A Forward Look writer was on location during filming of the Chrysler “Who We Are” commercial with Berry Gordy. Here is that writer’s recap of events, followed by video of the commercial from the official Chrysler YouTube page.
From the Motor City to the Big Apple, the “D” to N-Y-C, the Chrysler 300 commands admiration and respect. The two entertainment institutions that best exemplify their respective cities, Motown Records and Broadway shows, have also earned that special admiration and respect. On one cool September night in 2012, Motown founder Berry Gordy and the new Chrysler 300 Motown Edition came together for a commercial celebrating the hardworking heritage that Detroit and New York City have—and the christening of a new take on earned luxury.
A brilliant white 2013 Chrysler 300 Motown Edition sat parked in front of the historic Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in midtown Manhattan on W. 46th Street, just 100 yards from the heart of Times Square. The Lunt-Fontanne, which opened in 1910, is the Broadway home of Motown: The Musical. Using it as a backdrop for the new Chrysler 300 Motown Edition commercial starring Berry Gordy was a no-brainer.
At around 7 p.m. a crowd began gathering in front of the Lunt-Fontanne. But not just any crowd—the stars and cast of Motown: The Musical. When Mr. Gordy descended upon the theater with his small entourage, director Charles Randolph-Wright, producer Kevin McCollum, and the cast were there to mingle and, of course, take some pretty lively photographs.
As the cast dispersed, the sun was setting on the city and the electricity on set was palpable. Between the ever-changing spectrum of lights and colors emanating from Times Square and the anticipation of filming a visionary and a special vehicle together, it was clear that everyone on set was ready for showtime. When Mr. Gordy returned to the set from his trailer, it was go time. The vehicle was wiped free of prints one last time, and everybody was in place.
Now, filming a commercial in New York City is one thing. But filming on a crowded street right next to Times Square? That takes some skill (and patience). With the help of New York’s finest, the NYPD, the head of the one-way street was blocked to traffic each time the director was ready to shoot. Next, water trucks slowly made their way down the street, spraying the cracked concrete down to give it a richer, more dynamic look in the shot. Then another production member jumped out with a portable spray hose to delicately cover the pavement surrounding the vehicle with water before the director yelled, “Action!”
Each shot in front of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre went through the same process, from capturing the vehicle slowly rolling up to the theater’s entrance to shots of Mr. Gordy getting out of the 300 Motown Edition to enter the theater. Every time the setup process began, throngs of people crowded up behind barriers in the designated shooting area. They had cameras and smartphones pointed at the vehicle and Mr. Gordy, catching a firsthand look at a process that most people never get to see.
The amazing thing about a commercial shoot is the amount of time and energy crew members and talent have to put in—all for one 30-second or one-minute spot. After shooting for four hours in front of the Lunt-Fontanne, one might have assumed the cameramen had captured enough footage to edit into a pretty good commercial. But that was just the beginning.
The next phase of shooting began around 11:30 p.m., down the block near W. 46th Street and 8th Avenue. This time, instead of blocking off the street, the city street became a part of the commercial. A 300 Motown Edition was loaded onto a special trailer customized for shooting film just like this. Several different cameras surrounded the vehicle to capture overhead shots, side shots, and basically any conceivable angle.
The goal? To capture the real essence of the 300 Motown Edition, to see its elegant and soulful lines in its natural habitat—urban streets. Once the cameras were in place, Mr. Gordy reappeared and entered the vehicle’s spacious backseat. When the crew was safely strapped in place, a heavy-duty pickup truck slowly began towing the trailer, moving into the center lane on 8th Avenue. Under the city lights, the 300 Motown Edition made several loops around 8th, passing by Times Square to the enjoyment of onlookers. The electric lights made the scene look bright as day. Mr. Gordy remained in the vehicle looking calm but confident, personifying the vehicle’s demeanor.
The final shooting phase began in the early hours of the morning, as the sun began to rise on the city. Photographers and filmmakers will tell you that nothing beats shooting in early morning light. The Manhattan Bridge provided the setting, a fitting metaphor for the Detroit-to-New York connection that so many people have made by working hard and earning it every step of the way.
While much of the city slept, one of the great visionaries of the 20th century was making his move in a special-edition vehicle worthy of bearing the Motown name. When shooting wrapped up and the hustle and bustle of a typical New York City weekday morning reached full swing, an indelible impression had already been made on the city streets. Berry Gordy, Motown Records, and the new 2013 Chrysler 300 Motown Edition put on a show worthy of the Broadway name.