The Super Bowl might be a football game, but there's no denying the athletes share the spotlight with the commercials. For many, the elaborate, funny or downright strange ads are the best part of the game.
Eagle-eyed viewers in Bakersfield might have seen some familiar landscapes in past Super Bowl commercials. Sure, on a cursory look, the locales seem to be the African savanna, the idyllic green hills of Ireland or the Australian Outback, but that's all thanks to just a pinch of Hollywood magic that transforms the nearby Tejon Ranch into a variety of other landscapes.
"That's the magic of film, being transported to other places," said Barry Zoeller, Tejon Ranch's vice president of corporate communications and investor relations. "It's so cool to see the ranch double as other places."
Although it's only about 40 miles south of us, the 270,000 acres of Tejon Ranch could be anywhere, thanks to its diverse landscape. Because of that, it's been a favorite location for not only Super Bowl commercials but for photo shoots and music videos too.
"We're so close to L.A. and we have such a diverse location," said Stephanie Percy, from Tejon Ranch's film department, adding that another reason for its popularity is "the privacy of the ranch. We offer a seclusion most locations cannot."
That seclusion means not only privacy for the cast and crew but also a wide-open set, where the camera can shoot in any direction without stumbling across anything that's not meant to be on the screen.
"We really offer a 360-degree view," Percy said. "That's not something a lot of locations can offer."
On the Super Bowl front, most recently viewers have seen Tejon Ranch in last year's Kia "Hero's Journey" spot featuring actress Melissa McCarthy. In it, McCarthy is called to a number of locations to help an ecological cause, like the middle of the ocean to save the whales. She's later called to Africa to save the rhinos, only "Africa" is actually Tejon Ranch. (The message of the ad is that while it's difficult to be an eco warrior, it's easy to drive the Kia Niro, a hybrid car.)
"She was really witty and kind, just as she is on film," said Percy, who was on set that day. "It was really special."
Someone from the Tejon Ranch film department is on set for any shoot, usually Percy herself, so the cast and crew can be sure to have the best service possible.
"We have somebody there on location," Percy said. "We're the first in and the last out."
Super Bowl commercials filmed at the ranch don't always get big-name celebrities, but that doesn't mean they aren't memorable. In 1997, Taco Bell shot its "Lions" ad there, where two of the large cats covet some campers' taquitos. In 2000, a Mountain Dew ad had a bicyclist chase down a cheetah who had stolen his can of the soda, for "Bad Cheetah." Coke shot an ad for the 2010 Super Bowl called "Sleepwalking," where a man walks in his sleep through an African plain and several animals to get his drink.
One of Percy's personal favorite Super Bowl commercials is a 2000 ad for EDS (Electronic Data Systems, once an HP company). The "Herding Cats" ad followed a group of rugged cowboys on horses in a rural setting, talking very seriously about their job as cat herders.
"That one I still really get a kick out of," Percy said.
Because the ranch, which has been used as a filming location since the '30s or '40s, is often used as an African or western location, shoots there frequently include animals, and with less CGI than one might think.
"We have had everything," Percy said, listing buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, lions and tigers among them. "You name it, we've accommodated it."
The buffaloes on the ranch were for a recent State Farm ad called "Attacking Buffaloes," where two men are in a car, admiring the view and eating a burger, when the animals ram their car. Reciting the State Farm jingle gets them out of danger.
While commercials sometimes get big names like McCarthy, other big celebrities are often there for other shoots. Famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz has shot Paul McCartney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rihanna and many others at Tejon Ranch, while Taylor Swift filmed her African-inspired "Wildest Dreams" video there with actor Scott Eastwood, and Selena Gomez also filmed her "Come and Get It" video there.
"I really enjoyed the Taylor Swift video," Percy said. "She's a really nice person, as was Scott Eastwood. It really read as Africa and people didn't realize (it wasn't)."
Last year, 52 different companies shot at Tejon Ranch, some for just one day and others for as long as a couple weeks, Percy said. While shoots run the gamut of productions, commercials are "our bread and butter," she said. Some of the shoots are for international release only, like a recent shoot that Chevy did on a commercial for China.
Percy and Zoeller didn't know if the ranch would be in any of this year's Super Bowl commercials, as they often don't know when projects that are shot there will be aired or released. When it comes to Super Bowl commercials — the, well, Super Bowl of advertising — companies tend to keep their TV spots under wraps.
Though there are none that she's aware of, Percy said she'll be watching the Super Bowl commercials and keeping an eye out. Viewers at home can try to identify Tejon Ranch on their own, too, by looking out for those rolling hills and oak trees.
"It's always fun when I'm watching TV to go, 'That was filmed at the ranch. That was filmed at the ranch,'" Zoeller said. "It has a well-known landscape. It's fun to pick out."