Film star rises from the grave for Ford’'s Puma TV campaign

Steve McQueen makes an appearance in a new car ad. Chris Jenkins reports.

Few directors can boast of working with the Hollywood greats - especially when they are no longer with us - but Young & Rubicam’s TV ad for the Ford Puma gave Paul Street of Streetlight Films the chance to 'direct’ Steve McQueen.

The ad features the Puma sports coupe being driven through San

Francisco, drawing admiring looks from passers-by. After a few teasing glances at the driver, it’s revealed that it is McQueen, whose cool image, cult status and association with motor racing made him the ideal figure for the campaign, suggests Tim Page, the producer for Y&R.

Warner Brothers and the estate of the star, who died in 1980, gave permission to use footage from Peter Yates’ 1968 police thriller Bullitt, famous for its car-chase sequence. The editor, Christophe Williams of Derek Williams Film Editors, selected 15 minutes of shots from the movie, explains Page, ’and from those we devised a storyboard and worked out which shots would fit into it’.

Mike Uden, the director of production at Rushes, advised at an early stage on the processes needed to combine the footage of McQueen with new shots of the Puma. Several days were spent producing a rough ’animatic’ edit, used as a reference during the live shoot.

The five-day shoot in San Francisco, using body-doubles for some shots, was done as far as possible at the film’s locations. To match the look of the new footage to that of the movie, Paul Street consulted the Bullitt cinematographer, William Fraker, and used the same sort of lenses and feature-style camera set-ups.

In post-production, mattes and compositing using Flame and Flint were handled by Verdi at Rushes. Some ingenious tricks were used to make the original footage fit the new storyline; reflections were added to

windscreens, and a shot of McQueen standing on a sidewalk talking to a colleague was flipped, reduced, and matted into the car.

For an authentically grainy, filmic look, the titles and montage boxes

in the opening shots were shot on film and, after all the images were composited, the digital tape was transferred to film, then telecined

back to tape.

The ad uses the original Lalo Schifrin movie music: ’We thought it might sound dated,’ explains Page, ’but we tried some more modern treatments and decided the original had the laid-back, cool sound we wanted.’

Look out too for subtle references to other McQueen movies; the opening montage alludes to The Thomas Crown Affair; the motorbike, catcher’s mitt and baseball in the garage to The Great Escape; and the prisoner’s overall hanging on the wall to Papillon.

It’s these details and the ingenuity of the effects work which really make the ad; and if the idea catches on, perhaps we’ll see other Hollywood legends used in the same way.

’Maybe next time,’ jokes Street, ’It’ll be Charles Bronson mowing the lawn.’

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