20 Local Drivers In
Fake Traffic Jam
BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
Television producers have a way of making something seem like it's for real, but it's really not.
That was the case Sunday morning on the West Andrew Johnson Highway near the Summer Street intersection.
Westbound passersby in the quietness and calmness of a warm June morning likely thought that there was either 1) a horrific traffic accident, or 2) the state highway folks were preparing for some road work.
The latter scenario was what the producers were trying to depict. Regardless, there certainly was quite a commotion going on.
Little did they realize that Peyton Manning was in town, involved in the shooting of a national television commercial for Buick.
The former University of Tennessee quarterback, who went on to excel with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts before leaving for the Denver Broncos where he will play this year, along with an entourage of 75-plus production workers, dozens of law enforcement personnel and local "extras" that had been recruited for the event, spent the morning working on the commercial.
'TIMING WAS RIGHT'
Tim O'Neill, advertising manager for Buick, said the decision to shoot the commercial in Greeneville was made primarily because "the timing was right, and Peyton likes to be in Tennessee."
Manning and many other celebrities will be in the area today to participate in the annual Niswonger Children's Hospital Golf Classic being held at The Ridges in Jonesborough.
Planning for the Sunday event was obviously kept quiet because knowledge of Manning being in town would have caused quite a stir, and the commercial crew had only this weekend to get their work done.
A 'HIGH-END PRODUCTION'
The commercial will be ready to air in about four weeks, O'Neill said, hopefully by the end of July.
Tool of North America, an award-winning production company from California, is in charge of the making of the commercial.
Michael Bigham, location scout for the company, began working here more than a week ago.
He was anxiously awaiting the start of work Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m. in the parking lot of the Lighthouse Assembly of God church.
"We have about 75 (production workers), so I would say it's a high-end production for a television commercial," he said.
BEEHIVE OF ACTIVITY
About daylight Sunday, the parking lot of the church became a beehive of activity, with cameras being placed in the proper location along the highway, assistant director Joe Gray barking instructions as he directed people into their correct positions, and many other workers scurrying about carrying wires, walkie-talkies and other paraphernalia.
THE PLOT, PEYTON'S ROLE
The star of the show, Peyton Manning notwithstanding, was the Buick Verano, the company's newest mid-size luxury automobile.
The gist of the commercial is this: Manning is driving along in his new Verano, when he unexpectedly comes upon a huge traffic jam.
Thus the barriers, road cones, signs signaling road work, and a Summers-Taylor concrete truck and asphalt trucks which were parked on the 11E bridge that crosses Summer Street.
Using the car's Intellilink GPS system, Peyton is able to talk with his car by barking football signals into the GPS, and the system responds by quickly telling him how to escape the upcoming traffic jam.
An in-car camera was installed to get close-up footage of Manning, who signed a new advertising deal with Buick just two weeks ago, talking into the GPS.
VICKIE ANDREW PRAISED
Bigham, the location scout, worked with the Greene County Partnership's Vickie Andrew at the outset of his arrival in town, and she in turn introduced him to the people he would need to know to make the production happen.
"Vickie was just wonderful to work with," he said. "She immediately took me to meet Chief [Terry] Cannon, Sheriff [Steve] Burns, Brad [Peters, Greeneville's Public Works Director], the people I needed.
Without Vickie's cooperation, this thing wouldn't have happened. But everybody we've worked with in Greeneville has been great. The Buick dealership here, Bachman-Bernard, have also been wonderful."
LOCAL VOLUNTEER DRIVERS
Andrew was assigned the job of finding 20 volunteers to serve as "extras" in the commercial shoot as drivers of the cars lined up in the traffic jam. That wasn't very difficult.
"Not when they found out who was going to be here for the commercial," she laughed. "But we had to find people that we knew wouldn't go out and tell everybody, because the production was supposed to be kept quiet."
The new gray Buick went on a few practice runs up 11E toward the "traffic jam" with a stand-in driver prior to 8 a.m.
At that time, the assistant director called a meeting and advised crew members that the star was on his way, they were not allowed to speak with Manning, there would be no autographs, and reminded them that this was "a very sensitive shoot."
Finally, about 8:10 a.m., Manning arrived at the church lot.
After a brief talk with the production folks as well as O'Neill and others around the set, the shooting began.
He was seated inside the Verano, and made several trips from the median cross-over in front of the church, west on 11E, turned around, then headed back east toward the "traffic jam."
The circuit was halted a couple of times as make-up artists rushed to the vehicle to make sure the star's appearance was the way they wanted it.
By 9 a.m., that part of the shoot was over. Manning left the vehicle, went to the tent where a replay of the video was set up to view the work from the in-car camera, and he seemed pleased with the content.
He left the church parking lot for "base camp," which was set up at the Quik Stop Market at the corner of the 11E Bypass and the Rogersville Road.
A motor home was parked there for Manning, while the production crew rapidly disassembled their set in the church parking lot and headed to the market.
AT 'BASE CAMP'
More work was performed there, as the crew had another Verano set up on a trailer which was equipped with in-car cameras. Later in the morning, Manning was placed inside that car on the trailer, and more filming was done as the car was towed down 11E, and later down Highway 70 (Rogersville Road).
Some curious onlookers, noticing all the commotion going on at the store, did arrive after word began leaking out that Manning was in town shooting a commercial, but they -- some wearing No. 18 Colts' jerseys -- were kept cordoned off from the work in progress.
"It's quite a production, isn't it?" Sheriff Burns said Sunday while watching the action unfold.
"You wouldn't think it would take this much work to get what, a 30-second spot? But it's impressive to watch these people work. They shot some footage of the car Saturday (on Rogersville Road) and it was fun just watching that crew get after it. They know what they're doing."