The breathless Tesla spec ad parade continues.
In 2014, there was the car-as-kid's-spaceship spot, made by fans. Last year, we learned that Teslas are actually made of fireflies, in another video created independently from the brand. And now, a new team of filmmakers—again, working on their own—has cast the electric auto company as a hero riding into a bleak, colorless, oil-soaked Dust Bowl dystopia.
Onshore rigs, filmed in black and white, pump at the earth, while churning dark smoke into the sky. A madman raves about a world powered solely by electricity. Gas trucks float skywards, upside down, as if gravity ceased to exist. Peons with bent backs and tired legs lug jugs of oil, their bodies soaked in soot.
All the while, a shiny white Tesla Model S rides into town, and pops the handles out of its doors—like some returning God presenting itself on the altar. In awe, a worn-out worker leaves her cans of fuel in the dirt, and climbs in. The camera cuts to color, as the Tesla winds through a golden field filled with windmills, and drives off into the sunset.
In other words, the ad, titled "Not a Dream" and created by writing/directing duo the Freise Brothers, has a high melodrama factor (suffice to say it's also drawing comparisons to Mad Max). But in a powerful twist, the voiceover—purple at first blush—and the entire concept turn out to be based on actual words from Nikola Tesla, the engineer and inventor after whom the car brand is named.
If the voice actor's delivery leans towards overwrought, it makes more sense after the reveal—evoking an image of a scientist barking into an old-time microphone.
It's also a little odd that the ad presents the population (presumably future Tesla drivers, and the target market) as dirty, impoverished and beleaguered. But that's clearly a metaphor for the broad effects of a charred environment.
And at least it's honest—the only way the unwashed masses are getting in a Tesla today is if someone with a lot more money gives them a ride. (To be fair, the company is developing two vehicles it plans to sell for somewhere around $30,000. Models currently on the market run in the $70,000 to $140,000 range, if purchased new.)
As with previous fan-made work, the automaker has promoted this ad on Twitter—the brand's proven willingness to amplify the platform is a clear incentive for shoestring filmmakers seeking exposure to churn out these rah-rah pieces, a dynamic that some critics fear devalues ad work more broadly. (The Freises, identical twins Adam and Nathan, shot the spot on DSLRs, with a rented Tesla and help from friends, and created the visual effects—like the floating trucks—themselves in 3ds Max and After Effects).
As for the idea itself, Tesla's words are certainly moving, and seem incredibly prescient. In its original historical context, the quote that served as inspiration isn't quite as appropriate—or optimistic—as the version delivered by the voiceover, which actually appears to abridge and combine a couple of quotes from the inventor.
A small portion of the message—about machinery forgoing coal, oil and gas power—seems drawn from a 1933 newspaper interview, relatively late in Tesla's life, about using the sun as a source of unlimited energy. But most of the ad's copy comes from a 1905 article in which Tesla fantasized about wireless electricity, endlessly beamed 12,000 miles around the globe, as a means to world peace. (Last year, Japanese engineers managed to get enough current to power an electric kettle 170 feet.)
"It is not a dream, it is a simple feat of scientific electrical engineering, only expensive—blind, faint-hearted, doubting world!" he wrote for the periodical Electrical World and Engineering. "Humanity is not yet sufficiently advanced to be willingly led by the discover's keen searching sense. But who knows? Perhaps it is better in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or invention instead of being helped and patted, be hampered and ill-treated in its adolescence—by want of means, by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations, through the heartless strife of commercial existence. So do we get our light. So all that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combated, suppressed—only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle."
That rousing speech, bitter and frustrated, came after funding dried up for Tesla's ambitious Wardenclyffe project—a failure interpreted as Tesla's worst, and one that sparked a nervous breakdown. By his standards, a limited-range electric car, marketed as a pricy mass consumer product, might seem fairly prosaic. Then again, if the Tesla car really is an intergalactic spaceboat of light and wonder, that might be another story.
Director, Story, VFX, Edit, Sound: Freise Brothers
Cinematographer: Christian Evans, Freise Brothers
Actors: Giles Ashford, S. Hong
Music: Diana by 'Sonic Architect' Tony Anderson
Nikola Tesla Narration: Jonathan David Dixon