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Behind the Scenes: Tim McGraw for Pennzoil

August 23, 2012 //  How To Back to posts

Roles: Director, Editor, Color Grade

Production Company: Variable

Directors: Variable & Joey L

Cinematographers: Khalid Mohtaseb & Jonathan Bregel

Executive Producer: Tyler Ginter

Producer: Sasha Wyroba

Art Director: Joseph Sciacca

RC Helicopter: SnapRoll Media

Post Production: Variable & Joey L

Original Score: Mike Mcfadden

Agency: Doner

Creative Directors: Justin Smith and Stephen Osterman

Client: Pennzoil

The Campaign

Our automobiles can say a lot about who we are. We all have a car story. For Tim Mcgraw, driving a car means freedom. To hit the road, to listen to music. The open road of his rural environment is a constant source of inspiration. Its landscape plays a role in crafting his award winning country music. Where Tim first begins thinking about his music is ultimately where most of it is consumed. Tim’s songs give his fans a soundtrack for their own drives, and a melodic score to the places and experiences their vehicles take them.

Pennzoil and it’s advertising agency, Doner, commissioned Variable and I for a video and photo collaboration shot on location in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Video

This was another project that allowed me to work with my good friends at Variable – a video production company based in New York, NY. We share a lot of the same tastes when it comes to cinematography and production style. This makes for an ideal situation not only because it allows for a higher production value for the client (building only one set, often sharing equipment, talent schedules, etc.) but it also provides consistency between photo and video. In this project, I was both capturing the photographs as well as directing the video.

The morning of the shoot came way too early – we woke up at 3am, began setting up the first shot at 4am, and began shooting at 6am. Treacherous, yes, but nobody cared- We were all too busy gawking over Snaproll Media’s custom built remote-controlled helicopter. That thing flew a $$$$RED Epic$$$$ over a pond of water. (Yikes.) However, they pulled it off flawlessly as they always do. The sun was just coming up behind an atmospheric overcast day as we got the first shot. For the rest of the day, a lot of time was spent driving around in Tim McGraw’s Jeep, (probably looking like a bunch of hooligans.) The video above gives a great behind the scenes look into the making of the film.

The Ad Photograph

This photo setup consisted of three strobe lights, plus the ambient natural light (overcast daylight). The key light was a Briese 140 Focus Umbrella, about 8 feet up to camera left. This allowed a soft, yet contrasty light to fall from above on the subject. It was positioned high enough to create interesting dimension, but diffused enough to keep the shadows from being too dramatic. The other two strobes used were for adding backlight. Both were Profoto Beauty dishes powered by 7B battery units. The first beauty dish (camera left) was mounted about 12 feet high and 30 feet back. This not only skimmed the side of the Jeep in the background, but it also provided a faint rim light behind Tim McGraw.

he tricky part was the third light. We beamed it through a beauty dish 6 feet high to camera right, behind the subject. Although it was an overcast day, I wanted some yellowish/orange color to match the advertisement layout and the product (specifically, the yellow color of the oil bottle). If the sky had been clear that day, the setting sun would have created this back light on the subject for us. However, the weather wasn’t in our favor…. so it had to be created. In order to create the effect of a warm sunset light, we covered the beauty dish with a 1/2 CTO filter. That did the trick, and you can see the slight yellow light on the darker back side of Tim’s face.

The last component for lighting was a silver bounce board. This was crucial since Tim was wearing a cowboy hat, which blocked a lot of the light coming down from the key light. Placing the silver bounce board below the key light aimed up at the subject allowed us to bounce light on his face, and also another catchlight in his eyes.

In Conclusion

I feel very fortunate to be part of this project. This was the first time I’ve ever been to Nashville… and how fitting that it was spent on Tim McGraw’s ranch.


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Russ Robinson // August 23, 2012 13:00

Using the CTO rim was pretty brilliant here. I probably wouldn't have thought to do that, but you're absolutely right that it helps tie everything together from a product perspective, and also gives the faint appearance of a sunset in the background. Great stuff, Joey!

Alex // August 23, 2012 19:29

Great work! thks for share! Joey

Ofir Abe // August 23, 2012 20:05

very well done. love how it got relatively simple to make air shots.
can i ask about the placement of Tim on the still shot?
it's a pretty 'Hard Sale' position. is this what the client asks? who gives the order in those cases? could it be done in an other way?

Aaron Nystrom // August 23, 2012 20:14

That looks like a fun shoot. Thanks for the window into your day at the ranch.

Joe Gunawan // August 24, 2012 03:05

Excellent behind the scenes as always Joey! Can I repost this on site that I blog on? It's


Joe Gunawan
SLR Lounge Editor

Carlos Cabezas // August 24, 2012 03:43

Great Work like always, I want to have a Jeep now it looks so cool from the air , (risky risky $$$$) !!! =)

William Clayton // August 24, 2012 04:58

Thanks for breaking down your lighting for us -- it's great for learning and we appreciate your images even more!

Lee Duguid // August 24, 2012 05:43

Always great to see some behind the scenes. How was the footage from the moving jeep stabilized? Or was it not used?

Shaun Hollingsworth // September 26, 2012 08:43

The only thing that doesn't make sense to me here is the CTO on that particular light. You've got a rather hot fill on the Jeep camera left, yet you emulate the sunset from camera right...but maybe that's what you were going for!

Courtney Marie // October 08, 2012 15:23

OMG, Tim McGraw, A Red Wrangler, and Your Photography?! I don't think this shoot could be any better!

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