Tim Damon is one of Hollywood’s most highly regarded car-commercial directors, but that’s not where it ends. In addition to his own production company, Square Planet, Tim’s also behind Filmotechnic USA, whose business is fully integrated camera-car systems. The fleet of custom vehicles Filmotechnic USA has assembled is designed to fulfill every conceivable client need, for any size production.
In this day and age, clients are more assertive, more informed and push to get “exactly” what they want from a shoot. Expectations are high and Tim Damon is not the guy who ever wants to say, “We can’t do that.”
And deliver – well, that’s where Tim Damon is a master at his craft.
Lots of directors are good at “getting the shot” understanding the nuances of automobile shooting, but Tim Damon takes “getting the shot” to a new level. Tim was never the guy who merely rented the gear he needed for any given automotive shoot, Damon took it upon himself to have amassed a purposeful collection of camera gear. With different grips, pieces and parts modified to exactly suit his preferences during a shoot.
His equipment includes a specially outfitted Hummer H2 camera car, a Porsche Cayenne with a stabilized crane arm, and even a Polaris ATV with a spring-mounted camera arm that tends to work as a second unit. Damon has a deep background in still photography, including his own production company for print work.
Recently I had the opportunity to work with Tim by providing all of the stunt driving in the Lexus IS F-Sport commercial.
I sat down with Tim and asked him a few questions for My Life at Speed. Here is “5 Minutes With….Tim Damon”.
GT: I have been lucky enough to be a part of many commercials that you have directed over the years, including the Lexus commercial that played throughout the Sochi Olympics. It was such a great commercial to shoot! Such innovation on how to get the shots…and it doesn’t hurt to have such an incredible vehicle to drive!
Tim Damon: GT, it was all thanks to your amazing driving! All I do is throw the camera around. If the car is not exciting and your moves aren’t on the edge, I got nothing but a car and a track. There are a lot of amazing drivers out there but it’s like dating and chemistry. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. I have been lucky over the years. There are a few drivers that I work with, where I don’t even have to work very hard to get what I have to get and you’re one of them. I wasn’t able to enjoy watching the Olympics after Sean White choked but when my commercial came on, I smiled. Hey even though America lost the medal count, Lexus won the commercial count—that commercial was on every other break!
GT: How did you get into the business?
Tim Damon: When I was 19, I thought I was going to become a professional skier, and then I blew my knee apart. I was on my way to a “Talking Heads” concert when my parents said, “What are you doing with the rest of your life now that you can’t compete in skiing anymore?” and I said, “Tonight I’m going to the Talking Heads” and they said, “No you’re not”. So after a four-hour discussion, I decided I was going to art school to study film and photography. And the rest is history.
GT: Tell me about the team required, amount of crew, etc…that it takes to bring your vision to life?
Tim Damon: As Hillary Clinton would say, “It takes a village”. WRONG. It takes an army of experienced warriors. It takes crazy, talented people to make things look amazing. The pressure is always on. Clients don’t hire me for “good” or “okay” they hire me because they want ‘great’ and I can’t do it on my own. So, to get great you need great people. Every job is different; sometimes I work with 10 people on my crew and other times it can be up to 110.
GT: You have always been innovative with the tools needed, an example being your high speed camera car and cranes. Tell me a little bit about those vehicles.
Tim Damon: I love fabricating stuff and creating new tools to shoot with. When I made the transition from print to live action, I was shocked due to budgets and time and lack of enthusiasm people had, to modify gear. Most were like, “This is the way we shoot and the way we’ve always shot.” I said “f*ck that” I want to do different stuff.
So I started working with fabricators to build different mounts and put cameras in different places. Now, we take it for granted to shoot those easy shots you see with a GO-PRO camera but 10 years ago, those types of shots were hard to get. Coming from a print background, with smaller and lighter cameras, I knew how to rig and build different types of platforms for the camera to get the shot I wanted.
I did the first full rig shot with Glen Necessary in 1991. At the time, it seemed impossible to get the shot that I envisioned. Glen built me a 20-foot arm on a Toyota truck for a commercial we were doing for Saatchi & Saatchi. That’s when I realized, you can push the envelope and you can shoot things differently. I just needed to surround myself with people who could make that happen.
It’s been fun to watch how the camera cars have evolved in the last ten years. When I got into this business, the camera cars were not highly modified. The performance was mediocre but with advances in suspension systems and horse power, it’s been a real game changer. We now take a Cayenne Turbo, for instance, from 450 horsepower to 650 horsepower, that 200 horsepower is the difference from a good shot to a great shot. When we used to shoot high performance vehicles, they drove circles around us, now we drive circles around them- literally. I recently was on a BMW job shooting an M5 with a Porsche Cayenne Turbo and we had no problem keeping up with that car…they actually had problems keeping up with us.
The cranes and heads have also really evolved in the last 10 years. The cranes are incredibly strong and agile. We used to spend a couple of weeks getting a car ready for the crane and the head, now it takes us 6 months to build the car out. For example, we completely reinforce the roofs to support the cranes. We reinforce the A pillars, B pillars and C pillars. We cut the dashes up to integrate HD monitors. We installed communication systems. We modified the truck for custom focus puller seats.
GT: It seems like you really enjoy the process of shooting…or getting the right shot.
Tim Damon: Yes, I enjoy the process. It doesn’t matter how much planning you do, at the end of every day, it’s 5 or 6 guys standing around figuring out how to do something for the next day, just to get the shot for the client.
We just recently finished our Ford Raptor. Roush Racing supercharged it. We had a custom suspension built. We built an entire XL skeleton to make the vehicle more rigid. The Raptor is now my favorite platform to shoot off of. When I put the extension on, I can get the camera 25 feet high.
GT: You are a car fanatic like me and I have seen you pull up on the set with some amazing cars. What have you owned? What is your favorite, and what could you not live without?
Tim Damon: I am so eclectic in my music and my car taste! Let’s start with the cars I can’t live without. My 1967 Gran Prix Convertible and my ’02 Aston Martin Vanquish, with nitrous, of course!
The other car I absolutely cannot live without is my 1999 Ferrari with 60,000 hard miles on it. I joke I drive this car like I hate it, but I love it. I had it out at Willow Springs two weeks ago and there’s nothing like that car. I also have a Cadillac CTS Coupe that Lingenfelter built me a 730 horsepower motor for it. It’s crazy fast, like oh sh*t fast. But it’s nothing like the Ferrari.
Okay let me go down the list of the cars I’ve owned:
- 1964 Thunderbird convertible
- 1966 Continental
- Lotus S
- A lowered Bentley with 22’s (what the f*ck was I thinking?)
- Porsche cayenne turbo,
- 1955 Chevy dragster that was 1200 horsepower
- 1996 Impala SS that was 800 horsepower— that one was un-drivable though.
I could go on and on…
Favorite car: ’67 Pontiac Grand Prix Convertible with red interior and a white top. When I first moved out to LA, I lived out of this car for 3 months due to a set of bad circumstances. To this day, I can’t stand the smell of Armor All.
GT: The Lexus spot was filmed at Miller Motorsports in Utah and we had the whole thing to ourselves, it was a kick ass facility, when can we go back and slide some more cars?
Tim Damon: You know I’ve shot at a lot of tracks just like you and that is an amazing track. Love the way it’s laid out. How about next week?
GT: Who do you think has the best “game” at the bar, racecar drivers or stuntmen?
Tim Damon: It’s a tie. I’ve seen them both in action on me and others! (laughs!)
GT: Thanks buddy always enjoy working on you team! Hope to see ya soon!
Tim Damon: Thanks GT see ya soon.
Here are some of Tim Damon’s other still car shots: