AutoMatters & More: Ben Joiner — ‘Top Gear’ & ‘The Grand Tour’ Cinematographer + CLOG BOSS--Review
Ben Joiner — “Top Gear” & “The Grand Tour” Cinematographer
The February 2021 issue of American Cinematographer magazine (visit https://ascmag.com) features a fascinating article by Peter Tonguette, titled “Touring the Planet.” It is about Ben Joiner, ASC. If you’ve watched “Top Gear” or “The Grand Tour,” you’ve seen and enjoyed Ben’s award-winning cinematography.
Ben was hired to photograph “Top Gear” in 2002. Initially locations were largely in the United Kingdom, but they expanded worldwide. The show “could go wherever there were cars and roads.”
When Clarkson, May and Hammond moved over to “The Grand Tour,” so did Ben Joiner. Worldwide locations have included Colombia, Croatia, South Africa, Vietnam, Azerbaijan and Mongolia. Ben tells us that “they often choose unlikely destinations away from the well-trodden paths of TV travelogues.”
To shoot “The Grand Tour,” Ben supervises a group of camera operators who have been with the show for a long time. That consistency of personnel is important to maintain the consistent, expansive, epic look of the show. They integrate the “hero” automobiles, boats or whatever Clarkson, May and Hammond are driving in a particular episode, along with their gags and jokes, and immerse the audience in the visual essence of the place and the people – what you might hope to see in a documentary or as a traveler to that place. “We’re always trying to relate the environment back to the story of the guys’ journey through it.”
For example, in the 2019 Madagascar episode, titled “A Massive Hunt,” “The people were endlessly curious about us, particularly James’ car, which for some reason they just found hysterically funny. So we tried to capture kids laughing at this cartoon of mud and orange as the convoy rumbled by.” “You share a passing moment of humor, a joyful wave, or maybe even sorrow and empathy.”
In a shoot in Namibia, Hammond’s car broke down. “Suddenly, these women came out of the wild and started dancing around Richard.” “It’s a really funny and beautifully spontaneous scene.” As the producers always said, “We’ll just go somewhere and stuff will happen,” giving each episode a unique flavor.
Before they travel to a location, research is done to prepare for the conditions that they will encounter there. Sometimes the roads are little more than “a wide path beaten into a jungle,” with “long bruising days in the [back] of a Land Cruiser being thrown around by the rocks and nuts. There are days when you think we will never make it through there, or we will never get that vehicle unstuck.”
Episodes convey to us “a visceral sense of being and existing in that country,” further enriching our understanding of the world.
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To see additional photos, visit www.drivetribe.com, click on the magnifying glass, select “POSTS” and enter “AutoMatters & More #676” in their search bar. Please send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com.
Copyright © 2021 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #676
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