MAYBE they should have called it Castro-Oil.
When “Cuban Chrome” premieres on Discovery (July 13) it will mark the first time an American television series has been filmed entirely in Cuba.
“Sure, Conan O’Brien shot an episode of his show down there,” says executive producer Craig Piligian, noting the cable comic’s historic telecast from Havana last March. “But we were there, working long before he was and we are the first American company ever to shoot a show there.”
The show, which follows a group of antique car enthusiasts in Cuba, members of the A Lo Cubano Car Club, who are famed for driving and beautifully maintaining classic American cars.
While the U.S. embargo that took effect in 1961 stopped the flow of new cars, and most parts, a handful of ingenious gear-headed Cubans have created an underground infrastructure for getting auto parts.
What they can’t buy on the black market, they make themselves or modify existing parts to do the job.
In at least one case on the show, an owner proudly works on his old, blue clunker — that is powered by a boat engine.
The filmmakers faced similar hurdles, as getting parts for the high-tech cameras they used to frame the beautifully-shot program occasionally proved problematic when the island’s humidty took a toll on their equipment.
“Logistcally it was difficult,” admits Piligian, “When things went wrong it was not like we could just call up and have parts shipped down to us from Miami.”
The show takes viewers to places never seen before on U.S. television, from Havana’s ramshackle garages that house jaw-dropping hot-rods to illegal street races.
It took two years of lobbying the U.S. government before the show could start filming last summer. But Piligian’s cameras were there in December when President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro held simultaneous televised addresses expressing the new normal.
“There’s literally scenes we have in later episodes in which people are gathered around their TV watching Obama and then Raul Castro, and everyone watching is in tears,” says Piligian.