Just a few days before Halloween, RJ Muna found himself standing in front of Dracula’s castle with a bright red Audi R8. He was there to photograph Audi’s spectacular Halloween social media campaign, a concept that was developed by MUH-TAY-ZIK HOF-FER to promote Audi’s higher-end vehicles.
When RJ got the brief, ‘Let’s go to Transylvania and shoot cars in front of Dracula’s castle,’ his response was “Well yeah, of course, let’s do that. I was ready to go,” said RJ.
To many, Count Dracula is only a fictional character from Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel, Dracula, but in fact, the novel is inspired by the 15th century Romanian Prince Vlad III known as Dracula, whose castle still stands in the village of Bran, in the heart of Transylvania.
The images were shot over a five-day period just before Halloween—snow was already covering Romania’s craggy Carpathian Mountains. The goal wasn’t just to shoot the car in front of an old building; they wanted to make the images dark, creepy, and ominous to contrast Audi’s modern “monsters” with the monsters of the past.
RJ’s team photographed the cars roaming the streets of Bran and Dracula’s birthplace of Sighisoara, driving up the steep and winding Transfăgărășan Highway—a road unlike no other—and in the dense trees of the Transylvanian forest.
“You wouldn’t think of Romania as being really beautiful. When you think Dracula you don’t think ‘Oh, it’s beautiful’; those two words don’t really go together. But the fall leaves were really falling and they were brilliant colors and everything was quite beautiful going up into the mountains,” said RJ.
Outside of Bucharest, RJ said most of the towns were very small and each one had a castle on a hill and several churches. They came across one church that had been built in 1260.
“That’s one of those things where you have to stop for a moment and reflect on how very old that is. It’s been around a long time and the math just doesn’t do it justice,” said RJ.
The silver Audi has 560 horsepower and made a sound akin to a sleeping giant. While the roar of the red 10-cylinder Audi engine certainly made a statement rumbling through these ancient villages, RJ said in they somehow still seemed right at home.
“You get this sense from Romania, certainly out in the countryside where we were, that old and new sort of go together. There were horse drawn carts with firewood and cabbage and people just walking on the side of the road, kind of the way they would have 300 years ago. The cars would go by and they didn’t bother nor interest anybody or anything—not the people, the horses, or even the wild dogs,” RJ said.
There is an image of the silver Audi poking out of an arched opening, which was shot at a castle dating from the 1300s, a block away from where Dracula was born. What can’t be seen in the photograph are the café, a pizza place, and the umbrellas of the sidewalk patio nearby.
RJ’s small team was made up of producer Mark Hofmann, assistant Josh LaCunha, and digital technician Kerry Mansfield. Because of the tight turnaround time, RJ also brought his retoucher Susan Scott with them; they fed images to her as they went along so she could send them on to the client in time for Halloween.
RJ credits the success of the campaign in large part to a great idea from the agency: “To me, the best thing to shoot is a good idea. When the concept is good, everything else falls right into place.”
The initial email sent from Muh-tay-zik Hof-fer head of production, Michelle Spear Nicholson was this: “We have an EPIC Halloween idea brewing with our friends at Audi. We’re looking for awesome night photography in particular. Of course, I thought of RJ.”
Thank you Michelle, we can’t wait for the next one!