When it came to his craft of filmmaking, the director Steven Spielberg once said, “I don’t dream at night, I dream all day. I dream for a living.”
And that’s basically what films are; dreams brought to life on the screen. But to make those dreams happen takes a lot of hard work and technology behind the scenes. And it takes a lot of power to run the lights, cameras, effects machines and everything else that helps make the dream a reality. For decades, filmmakers have relied on large gas-powered generators, but one film relied on a very unlikely source of electricity: the new 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning® all-electric pickup and the 2022 E-Transit electric van*.
Danilo Parra is the director of the recently released short film, Mushroom, currently showing on Crave and YouTube. Shot in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Park, it tells the tale of two campers who come across a mystical mushroom in the forest. Madness descends at night during a violent storm as each camper tries to get the mushroom for himself. A companion ‘behind-the-scenes’ documentary was also filmed.
To power the film shoot in a remote, off-grid location, Parra partnered with Ford Canada to use the F-150 Lightning® Platinum with its 9.6 kW Pro Power Onboard^, which supplies electricity from its 131 kWh on-board battery. Ford also supplied two E-Transit electric vans for added support.
“Normally, filmmakers use these giant gas-powered generators that make a lot of noise, very ugly, white noise,” says Parra. “They make so much noise that you can’t capture dialogue and natural sounds of a forest or whatever environment you’re in.
“So these Ford vehicles actually really helped in that they were silent. I didn’t even know it was on for most of the shoot because it just sounds like air, it’s completely quiet. Usually, the sound guys are complaining about noises that are happening all around them, but there were no complaints here.”
For the Mushroom shoot, Parra didn’t want to change his vision based on available power. Over the course of two long shoot days, the crew used large LED lights for effects such as lightning and a rising sun, as well as large wind machines to simulate a storm.
But there were also other needs for electricity beyond what you see on screen: the wardrobe people, for example, needed their own lights and clothing irons. Computers were necessary to control the lighting effects. And there was the ‘video village’, where the production crew could monitor the film in real time.
“At first, we didn’t know if the battery would last,” says Parra. “I mean, we had a behind-the-scenes team ready to capture the drama if anything went wrong. My goal is to tell a story and to get all the shots needed, so if all the light bulbs went off, we wouldn’t be able to do it. I was nervous. I think the gaffer and some of the grip people were nervous, too, because they’ve never used a truck like this.”
“But behind the scenes, we saw the monitor on the truck, and it turns out we used around 25 per cent [of the battery] by the end of a 10-hour day†.
“And after the first day, we realized, ‘Okay, we could do it’. Second day, the nerves were gone.”
The F-150 Lightning® wasn’t the only star of the show; Parro had a video editor working on live edits of filming in one of the E-Transit vans, so the director could see a rough cut at the end of each day. The van was also used to charge batteries for cameras, monitors, radios and even a drone.
“I’ve never had that, having someone doing live edits, and the E-Transit made it possible. It was very helpful for me, it felt like a luxury.”
Morris Chiang, a vehicle line specialist for Ford, was on set for the shoot to lend technical support and answer questions.
“Before we did the filming, the team was able to give us an idea of the power draw of all the lights and other equipment they needed,” says Chiang. “We were able to map it against the battery capacity of the vehicle and determine not only could the Lightning handle all the draw at once, but it could also handle the two days that they needed to do the filming. “
“Even with that intensive use over the two days, they still had quite a bit of battery capacity left. The technology [on the truck] is there to make sure that when you’re using this great feature, you still have the ability to get to a charging station.”
Joseph Comacchio, National Ford and Lincoln Certified Pre-Owned Manager, had joined Chiang on the shoot. While he had been on film sets in the past, this was the first film Comacchio has been a part of that was powered by electric vehicles.
“The thing that struck me the most is it’s not like [the director] had to accommodate the fact that we were running it off of the Lightning,” says Comacchio. “And they treated that film shoot like they had all the power in the world. They didn’t modify the story, they didn’t modify how they wanted to capture the film.
“We knew Lightning could handle everything we would throw at it. But to actually see these spotlights and the wind machines and whatnot, and then to have all that power left over; I will admit, even I was surprised. That was pretty cool.”
For Parra, who has done other documentaries and short films, the Ford F-150 Lightning® and the E-Transit van were a game-changer, allowing him to fulfill his creativity with the Mushroom shoot. He sees much more potential for this kind of portable power for the film industry.
“A lot of filmmaking people are the kind of people who would probably buy this truck,” he says. “It looks cool, but they would use it for filming, or to go camping or whatever they like to do. I know I’m the same way. I would definitely use the Ford F-150 Lightning® again.
“I like the idea that I can be creative anywhere I go.”
* The 2022 Ford Lightning® Platinum & two 2022 E-Transit Cargo Van RWD Low Roof were used in the production.
^ In production the 2022 Ford Lightning® Platinum used 9.6kw Pro Power OnboardTM and the 2022 E-Transit Cargo Van RWD Low Roof used the available 2.4kW. See Owner’s Manual for important Pro Power OnboardTM operating instructions.
†Power from the 2022 F-150 Lightning® Platinum was used as needed over the course of 10 hours. See Owner’s Manual for important Pro Pro OnboardTM operating instructions.