I got the call from Bjork. Well, she didn't ring me personally, but someone from a film production company did. They wanted a Frogeye Sprite I owned to appear in the Icelandic songstress' latest video. Was I interested?
There was no mention of a fee, or how I was going to get an open, unroadworthy car to an east London film studio. In the end I arranged the transport. But got the film company to pay for it. And I ensured that the car was covered under its props insurance policy, I never let the car out of my sight and I manoeuvred it on set. I had done everything possible to protect my scruffy pride and joy. Other car-stars have been less lucky. In 1995 Paul Watts was the proud owner of an immaculate Ford Corsair 2000E, a classic Sixties saloon that he had rebuilt for pounds 3,000. He got a call from a company which was shooting a 10-minute film called Pieces of the Moon for Anglia Television. Watts handed over the car to an actor for a sequence showing it towing a Sixties vintage caravan on the Al1 near Norwich. As the car gathered speed, the caravan began to weave violently, eventually pulling them across the road and causing extensive damage to both. (That however, did not dent the success of the film, which went on to win a number of prizes).
According to those in the industry, problems start when film companies deal direct with car owners rather than going through a recognised props supplier, such as Ten Tenths. That is a company set up by Nick Mason, Pink Floyd drummer and classic car enthusiast, as a way of putting his huge collection of cars, motorcycles and aeroplanes to work. Michael Hallows, who runs the hire operation, makes it clear that any vehicle can be useful to film makers and advertisers. You do not need a vehicle as exotic as a Bugatti, or classically conventional as an old Jaguar. Ten Tenths was once asked for a silver Ford Transit which was apparently harder to find than a polka-dot Ferrari. The company even keeps a register of motoring ephemera, such is the demand for authentic goggles, helmets, badges, petrol cans and even petrol pumps to dress film sets and studios.
Having discovered that your old banger will get you into the film business, the first step is to register it. Ten Tenths will send you a form asking about the year, make, model, colour and so on, but perhaps the two most important elements are some colour snaps and an assessment of the condition marked out of 100. It pays to be honest: one film company asked for a pink Cadillac and was horrified to discover on set that the colour in fact consisted of household emulsion.
Once your details are entered on computer it is then a case of "resting" until a film company makes enquiries. Often the brief is very vague - the request might simply be for "an old blue convertible". The actual audition consists of the client sifting through the registration details. Ten Tenths will let owners know that they are up for a job in case they are using their cars at the time, or simply taking them to bits.
If the car is free, it is put forward and the owner informed whether it is required for a location film, or studio still. That is an important distinction because a studio shot is mostly tied up in a day whereas location work is unpredictable, especially where British weather is concerned. Be prepared to be parted from your car for some time. Of course, you can attend the shoot, but as I can attest, watching paint dry is only slightly less interesting. However, I can thoroughly recommend the excellent catering, probably the best slap-up grub anywhere.
If you cannot afford the time, or feel that life is too short to be spent hanging around, prop companies like Ten Tenths not only transport your car, but also send a minder with it. Those are skilled professional drivers who protect the honour of your vehicle at all times. There is a fund of horror stories involving over-enthusiastic directors. Doors are unbolted, and cameramen are strapped to bonnets in search of the elusive great shot. So the minder suggests ways that the same effect can be achieved without permanent damage. Best of all, the company representative is there to ensure that a thespian does not try out his or her method acting techniques on your gearbox.
So what about the money? Ahh the money, it depends on what you can negotiate, and the car's value and rarity. Try operating on a daily rate starting at pounds 100. Not a bad day's work for most of us, never mind a car. Just remember that a reputable company will transport your car to and from an event, not charge you any registration fees and provide proof of insurance. If in doubt then it is probably best to remain out of the limelight.
Leave the last words to Paul Watts who had his Ford Corsair crunched in the name of art: "With the benefit of hindsight, I would say that if you want to see your car on television buy a camcorder."
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