. They said it would be “inappropriate” even though I told them I wouldn’t burn through the entire core of the tires. Our team moved inside to shoot the “greeting” and “showing features” scenes featured in the commercial. What you don’t see is that we shot those scenes with a completely different actor and had to go re-shoot them later. This was our biggest headache throughout the process. Essentially, we spent several hours on shots we couldn’t use. A waste of time. But as they say in the business, “Shut up and get it done or we’ll kick you out and not feed you lunch.” We really wanted lunch.

1:30p.m. : The guys in the service bay were our easiest shots of the day. It’s clear that all of them take their jobs seriously and reflect a passion for everything they do. This is exactly the kind of sentiment we wanted to capture in our commercials. They are real. They do what they do every day without complaint. It was nice to see them blossom as ambassadors for BMW of Chattanooga. Kudos to them for doing what they do and making our jobs easier.

3:30p.m. :  After a heated exchange amongst our team about the wasted time and who ate the last doughnut, we finally ventured out again to reshoot the scenes from this morning. Luckily, we were able to snag an excellent actress. Originally, we had used a much shorter person as the “employee” but had to alter our plans when the actress walked in. She was very tall. We shot the scenes that made it into the commercial over the next few hours. I befriended an 8-year-old girl and we discussed how exciting it was to be involved in a real commercial shoot. It’s easy to feel jaded after a long day’s work, but there’s a certain part of me that kept the sense of magic alive. The little girl was right; shooting a commercial IS really cool and interesting. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the day to forget how awesome doing this really is.

5p.m. : The final shots of the day feature the “big hoss” of the BMW complex, Daniel Bellemare. Originally, he was reluctant to be in the commercial for reasons that are obvious. This commercial was to highlight BMW “pledge points” that are the core of every BMW dealership. We’re thankful Daniel caved at the end because his presence on screen is a heck of a shot. He says the pledge point about “time” with gusto and feeling. Once this shot was completed, we all felt a large heaviness lift and the realization we were finished — at least with this part — was a wonderful period on a very long day’s work.

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