Chris Kippenberger has an impressive resume: he's helped make music videos for Ridley Scott Associates. He worked behind the scenes in the adult industry. He's built his own drones. So how exactly did he end up making some of the prettiest car videos online?
"You get a pretty clear understanding about how male traffic moves and converts," explains Kippenberger, talking about what he learned working on the tech side of the adult industry. "Pretty similar to car videos, just guys can watch those at work."
The Internet is filled with flashy car videos these days. It used to be that Top Gear (which can cost $1 million per episode) was the only game in town, but now anybody can get a GoPro and a Canon, post their videos online, and get some quality car porn online. Nobody makes as many beautiful, affordable, consistently interesting car videos as Kippenberger, and he has a career in some of the weirder parts of the film world to thank.
Before I go on, let me say that his work is unforgettable.
His drone’s eye view of the Nürburgring debuted in January 2012 and not only was it amazing how good the video looked, but how he was able to get his shots. Renting a helicopter for a day could cost $50,000. Kippenberger's drone started off as a $630 XAircraft X650V-4. He was getting an unthinkable view for such a reasonable budget.
He's also well known for "Kart Kids" from last Fall. One the one hand it's an adorable short about a nine-year-old racer Curtis explaining 'how grip works,' but on the other, it's just an awesomely shot film on karting itself. The drone work is outstanding.
And what's always surprising about Kippenberger's videos is how he gets access to some of the most interesting people the car world. How else would we know about Heidi Hetzer, the 75-year-old former race car driver who now plans on driving a 91-year-old car around the world?
Kippenberger also shoots for the video segment of the gorgeous German car magazine Ramp, and his RampTV films are excellent. He managed to clear out the Porsche Museum to let two kids run wild.
For car enthusiasts, it was like watching a dream.
And he can really shoot. In the 911 video above, Chris directed the shots from inside the car, while driving. Over speaker phone he (below, right) called his partner Marcus Gelhard (below, left) who was stationed down the mountain with the drone's remote controls. That's just cool.
So how did Kippenberger build up to making these videos? He actually started as an industrial design student in San Francisco. He was making chairs, but in the late '90s he moved to LA and started working in film. Why'd he switch fields? "Film seemed more of a kick than standing around in sawdust all day long."
He started working in post production, but things got strange. "It's not weird," explains Kippenberger, "just a little murky, which at first is alluring but in the long run was not sustainable." One entire post team he worked with got hooked on heroin and got fired. "They had this sophisticated script ring and were hitting drug stores in the Valley with fake casts and shit, and this at one of the premier post joints in the city."
So he left post production and started working at Ridley Scott Associates where he wrote music video concepts. He then left for Germany to become executive producer at Vice Germany. After that he made his move to the adult industry. At Vice and in the adult industry was where he learned everything he knew about distributing videos online.
"I liked the adult industry for its technical side," Kippenberger told me. "They are the silent pioneers of everything payment, streaming, etc. They built it all. They really need more acknowledgement."
Kippenberger worked in video streaming, encoding, transcoding and payments solutions, which isn't exactly what you expect when someone says they worked in the adult industry. Kippenberger was more obsessed with the technology anyway. He looks up to German programmer Fabian Thylmann, the reclusive "King of Porn" (according to the Financial Times), who revolutionized how porn could be distributed over the Internet. Free video clips and the advertising on pay-for-view websites are thanks to his work.
So how did he switch from real porn to car porn? Kippenberger told me that after a certain point he "just liked cars more than dealing with off-shore entities and bankers all day." It wasn't that difficult a change even. "[The] people are same. Most of the adult guys I know are into cars, so it was always a big part of our lifestyle."
And that's when Kippenberger discovered drones.
The drone thing was really just my way out of the boredom of film and video production.
I have always hated people who work on a film set.
It's all based on people forcing you to believe you need something only they know how to use blah blah blah - bunch of film bullies.
It's easy to focus just on those drones when you watch Kippenberger's videos. The aerial footage is just so wild, but when I pressed Kippenberger about his drones, Chris told me, "the drone is a flying camera, not a good idea generator." If it was just about his equipment, "we'd just have to buy a GoPro, but that [alone] doesn't make good films."
Kippenberger explained more why drones are so useful to him in an interview with Co.Create on Fast Company.
“The drone turns the camera into a flying camera which can shoot indoors and get very close to your subject while inducing childlike joy when retrieving footage,” Kippenberger told Co.Create. “Then there’s the cost thing—at the end of the day it is a tool that won’t make movies on its own, but (UAVs) help open the door to unseen perspectives. The challenge for us is getting clients away from depending on agencies gobbling up their budgets when there is little reason to employ a team of 60 people to shoot a 30-second spot (when you have a drone).”
What's important to Kippenberger is how he trims the fat out of his production process, and how he offers clients great content without "selling them shit they don't really need."
Every time I see a production blocking a street employing 200 makes me feel that this way of producing is outdated. It's not just the production it's the entire creative process and industry around it. Agency, production, post production and all the people in between who want to be fed.
I asked him how he's able to get by without a big team. He said, "I'm ruthless."
I'm ruthless. Not sure if its going to give me cancer...It's about creating good content by all means necessary. It's not necessarily a way to make friends, but you do get respect.
I like the direct response these days, drum up an idea go shoot it, post it, next. It's the democratization of film making.
So what are Kippenberger's plans for the future? Well, there's some tech Kippenberger and Marcus are working on.
We have a lab for quite some time [and] we are working around the clock to lighten production. Ideally sort of a skunk works - the M or AMG divison of film production.
Its a lot about the stabilization system in my opinion we go through changes on a day to day basis...For instance in the handheld system we are sourcing intellectual property we developed in gimbal for the drones which are now in the hand set...
Expanding application is paramount - we are currently looking at r&d for sticking them on rc hovercrafts capable of speeds of 80km/h traveling on land, water, and snow.
But there's more to it than just tech.
The last 10 films where an exercise. They where a test to see what could be done under extreme circumstances. Very little budget and time. I was able to put together a production unit which can execute high value images in a very small footprint - light weight and efficient.
The next goal is to find partners and add scale.
If you look across his whole career, you can see how Kippenberger would end up where he is now. He left the film industry when he thought he could do something leaner than the big budget productions in LA. Working in the adult industry taught him how to distribute his work and how to draw up online traffic. When he started making his own videos, he kept things lightweight, which brought him to drones.
Conveniently, all of these themes come together in Kippenberger's just-released video. He said he was trying to pare down his car videos to have the same minimalism he tries to keep with his company. It's called "Maximum Reduction." I should let the sound and the visuals speak for themselves, but if this video is anything to go by, his upcoming work is going to be as good as ever.