Lights, camera, trucking

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It‘s all about freedom. About getting that feeling of the highway, with no one looking over your shoulder, just you and the truck. I can turn off the phone, the CB, and just drive.” -Tim Young, speaking to the press before the premier of the movie “Drive and Deliver”


I‘ve got three letters for you this morning, ladies and Gs:


W.O.W.


That‘s my reaction after seeing Navistar‘s film “Drive and Deliver” this past Friday: a movie that started out ostensibly as a grandiose 45-minute commercial for its new LoneStar Class 8 highway tractor but became oh so much more than that in the talented hands of director Brett Morgen and the three drivers he culled from a pool of over 700 candidates.


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[The LoneStar on display front and center outside the premier.]


The LoneStar (in my humble opinion) is completely upstaged by drivers Tim “Shoestring” Young, Chris “Discount” LeCount, and Steven “Stingray” Donaldson. Morgen does an absolutely brilliant job letting them tell their stories, relating the high and lows of piloting a big rig for a living. Now, sure, there‘s plenty of lavish praise heaped on the LoneStar (it IS a commercial after all) and more beauty shots than I can count, but it‘s the character of the drivers that really resonates throughout the film.


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(The true stars of the movie "Drive and Deliver." From left to right: Donaldson, LeCount, and Young.)


“We‘re the backbone of this nation,” Donaldson explains in one scene. “People need to realize without the truck, nothing would move, absolutely nothing would move ... but you‘re out here, all alone, doing a job most people don‘t want to do. I guess it takes true grit to stay out here all the time.”


There‘s a lot of joy and laughter alongside sorrow and tears in this movie as it takes you on three week-long emotional journeys with Young (a company driver), LeCount and Donaldson (both owner-operators) - all tied together seamlessly with the lush vistas of America.


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[Navistar spent big bucks making the premier of "Drive and Deliver" a real red carpet event.]


Oh, that scenery! It‘s simply GORGEOUS! Filmed from helicopters in Montana, Utah, Arizona, and Utah, spliced with film shot from the cabs of the trucks and chase cars, it‘s absolutely STUNNING. I simply can‘t do justice to it with words - even on the small screen (I‘ve watched the DVD four times now) the film just takes my breath away.


Whether you‘re a fan of Navistar and its International truck brand or not, you‘ve got to give the OEM credit for going out on a limb to produce a movie like this - to turn a highly-secretive new truck model over to three drivers, an Academy Award-winning director and his crew of 20, then basically take your hands off the steering wheel. But Morgen says that‘s exactly what happened.


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[That's Brett Morgen, second from left in the red checkered shirt, at the press conference before the premier. Al Saltiel, Navistar‘s vice president of truck marketing, is to the left of Morgen, with the three drivers and David Allendorf, chief designer of the LoneStar, line up to the right of him.]


“No editorial notes were given to me for this,” he explained during a press conference before the film‘s premier Aug. 22. “In fact, I‘d never been in many trucks before making this film. All I can say is that this is about as authentic as any commercial enterprise could be. I just hope I did justice to the stories of these drivers.”


[The drivers themselves talk about the film and the trucking industry below in these clips I shot at the press conference before the film's premier.]




This reporter believes he did just that - and a whole lot more. Shot over the course of 21 days, covering 5,255 miles across 17 states and amassing some 153 hours of film, Morgen stayed away from trying to fit in every single detail and nuance about the trucking industry, instead keeping the story tightly focused on the three drivers, their experiences on the road, and the stories they tell in their own words without any narration.


What a hell of a risk Navistar took with this approach. Rumor has it they spent $5 million on this movie - $3 million to finance it, another $2 million to market it - which is about a third of the LoneStar‘s overall marketing budget of some $15 million. Yet they ended up with something so poignant, so rich in human emotion - almost a living, breathing ode to the truck driver, painted in searing, larger-than-life colors.


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[Tim "Shoestring" Young.]


Even the music Morgen selected fit perfectly - including one of my absolute favorite songs of all time, Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Coming Home” (which I misremembered during the premier as being an Allman Brothers tune - SHAME ON ME!!)


[You can listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Coming Home” below to see what I mean. It‘s even better when combined with the visual elements in “Drive and Delivered.”]




The music adds a loving and at times haunting aspect to what we see on the screen. Probably the best example is during Chris LeCount‘s at times nightmarish haul from West Point, Mississippi to Charleston, South Carolina to deliver an Navistar MRAP military vehicle (gee, how convenient!). The scenes at night, in the rain, with the glow of traffic around him, backed by the wicked strings of a blues guitar and the crackle of the citizens band radio is all anyone (myself included) needed to instantly understand LeCount‘s situation; to feel the stress of navigating those last nerve-wracking miles to his destination.


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(Chris "Discount" LeCount.)


Now, I talked to a lot of drivers after the film and though they all loved it, many voiced expected complaints - a lack of traffic congestion scenes, car drivers dangerously cutting off big rigs at high speed, rude shippers or receivers, roadside inspections, struggles to find parking at night, horrid weather (snow, ice, etc.) and breakdowns (in a marketing campaign for a new truck model? Are you kidding me?)


Others noted the none-too-subtle hours-of-service violation by LeCount (a day that starts at 6 a.m. with delivery 12:10 a.m. the next exceeds 14 hours just a WEE bit), along with something similar as Donaldson relates his grief-stricken accumulation of 130,000 miles in under six months following the tragic death of his son, only 27, from a brain aneurysm back in 1997.


Even the happy homecomings for each driver at the end of the movie came under the cold glare of the cynic‘s eye. A few folks told me that - in reality - oft times the “coming home” ritual is boiled down to “throw the dirty laundry in the corner and go straight to bed.” I say, sure, maybe that‘s true, but isn‘t the happy greeting by family and friends how anyone - but especially truck drivers, gone 15 or 30 days or more - WANTS to be welcomed home? Isn‘t this film also about the reality we‘d like to see more of, too?


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[Tim Young with his family -- the family he treasures so much.]


Morgen I think answered those and other countless questions this way: his film is for truckers, pure and simple. It‘s supposed to tell a larger story through these three drivers about some - but not all - of the realities commercial truck drivers face every day on the road, as well as celebrate the real joys the profession holds.


“This film wasn‘t made to explain everything in trucking - it was meant to give voice to truckers and their unique lifestyle,” Morgen says. “We wanted to share their attitudes and philosophies about trucking. These three drivers opened their hearts and souls to us, putting themselves out there for all to see. All human beings have an innate desire to share who they are and what they stand for with other human beings. This is what you see on the screen.”


[Driver Tim Young - a native of Flat Rock, Alabama - explains in his own words why he participated in this film. FYI, his infectious laugh and southern drawl are big highlights of the film.]




It isn‘t all peaches and cream, either. There‘s plenty of vocal frustration expressed by the drivers in this film - about traffic, last-minute load assignments, the stress on the family back home, the high cost of fuel, lack of respect, etc. - along a with a lot of leeriness at times about their lives being put on camera.


Donaldson says he very nearly quit on the first day of filming in South Dakota - going so far as to dial information for the nearest airport so he could fly home. “There were people and camera equipment so stuffed in my truck that I barely had room to move in my seat,” he said at the press conference. “I wasn‘t used to being so confined like that.”


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[Steven "Stingray" Donaldson.]


But he stayed - and ended up delivering one of the most powerful segments of the movie.


Let me tell you, too, no one is more pleased with this film -- warts and all -- than Al Saltiel, Navistar‘s vice president of truck marketing.


“You just never know until you see it,” he told me after the premier. “You can‘t help but feel really good about these guys on the screen, for as you get to know them, you like them more and more. Only along the way does the product story come out.”


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[The site of the film premier in Dallas.]


He says the goal in creating this one-of-a-kind film was to capture the spirit and pride of today‘s long haul trucker, documenting both the challenges and triumphs they face while on the road, hauling the goods that keep our nation move. “All I can say is the movie is infectious; it creates it‘s own enthusiasm as it rolls along.”


Did it ever. The packed movie theatre that night rendered a pretty dramatic verdict, as well. They gave the movie a three-minute standing ovation.

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