Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond were recently named to a list of the greatest automotive icons of all time.
To anyone paying attention to the car scene over the last two decades, it’s no wonder how they got on the list.
First on “Top Gear” then on “The Grand Tour”, the three hosts, with a lot of assistance behind the scenes from executive producer Andy Wilman, the trio engaged a whole new generation of car fanatics and reignited the passions of older generations.
It’s safe to say that there have been millions of man-hours put in on the track, in fields, across tarmac, in jungles and deserts, and on roadways across the world over the better part of the 2000s by the team. What goes into making an episode ready for an audience?
In a YouTube chat between Clarkson and Wilman that aired exclusively on the DriveTribe channel (the hosts own DriveTribe), the two divulged some secrets about what goes into producing an episode of “The Grand Tour”. Scroll to the bottom of this article to watch the video.
See a clip of the interview here:
This is why The Grand Tour is taking so long
“The Grand Tour” team films twice as many hours as most shows.
According to the duo, the average documentary show, like what David Attenborough produces, films 500 hours of footage for every hour that ends up on the screen. “The Grand Tour” films about 1,000 hours. It’s Wilman and his team’s job to edit that down to a 90-ish minute show. Of that, 100 hours is with what they refer to as “big cameras” and the other 900 is the trio going, “blah, blah, blah,” as Wilman puts it.
The presenters have off buttons on their mics but Hammond frequently misuses his and May and Clarkson never take advantage of the option.
“Hammond uses it but he gets it confused,” tells Wilman. “So he’ll switch it off when he’s reviewing a car and then when he’s talking to Mindy about, I don’t know, horse prices or the rural bullocks, he’s got it on.”
The shortest of the presenters is often teased by his counterparts for living in the countryside with his wife, Mindy.
Most of the filming is just Clarkson, May, and Hammond chatting amongst themselves.
As Wilman says, “Going on and on.” Shouting at other cars, calling each other names, discussing the sad state of the situation are all topics frequently covered.
Wilman drives one of the three tracking cars and usually wrecks it.
Filming the show is a manual in what not to do during a traditional street drive. Clarkson describes Wilmas as having three walkie-talkies going at the same time, driving one of three chase vehicles, directing a camera man, and trying to hit all sorts of bumps that make for good TV.
Wilman describes it as a “stressful time” but assures Clarkson that he’s not always at fault.
“The Grand Tour” is filmed in 4K, which means that the 1,000 hours of footage takes five weeks to go from camera to computer to edit.
Why? “It’s all technical shit. Don’t ask me,” says Wilman waving his hands and joking that the computer it goes into is Fred Fintstone-era equipment. That five weeks is before the editors can even access the footage to begin their process.
All that dialogue gets transcribed into a script that is printed out.
Every time Clarkson, Hammond, May, or a production team member airs an utterance on film, it is captured as part of a script. When it’s printed, it looks akin to a copy of “Ulysses” on loose printed paper.
They edit out James May smoking.
The editor then has to take out the parts of the film where May is smoking and Clarkson is shouting (perhaps profanely) at passersby. He has to match up all the cameras shot by shot. “The Grand Tour” production team drives three chase vehicles while filming and there’s frequently at least three cameras shooting at the same time. This part takes another five weeks.
Are you counting? That’s already 10 weeks post-shooting.
It takes three months of editing to shape an episode.
Production at this point is a back and forth process. Even when “The Grand Tour” team is done with it, they still have to send it to Amazon. Wilman says that Amazon keeps it for another five weeks.
The latest episode of “The Grand Tour”, which was filmed in Madagascar in autumn 2019, has been held up because of coronavirus.
According to Wilman, it normally takes a few months to edit one of the episodes, but the extended lag time for this episode is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. Editing and production teams have not been able to work together in one space and Wilman was himself afflicted by COVID-19 (he’s since healed). During the discussion, Wilman assured fans that they continue to work on the episode from a distance, on less than ideal equipment (laptops) and hope to have it out soon.
Clarkson, May, Hammond, and Wilman have no say on when the episodes get released.
After the final cuts have been made by “The Grand Tour” team, the production company sends the footage to Amazon. Amazon then determines when the episode will air and holds out telling the group because they have, “big gulps,” says Wilman, and will tell everybody.
Production of the episode set to air after the Madagascar one was halted because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The team was to head to northern Russia in mid-March. You can read more about that journey and where the episode now stands here.
The best outtake you’ll never see is from Morocco.
The men filmed a scene where they were stacking animals on the scale that was… a bit gruesome. Wilman and Clarkson say that they soon realized that if they showed the footage to the public, animal rights protesters would be banging down their doors so they decided to leave it on the cutting room floor. However, the dialogue during that part of the episode was, apparently, pure gold.
We’ll never get an episode devoted to b-roll.
From Wilman’s mouth: “No. That’s the point of editing. You don’t want to watch that crap… You know the bloke at the end of a wedding, ’round about midnight, who is telling a joke… that’s what the rest is like.”