Tim Damon still remembers his first car: a 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix red convertible with red interior and white top. It was a pile of crap, as the Detroit-native remembers it, but with a lot of hard work he restored it to its former beauty. In fact, doesn’t have to remember the car – he drives it every day.
“It was a magical moment in my life when I got that car,” Damon, a self-described car junkie whose father owned an agency which had the American Motors account, remembers. “I lived out of that car for three months when I first moved to LA and had more than a few rough months. I love driving it. It kind of grounds me, keeps me hungry, keeps the fire in my belly.”
It’s that continuously burning flame in Damon’s engine that has led to his domination in the automotive advertising production world.
Beyond simply one of the most in - demand director/cinematographers specializing in automotive ads, Damon is also a true innovator in the art of capturing the high drama and intensity of cars zooming along exotic locations --from the bucolic natural surroundings to gritty urban landscapes and professional racetracks -- that have been the staple of auto advertising literally since the advent of television advertising.
Camera Car Expert:
Renowned for his expertise in the art of the camera car, Damon has helped elevate what was once standard car running footage to almost ‘Kubrickian’ heights thanks to an intense filmmaker’s curiosity about lenses, lighting and film stock, combined with a tinkerer’s mind. Damon’s Square Planet Media, is located in Gardena, CA.
“A lot of production companies today really misrepresent who they are when they say they do ‘integrated production’.” Damon says. “There's a lot of smoke and mirrors there. Here, I own everything – the motor homes, the camera cars, the cameras, the lens and the walkie-talkies, not to mention an 18,000 square foot stage that was built and customized for car shoots. We are truly turnkey: When we do a production. We have an editing base as well as a coloring base, so it is all done under our roof."
From Damon perspective, this access to a massive technological arsenal frees him creatively, knowing that whatever he can imagine he can put on film.
"I am a director and I'm a still photographer, and the reason these tools are relevant to my art and to my craft is that having it makes me a better artist,” he says. “It's truly liberating to envision a shot I want and know that I have the right tools, even if I have to build it it myself.”
Damon noted how just recently a client wanted a sophisticated camera move that began on the car’s navigation screen and moved through the car to show its three rows of seating and the large storage area. “There was no way a techno crane could do this,” he says, “it was too bulky and once we got to the third row, the gap between the top of the seats and the roof was very small. I needed to strip down an Alexa Mini camera and fabricate a mall arm to make it work.”
Damon’s current tool/camera car of choice is a 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo with a Russian Arm 6 with a 25 foot reach from the turret to the camera. That one is second only to his Ford Raptor. In total Damon has a fleet of 8 state-of-the-art camera cars.
“When I get in that seat, and I'm on that head, I know I'm one of a couple of dozen guys in the world who really knows what the they're doing when stooting cars,” Damon says. “If I'm on a track for BMW going 110 miles an hour into a turn -- that separates the men from the boys in this industry.”
Super Bowl Spot And A Coffee Table Book:
That separation has never been more stark than in Damon’s current crop of work, which includes ads for Infiniti, Acura, Toyota, BMW, Ford, BF Goodrich, Michelin tires, and his Lexus "Let's Play" ad, which wasn’t originally planned to air during the Super Bowl, but the agency and the brand were so pleased with it they ended up airing it during the big game.
However, two recent projects in particular stand out for Damon – his work for Nissan Titan and Indian Motorcycles, simply because of the integrated nature of the productions.
For the Nissan assignment, Damon was immersed for months in agency Designory’s goals for the project, both what they were at the outset and what they would become. With four or five production units going every day, including two print units, Damon shot everything from the main broadcast campaign, to the general running footage, accessories, corporate/sales content social media, demo videos and all of the print components.
Visually, the spot eschews the usual truck ad tropes, such as shots of rough-hewn men hauling across rugged terrain, in favor of a look inside the engineering of the vehicle by quick-cutting between heroic shots of the truck as it looks on the road with shots of the truck laid-bare with just its frame and engine revealed, making a powerful case for its quality.
Similarly in the spot “Carry The Torch” for Indian Motorcycles, another fully integrated live action and print production, Damon shot the running footage of bikes, as well as assorted beauty and lifestyle footage. The simple, yet effective concept reflecting the timeliness of this classic American brand, depicts a gang of motorcyclists each riding an Indian motorcycle from a different era, dating all the back to the 1920s through today.
For the assignment Damon used a state-of-the-art Russian Arm – a fully stabilized crane and remote head capable of nailing perfect tracking shots at speeds of up to 100mph. With it, he says, he captured and created images that would've been nearly impossible with a traditional approach.
Never fan of the traditional approach Damon has been craving his own path as a creative professional since he burst on the scene as photographer specializing in automotive work. Despite his 20 successful years focused primarily on print, Damon looked to expand and direct live action. Surprisingly, given the plethora of photographers over the years that have easily transitioned to directing ads and music videos, Damon’s goal was initially met with resistance.
“I'll never forget when I went into live action, I was sitting with an executive producer friend who said that I was devaluing my currency as a director if still did print and that it would to be a tough sell agencies.” Damon remembers. “I was like ‘why is it okay for photographers like David La Chappelle and Anton Corbijn to do both but not me?’”
Clearly he was right. All of Damon’s collective visual skills are on display in one of his most high profile campaigns in a decade for Honda’s NSX, which in addition to a live action TV and print campaign, also incorporates a 100 page coffee table book to be released in November, complete with a four minute DVD, into their bold marketing plan.
Working Solo And Collaborating:
Today Damon remains an in-demand photographer via his company Damon Productions, and a director/DP through his own live action production company Square Planet Media, Gardena, CA. In addition, after his departure from production company Bandito Brothers, Damon followed longtime producer Ryan Slavin to content creation studio The Reserve, Los Angeles, CA, who now also represents Damon for live action work and often utilizes Square Planet’s production resources for their other directors.
On his relationship with The Reserve, which he says accounts for about 50 percent of his work, Damon notes, “I like collaborating with people. When you only work on your own you tend to see things from only your perspective. It's nice to hear different ideas on what you’re doing, and I get that with Ryan and the other Reserve directors and producers.
Looking ahead the future seems bright. He’s just come off his best year ever in 2015, and right now 2016 is on course to be even better (knock wood).
Still, talk to Damon for any length of time and one gets the distinct feeling that if car advertising as a whole went away tomorrow, you’d still find Damon zooming on a race track inside his camera car, capturing breath-taking footage if only for his own delight.
“I often say if Leonardo da Vinci were alive today he’d be experimenting with a camera car,” Damon says. “The things you can do with them are so cool. There's so much excitement in the way you can get the light to dance on the car. When you do a move with that arm, it's magical. At the end of the day I’ll go back and look at what we shot and I still get goose bumps. I love what I do.”