Caffeine&Machine cultofmachine Cog in the Machine Making THAT Bugatti video: Al Clark

Making THAT Bugatti video: Al Clark

Want to make the most-viewed car commercial on YouTube? Call Al Clark, the filmmaker who makes manufacturers’ visions come to life.

It’s arguable that two things arrived in a very short space of time that completely changed the landscape of automotive filmmaking. One was the 2002 reboot of Top Gear, which instigated a shift away from the informative and dryly predictable visual format of motoring shows of old, and towards a series of heavily stylised pieces of miniature cinema.

The other, probably even more important, was the mass adoption of the internet and video hosting. Suddenly, independent filmmakers had an incredible tool at their disposal to put out their work to an audience able to access it freely. Car manufacturers began to pay attention to these shifts, and understand the marketing opportunities it offered them.

Not long after this auspicious alignment of stars, soon-to-be-filmmaker Al Clark was looking for a way out of an unhappy career in the music industry. With a clear impulse to do something that would provide a shot of adrenaline, Al dabbled in becoming a pilot for the RAF, before finding out eight months into the process that he’d been a matter of days over the maximum age to begin his training.

Looking to wheels instead of wings, he started a company running track days with a friend. “I ended up buying a couple of these little in-car cameras, and renting them out on track days, and bought a little camera to shoot cars trackside,” says Al.

Little did he realise at the time the opportunities this would open. The trackside filming led to a couple of shoots for clients in the motorsport world, before Car magazine came knocking in the early days of their online video presence. “My first proper paid gig was shooting Car’s review of the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport, so that was a pretty cool start.” It also opened the door to a gig shooting a promotional film for Jaguar, which is where Al’s career in commercial filming really kicked off.

“I got really lucky with my timing. This was just when the Canon 5D and those kinds of personal cameras were starting to shoot really passable video. On a small screen, it was 90% of what an expensive camera could look like.

“I just happened to be trying stuff out at the right moment. A one-man crew could shoot something that looked like an expensive film. It was very much a left-field approach to filmmaking – I didn’t go to film school, everything was self-taught, with a huge inspiration from Top Gear, and the films that I loved.”

It’s all produced under the Outrun Films banner. Sort of. “Outrun is a weird one. It’s existed forever, and never existed. People didn’t understand [at the time] that one or two people could make something that was usable as a film. Outrun was a way of having a name that myself and my producer could use to give confidence to other people that a company existed, even though it was just us two freelancers working together.

“The film industry isn’t a fan of masters-of-none, jacks-of-all-trades – they like you to be pigeonholed into director, cinematographer, editor… but modern filmmaking has allowed you to be all of those things. You can get a really, really good camera for about £1,000, your laptop has the same power as a Hollywood editing suite, and you can pretty much get all the software you ever need for less than £300, and that’s it – you’ve got a career starter. Outrun was something to call that process. And it also reminds me of my favourite game.”

Al has worked with a huge variety of major automotive clients, with Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Bentley and more all having turned to his services. There’s one film that’s particularly ingrained in the public conscience, though.

In 2017, Bugatti set the production car world record for accelerating from 0-400kph (about 248.5mph) before braking back to 0. With Juan Pablo Montoya driving, the then-new Chiron achieved the feat in just under 42 seconds at Volkswagen’s Ehra-Lessien test track.

Al was called on to immortalise the record run with a film that, as of early 2023, is approaching 87 million views on YouTube, making it the most-viewed car commercial on the platform. His most successful work, Al looks back on it fondly: “We had free reign to make it how we wanted, the weather was on our side, it was a good team… everything fell together. Most of these films tend to have a shelf life, but this one’s still going strong.” Questions arose at the time around how the high-speed tracking shots were achieved – guesses included “it’s a 1,000-horsepower Supra, it’s a plane”. The answer is almost blindingly obvious – a second Chiron, with a camera rig attached.

Another personal highlight is a documentary, The Racers who Stopped the World, shot for Jaguar in 2013. Al and his team interviewed a who’s who of genuine motorsport icons, from Derek Bell to Jackie Stewart to Murray Walker. Most notably, he travelled Europe with Stirling Moss and legendary Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis.

“We realised we were making something incredibly special, because there were untold stories with Stirling and Norman. We made this film, then it sat on a shelf and did absolutely nothing for seven years – it just never got used. When Stirling passed away in 2020, I thought ‘I’m gonna dig that out’. I felt it was a disservice to him that it had never come out, so I called the powers that be at Jaguar, we recut the entire thing from start to finish, and Sky Documentaries picked it up. The stories and the memories of shooting that – hanging out of a helicopter across Lake Garda, chasing a Jaguar C-Type through the Italian hills – that’ll be the stuff that goes with me to my grave.”

In case his work doesn’t make it abundantly clear, Al is a massive car enthusiast, and a talented driver. His garage currently includes a Ferrari F12, an original Honda NSX with a host of NSX-R parts, a Porsche 996 GT3 track car and a drift-built Toyota AE86. We’re planning on running in-depth features on some of his collection very soon.

Al is joining us in the Tipi for this month’s I Love You, Man, where he’ll be discussing the ups and downs of his career. Come down for the evening – tickets are online now.

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