Magazine article American Cinematographer

Filming the "Hell on Wheels" Spot

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Filming the "Hell on Wheels" Spot

Article excerpt

A three-and-a-half-minute television commercial to publicize Cher's new record album involves almost as many intricate techniques as a feature film, but turns out to be a montage of spectacular images

Casablanca wanted a three and a half minute film to illustrate Cher's single, "Hell on Wheels" from her new album, "Prisoner". It was a project featuring Cher, which they needed in a hurry for European television. Chris Whorf, Vice President of Creative Services at Casablanca, called our company, Roger Flint Productions, and set up a meeting. He said, "Listen to the song and tell us what you would like to do. Make it outrageous!"

What fun. A chance to work with Cher, with a song we like a lot, and the creative freedom to be as "outrageous" as possible!

In the song, Cher sings: "Well I'm hell on wheels, I'm a roller mama. If you see something you like, you better go for it. If you see something you want, you better get down on it!"

We wanted the film to be as "hot" as the lyrics and sound. We came up with three different concepts. Michael Bottero, our company Production Manager, and I then met with Cher, Bill Sammeth, her manager from Katz, Gallin, Morey Management Company, Chris Whorf from Casablanca, and Bob Esty and Larry Emerine, Cher's record producers, and told them our three ideas. They chose one idea (the one we liked best, too). It was naturally the most complicated of the three to execute.

This was the idea: Cher would skate down a country road with smoke coming out of her skates, singing "Hell on Wheels". Two truckers in a big semi would pull in behind her and follow her down the road. She lures them on, in a seductive, singing, roller skating dance. She then skates through a wood road barricade. Instead of hitting the brakes, the driver slams down on the accelerator, and the speedometer goes from forty to one hundred. The truck smashes through the barricade and pieces of wood splinter in the air behind her (in slow motion). Cher continues to sing, "Come on and rocket with me; I'll make you feel so free". She then skates into a truck stop filled with men. Truckers, cowboys, bikers, surfers, policemen (different types, about fifty men), all become mesmerized by her very presence. We wanted this scene to be as fun and bizarre as possible. In the actual production, we had two female impersonators, (which Cher uses in her act) James Cooper, impersonating Diana Ross, and Kenny Moocha as Bette Midler. Cher sings, "Come on and roll with me!" And they do! Fifty men, including the two impersonators, jump into their trucks, cars, on their motorcycles, (slam down their beer bottles) and follow her. Wheels turn, dust kicks, and this bizarre herd of vehicles forms a huge caravan behind her.

Everyone in the meeting loved the idea. So we started the production.

We had three weeks to deliver a finished 2" tape master (525, NTSC) for the United States and a 2" tape master (625, PAL) for Europe. There was a lot to be organized and pulled together in the short one-week prep time. Denise Wintroub and Chrystine Anderson worked in the around-the-clock marathon, handling casting, styling, and organizing vehicles and crew under the supervision of Production Manager Michael Bottero. They did a terrific job!

For our location, we needed a rural road with a country-type gas station. The position of the sun was one of my most important considerations when choosing the final location. I wanted Cher to be backlit throughout the entire shoot, with dazzling light always outlining her. Dan Malmouth (our location man) looked everywhere for a suitable spot. He found very interesting places, not too far away, without permit problems, but they did not have the backlighting I wanted, so his search continued. He found a location that had the perfect road and light possibilities, but there was a very important element missing . . . the gas station! What it did have did not look anything like a gas station. …

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