Now playing on YouTube: a cinematic love letter to the trucking industry

In 2016, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Clymer made a movie about trucking. The granddaughter of a trucker, she said the most discouraging thing she heard back then was a repeated question: Why is a woman making a movie about trucks?

Now, with truck drivers angered and pummeled by low freight rates even as accolades pour their way due to growing public realization that everyone would be pretty screwed without them, Clymer is opening up the paywall for all to see her film.

“Be Prepared to Stop” is now available on YouTube. The hourlong film focuses on many of the same issues the trucking industry has been trying to tell the general public about for years: the vital role it plays even as the most visible people in the supply chain — truck drivers — are treated with curiosity at best and contempt at worst.

“I care very much about people having access to see the movie,” Clymer said in an interview with FreightWaves. “That’s the reason we decided to release it to YouTube. We wanted everybody to see it.”

She joked that this deep into the lockdowns, everybody has finished watching whatever they wanted to on Netflix and it is time to move on to something else, including her movie. 

Clymer said she hopes her film can “change hearts and minds” for people who don’t have a good understanding of the particular demands placed on truck drivers. The timing is driven by the fact that people are getting back on the road. Increased viewing of the movie, Clymer said, may mean drivers will get “real respect, now that people have had the opportunity to see what it really does look like when a supply chain is impacted.”

The pandemic highlighted what Clymer said was a driver shortage, though with rates having plunged and capacity in the market climbing, those behind the wheel might not agree that’s a problem.

But beyond that, the film is designed to drive home the message that without drivers, the economy faces quick, serious impacts. Many saw that in the mad rush to buy staples such as toilet paper — and the fact that drivers were going to need to bust their butts to keep store shelves stocked with essentials. Newfound trucker love poured in.

Five years before that, “Be Prepared to Stop” was prescient in predicting such a situation, but on steroids. What happens after one day without trucks? The film catalogues the effects: You run out of milk, there’s no medicine, hospitals have no clean linens. By day five, echoing the list of other disaster movie scenarios, there’s something else that hits close to home: civil unrest. The occasional recent video clip of people going crazy while waiting in lines outside a supermarket are but small examples of that.

Steve Williams, the chairman and CEO of Maverick Transportation, and family members involved in the Arkansas company’s operations play a major role in the movie. That’s not coincidence; it was Williams who provided a lot of the inspiration for the film.

Clymer said she was at a film festival in Washington at a hotel. “I struck up a conversation with a couple of people who were about to leave, and it turns out it was Steve Williams from Maverick,” she said. “He was being cautious about saying what he did, and that he was in D.C. to make positive change.”

So Clymer asked: positive change about what? “Steve said he was in the trucking industry and I said, ‘I love truckers,’” Clymer said. “He said ‘I rarely hear that.’”

At that point, Clymer received a notification that her room was ready to be occupied. She started to head toward the front desk to grab her key when she thought of something. “I turned back and ran before Steve was going out the door, and said ‘I need your card,’” she said. A few days later, Clymer said she reached out to Wiliams and said that “it really hurt my heart that people don’t have an understanding and respect for something so important.”

And “Be Prepared to Stop” was born. The film focuses a great deal of its time on the failure of American infrastructure, with scenes of collapsed bridges driving home the point. As Williams says in the film in regard to public policy on infrastructure, “this generation hasn’t done a damn thing to do anything about this.” There also is significant discussion of the fact that the national gasoline tax has not budged since the early ’90s even as the needs have grown.

“I have a tough time holding on to the steering wheel” is how one driver talks about his passage over rutted roads. Todd Spencer, the president and CEO of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, describes the fact that it’s politically impossible to increase the fuel tax as resulting in its not being “a sustainable long-term funding mechanism.”

The film is not some paean to the open road. Drivers are interviewed in the film and they talk about their love for their difficult job. But infrastructure concerns are clearly the focus of “Be Prepared to Stop.”

Even though it’s just been a few years since the film was released, one small part is out of date: the lack of a reference to the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate. That leads to the film’s narrator talking about “creative bookkeeping … to make up for lost time.” But of course such shenanigans mostly went away with the ELD mandate.

Describing herself as “really proud” of “Be Prepared to Stop,” Clymer said she hopes the film “bridges the gap between the people who really understand it and people who are just side-by-side with you guys on the road.”

“We needed to make it digestible and tangible for the general public.”