C​ardboard cutouts of James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show
C​ardboard cutouts of James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show


AutoMatters … and more, for the home & office


(NOTE: Since I do not have photos of Ben’s work on “The Grand Tour,” I have included my photos from “The Grand Tour” at the 2017 & 2018 LA Auto Shows. Jan)

The February 2021 issue of American Cinematographer magazine (visit ascmag.com) features a fascinating article by Peter Tonguette, entitled “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.”

The Grand Tour Mayhem Hall Pub at the 2​017 LA Auto Show

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.”

T​he Grand Tour Game at the 2018 LA Auto Show

For example, in the 2019 Madagascar episode, entitled “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.”

T​he Grand Tour Game at the 2018 LA Auto Show

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.

Playing T​he Grand Tour Game at the 2018 LA Auto Show

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.”

J​an and new friends from The Grand Tour at the 2017 LA Auto Show

Episodes convey to us “a visceral sense of being and existing in that country,” further enriching our understanding of the world.

S​nacks menu at The Grand Tour Mayhem Hall Pub (2017 LA Auto Show)
Pub s​nacks at The Grand Tour Mayhem Hall Pub (2017 LA Auto Show


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Jan Wagner

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