Shooting the CBS "hypermilers" segment

Friday, 12-July-2007: I met up with some folks from CBS Boston at their building down on Soldier's Field Road, so we could shoot a bunch of footage for the "hypermiler" segment they're working on. This will be a fairly short piece of one of the evening news hours, but it takes a lot of work to gather enough material to pull the good, punchy stuff from.

With gas prices going up, everyone knows fuel economy is a hot topic. The producer (I'll refer to her as that for convenience even if it's not her official title) contacted Mike Dabrowski and me, who between us have a fair amount of the Prius and Insight tech community covered. She interviewed him yesterday, and today was my turn. It was convenient enough for me to drive down to their offices, so I did that and didn't even get too lost.

As I came into the driveway, I drifted past a large Ford SUV that was sitting there idling with nobody in it. First thing I asked after getting out of my car and they were coming over to me was "is that thing *idling*?" ... to which the cameraman mumbled something about "well, I don't pay for my gas" and right away, we had a talking point. "See," I said, "that's the wrong attitude!" not in a punitive way because we all knew that he had a job to do, but then as they started wiring me up we were joking almost along the exact same lines as a CleanMPG topic I was reading the previous night -- half-joking about how since we're all doomed anyways, people must be in some kind of death-wish mode of thinking that we should use up all the oil and enjoy it now and to hell with the future. All this was a real icebreaker, and as potentially perverse as that sounds it got us all off on the right foot. Other people might have reacted badly to my comment on the idling, in fact, but it seemed totally appropriate at the time. And the SUV got shut down.

We parked my car under a tree for shadier, more diffuse lighting, and they had me stand at the back of the car and lean casually on the spoiler for the first Q&A part. This was the usual sort of stuff, like what sort of MPG am I getting, how I modified the car, what most drivers do that are MPG no-nos, etc. They seem interested in the MPG driving hints and techniques for non-hybrid vehicles, and I think they're genuinely onboard with the idea that they can help ALL drivers save fuel and be safer. I pretty much went into all of it, and brought a couple of my flyers along to give them.

Then, the reporter wanted to shoot the "teaser" pieces -- the little 5-second "here's what's coming later" bits they often throw at the beginning of the news to keep viewers engaged. For this she wanted to sit in my driver's seat. The light under the tree was better than direct sunlight but was still bright in a few of the wrong places. The cameraman did what he could, and at one point the producer and I were holding up a folding reflector-thingie to bounce the sunlight onto the reporter's face as she sat in my car. She rattled off two slightly differently-toned versions of the same "there's a new breed of drivers on the road" intro. It was interesting to watch them compose the artistic wrapper around this -- she rehearsed her speech a couple of times, and they discussed when in the sentence to slam the car door and other little "flow" subtleties. Having a little production experience under my belt, it was nice to understand what they were up to. "We do this all the time," she told me.

Here you can actually see me reflected in the door taking the picture. I guess my car makes me look fat, huh? Oh, and of *course* I have to fire *right* when her eyes are closed -- it always happens that way, doesn't it..

Then, we went out on the road -- I cleared out my back seat so the cameraman could shuffle back and forth for better shots, told him he could have AC power off my inverter if he needed it, and the reporter rode shotgun. We tooled down Storrow Drive a ways with me rattling off various realtime thoughts about navigating traffic, when to pulse, when to glide, how to best avoid other vehicles while still optimizing my own conditions, etc. Not a whole lot of emphasis on the instrumentation, but it was clearly in the shots as was my running 63.something MPG tank average from last weekend's return trip from Green Grand Prix. We didn't get many traffic lights until we got off to turn around at Fenway, and I tried to explain as best as I could through the very close-together cluster of lights at Comm Ave why it's useless to race up to the next red lights when everybody's already stopped at it. Not an amazingly good example for timing, but we got through that and back on Storrow to return.

Then they wanted to get the *external* on-the-road shots, i.e. send me back out and chase me with the camera. The SUV got fired up again and they loaded in, and we basically did the same run again. I kept it just under 40 (the PSL, not like anyone else keeps to that) in the right lane while they moved around behind me and next to me (with lots of extra gas and brake, I'm sure, from the sounds their car was making, but that's the downside of trying to match speeds at close-in distances). At one point they were beside me and the cameraman was shooting away and wanted to keep the flow going, because now our two vehicles were totally blocking Storrow at 35 or 40 MPH and a black Land Barge had come up behind us and was *totally* doing the angry-hornet thing half a car-length from us trying to figure out how to get by. I didn't feel particularly good about that -- part of hypermiling or smooth driving or whatever is being acutely aware of what's *behind* you as well as in front, and accomodating as needed and safe. At that point we must have looked like a pair of "speed limit vigilantes" that didn't want to let him by, and I was wondering how long the camera truck was going to insist on staying there. Now, the land-barge driver's correct move in that situation would have been to back WAY off and watch what we were doing from a distance, because we were obviously up to something unusual and that's not something you necessarily want to have your own vehicle right behind!  (If you ever wind up reading this, pal, think about that next time.)  I cannot count the times that hanging back from a weird situation and just letting it play itself out with me nowhere near it has saved my butt, in fact, and cost me nothing in time. Eventually I slowed down more so the crew SUV could move past me and over, and schvvwooom! the other guy blasted by us full-bore. Made his tiny little self-important day, I'm sure, except for the extraordinary hardship of getting to his office all of thirty seconds later.

We turned around at Fenway again and now the crew truck was ahead of me, and there was enough traffic around that I couldn't catch up to them for a while. Eventually I did but it was pretty close to back home, and I don't know if they got any more useful footage. But they've probably got plenty of material to work with at this point.

The producer's going on vacation for a while but the segment will probably air sometime in very late July or early August. They've said that it's all going to be presented in a very positive light and try to make hypermiling, or even just smoother/better driving, look like the latest cool motorsport. Well, we'll see. This thread will be continued as new information and happenings roll in, so hopefully via the power of the internet there will be many fuel-economy enthusiast eyeballs on CBS for a while. This message really does need to hit the mainstream in a big way, and start turning around some of the years of damage that society's approach to driving has done.

_H* 070712