Back in May I was lucky enough to attend a production shoot for the Ad Council’s new Recycling PSA. The process was pretty special — our star actress was a plastic bottle, or actually, 30 plastic bottles. You might think that a shoot starring inanimate objects could get boring. However, I found the technical side of this shoot to be fascinating.
The premise of our spot was a bottle rolling across the country in hopes of seeing the ocean. After being recycled, it was eventually turned into a plastic bench overlooking the sea. Prop Master Kurt explained how his team sourced about 100 Tru-Moo HDPE bottles for use in the production. A rig was built so someone could roll the bottle along roads on the end of rod (to be removed in post-production — it’s incredible what computer generated imagery can do!). The team screwed bearings into the bottom of about 30 bottles.
Because the bottle didn’t actually physically travel across the country, they had to fake the distressed appearance. To get a progressively more weathered and worn look, Kurt used glue, wax, walnut powder, crayons, spray paint, shoe polish and even BBQ sauce to carefully mark up and dent each bottle, with the bottle used in the final scene being the most distressed from its cross-country trip.
Our lovingly prepared protagonist had a lot of sightseeing to do in the storyline — luckily, California is a state of many landscapes! Somehow the location scouts found what looked like flat wheat fields next to a small farming operation near Bakersfield complete with a tractor for the Midwest bus scene. It could have been in my native Wisconsin! Four Aces, a cool old movie set in the Mojave desert near Palmdale, served as the backdrop for the motel scene, as well as the snow and tumbleweed scenes on the road outside. We also had our only celebrity sighting here: 3 showbiz tortoises, one of which was used as a foil to the bottle as it rested under a picnic table.
Anatomy of a Snow Scene
The highlight of the production was definitely the snow-making! After laying down a white “snow blanket” around 11 PM in the middle of the desert, Kurt emptied sacks of “Snow Business” fake snow (actually finely shredded paper) onto the top. The team spread it around with a shovel, built up a few mounds, and finally drove a car over it to get some tire tracks. After wetting it down a bit, the result was incredibly realistic. The camera was set up for a very low shot, and someone rolled the bottle along through the snow as crew members held handfuls of additional snow in front of a huge fan. Two cars circled tightly beyond the tarp to give the illusion of many headlights sweeping by. It was truly a beautiful shot, and looking at the monitor (and the final product) you would never know this was filmed in 100 degree weather!
Shooting also occurred in Baltimore and San Francisco, and the piecing together of so many diverse American landscapes really made this PSA come to life. Check out the :60 spot, Journey, below!