The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 124


© January 19, 2009   

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Miniature Steam Engine in a TV Advert

Written by Robert Cox
photos by Robert Cox and Matthew Rawls-Allen


Me (Robert Cox) at the controls inside the kitchen, if only I could do this at home.....


Recently an advert for an insurance company aired on Australian TV featuring a guy with a miniature railway in his backyard and though the inside of his house.  For those who are unaware, Altona Miniature Railway provided the track, man power, engine and carriages for the filming.  Here is a brief article on the lead-up and filming of the TV Advert.

In early June, I received a phone call one afternoon from a gentleman asking for the price it would be to hire a steam engine, carriages and track. As we had had recently sold our portable track, I replied that we were no longer able to do a portable track runs and that we would be unable to help him. He then replied that it was not for a portable track run as such, but it would be for the filming of a TV Advert. I was puzzled by the request and thought "okay then" and I offered up a price (I really thought that my leg was being pulled).

As we hadn't heard anything in two or so months, we decided to close it off as an item at our July board meeting, expecting to not hear anything further, however we were wrong.

Two days later I received a phone call from the gentleman to say that they had been successful with their bid for the TV Advert and that filming was to take place in two weeks on Tuesday the 12th of August. As my partner and I had planned to go to an Interclub Run that weekend in QLD (1,700 kms away), we had to put it on hold until next year, as we couldn't had made it back to Melbourne for filming.

After a mad rush of phone calls I had arranged some member's to help out with the setup, made the decision on which pieces of track that we were to take, which steam engine was to run and how it was all going to come together (based on the story boards provided).

The junior track (an oval that was in the centre of our layout) was selected to provided the required tracks for the shoot, so Sunday the 10th of August, Malcolm, Peter, Sarah and myself arrived down at the club to unbolt and load up the truck (thanks to Sergeants Rentals for the borrowing of a vehicle) and then to deliver it over to the house ready for set-up on the Monday the 11th.

- click the photos to enlarge -

Monday the 11th of August (day before filming) arrived and saw Neil, Keith, Malcolm, Matthew and I arrive on location to drop off additional props, ensure that we were able to run the track and train inside the house with very little fuss and setup the first two shots for the following day. As one of the later shots required for the track to diverge into the bedroom (or the sleeper line as they called it), we got to work on constructing a switch. As the radius into the room was quite sharp a "fake switch" was needed to give the impression the train could travel into the bedroom. So Neil, Malcolm and Matthew fabricated a pair out of a straight and a curve (I think the quickest we have ever made a switch!). The Photos show the switch being constructed and then the switch installed in the hallway

Film Day - Tuesday the 12th of August saw Steve (owner of the Simplex), Neil, Keith, Matthew, Adrian and I arrive at 7am for breakfast (For those who have never been on a film set, it is one of the largest catering for a breakfast I have ever seen, which included options for a cooked breakfast, cereal, toast and cakes). Steve fired up the Simplex and ready for the filming to start.

The first shot – departing the garage was already to go (as we had already setup the previous day) and filming started. To ensure that they got all of the angles that they required, the shot had about 10 takes.

For those that are interested, here is some "behind the scenes" footage of the shot. – A side view of the engine coming out of the garage and stopping next to the camera. What amazed me was the amount of people required to bring it all together. – A different angle of the same shot, different take. As you can see the curve didn't make it around to miss the house. But the magic of film gives the impression it does in the finished product.

We then moved onto the next shot, which required the train to travel up the back yard and through the tunnel. The tunnel was constructed out of plywood, painted to look like bricks, with foams bricks on each end. As the back yard was quite steep we attached a rope to the engine to help it up the hill. The reason for the rope was for safety and to help it get up to speed in the shot as it would look silly the engine starting off again for each different shot. In shots where the dolly was used, the rope also ensured that the distance between the camera and engine stayed the same each shot. The rope was digitally removed in post-production.  The photo with the driver without his hat was an out take as his hat was removed as it hit the tunnel.
As the director was unsure of which riding truck they wanted to use on the day, I ensured I had a couple extra to take with us. As you can see the photo of the tunnel with the camera, we used a 5" "Blowfly" riding truck as a dolly to get all of the head shots and dialogue in front of the engine. The signal in this shot (in front of the tunnel) is one that we use at our track and was manually operated by Keith Neilson who was hiding behind the tunnel changing the signal colour (left).

We then moved onto the driveway shot (past the car, the caravan and then the boat). This shot consisted of a number of straights with a curve in it that ran all the way up the driveway from the front yard (right).  From the photo below you can see it is quite steep and long. As we got setup ready to film, it started to rain so it was a break for lunch.

After lunch we continued on the driveway shot as the rain had eased, and a number of different angles were required. The first angle was with the camera at the top of the driveway watching as the engine come towards the camera, then with camera on dolly in front of the engine and then past grandma pottering in the garden. As with most previous shots a number of takes were done for each angle.
Next was the shot in through the kitchen door (up a ramp that had been previously constructed to get in over the step). The rail ended just inside the door (it was 5inches off the ground due to the ramp) and again the engine was assisted to make it appear as if it was continuing on. Adrian made a suggestion to the director that the Railway Crossing signal that we had brought along should be used next to the door, he agreed and so Adrian couching just out of sight of the camera operated the lights using a button to make it flash. In the final product railway crossing bell sounds were added to it

As you would expect (to a non-film person) the scenes would be filmed in order, however not the case. As the light was fading we moved inside to film the hallway shot, then past the kids in front of the TV into the bedroom, the bedroom shot (included hanging up of the hat), and a couple more.
As the engine had been in steam since early morning a quick service was undertaken. However re-lighting the fire caused a bit of smoke which happened to waft back into the house causing the smoke alarms to go haywire a number of times. A powerful fan was used to blow the air out after each take.
The film company was quite worried about the risk of fire (Well, there is a chance when you fire a steam engine inside a house!) inside the house. I assured them that there was a slight risk, but we would keep it to a minimum. However, each time the fire was stoked embers would emerge, and quick thinking of holding a wet rag over the chimney extinguished them as they escaped.

With some still photo's being taken in the hallway for printed media advertising the kitchen shot was setup. This required two curves, a straight and two curves to negotiate entering the outside door, passing in front of the wife cooking and then exit out the other door.  

The engine was then carried by hand to the kitchen and a couple of takes were taken (as you can see from the photo above it appears to be sunny outside, in fact it is around 11pm at night!!!) A wrap was called and everyone thanked for their time and effort.

If you haven't seen the Advert keep your eye out for it, it looks fantastic and is a great advertisement for our hobby!   For those who haven't seen it here is the TV Advert on YouTube.

It was a huge day and with-out the hard work of fellow members Neil, Keith, Malcolm, Adrian, Steve and Matthew Rawls-Allen the day wouldn't have been a success. I would also like to thank Alf and Lindsay from TLSS for the loan of the scaled carriages.


Author Robert Cox at the controls.

A bit about Altona Miniature Railway

Altona Miniature Railway is a non-profit hobby club established in 1976 (formally Altona and South Western Railroad) which acquired its current location in 1985. Our railway is a dual gauge (5" and 7-1/4" railway) situated on 8 acres of land in Altona North near Melbourne, Australia. Our membership is approximately 60 members which is growing regularly.

Our track consists of just over 1.2km of rail, a 100ft tunnel, deep cutting and creek crossing. We are currently working on a number of projects from the constructing a Junction and new station near our clubhouse that will enable some additional routes to be constructed, 2 sets of 4 passenger cars and 12 moveable frog points.

We hold a public run day once a month and for a majority of the other time we provide a venue for children's parties. Motive power is provided by two club diesel engines with the third on order from the US and a number of member owned steam engines / diesel and electric engines.

If you are interested in a visit when in Melbourne, Australia, please feel free to contact me and we can arrange a visit.

Keep an eye on our website which is updated regularly with status on our projects, news, photos, videos and newsletters.

Authors Note:

The club mentioned is fictitious. He says "We belong to the miniature railway club of Victoria" The reason they said this is that they didn't want people calling to complain that the actors weren't members of our club. "We belong" is the campaign that they are currently running.

The Actor is just an actor. After every cut, Steve would tend to the engine to ensure enough water and fire. So he was just on the whistle and regulator.

Written by Robert Cox
President Altona Miniature Railway

photos by Robert Cox and
Matthew Rawls-Allen

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