Tuesday, January 21, 2014

4 reasons the Tesla Model S is the camera car for 2014

Anybody can fasten a camera to a tripod and shoot video of a car as it drives by.  Case in point: the thousands of videos on YouTube made by aftermarket exhaust companies showcasing their pipes with full-throttle fly-by's.  But, watch any video longer than two minutes and you'll see that the common, "traditional" ways of shooting - with a stationary camera - can become utterly boring.  To remedy this, production crews utilize a camera on the front of a chase car, a lead vehicle with a camera attached to the back, or a camera crew working from the inside of a vehicle and thus are able to transform the nature of the moving images not just in their nature when it comes to cinematography, but also in terms of the energy of the clips themselves...just ask anybody who has ever watched an episode of Top Gear, Fifth Gear, The Smoking Tire, /DRIVE network productions...or pretty much anything every made involving cars.

Let's go back in time: 1968's Bullitt had cameras inside Steve McQueen's Mustang and the bad guys' Charger as they raced throughout the streets of San Francisco in "the most famous movie chase of all time."  Today, everything from multi-million dollar motorsports to budget-drifting involves in-car camera footage.  How do you think GoPro became a household name?

About the vehicles that are used to film the car that is the subject of the review, challenge, whatever the segment be: we know the British chaps over at the BBC use the tried-and-true Range Rover.  Whether you have noticed it or your eyes simply glazed over one, if you pay even marginal attention while watching Top Gear, you've seen a camera car.  They're always black, usually seen with two or three crew members hanging out the back, and you can easily pick them out when they use a shot from the camera inside the subject car that sits just behind the driver and points forward, capturing the road ahead.  And aside from the British blokes being quite loyal to their home-grown SUV, there are legitimate reasons from a videography standpoint as to why it makes sense as their go-to for filming: a high vantage point which is great for getting hood-height footage, a smooth ride over just about any surface making it easy to stabilize the camera, and enough room in the back to enable the camera operators to sit behind the rear seats in relative comfort while the TG hosts drive around the camera vehicle in clouds of petrol-propelled smoke.  But while it doesn't seem that Top Gear is going to start using a different camera vehicle any time soon, maybe it's time for other production companies to consider an alternative, a car that would probably not cross most minds when looking for a utilitarian vehicle, and one that ten years ago would have been looked upon as a space-ship from the future.  This car, the one that could revolutionize camera car use, is the electric-driven time-machine from California, a project overseen by national madman and wild entrepreneur Elon Musk: it's the Tesla Model S.

To keep it simple, let's break down how the Tesla is perfect for this:

Exhibit A:  the twenty-first century breakthrough.  Unfortunately, the Tesla is not a camera car you could take cross-country to film with every single day - unless you have access to charging stations or the "SuperChargers" - but if you're in SoCal and need to run to the hills to shoot some chase footage, electric propulsion is perfect propulsion.  Electric motors mean two standout advantages specific to this situation: first, instant torque so you can keep up better than in a Range Rover (more on this later).  Second, relative silence from the vehicle itself, enabling you to capture some audio from the subject car's exhaust as you would actually hear it, rather than putting a microphone right next to the exhaust itself.  Genuine exhaust sounds would resonate (damn right that pun was intended) well with the audience that wants to hear a car as it truly sounds.  As long as you're charged, you're good to go.

Exhibit B:  the Model S is faster than the RR or pickup you're using.  With a 0-60 happening between 5-6 seconds it's a relatively quick car, and electric power means instant torque throughout the whole powerband.  And although it will have a hard time keeping up with the supercar or heavily-modified tuner you're filming, it will keep up for the most part, especially with a good driver at its helm.  Handling isn't too shabby either, with Motor Trend recording .92 g on the skidpad; canyon roads, anyone?  Combine these acceleration and handling figures along with the electric motor's power and you're in a car that will do pretty dang well keeping up...or at least better than the old Range that Top Gear has come to love so much.

Performance electric cars, futuristic technology available today

Exhibit C:  rear jump seats.  Sitting behind the rear seats of a Range isn't exactly legal, nor is sitting in the bed of a pickup...unless you're in Virginia and it's registered as a farm truck and you're traveling under 25 MPH...so basically, you're forced to rig a camera setup so that you don't have to be back there capturing the actual video yourself.  Solution a la Model S: rear jump seats.  Sure, they're pretty tight and only meant for children, but even with the rear hatch open and you sitting squeezed into the seat it's safer than it is to be sliding around in the back of a full-size SUV, assuming the film car doesn't get hit by the subject car.  Or rationalize it by the fact that if you fell out it would be a shorter fall to the pavement than from the off-road height of the RR.  The bottom line is that having mini rear-facing jump seats is better than no mini rear-facing jump seats, and the stability of being bolstered in as opposed to flopping about could translate to more stable filmography as well.  And these jump seats translate to the next part, Exhibit D:

...vs this

Exhibit D:  safety.  Everybody heard the news that the NHTSA proclaimed the Model S as the "safest car they had ever tested."  Soooo maybe it's a little different when the hatch is open and you're exposed to moving vehicles crashing into you without any real rear end protection.  Let's pretend the NHTSA rating matters in a scenario like this.  It's a safe car, another positive, and Evidence D.

So there you have it, four major points as to why the Tesla Model S is the camera car for the 21st century.  While the camera footage used in car reviews has evolved drastically over the years (compare the first few Top Gear series to a recent series and tell me it hasn't gotten better), the vehicle most frequently used hasn't been adapted accordingly.  Calling the BBC: maybe it's time to move into the future by trying out the Tesla Model S, the most perfect camera car...in the world.

- Ross, 1/21/14