A Behind The Scenes Look at the Making of “Equipped for Adventure”
Photography by Afshin Behnia, Emilie Hawtin, Pawel Litwinski, and Aaron McKenzie for Petrolicious
My first video project as a producer here at Petrolicious featured a 1967 Plymouth Barracuda. My most recent was the iconic 1967 Ferrari 330 P4. We shot the former on quiet country roads outside of San Diego, California, and the latter on a race track in Canada. These two cars could hardly be more different: American muscle and Italian curves; an everyman’s street beast and a car built to run for twenty-four hours at Daytona; brown and red. What these two productions shared in common, however, was a single important denominator: pavement.
Until this week, not a single one of the seventy-plus Petrolicious films had featured a vehicle capable of leaving behind paved roads and heading into the roadless backcountry. But, after several conversations with our brand partners over at Belstaff, we decided that we’d waited long enough: the time had come to indulge this shared love by working together on a video about a vintage off-road vehicle. Even in the earliest stages of planning such a production, however, we discovered that shooting an old 4×4 poses a unique challenge.
The difficulty in profiling an off-road vehicle is, well, the lack of roads. When scouting locations for, let’s say, a video on a Lamborghini, we can hop in our production van and drive the same roads and tracks that the Countach will cover during the shoot. Failing this, we can always fall back on Google’s Street View for an approximation of the terrain and scenery. In contrast, finding locations for an off-road shoot involves, at a minimum, topographic maps, word-of-mouth, and, ideally, a bumpy ride in a four-wheel drive truck rented specifically for that production.
We knew of a potential subject, Mr. Pawel Litwinski, who used his Land Rover both for bounding up dunes, cutting through the desert and as a work rig during his job as a commerical automotive photographer. We heard stories about how, within minutes of arriving to photograph an old car, Pav would have a ladder up in the bed and be scrambling across the truck’s fenders in search of the perfect angle. After we contacted him, Pav could barely contain his enthusiasm at the thought of sharing his favorite off-road driving experience: Pismo Beach, California.
For the shoot day, we arranged to meet Pav on the shoreline at Pismo Beach. When our production crew pulled onto the sand that morning, our first sight was of a Ford F-350 dually 4×4 straining to pull a large RV out of the sand, a common occurrence in these parts, it turns out, but not one we were accustomed to navigating on Petrolicious productions.
“Let’s hope Pav’s truck is as good in this sand as he says it is,” I muttered. “Otherwise, this could be a long shoot.”
We needn’t have worried: out of the distance came Pav and his girlfriend, Verity, bouncing across the dunes in the Land Rover, loaded with their camping gear from the night before, as if nothing could be more natural. Still, as we mounted cameras to the Land Rover, Pav took the extra precaution of dropping the tires’ pressure to about 20 psi–thus allowing them to better “float” on the sand rather than cut into it.
The production at Pismo Beach started smoothly enough. The dunes lend themselves perfectly to the aerial shots you see in the video, and the color and shapes of the dunes seemed to change by the minute as the sun dropped into the Pacific Ocean.
One shot that bedeviled us, however, is what we call the “car-to-car.” As the name implies, this involves the filmmakers shooting from a moving production car as it drives alongside the subject car. Given a sufficiently wide, traffic-free road, this is a routine shot and one that you’ll see in each of our videos. In deep sand, with only a two-wheel-drive Toyota Tundra as a camera vehicle, however, this simple shot suddenly became impossible.
Fortunately, as we have discovered over the years, there is a certain gravitational pull that attracts vintage car owners to each other and a camaraderie that binds them together. Scratching our heads and looking around, we realized that we had inadvertently set up camp next to Mr. Chris Heron and his family, who had come to Pismo Beach with their Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, a truck that has a passionate following throughout the Petrolicious office. Chris and Pav became fast friends, bonding over the details of their vintage 4x4s and swapping stories of past adventures. Before long, Chris had offered his FJ as a camera car and our director, Mr. Wyatt Seaverns, was soon doing his best to hold onto a roll cage with one hand and a camera with the other as they chased the Land Rover across the dunes. Chris even insisted on a short break in the shooting so that he could teach Pav how to properly “dive” off the top of a large dune without ending up in the intensive care unit.
Although originally designed for use on the farm, Land Rovers ultimately earned their accolades by proving to be the quintessential adventure vehicle: perfect for exploring locales too rough or remote for the average passenger car. These out-of-the-way places, as it turns out, are not only out in the puckerbrush; they’re often right around the corner, in the middle of the world’s largest cities. Energized by our time at Pismo Beach and craving more adventure with the Land Rover, we decided that we wanted to see Pav in action during one of his urban photo shoots. We’d seen this truck play, and now we wanted to see it at work.
Needing a car for this photo shoot, I rang up our Chief Petrolista, Afshin Behnia, whose love of Alfa Romeos is well-chronicled on our pages. Afshin loves showing and talking about his cars and I tried to appeal to this passion as I eased into my request.
“How ‘bout meeting us in the Los Angeles River tomorrow for a photo shoot of your GTV by one of the car industry’s top photographers?” I asked.
“The LA River?” Afshin replied. “Will the car make it down there?”
“Sure.” I tried to sound confident, as I’d never actually been down into the river basin myself. “I mean, Pav says he’s shot down there before and he doesn’t think it should be a problem.”
“Um, okay,” came the reply. “What time?”
“Sixish,” I said.
“In the morning?” Afshin asked.
“Don’t you always tell us to get the best light?”
As it turns out, entering the LA River basin is indeed easy enough…if you drive a vintage 4×4 with plenty of clearance. The next morning found me fretting, however, as I gingerly eased my Toyota MR2 over the lip of the concrete spillway that leads to the river bottom. I made it down though, and, after parking, saw that the stories about Pav’s photo shoots contain no exaggeration: I found him atop a ladder in the back of his Land Rover, camera in hand and smiling as always, already hard at work shooting Afshin’s 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV in the golden morning sun.
As the sun crested the Los Angeles skyline and became too harsh for photography, Pav stashed his camera and announced that he needed to wash Pismo Beach’s salt water from the Land Rover’s undercarriage. Wyatt quickly hopped in the back and did his best to hold on as Pav splashed into the river and sent water spraying up around the truck. With trains roaring past on the tracks above, Pav skidded and drifted across the wet concrete, giving his beloved Land Rover a much-needed bath.
With Tuesday’s release of Equipped for Adventure, Petrolicious has finally taken our first of hopefully many dusty steps into the world of vintage off-roading. We hope we’ve done justice to that world, and that you enjoyed watching the video as much as we enjoyed making it.