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Anatomy of a TV ad: Train Danger

The complexities of putting together a TV ad are both challenging and fun.

Some are simple, others are not. To be honest...those are our favorites!


Case in point: we suggested to a hearing aid company that they run an ad featuring an older gentleman, in a rural setting, his pick-up approaching a non-lighted railroad crossing. To demonstrate his hearing loss and the dangers, we suggested having him fiddle with his radio...obviously loud enough to the viewer, but not enough for him. Distracted with his radio volume issue, he doesn't notice the oncoming train, and as he passes over the track, completely unaware, the train narrowly misses him. The ad would close with information about the heightened dangers of hearing loss, contact info, etc.


They loved the idea. Great. Now we had to figure out how to do it.


Before we get into the details of HOW it was shot....you should see the ad first. So take a look, and then enjoy the details of how it was put together.


There were a few problems with this idea. First, it is illegal to be on a railroad track when a train is approaching. Second, due to terrorism protocol, freight trains do not have a posted schedule. Those (and others) were not easy problems to overcome.


So we, quite literally, set up our cameras at the given railroad crossing, and waited for hours.

Here is the camera configuration we used to capture the video we would need in post-edit.

Camera 1 was on a tripod close to the track to capture the train and wheels as it sped past. It was anchored to the ground as the train creates a lot of turbulence (in an early test, the camera flipped several times down the bank). Camera 2 was manned and would have to get two shots, one of the approaching train, and one pointed straight ahead to capture the train 'blowing through' the crossing. Camera 3 was also anchored, pointing at an angle to the crossing.


Funny side note - when the train finally did approach....much to our chagrin, it consisted ONLY of the locomotive, and two cars. Didn't matter though, as we just edited the cut and allowed the viewer to assume it was a fully loaded train.


Okay, so now we had the train video parts. Next on the list was the truck video.


We shot the truck's opening shots with a camera & tripod in the field adjacent to the road. Next we shot the interior with a handheld camera from the passenger seat, and the rear seat for radio close-ups and windshield view of approaching railroad track crossing. The final shots were of the truck as it crossed over the track and exited down the road. Okay, now the truck shots were in the hopper and ready to send to post-edit.


Although we could have made the ad with the video we had captured to this point, we really wanted to increase the feeling of the train bearing down on the truck. So we decided to shoot from the locomotive engineers perspective as well. Problem.....you can't ride in a locomotive and shoot video. Next best option.......fake it. Our solution is shown below.

We used a ladder to shoot video from where we felt the engineer's point of view (POV) would be. First we shot from about 30 feet back, then 20 feet, then 10 feet. Each time we had the actor drive his truck down the road and over the crossing. We would later choose which distance we felt was best, and would add a slight zoom to give the impression of forward movement.


That, as well, would have sufficed. But we then thought - how about if we show the interior of the locomotive and the scene is through the locomotive windows? AND, how about if we created an inside 'warning' light flashing on and off to increase the sense of danger?


So we did. Using some photoshop magic and .png (transparent) files, we made the locomotive interior and layered it in the editing process. Later we would add a slight 'shake' to the video as we assumed train tracks aren't the smoothest way to travel.

Next came the 'near miss' shot from an angle as the truck is crossing over the track. A bit more photoshop trickery and editing made this seem pretty darn real. Shown here are the background slide, approaching train slide, and truck overlay we would add motion to later.

The last video scene of the train blowing by as the truck continues on its journey was the simplest part really, just a jump cut with a slight fade over....combining the train-alone blow by we filmed day one, and the truck (with no train within miles) going across the track and continuing on.


The final step in the overall production is the sound. The sound of the train horn was from the actual video footage we shot the first day. We enhanced it a bit to give it a bit more bass. The train & wheel closeup sound effects were from a sound effect library, which we again punched up with more bass to give it more weight. Likewise for the train blow by, but we did add a 'military jet fly-by' sound effect to the mix to give it more of a punch.


This was a fun project for us, and the combination of all of the elements make for a pretty convincing moment. We hope you enjoyed the back story.


We have several other ads we have produced that were creative and complex and hopefully you will find the stories about how we put them together informative and entertaining.