Made in Frame: The New Ford Bronco
Few vehicles are more iconic than the Ford Bronco.
With a passionate following of die-hard enthusiasts, the rollout of the new and redesigned Bronco (the first since ceasing production in 1996) was one of the most anticipated events in recent automotive history.
So when COVID interrupted the massive marketing campaign, the Ford team needed to rethink their entire strategy. As the world struggled to contain the virus, reconceiving the rollout—which centered around a live roadshow beginning with the June 2020 North American International Auto Show in Detroit—was a massive effort in itself.
Working through the logistics and limitations surrounding social distancing while still showcasing an event of this magnitude required a bold and innovative approach.
“Built Wild for a thrilling off-road experience” is how Ford touts the new line of Broncos. And in today’s Made in Frame, we’ll tell you about how the intrepid teams at Riverside Entertainment partnered with Bruton Stroube/Outpost to create an iconic branded film whose creative process mirrors that description.
A rugged schedule
Disney CreativeWorks partnered with Oscar-winning director Jimmy Chin (Free Solo) and Ford’s Detroit agency, GTB, to conceive a three-film package. The series features recognized climbers—Jimmy himself, Olympic hopeful Brooke Raboutou, and country music star Kip Moore—as they each take one of the new Bronco models out into the wild.
The three 3-minute films aired on National Geographic, ESPN, and ABC during the first commercial break in the 8:00 PM (EDT) hour on July 13, a first-ever primetime product reveal “roadblock” designed for maximum audience reach.
With the productions shared between Stept Studios (LA) and Riverside Entertainment (Nashville/LA), they took a divide-and-conquer approach with creatives spanning the U.S. That alone would have been challenging under normal circumstances. But with COVID playing a significant role in how live shoots can be safely accomplished, an extra level of complexity was added.
And what would a groundbreaking, high-stakes package be without an aggressively tight deadline and weather delays?
Given their history of partnering on ambitious projects, Jeff Molyneaux, EP at Riverside Entertainment, knew that only Lucas Harger of St. Louis-based Bruton Stroube/Outpost could handle the athletic task of taking a three-minute spot from dailies to air in a week’s time.
The two have partnered on other similarly demanding projects—most notably a spot for Cadillac featuring Regina King that aired during last year’s Oscars broadcast—and Jeff knew that Lucas could endure the rugged schedule.
A bumpy ride
While Stept Studios handled the films featuring Jimmy Chin and Brooke Raboutou, Riverside focused on the Kip Moore film.
Set to Moore’s song “Red White Blue Jean American Dream,” the short film follows him as the four-door Bronco takes him to lushly remote locations where he mountain bikes, climbs rock walls, runs trails, and, at day’s end, plays his guitar and sings in his peaceful campsite, away from the demands of his rough-and-tumble music business day job.
Riverside had approximately two weeks from the date of award to the first day of the shoot to create storyboards, scout locations, book crew, and deal with the considerable logistics of how they would physically manage a demanding production—in relatively inaccessible locations—while adhering to the guidelines for a safe, socially distanced environment.
If it sounds daunting, it’s because it was. “We could have made it easier on ourselves,” Jeff says. “We could have shot it right near downtown Nashville.” But as a self-described car and outdoor enthusiast, it was a passion project and he knew that the creative vision of this film needed to be properly realized.
“We had a PM who loves the outdoors, so she decided to take on the scout herself,” Jeff says.
“Every day, she’d drive within a three-hour radius of Nashville—to national parks or other locations—and then hike in anywhere from one to five miles, which is all we could allow because we’d have to get all our gear in on our backs for the actual shoot. We also had another location that we thought would be our spot, but they backed out two days before the shoot. On top of that, some of the national parks require an 18-30 day in advance permit application.”
Eventually, they settled on three locations that would accommodate the crew, the gear, and the type of terrain that would best showcase the Bronco’s muscular features, and the three-day shoot was scheduled.
A heavy lift
The permits for the parks limited the crew to ten people for two of the three shoot days. Beyond that, Jeff had to specifically hire people capable of hauling gear for a round trip of seven miles.
The small and sturdy team included the director, producer, DP, camera assistant, still photographer, production assistant, talent (and his assistant), and Jeff—who carried approximately 90 pounds of gear on his very own back as they scrambled over rocks to reach the locations where Kip performed his impressive feats of in-front-of-the-camera athleticism.
Originally scheduled as a Monday through Wednesday shoot, the weather had other ideas. Twice on the first shoot day they had to shut down for lightning, and “the beautiful waterfalls had to be color corrected in post because they turned to brown rivers,” Jeff says. “The Tuesday shoot had to be cancelled and rebooked for Thursday. I lost my original crew because of schedule conflicts, so we basically were left to produce the shoot the day before it happened.”
They’d rented gear, uncertain about what they’d actually be able to use under the changing conditions. “We had a MotoCrane Russian arm, but we didn’t know if it would get stuck in the mud. We couldn’t bring in our Condor because we couldn’t get to the location anymore for lighting. Everything was shifting, so we really didn’t know what we were getting into until the day before.”
On the “big” shoot day, nearly 50 people were on hand. Luckily, the sun came out and they were able to capture the driving footage, along with the setup of Kip playing the guitar and singing at the campsite location.
Lucas knew that getting the spot done would require a big push, especially with the weather delays, and they were already planning to work the July 4th weekend.
But as Jeff’s go-to editor and a Bronco enthusiast himself, he shared Jeff’s passion for the project and was all in. And really, what symbolizes America more than a Ford Bronco and a country star?
“They wrapped the shoot on Friday night,” Lucas said. “And then a PA brought the drives down from Nashville to St. Louis—I think she handed them off to me at about 2:00 am at my house. I grabbed a few hours of sleep and then dove in.”
Having recently pivoted from working solely at the studio to working from home due to quarantine, Lucas was able to easily start the project from his house on Saturday morning.
Because Bruton Stroube and Riverside are longtime Frame.io users and frequently work together, everyone functioned within the project as collaborators. Riverside likes to aggregate all their elements in Frame.io—production stills, graphics, treatments—so that Lucas has easy access to everything he needs. And vice versa.
On a tight schedule like this, it was important that the key creatives have the immediate ability to exchange ideas, notes, and assets. “It’s super seamless,” Lucas says. “They have full access to the under-the-hood mechanics of our Frame.io project and can go in whenever they want to check on progress or generate their own links to send to the clients for review.”
Equally important was the communication with the crew at Stept. The three films needed to feel creatively cohesive, and they needed to share assets such as graphics, text, and the pre-cut brand “anthem” pieces (previously produced by agency Wieden + Kennedy) that ended each film.
The look and feel had been established in pre-production with Jimmy and the production company, of course, but ensuring that each individual film hadn’t strayed too far from the original concept was also essential. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t wander too far and become an island, because it had to feel as though our piece lived within the family,” Lucas says.
On top of that were the many clients who had eyes on these films. From Disney’s Bob Iger to Ford’s COO Jim Farley (and their agency) to the three broadcast networks, Jeff estimates that somewhere between 15-20 key stakeholders needed to weigh in.
Lucas had the first assembly done by end of day on July 4th. He refined the cut enough to start sending it out on the 5th and 6th. The week of the 6th was “all about kicking links back and forth and letting them disperse,” he says. Bruton Stroube/Outpost sound designer and mixer Steve Horne “really got his hands dirty on the 10th and 11th,” Lucas says.
Colorist Brian Singler did final grading throughout the week using Outpost’s remote grading workflow, wherein they send the clients a color-calibrated iPad and, with Brian working in DaVinci Resolve, are able to conduct an accurate supervised session.
Just because they had only a week to go from asset upload to delivery (which they did on July 11th for a July 13th air date) doesn’t mean they cut any corners. If anything, the Outpost way of working remotely with Frame.io helped them to easily bring on a couple of VFX artists to take the already beautiful photography to a new level.
“The fun part of commercial editing is being able to go way above and beyond. I’m constantly looking for ways to take a shot into the realm of ‘How the hell did they get that?’” Lucas says.
“We got the spot into good enough shape so that we could have a couple of VFX artists—one in Ohio and one outside of St. Louis—work on adding some pizazz, like sky replacements, the lightning bugs around the fire, or…a deer!”
Just as many commercial directors have areas or genres they specialize in—comedy, kids, cars, food—many editors are similarly specialized.
But not Lucas. His ability to cut a vast array of projects is just one of his superpowers. From thirty-second spots to scripted films to short- or long-form documentaries, Lucas approaches each with a unique view.
“It’s about understanding the requirements of the brand and making it the best that it can possibly be for what it is—and not trying to make it something it’s not,” he says.
“This week I’m cutting for Bronco. Next week I’m working on something for the Primetime Emmys broadcast. After that, I’m back on a feature documentary. Being as genre agnostic as I am allows me to not try to turn a talking head commercial into something else.”
Except that sometimes a project can defy easy categorization—like the Bronco films. Part car spot, part sports documentary, part character study, it took all of Lucas’s skills to mesh those elements into a fluid whole that was visually arresting and viscerally exciting.
Finding the right balance between focusing on the Bronco and telling Kip’s story was vital to the success of the film. “The most interesting part of this project was applying a high level concept to a brand identity piece,” he says.
“You have a lot that could compete—Kip, who’s kind of literally a rock star, and the locations, and all the textures. You have to wrangle them in and calm them down so that they work in unity and it all feels effortless. I wanted to lean way into showing the Bronco in all its badass epicness, getting beat to shit and muddy and just ripping around. And I think the clients really responded to making the Bronco a co-star with Kip.”
One of the reasons this approach succeeded so well was Riverside’s decision to intentionally avoid shots of Kip talking directly to camera. They interviewed him separately and used portions of his answers as the voice over, weaving it together with the song to create a kind of “tone poem.”
An editor who likens cuts and dissolves to periods and commas, Lucas explores ways to create maximum emotional communication. “When I read a poem, I feel it even before I understand it,” he says. “That’s what I want my cuts to do. And that’s what was important about this piece.”
As Kip explains in the film, he has a passion for music and for nature, and we see how the Bronco enables him to strike a balance between his two passions.
Lucas has long collaborated with Outpost’s Steve Horne, and is always intentional about how he cuts to ensure that Steve can elevate it through his sound design.
“Great sound design starts in the edit,” Lucas says. “You have to build the space into the timeline to let the sound designer do their thing, even before you start editing. If you have too much going on, you can’t let the audio breathe.”
Even while Lucas was cutting picture, prior to Steve’s full-on work days, Lucas was sharing cuts with him in Frame.io so they could play with different ideas. “I’d try something and want his eyes on it so he could start to ruminate and think about how he could start sketching out his sound design,” Lucas says.
Steve and Lucas had given Riverside a list of the kinds of sounds they wanted—the car going through the water, the gravel, the grass. The sound of the tires on that particular wet rock. “Ford had already supplied us with an engine pack for the engine sounds, but we wanted those specific moments to really make it feel immediate and authentic,” Lucas says.
The muscularity of the car sounds with the full performance mix of the song creates a sense of adventure and excitement, highlighting Kip’s unbridled joy of being out in nature and letting loose. Which, when contrasted with his solo acoustic performance of the song by the campfire, with the gentle sounds of nature at night surrounding him, underscores the peaceful introspection he feels when connecting with the vast quietness of the outdoors.
A thrilling outcome
With all three spots airing as planned on July 13, 2020, not only did the launch reach millions of viewers simultaneously across the three networks, they also garnered millions of additional views across Hulu, YouTube, and social media.
To say that the campaign was a success is an understatement of the highest order. Covered across the media and touted by Fast Company as an “audacious” launch, it seems clear that this kind of creative collaboration of powerhouse players will pave the way for more such campaigns.
Ford’s COO even went out of his way to express his appreciation for the effort and the results. “These digital assets are among the best I have ever seen. Congrats to you and the Ford and Disney teams…in creating these unbelievable products and the opportunity to create a new brand within Ford.”
As for Riverside and Outpost, both Jeff and Lucas agree that it was “a dream project,” and one that Frame.io truly helped make happen, both logistically and creatively.
“With a schedule this tight, people need to be able to contribute their ideas whenever they have them,” Lucas says. “We had people putting notes in at 11pm, at 1am. Not because they expected us to address them right then, but because if ideas are flowing, it’s great to be able to add them spontaneously, whenever you feel like it.”
Helping creatives achieve their dream projects by solving problems of time and distance? We couldn’t ask for anything better.