• In Conversation with Adam Pinnock of Film Cars Australia

The art department is made up of many disparate disciplines. Outside of the art department itself are the suppliers that provide for the productions; construction, animal wranglers, pyrotechnicians to name a few. One of the most important staples of many productions are action vehicles.  From a design perspective vehicles are instrumental in setting the scene. They illustrate period, wealth, status of the characters and their environment. Vehicles can tell so much about the story, travel, indicating change of location and providing great locations for intimate dialogue. Getting the right car is very important. Film Cars Australia and its founder Adam Pinnock have been supplying vehicles to the film industry, primarily in NSW, for more than 30 years. Tim Ferrier APDG sat down with Adam for a rambling chat. 

TIM: We’ve worked together for more than 25 years, but how did you get started in the industry?

ADAM: In the mid 80s I was working in spare parts for MG. I had one of my own that was repeatedly being hired by people for commercials, film clips and so on. One day I asked one of them what other things they were looking for. He rattled off ‘police cars, taxis, Valiants’ and I thought ‘I can do that’.

TIM: What was the project?

ADAM:  It was called ‘Out of the Body’

TIM: TV drama? Never heard of it.

ADAM: I’m not sure it ever saw the light of day. Anyway, it all started from there. I sat down the pub one night and thought what am I going to call this thing and came up with Film Cars Australia.  

TIM: Very imaginative.

ADAM:  it was December ’87 we started officially.

TIM: it was a pretty niche market back then having a specialist company providing cars. Did you have trouble promoting it?

ADAM:  I did my homework and Cinecars existed owned by Rick Petro and then Frank Campese. But that was it. We got going with the M.G and 250 business cards.

TIM: ‘cause up until then it had been pretty ad hoc with art departments sourcing everything. In fact, my first film as props buyer “High Tide “ I had to find all the vehicles -lots of caravans.  There wasn’t anyone specializing in providing vehicles.

ADAM: There was a niche there

TIM: Who do you supply to now?

ADAM: Film, Tv stills shoots, events. Up until ten years ago we had enclosed transporters, so we doing pre-release cars coming from Japan and Korea for secret car commercials and so on.

TIM: So not always uniquely Film stuff?

ADAM: No, we tried to branch out.

TIM: How many cars does Film Cars own?

ADAM: At last count I think it was about 41, including a plane!

TIM: How many actually run?

ADAM: Most, I think.

TIM:  Promises, promises! No-one is ever sure least of all you! Even on set.

ADAM: depends on the car. Throw in the fifteen hundred private cars we have on the database.

TIM:  Nowadays, what is your process providing cars?

ADAM: find out what the art director or designer is looking for. They usually have an idea themselves and then we shoot them a selection of vehicles that fit their criteria. Find out what it has to do – stunts, driving,  parked. And then find the right vehicle. Whether it’s a TVC for one day or a series for twelve week. We might just hire them from owners or if it is for a longer job then we might buy them.

TIM: Who makes up Film Cars currently?

ADAM: It is just me and Morgan.

TIM: Morgan Mackay?

ADAM: Yeah, there’s me and Mini Me.

TIM: The shortest department on set? 

ADAM: Yep.

TIM: When did you and I start working together? I was trying to work this out.

ADAM: I’m not sure – you were driving the hearse at the time. (1976 Chev Impala)

TIM: Oh, yeah, low miles slow miles. Must have been ‘Cody’. One of the first things we worked on was First Daughter A MOW for American cable shot out here. The story of the President’s daughter being kidnapped. Pre 9/11 completely different world. We had to do rural. U.S and cities too. All in Sydney. 

ADAM:  Minnesota and Washington D.C  We had do the plates for both states.

We got that left hand drive Limo down from Queensland which we paid far too much money for.

TIM: Yeah big call that to find a Limo that would be suitable for the U.S president. 

ADAM: We had to repaint it and reupholster it all.

TIM:  We blew it up too.

ADAM: Well, you were going to blow it up but someone realized that it was supposed to be the Presidents limo and it was indestructible.

TIM: Wouldn’t be the first time someone changed their mind?

ADAM: Anyway we cut holes in the bottom and it had a huge mortar underneath and it went up in the air.

TIM: It looked pretty good I remember. But that is one of the ongoing major challenges for you, finding left hand drive vehicles for shows set in America and filmed in Australia.

ADAM:  That was the worst thing I ever did. Buy you the encyclopedia of American automobiles. I think it was on A Place to Call Home that you picked out something that there was only 7 left in the world. They were valued at 2 millions dollars each.  And you asked why you couldn’t have one!

TIM:  Yes, I said must have one of those.  Then we did Farscape – not much for you as it was all set in space. We used to come back to earth sometimes and they were all American cars too.

ADAM:  Then there was Junction Boys.

TIM: Set in rural Texas in late 50s.

ADAM: That was one of the most testing shows.

TIM: Why?

ADAM: Because the hero car was that 49’ Ford Single Spinner. Couldn’t find a left hand drive one anywhere.

TIM: So you bought one and converted it. I remember you did an amazing job to get it done in time.  

ADAM: Nine days from buying it in Queensland to when it was on set. We were powering along but it wasn’t until the night before it was due on set we finally found a bell housing for the starter motor lah,lah lah.

TIM: Yes I remember it vividly because I didn’t think there was anyway that it was going to be ready and I was going to have to explain to that ‘ very demanding’  director.

ADAM: Yeah, I just asked someone that was providing a dressing vehicle if he had a ’49 bell housing and unbelievably he had one under the house after we had been searching for weeks.  Anyway, we got it in and finished about 2 in the morning. Ready for a 7:30 crew call at Parramatta. 

TIM: That is an example of the weird stuff you have to find that is very specific. The car couldn’t run without it. Just one of those efforts that goes unrecognized to get stuff on set.

ADAM: Then we did Bikie Wars 

TIM:  No that was much later! You’re getting Alzheimer’s. 

ADAM: For sure.

TIM: We did a lot of cop shows then; Rescue Special Ops, The Informant, East west 101 -that was where you brought the wrong coloured car to set and hoped Peter (Andrikidis the shows director) wouldn’t notice.

ADAM: You’ll never let me forget.

 TIM: The car had been established  beginning a chase leaving one location and then was arriving at another location on a different shooting day and had suddenly changed colour. Continuity be damned!

ADAM: Whoops.

TIM:  So in the last seven or eight years we have had the chance to do interesting period shows like A Place to call Home, Love Child, Bikie Wars, Brock. What the challenges for you on those shows?

ADAM:  Finding the right car for the right price. Making sure they are safe and reliable. Old cars are not always. On Place to call home You had asked for a Mark IV Jag for the main family car. Went to Adelaide to buy one and just about to buy it when Nancy (Dentice. art director) called to say stop ‘cause they thought it was too old.  

TIM: Don’t remember.

ADAM: The picture had been on the wall for weeks. Everyone said we love it, we love it, we love it. 

TIM: As I said – not the first time that someone changed their mind.

ADAM: Then, of course, after searching for weeks, all across the country we found the right car around the corner.

TIM: Lets talk about our process you and I have together. As a designer I will break down the script and then there is a regular group of people that I consult with early. You are one of those that I go to early to formulate a plan. I will have some ideas about what a certain car should be for a particular character. The car a character drives is often just as relevant as the costume that they wear in constructing a character on screen.  Budget is often a driving factor in our choices. The choice of vehicle reflect wealth, social status, their profession, whether they are an extravert, etc. 

ADAM: You come up with the wish list and then I come up with the reality.

TIM: Yeah you come up with some suggestions, most of which I will ignore

ADAM: Only sometimes

TIM: Then I get anal about number plates, rego stickers, all those little bits and pieces which sells the period. They are all very important to get things right.

 ADAM: The cars sell the period.

TIM: That’s right. One of the things that in my opinion to establish the period the cars are almost the first thing you think about because audiences identify immediately with a particular period along with costume.

APTCH was set in 1953 – Initially, you and I agreed that in the country not everyone would have a new car. That country folk would only buy a car maybe every few years so we looked at cars from the forties, 

ADAM: Jack’s FX is from ’48 onwards. It was a country car so we dirtied it down. The closer the period the better the cars have to be. You can’t have something looking forty years old when it supposed to be two years old.

TIM: That’s right not necessarily brand new either 

ADAM: You have to get it right there is that median period. You don’t want them to be concourse condition if they are supposed to be ten years old!

TIM:  Then we did four seasons of Love Child .1969 through to 1972 There was a lot of reliance on cars to establish the periods. Any particular challenges?

ADAM: Ambulances, same as on Place to Call Home. There not that easy to find. The special vehicles like police cars are the tough ones.

TIM: They’re the things people remember- like paddy wagons.

ADAM: Yeah, we had to build the one for Love Child ‘cause I couldn’t find a ’69. Different body shape.

TIM: They’re things that are really iconic of the period.

ADAM: yeah

TIM:  Lets talk about ‘Bikie Wars ‘ (Drama revolving around the Milperra massacre in 1983) that was all about the bikes -and the bad wigs too, but let’s concentrate on the bikes.  Motorcycles aren’t your specialty but I put the challenge out to you. 

Again- period, 1985? 

ADAM: No the massacre was ’83. So the bikes were all ‘70s

TIM: So, sourcing the bikes was difficult?

ADAM: The problem there was the bikies in the story all rode Harleys or big English bikes. Harley Davidson were a bucket of shit when they were new, let alone when they are forty years old.

TIM: As I remember all the bikies who you were sourcing bikes from were all called Woody.

ADAM: That’s right, ‘cause they all only had one leg from dropping their bikes at one time or other.

And then you’ve got actors on them who can’t ride.

TIM: How often does that come up for you? The fact that the actors can’t drive a car or ride a bike. 

ADAM: Every job.

 Younger actors cannot drive a manual and increasingly you find that they cannot drive at all, having caught Ubers everywhere their entire lives.

TIM: I remember on ‘Bikie Wars’ that it was almost you and the bikes fault that s the actors were incapable of riding the bikes.

ADAM: What exactly do they learn at NIDA?

 TIM: Well, indeed.  Obviously not riding old motorbikes.

I remember when we doing ‘Bikie Wars ‘that I said the producers had cast so and so in. and such a role and that actor cannot ride a bike….

ADAM: None of the actors could.

TIM:  Your response was recast.

Sadly, the casting of shows does not revolve around their ability to drive a car or ride a motorbike. There are other factors.

There wasn’t that many who could ride except Callan (Mulvay

ADAM: Well even he had to cope with the forty year old bikes. They don’t like stopping and starting. Not good for the film industry.

TIM: They overheated a lot.

 ADAM: Badly ridden and they’re buckets of shit anyway.

TIM: Lets talk about ‘Brock’  (biopic of one of Australia’s most successful motor racing drivers. He won Bathurst nine times)

It was probably the most vehicle-centric job we have worked on together 

ADAM: there was a car in just about every scene.

TIM: And they were very specific vehicles. Hero, iconic cars that raced at Bathurst. 

ADAM: They were not just cars; they had very specific graphics and livery on them.

 Fortunately we got Peter Champion on board

TIM: Oh yes, can you talk a bit about Peter Champion? Where does he come from?

ADAM: He’s got the Brock museum up in Yepoon

He ran HDT for the Brock clan. Back in the day

TIM: Oh I didn’t know that.

ADAM: Anyhow, Kerrie  (Mainwaring. Producer) and I went up to visit him and see what he had. 

TIM: You took your shorty pyjamas with you ‘cause it’s hot up there?

ADAM: That’s another story. 

TIM: What did Peter Champion have in the museum?

ADAM: Everything – he had most of the cars that Brock had raced at Bathurst he had cars, racing uniforms, trophies, helmets, damaged panels from different cars. And the critical thing was the Daytona that killed Peter Brock.

TIM: He had that?

ADAM: He had the real car, rebuilt.

TIM: After the crash, why?

ADAM: Such an important part of the story I suppose. You couldn’t display the wreck.

 Most of his cars were the real cars -some were copies but mostly the real cars.

I said to you early on in pre when we broke down the script, that to build these cars will cost a fortune but we were so lucky to get the real things.

TIM: Yeah it was amazing and those cars are literally priceless.

ADAM: We were walking around up there picking things out and eventually we had to talk money for hire blah, blah .He just said don’t worry. 

TIM: Well, we’re very fortunate. He was such a huge Brock fan. A true disciple. There were a lot of them; I remember when we were doing research. It was like a cult really. 

ADAM: people really worshipped him.

TIM: Not his ex wives though…

ADAM:  No, no, they were not fans

TIM: Peter Champion just wanted to be involved. No way we could have afforded to do it without his involvement.

ADAM: He basically lent us nine million dollars worth of cars!

And we only had to pay for transport and insurance. We spent a lot of money to get them going again though ‘cause they hadn’t been turned over for years.

TIM: What is the most difficult vehicle that you have had to source?

ADAM: Every job has difficulties.  Period military vehicles are tricky. American left hand drive cars are always hard especially modern 

TIM: Why?

ADAM: The NSW government won’t let lefties get registered unless they are 30 years old here so people don’t bring them in.

 TIM: We imported cars especially for Reckoning because we couldn’t get contemporary lefties here. 

ADAM: they took eight weeks to arrive.

TIM: I remember we were worried whether they would get here in time.

 Jobs like ‘Gatsby and ‘Australia are hard jobs because they require such big quantities of period overseas vehicles.

ADAM: Big overseas productions bring cars in but due to carnet laws they have to destroy them when the production finishes. So they are usually only used for one job.

TIM: Yeah well we’ve worked on a range of stuff. More recently Reckoning and the Commons   war stories for another time, but we have had a few laughs on the way. 

Thanks Adam for talking about what you do and how you do it.

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