Nice car stranger, can I interview you about it?
June 16, 2014 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to do a series of documentary vignettes about people with interesting cars. What's the best and least creepy way to get the owner of a car I see on the road or in a parking lot to agree to an interview? Creative suggestions encouraged.

My idea is a little more specific than just "interesting cars" but for the sake of not giving it away, trust me when I say that I would not be asking anything more controversial than "Hey, you have this interesting car, I'd like to interview you about it."

I live in Los Angeles and I'll see a few cars that fit my criteria every week. The problem is I'll see these cars either a) on the road while out driving or b) in a parking lot with the owner nowhere to be found. So I'm looking for creative suggestions for both situations.

For cars in parking lots, I've thought of making up some kind of flier to place on the windshield, but I feel like this is likely to be crumpled up and thrown out without being read. The other possibility would be to wait in the parking lot until the owner of the car in question returns. This way I'd be able to have a conversation with the owner, they'd see that I'm not a creep, and I'd have a much higher chance of success. Of course, I'd like to avoid waiting in a parking lot for four hours if at all possible.

For cars I see while driving, I can't think of a safe way to do this. I could follow them until they pulled over or stopped, but I feel like this would creep them out unless I did it in a non-obvious way, and I'm really not interested in becoming an expert in the stealth tailing of automobiles if I don't have to. Is there any way to contact the owner of a car based on their license plate or any other way you can think of to reach out in a safe way?

The third option would be to put out an ad or request somewhere for people whose cars fit my criteria. I'm open to this but I don't know the best venue.

Please help me hive mind!
posted by hamsterdam to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suggest going to a local "cars & coffee" event, typically held on Saturday or Sunday mornings in various parking lots around Los Angeles, where people with interesting cars convene to hang out, show off the cars (just parked with hoods up - not doing burnouts or whatever). There, you can easily approach, strike up conversation about the car, and even probably do the actual interviews.
posted by The World Famous at 1:43 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read everything that people put on my windshield that doesn't look like a car wash flyer. Particularly if it's on non-glossy paper, which ironically, I think is more eye-catching because of the novelty (i.e., all the car was flyers on my car tend to be glossy).

Also, as a general observation, people who have an awesome car, or wear a fanciful cape and top hat, or carry a snake tend to like to talk about it. You will not be the first person to say "hey, nice car" to the guy with the nice car--and probably not the first person to put a note on their windshield (which to me suggests they might be more likely than other drivers to read a note on their windshield).

But I'd refrain from waiting for them in the parking lot; that seems too stalkery. Unless, like any good stalker you can watch from afar and walk by when they get to their car and strike up a "spontaneous" conversation about their nice car.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:45 PM on June 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I vote for the flier on the windshield for parked cars. Don't wait in the parking lot for them, because IMHO there is no way to do that without being slightly creepy. As a woman that sounds nightmarish to me.

For cars that are driving, you could follow them, see where the car gets parked, then after they have left, put a flier on the windshield.

On preview, I second The World Famous. Depending what sort of interesting cars you want, there are a few of these events. There's a big one every Sunday in the valley - it was in the parking lot of the Topanga Mall last time I went, and there's a different theme every week.
posted by Joh at 1:45 PM on June 16, 2014

There was an episode of "Leverage" that had a con involving faking a vintage car having belonged to Mussolini, and the Leverage characters setting up an impromptu vintage car show. In the episode commentary, the show runners talked about how they had as easy a time organizing it for the show as the characters did, because the collectors all loved the opportunity to show off their cars and hang around with their fellow car enthusiasts.

If there are any Maker Fairs near you, you'd probably find things there (my brother did some Lego stuff to his car for Maker Fairs, never got to see it myself)
posted by oh yeah! at 1:51 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I live in the town in which American Graffiti was filmed, we have a ton of people with interesting cars in our area, including the annual Salute to American Graffiti, a once a month gathering at a local drive-in, an occasional "Wings & Wheels" at the airport, and a few other gatherings. And lots of hotrods and neat old cars in driveways and parked on the street (One neighbor has a '40s Dodge truck which is his usual vehicle, including making dump runs).

People drive cool cars as a method of self-expression, my impression is that they love to talk about them. A flyer, plain paper sounds great, that says "Hi, I'm intrigued by your car and would like to interview you" I think will get you a ton of responses. If you can use a local drive-in gathering (there are tons of them) to prime the pump so that the flyer can have a link to some of your previous interstitials, I suspect you'll get a huge response rate to that.
posted by straw at 1:57 PM on June 16, 2014

Instead of a flyer on the windshield, tuck a business card in the driver's side window so they are sure to see it before they get in.
posted by soelo at 2:02 PM on June 16, 2014

Have a business card printed up with the name of your project, a stapler and blank paper in your car. Whenever you see a cool car, write a quick note, staple your card to the paper and leave it face down under the windshield wiper.

You may have a bit more of a chance than just a note on the back of a receipt.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:02 PM on June 16, 2014

I used to have an "interesting car". On more than one occasion, I had people do a pretty bad job of hiding their amusement. I got lots of pejorative comments about it.

On the other hand, I had lots of people who knew what the model of car was come up and talk to me about it. I spent a lot more time chatting with folks who said "nice 2CV - how long have you had it?" than I did with people who opened with "haha Tin Snail!"

When you leave your message, make sure to mention something that shows that you know at least a little about the car. Enthusiasts generally love chatting about their pride and joy - I once got into a conversation with a Japanese chap about my car while filling it with fuel on a station forecourt, and nearly caused a petrol spillage. The only other flyers I found on my car were adverts for low rate car financing, which was rather more of an insult.

tl;dr, open with a compliment and mention the car's make.
posted by Solomon at 2:07 PM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have a clipboard, and wear light-colored clothing so you do not look creepy. Avoid wearing a hoodie.
posted by Cranberry at 2:13 PM on June 16, 2014

I drive an 'interesting car', and yes I've had lots of people comment on it.

I'd suggest tucking a flier FACE UP under the wipers, with a large-print opening phrase that'll catch their eye, plus contact info (phone number, email address), website, and a brief explanation of what you're about. I say face-up because I crumple & trash stuff left on my car before I even get in, so you've got to get my attention fast, and before I even unlock the car. (And bare business cards, either under the wipers or tucked in my door, don't get even a glance.)

As for following to see where they park: that sounds like a good way to meet some nice police officers.... if someone is following me, I'll either lead them TO a police station or be on my phone calling them!
posted by easily confused at 2:20 PM on June 16, 2014

I also used to have an interesting car, and I would have loved to talk about it. I would have responded best to a flyer on the car - a few times I was followed by people who wanted to look at my car, and I found it incredibly creepy. I always wound up going to a very public place, sometimes the police station parking lot, in order to lose them, and I would not have responded positively to any kind of follow up from them.

Perhaps try Craiglist missed connections or something for the cars you see on the road?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:24 PM on June 16, 2014

My husband has had and still has interesting cars, and he gets business cards and flyers every week from people who want to buy the car, use the car in an ad, take photos of the car for their Tumblr. He throws them in the trash because he doesn't have time to discuss his cars for free.

I think that you'd have better luck by asking people who post in online forums/Reddit/Flickr about their cars, or go to local car shows, etc., than approaching random strangers in parking lots.

" Is there any way to contact the owner of a car based on their license plate or any other way you can think of to reach out in a safe way?"
If you want to hire a PI to run plates, sure--but I think that would freak people out.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:50 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the TV show Counting Cars the guys drive alongside interesting cars and shout over to the drivers to pull over, and then Danny (the host) usually introduces himself and his partner by saying 'We're car guys and we wanted to talk about your car,' or words to that effect. It's reality TV so they're accompanied by a TV crew, obviously, but it seems to be at least somewhat plausible. He also tends to cruise around Las Vegas looking for cars parked outside houses and then just knocks on the door to talk to their owners.
posted by StephenF at 2:53 PM on June 16, 2014

Do what Ruthless Bunny suggested, but additionally, include a url with a link to a project website featuring some examples from the project so these people know exactly what to expect. Friends and acquaintances make for good example footage. Show them, don't tell them. Your batting average will improve.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 2:54 PM on June 16, 2014

Regarding going to shows as The World Famous suggests, take a portfolio showing the work you want to do. Pictures of cars, typical questions you ask owners, maybe some articles you've written. Anything to emphasize you're legitimately working on a project.
posted by lharmon at 2:54 PM on June 16, 2014

" Counting Cars " is prebooked. They don't show up without the person's consent and involvement. They don't pull over people who haven't been pre-interviewed. The show associate producers do a ton of scouting and casting before any camera gets turned on. Don't believe everything you see on TV.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:56 PM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

My husband has had and still has interesting cars, and he gets business cards and flyers every week from people who want to buy the car, use the car in an ad, take photos of the car for their Tumblr. He throws them in the trash because he doesn't have time to discuss his cars for free.

I think that you'd have better luck by asking people who post in online forums/Reddit/Flickr about their cars, or go to local car shows, etc., than approaching random strangers in parking lots.
(empahasis mine)

OP, are you in L.A.? Because as a fellow Angeleno who has driven a variety of interesting cars nearly all my driving life I think ideefixe's comment sounds much like my experience. As a matter of fact, before I gave up my car last year I traded my last "interesting" car for a used truck and even asked the dealer to remove the pinstripes because I was so sick of the attention.

Other places may not be so jaded, but I think ideefixe nailed it with the suggestion of going to car shows, etc. if you are in the L.A. area.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:46 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live in LA; I once had an assignment to talk to people about their cars for some underpaying blog or another. This is the way I did it:

"Hi, I'm [KLANG], and I'm writing a story for [SOME CONTENT FARM] about exceptional cars. [Hand over business card.] Do you have a moment to talk?"

I interviewed probably about 50 people, took photos, and got their contact info for further followup and to send them the items when they ran. I didn't have anyone say no, and I got to talk to a lot of people with random-ass unusual cars.

I think having a business card helped me — a few didn't have time to talk then, but had time later — and being pretty nonchalant about the whole thing kept it from being creepy. Plus that I already had an outlet that they could verify immediately — I wasn't just dicking them around.

I only talked to people who were there with their cars — it took about five minutes total — so I didn't have to worry about them throwing away my card without looking, but if I would have had to grab someone who wasn't there, I'd probably tuck it into the door handle rather than the wiper, just because it would look less spammy and be more noticeable. I might not have gotten Ideefixe's husband, but I got people from weird custom electric cars through Model Ts and Lotus roadsters, even a guy who had his Delorean kitted out like Back to the Future, with the worst ones just being dudes who wanted to tell me more and more and more about their cars (some guy had a Mercedes that was custom modded to honor the Armenian genocide, and he talked my ear off).
posted by klangklangston at 7:08 PM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bob's Big Boy in Burbank/Toluca Lake does classic car nights.
posted by brujita at 7:27 PM on June 16, 2014

If the documentary isn't specifically about interviewing drivers of interesting cars you encounter in your day to day life, just put up a craigslist ad or throw it out to your social networking contacts.

I see approximately one million craigslist ads per day with headlines like "GOT AN INTERESTING RIDE? LOCAL DOC FILMMAKER WANTS TO TALK TO YOU!" in the TV/Film/Video job section despite the fact that being a documentary interview subject isn't really a "job" per se.
posted by Sara C. at 5:18 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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