Making Of Honda Ad


It took them 606 takes:

Here is a news story on the making of (watch the commercial before
you read the article):


Lights! Camera! Retake!

(Filed: April 13, 2003)

The Honda Accord campaign launched last week looks certain to become
an advertising legend. Quentin Letts goes behind the scenes.

Six hundred and six takes it took, and if they had been forced to do
a 607th it is probable, if not downright certain, that one of the
film crew would have snapped and gone mad.

On the first 605 occasions something small, usually infuriatingly
minute, went just slightly awry and the whole delicate arrangement
was wrecked. A drop too much oil there, or here maybe one
ball-bearing too many giving a fraction too much impetus to the
movement. Whirr, creak, crash, the entire, card-house of
was a write-off and they had to start again.

Honda's latest television advertisement, a two-minute film called
"Cog", is like a fine-lubricated line of dominoes. It begins with a
transmission bearing which rolls into a synchro hub which in turn
rolls into a gear wheel cog and plummets off a table on to a
and pulley wheel. All the parts are from the new Honda Accord -
16,495 to you, guv'nor, or 6 million if you want to pay for the
advertising campaign. And what an amazing ad campaign it is, too.

Back on Cog, things are still moving, in a what-happened-next manner
redolent of "there was an old woman who swallowed a fly". With a
and a ding of metal on metal, a thud of contact and the occasional
thwock, plop and extended scraping sound, the viewer watches as
individual, stripped-down parts of car roll into one another and set
off more reactions.

Three valve stems roll down a sloped bonnet. An exhaust box is
with just enough energy into a rear suspension link which nudges a
transmission selector arm which releases the brake pedal loaded with
a small rubber brake grommit. Catapult! Boing! On goes the beautiful
dance, everything intricately balanced and poised. Nothing must be
even a sixteenth of an inch off course or the momentum will be lost.

At one point three tires, amazingly, roll uphill. They do so because
inside they have been weighted with bolts and screws which have been
positioned with fingertip care so that the slightest kiss of kinetic
energy pushes them over, onward and, yes, upward. During the
pre-shoot set-ups, film assistants had to tiptoe round the set so as
not to disturb the feather-sensitive superstructure of the arranged
metalwork. The slightest tremor of an ill-judged hand could have
undone hours of work.

Utter silence, a check that the lighting is just right, and
"action!". Scores of grown men hold their breath as the cameras
An oil can is tipped and glugs just enough of its contents on to a
shelf that has been weighted with a Honda flywheel. Some valve
springs roll into the oil and are slowed to a pace perfect to make
them drop into a cylinder head assembly.

If all these technical names are confusing, that is partly the
The advertisement was designed to show motorists all the fiddly
little bits of engineering that go into the modern Honda. The
in this film at least, is something approaching mechanical
and a bewitching aesthetic. As car adverts go, it certainly beats
"Nicole! Papa!" school of commercial.

If nothing else, Cog is a welcome departure from the generality of
car advertisements that feature winding-road landscapes, empty
highways and clear blue skies. The absence of people from the
commercial at least saved Honda having to make any regional

It will be able to be shown everywhere from Japan to South America,
Finland to the Maldives, without any more alteration than perhaps a
change of the closing voiceover, currently delivered by laid-back
Garrison Keillor, the American author, who announces: "Isn't it nice
when things just work?"

Cog looks certain to become an advertising legend and part of its
allure is the seemingly effortless way the relay of parts slide and
touch and roll with such apparent ease. The reality of the film's
production was slightly different. It was, by most measures of human
patience, a nightmare.

Filming was done over four near-sleepless days in a Paris studio,
after one month of script approval, two months of concept drawings
and a further four months of development and testing. One of the
surprising things about the ad is that it was not a cheat. Although
it would have been much easier to fiddle the chain of events by
computer graphics, the seesaw and shunt of events really did
and in one, clean take.

The bigshots at Honda's world headquarters in Japan, when shown Cog
for the first time, replied that yes, it was very clever, and how
impressive trick photography was these days. When told that it was
all real, they were astonished.

One of the more striking moments in the film is when a lone
windscreen wiper blade helicopters through the air, suspended from a
line of metal twine. "That was the first and last time it worked
properly," recalls Tony Davidson, of the London-based advertising
agency Wieden & Kennedy. "I wanted it to look like ballet."

After that, a few yards and several ingenious connections down the
assembly line, another pair of windscreen wiper blades is squirted
an activated washer jet. Because Honda wipers have automatic sensors
that can detect water, they start a crablike crawl across the floor.
It is as though they have come to life.

As take 300 led to 400 which led to 500, a certain madness settled
the crew. Rob Steiner, the agency producer, started talking about
"our friends, the parts", but in the slightly menacing tone of a
primary school teacher discussing her charges at the end of a trying
day. Some workers on the film went whole days without sleep and had
to be asked to stay away from the more delicate parts of the
assembly. Others started to have bad dreams about throttle activator
shafts and bonnet release cables.

When things were going wrong - a tire that kept trundling off to the
left, or a rocker shaft that kept toppling over like a tipsy cyclist
- the production lads on the shoot would start grumbling that "the
parts are being very moody today".

Commercial makers are often accustomed to working with human prima
donnas but no Hollywood starlet, no basketball prodigy or showbiz
celeb, was ever as troublesome and unpredictable as the con rods and
pulley wheels and solenoids that Davidson, Steiner and Co had to

Towards the end of the production, Olivier Coulhon, the first
assistant director, had spent so many hours in the darkened studio
that his skin had turned a luminous green and his eyes had sunk deep
into his Gallic cheeks.

Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, the commercial's director, kept puffing out
his cheeks and whinnying, a note of deranged despair twitching at
corners of his mouth. Asked how long he had been working on the
commercial, he gave a high-pitched giggle and replied: "Five years?
Or is it eight?" It felt that long.

Two hand-made pre-production Accords - there were only six in
existence in the entire world - were needed for the exercise, one of
them being ripped apart and cannibalized to the considerable
of Honda engineers. By the end of the months-long production, the
film had used so many spare parts that two articulated lorries were
required to take them away.

The idea for the advert derived partly from the old children's game
Mouse Trap, and from the wacky engineering of Caractacus Potts's
breakfast-making machine in the Sixties film Chitty Chitty Bang
The corporate suits at Honda liked the idea immediately, despite the
high costs of production and the fact that it was more than twice as
long, and therefore twice as pricey, as normal car ads.

The two-minute version of the ad ran for the first time last Sunday
during the Brazilian Grand Prix, and brought bar patrons across the
nation to a wide-eyed speechlessness after the Manchester United v
Real Madrid game on Tuesday night.

"It was a painstaking process, a tough experience," says Honda's
communications manager Matt Coombe, recalling the making of Cog.
of the original ideas, such as one stunt involving an airbag, had to
be dropped owing to a shortage of new Accord parts or simply because
they were too hard to set up. And on some takes the process would go
perfectly until agonizingly close to the end.

"It was like watching a brilliant soccer player weaving his way the
whole way through a defending team's players, and then shooting wide
right at the end," says Tony Davidson. The crew resorted to placing
bets on which part of the sequence would go wrong. Invariably it was
the windscreen wipers.

When the final, 606th take eventually succeeded, there was a stunned
silence around the Paris studio. Then, like shipwrecked mariners
finally realizing that their ordeal was at an end, the team broke
into a careworn chorus of increasingly defiant cheers and hurrahs.
Champagne bottles popped. The cylinder liner had brushed its nose
affectionately against the rocker shaft and the gear wheel cog for
the last time. The interior grab handles and the suspension spring
coils had done their bit. A classic was complete. Cog was in the

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