The Drive to Create: The Drive: PAC-12 Football
COW Library : Broadcasting : Tim Wilson : The Drive to Create: The Drive: PAC-12 Football
You haven't seen anything quite like The Drive: Pac-12 Football. It's a weekly document of the quest for championship by the UCLA Bruins college football program, which sounds simple enough. It's not simple at all.
Think of it as a cross between the classic, groundbreaking NFL Films shows, This Week In Pro Football and NFL Game Of The Week -- both debuting in 1965, taking a cinematic visual approach to televised storytelling that continues to reverberate -- and the ongoing, groundbreaking collaboration between NFL Films and HBO, Hard Knocks, which provides a brief but intensely intimate look at a different team's training camp each season.
30-second trailer for UCLA Football on the Pac-12 Networks series "The Drive: Pac-12 Football". For the full trailer, visit http://www.pac-12.com.
The Drive goes where neither of those went, and does something far more difficult. Instead of retelling a single game, or a couple of plays from several games, The Drive dives into every game. Instead of shooting before the season and airing only five episodes like Hard Knocks, The Drive tells the stories surrounding all 15 games, airing the new episode just days after each game is played.
Along the way, they take approximately 100 hours of footage shot on Saturday, and have a 22-minute version ready to air Wednesday. They have so much footage by taking the "all access" nature of the program very seriously. Not only beyond the playing field into other parts of the stadiums, but deep into a number of backstories.
Each episode also explicitly strives to live up to the visual and storytelling standards of NFL Films. (And yes, that includes the trademarked shots of spiraling footballs shot at incredibly high speeds, coming straight at you.) Pulling that kind of storytelling in half a week of post? Fifteen weeks in a row? It's a massive undertaking.
Jim Jorden is up to it. His 25 years in the business began, in fact, as an editor, cinematographer and producer at NFL Films, where, over the course of 15 years, he worked his way up to Vice President. Among the many shows he worked on: Inside The NFL and Hard Knocks.
He then spent 7 years creating programming for NASCAR Media Group, before returning to the world football in 2011, and beginning The Drive in 2013.
Final score: two and a half decades, 69 series, 7 features, and 16 Emmys for his shooting, his editing, and his role as Executive Producer.
And he calls on every bit of that experience for The Drive.
OUT OF AFRICA
It's easy to forget (or never to have known) that in the 60s and 70s, NFL football was hard to come by. A game or two on Sunday, a game on Monday. In the days before guaranteed sell-outs, league blackout rules meant that home games by local teams might not be televised at all. Coverage was otherwise brief, just a few minutes at the end of a nightly newscast to cover the news in every sport, combined.
Game of the Week and This Week in the NFL threw the windows wide open.
This was even more true in Africa. Jim's father was a doctor who moved the entire family -- including all 9 kids -- to Kenya, to serve the people there. NFL films provided Jim's only access to the NFL, thanks to its worldwide syndication.
Like many youngsters watching NFL Films programming, yeah, Jim found that the games were interesting, but the dramatic, nay, operatic approach to storytelling was downright compelling. For myself as a youngster watching in the 60s into my teens in the 70s, it seemed that there had very simply never been a television show in any genre that tried this hard. It was inspiring.
"Steve Sabol, who ran NFL Films until his recent passing, had a saying: 'Tell me a fact and I'll learn, tell me a truth and I'll believe, but tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.' That's the kind of emotional appeal that NFL Films was built on. They dramatically, heroically, and inspirationally tell the story of the game, even though you already know the end of the story.
"It's kind of like going to the opera. You know which songs will be sung, but you go to a performance for the way that the songs will be sung.
"But that's one of the things that makes sports storytelling really hard. Everybody already knows the story. How do you tell the story again? You have to evoke an emotional response, and that's what NFL Films is the best at. I gravitated my entire career to that kind of sports storytelling, and NFL Films has had by far the biggest impact."
THE RACE TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Jim never intended to get into racing. In fact, he had never been to a race before NASCAR came calling, asking for their own all-access programs, for the very first time in their history. Jim had no idea how to approach it any way than what he'd been doing with football, both visually and emotionally, and he absolutely loved it. His timing was perfect, too: his arrival coincided with an explosion in NASCAR's popularity, and while Jim is too humble to say so, I can't help but believe that the unprecedented shows he put together for that community played an important part in its growth.
Then the University of Virginia called in 2010. "They said, 'Hey, we saw Hard Knocks, and we want to do something like that!'" tells Jim. "I'd helped launch and produce Hard Knocks for NFL Films, so I said, 'Great! Call NFL Films. I'm doing NASCAR. Then they said, 'No no no, we saw Jimmy Johnson 24/7 on HBO!' I had produced that too, so I said, 'Great! Call HBO."
"I really didn't want to do it. I hung up on them. Twice."
The third time they called Jim was the charm, even though he wasn't entirely sold on whether the show would even work. "They said, 'We want you to go from winter gym up to the first game. Nineteen shows.' I thought to myself, Wow, how boring is that gonna be?
"What I found was, because of the age group -- really, kids becoming adults -- and the college environment, it was unlike anything else on TV. I started exploring ways the show might be able to help schools, and be entertaining, with everything that's great about college football.
"I was working at the time for IMG, producing college sports programming, and they had an arrangement with the PAC-12. The PAC-12 at that time was only producing live programming, but wanted to do some of the kinds of things I was familiar with."
Which brings us to The Drive.
There's an archetypal image for NFL Films as it began to fully flower in the early mid 60s. Someone like Bart Starr with the Green Bay Packers, wrapped in a blanket as he stands steely and staring out onto frozen Lambeau Field, his breath visible as snow falls. He was the NFL's MVP in 1966, and looked every inch the part. He looked carved from ancient stone, like a Greek god filmed in black and white.
The world of college football in southern California couldn't be more different. Sunshine, smiles, warm weather, kids who look like kids, and waves of color as far as the eye can see.
In this episode of "The Drive," offensive lineman Jake Brendel and running back Paul Perkins compare notes on a small change to the play that pays off with a big run setting up the game-tying score against Texas at AT&T Stadium.
"Our first goal is to be authentic," Jim says. "When I did NASCAR, every track had its own personality, and we used that in our storytelling. Every college campus has its own personality too, and every coach's approach is different. So in our authenticity, we try to stay true to those two things.
"For example, I spent all of 2012 in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks doing this same kind of program. It was rainy and dark and dreary, but [Seattle coach] Pete Carroll's personality was so big, and his enthusiasm was so genuine, that it overcame the weather. That's an example of how the specifics of the environment and the personality of the coach make the show is what it is."
He contrasts that with Season One of The Drive in 2013. "We shot from August through the end of December, and it rained three days," he says with a laugh.
For me, that raises the question of how to transfer the traditionally inclement aesthetic of the most classic of the classic NFL Films images to the brightest of the bright college scenes.
"College football shares something more with NASCAR than what you see in the NFL," Jim says, "which is the incredible passion of the fans, and how colorful those fans are. In a NASCAR, each car and team are different colors, and their fans take on those colors. At a college game, it's just one color, but it's everywhere. It's a sea of color, and it comes out really well on screen.
And in keeping with Jim's observation that the coach is one of the key elements that shapes any story of a team's season, here's a quick peek at the renowned intensity of UCLA coach Jim Mora taken from a recent episode of The Drive.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora pumps up his team during an unexpectedly tough contest with Memphis.
LENSES, ANGLES, AND FILM SPEED
"I've discovered that shooting sports is about three things," says Jim: "lenses, angles, and film speed." For NFL Films, that of course means lots of high-speed shooting for their uniquely silky slow motion action. He wanted to do the same things with NASCAR races, and was waved off. "When I first went in they said, 'This is a fast sport. If you slow it down, it'll be bad.' But when we slowed it down, you could see all the detail that you miss when everything's fast. There were so many aspects of the sport that nobody had ever seen before.
"NFL Films always applied that to football. That's one thing that sets them apart from everything else you see. They have long lenses that compress a shot, and then they switch to a short lens for impact. Then they're always in the right place for the angles, because they know the game. You have to know the game to know where to stand for the kind of story you're telling. So that's kind of approach we've taken with The Drive: the combination of lenses, angles, and film speed to tell a story."
For the cameras for The Drive, Jim says, "We were looking for something versatile. I've done a lot of these access shows: for NFL Films, then Hard Knocks. I did the first football show for Fox in 1994 (with the Cowboys, the Vikings, and the Cardinals), and many others. We had these great, big ENG cameras on our shoulders for those, and while they're great for sports, they're not so great when you're in meetings and trying to follow people around, going into their homes, because they're so big and bulky.
"We needed something that we could move quickly with, that we could set up quickly, good in low light, and Canon's products really fit the bill for us."
Those specifically include the Canon C500 4K and C300 Cinema cameras, the EOS-1D-C, and the XF105 HDw camcorder.
UCLA Bruins games featured on The Drive are captured with up to 6 cameras, named for their positions. "The Mole" is based on the sidelines, seen here with the Canon C500 Cinema camera on a shoulder mount.
"Last year, we used three cameras at each game, what I call the tree, the mole and the weasel. The tree gets all the game action. The mole is on the sideline, and the weasel gets everything but the game: all the color, the cutaways, all those cool things. This year, we sometimes double that, because we're also now covering the opposing team as well.
"We shoot action in two speeds. Twenty-four frames is a little faster than video, but for slow motion, we also shoot between 60 and 120 frames a second, depending on light, where the ball is on the field, and what we're trying to achieve.
"The 'mole' camera on the sideline is shooting sound, but also a long lens to get the coach and the field. The 'weasel' camera in the crowd is shooting a fish-eye lens, maybe a 25-105 zoom to capture the scope of the experience.
"For the rest, we have a Canon 200-400 mm lens with a 2x extender, so it goes to 800. We have a 30-300, which is a great big zoom lens, rigged for action, and we've really been pushing it. We also have some fixed lenses."
The Drive's cameras record Apple ProRes to CS cards, even though they do all their editing in Adobe Premiere Pro." We'd been using Final Cut Pro and had to convert the footage before we could get to work, and it was very time-consuming. We still shoot ProRes, but editing in Premiere is so much faster.
"As soon as the game is finished, we start editing. With NFL Films, the game would be on Sunday, and we'd get film sometime on Monday. Shooting files last year, it would still take six hours to do the conversions. Now, with an away game, I'm editing on the plane."
RUNNING POST PLAYS
As a viewer, one thing that strikes me is that I rarely see a production at this scale of storytelling, and this level of finesse, happen so quickly after the events it covers.
Jim has obviously been working on shows along these lines for a very long time. "The hard part isn't really how 'difficult' it is," he says. "The worst part is that, when you move at this speed, you have a high potential for making an error, factually incorrect, or not shown in the proper context.
"I agree with you though," he continues. "I've looked at a lot of sports programming, and I've never seen a series that runs concurrently with the entire season. We also get feedback as we go. When we put something together and the player hasn't done well on the field, we see them the next day. 'Hey, thanks for publicizing my blemishes.' But we do live in a media age, and these guys are used to shows like this."
Canon EOS C500 Digital Cinema Camera with Canon Cinema Zoom 30-300 lens
"Two of the most important parts of the final show are the post-production color grade, and the post-production audio mix. We go to great extremes of post-mixing, in a huge suite just like a movie is done. We want the sound to make you feel that you're at a big game.
"There are issues with balancing color across all of the different cameras we use, but the hardest thing is the changing light during the game. Shadows get longer, sometimes one side of the field is completely backlit and the other is front lit, so we spend a lot of time with the DaVinci Resolve system making sure that everything is perfect.
"It's like the difference between watching film and watching video in the early days. The viewer couldn't tell you exactly what the difference between them was, but they knew there was a difference. It's the same thing with sports and post-production color correction and audio mixing, in that the audience doesn't know that it has occurred, but in their brain, everything is blended together, and it makes for a much more pleasant experience in viewing.
"WE LIKE THAT IT'S HARD"
If none of this sounds easy, it's not.
"What's hard about producing The Drive is that you never get a day off, and you have to try to be a week ahead, always prepared for the next game," says Jim. "It's non-stop for 15 weeks. It's really draining. But there's a great feeling in turning something around so quickly. It keeps us going, knowing how much the fans love it, the players love it, the school loves it, and that you can refine as you go based on their feedback.
"UCLA coach Jim Mora says to his players, 'We like it when it's hard. We want it to be hard.' Well hey, that's our show. 'It's a grind,' he tells them. Well, we're not on the field, but it's a grind for us too. We're also competing, but it's with ourselves. We want to get better every single week."
That's the kind of drive it takes to produce a show like The Drive: Pac-12 Football. You might already know the final score of the game before you sit down to watch the work of Jim and his team a few days later, but you can be sure that the story will be one that lingers.
What makes an event memorable is developing a unique look, style and sound. Utilizing audio from team radio systems, we displayed the emotion and passion during a race, and that sound gave racing's personalities – life. Suddenly the entire platform of NASCAR programming took off.
In a seven-year span, 25 new weekly series were created for 20 different networks. Production's revenue in 2010 surpassed our entire company's gross from my first year, 2004, a 525% increase.
I oversaw the company's largest division of direct reports (96), and hired 42 new personnel.
4 times in 6 years, NASCAR won the Emmy for Live Event Turnaround, besting the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Tour de France and several other major sporting events.
In 2011, I developed and produced college sports programming for the SEC and PAC-12, which led me to IMG, where we created a digital distribution platform.
Good programming moves, touches and inspires the viewer. Great programming results in a call to action. People with great vision are differentiated not by their personality or philosophy, but how they challenge perceptions that constrain their organization and how they overcome resistance to change.
What I enjoy most is creating a compelling vision and leading the initiatives needed to make that vision a reality.