How To… Go From Top Gear to Grand Tour

Nov 16 2016

Great Guns director Kit Lynch-Robinson discusses moving from car commercials to car shows.

Director Kit Lynch-Robinson is well known for his work on a multitude of car commercials and has worked for brands including Ford, Hyundai and Skoda. He has also helmed series 20 and 21 of the Jeremy Clarkson-era Top Gear show.

Now, Lynch-Robinson is back with Clarkson, May and Hammond as he directs episodes of their new Amazon Prime show, The Grand Tour which starts this week. Here the Great Guns director discusses the differences (and similarities) between shooting car commercials and car shows and what pressures there are to make The Grand Tour as successful as Top Gear.

You’re known for your car commercials; how different (or similar) is working on a TV show about cars compared to working on a car spot?

They are both the same and different... You have more time and more meetings in commercials - you spend more time getting a specific shot, a detail, a nuance whereas on The Grand Tour I just get on with making the films [the segments of the show]. I enjoy and miss both ways of doing it if that makes sense.

The skill set is the same; prep and image creation; interpreting a script; solving problems; management of talent/agency/client. There is no client or agency on the show but we have the presenters and the exec producer to keep happy and also the audience at home. I have more responsibility to make it work for them. I have to be my own client - analyzing the idea and making sure it works for the script.

I am fastidious about prep on both commercials and the show. Prep allows you to have freedom to try stuff - it's a bit like music videos in that you experiment and try new things then suddenly you have something magical that you can develop and use as a technique.

I cross pollenate skills - things I know from my years in commercials and things I know from TV help each other. I have shot hundreds of hours of cars and hundreds of hours of comedy on The Grand Tour and Top Gear - just turning over that much is great. Always shooting, always working things out and making sure we get it in the can.

You’d directed episodes of Top Gear before; what do you enjoy most about shooting car shows?

I spend my days directing drivers to go sideways through a corner at lunatic speeds in the most amazing cars in exotic locations and with an incredibly talented team on a high profile show whilst locking creative horns with Clarkson and co.

I shot a comedy segment last week that felt like a cartoon and two weeks before was shooting an action movie [segment] with black hawk helicopters, machine guns and a full-on car chase with multiple explosions.

Then I directed the special, which is a 1,200-mile road trip through some of the most amazing landscape I have ever seen. I love it, every day is different and challenging and I am doing something bonkers. It's a great gig and I do my best to never forget that.

And what’s the most challenging thing about shooting a TV show, specifically a car-based one?

Time. Never enough time. We are making 12 hours of TV per season and that has a concertina effect - going from one shoot to the next without much thinking time and trying to jump into the edit in between.

I have to have a few films in my head at once and keep abreast of everything. Not having hundreds of meetings is great in one respect, you aren't weighed down by PPM booklet creation, but then it is nice on an ad when things are signed off in the PPM!


There’s a lot of coverage of and expectation on this new show after the Top Gear/Clarkson fallout from last year; did that add to the pressure at all?

Not so much pressure from the expectation, more a self-imposed pressure for the new show to be as good/ better than the old one. The last series of Top Gear [with Clarkson, May and Hammond] had some great films in it, the presenters were on top form and we were all on top of our game; the comedy was flowing, the visuals where stunning and we had 350 million viewers worldwide.

We want that crown again. We want the comedy to be funnier, the visuals to be more exceptional and the crazy builds to be more ludicrous. However, if you look at it, maybe the old show was getting a little tired; did it need a shake up?

The whole team is driven by being the best in the world at making a car show, we have had to analyze what was good and what needed changing. It's incredibly exciting to be on Amazon - the internet broadcasters are making shows based on great content - they know that viewers will come if it's great and they are trusting the creators to do what they do. It is the same for commercials - you make great ads, people will seek them out and want to watch them.

Did you ever get to do a lap on the Top Gear track?

I shot at the track a lot - I never got to do a timed lap in the reasonably priced car but I have had a few laps in various cars; the most fun being in the Mercedes SLS, Lamborghini Huracan and BMW M135. And I did power slide a Mercedes S Class limo round Hammerhead [part of the Top Gear track]. It's surprisingly comfortable in a drift.


Of the cars you’ve filmed, which would you choose to own?

I get to drive the top spec of every car we get, so even a SsangYong 4x4 starts to become appealing. I love the BMW i3 and my dream machines are any of the following: a Porsche Mecan Turbo S; a Bentley continental; a Range Rover Sport; a BMW M6 Grand Coupe or an Audi S8.

Can you tell us some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to shooting cars?

If you want it to look fast it has to be driven fast. Get a precision driver and a tracking vehicle team that know each other and can work with a short hand. I always use ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ for left and right, so it's the same for the cameraman facing backwards and the drivers facing forwards...

Oh and make sure everyone in the tracking vehicle speaks the same language...if you’re in a Tower of Babel situation in a Russian arm doing 100mph round a track and you don’t understand each other, that’s not ideal!

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