Aggressive timelines, authentic storylines push production team on The Drive

Tonight, immediately after the Sacramento State vs. Arizona State game, the story behind the 2013 editions of the ASU and California football programs will begin to roll out in real time for fans as The Drive: First Look premieres with a 12-minute uninterrupted preview, giving viewers an idea as to what they can expect from the 14-part docu-series airing on Pac-12 Networks this fall.

Leading the production on The Drive are Pac-12 Networks’ Senior Coordinating Producer of Original Productions Michael Tolajian, Emmy Award-winning producer Jim Jorden and Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth. With decades of production experience among the three, they each bring unique strengths to the project.

“While my current role encompasses a lot more of overseeing studio shows and various administrative duties here at Pac-12 Networks, my passion has always been telling stories and filmmaking, so I’m really fortunate to have a team with the caliber of experience that Jim and Yogi bring to The Drive,” said Tolajian. “Jim and his team have done numerous projects in the same vein as this and have a strong background in football specifically. Jim worked for a number years at NFL Films and Yogi, being a player, coach and television analyst, really brings all the elements together. He speaks the language of the coaches and understands all the idiosyncrasies of college football.”

“Mike has such a cool background in storytelling that for us is really fun to lean on,” said Roth. “Jim brings this experience of being a player, coach and filmmaker at the highest level for over 30 years with the NFL. I think we have about three different generations between us and from my standpoint, I couldn’t have two better executive producers to be around.”

The Drive isn’t the first college football documentary for Jorden, who holds 24 years of production experience and 16 Emmy nods, working on productions for a bevy of networks including ESPN, NBC, FOX, TNT, HBO and SPEED.

“I was working for NASCAR and the University of Virginia called me up and asked me to produce a series called, Building of a Program,” Jorden said. “It ran from winter conditioning, all the way up to their first game as a 30-minute weekly episode series that ran on Comcast, and initially I thought, ‘Gosh, that would be so boring. They’re not even playing games.’ However, it turned out to be a really interesting series because it showed what college kids are like and what the college life is like.”

However unlike Jorden’s previous documentary projects, The Drive pushes the envelope redefining all-access into a college football program with crews embedded into each team, from the first whistle of training camp to their final game, capturing the highs and lows that comes each week of the college football season and unveiling them in real time to viewers.

“There have been shows where crews are with a team for a couple of weeks or there are documentaries made on programs that come out after the season is over, but this is the first time that a film crew is with a team for the entire season and it’s playing out on television as the story develops and grows,” Jorden said. “That’s going to be very interesting to see how people react to it because not many of us would want a camera following us around, documenting everything that we do in our life and airing while we’re actually doing it.”

In tonight’s First Look, Jorden believes the 12-minute premiere will help set the stage for viewers, laying out the storylines they’d expect and priming the audience to tune in the following Wednesday for the first full installment, where there’s no limit to where the story can go.

“It’s very offensive-minded for Cal – new coach, offensive guru, so it makes sense that we start there, but looking at Arizona State, you have Coach Graham who is beginning his second year and is very defensive-minded. We’ll then identify the main characters that we’re going to follow, but life happens and all of a sudden, we could be caught in another direction and have to go in a different way.”

And for the production trio, who, thanks to immense cooperation from both Cal and ASU, has embedded themselves into each program, are challenged to finding a great story that attracts viewers, while maintaining the authenticity of real life is one of the most rewarding parts of the project.

“The cooperation from both schools has been fantastic and what makes the production process even more interesting is that the two cultures of the [California and Arizona State] campuses could not be more different, so that gives us a good contrast to the stories we want to tell,” Jorden said.

“It’s really about how each week and each win or loss affects the people we’re watching,” Tolajian adds. “It’s the characters’ journey – the expectations, the disappointments, the triumphs. That’s what will change week to week and that’s what’s exciting about it. We don’t know how the story will end.”

So how do you measure the success of a story that with an unfinished ending? For The Drive’s production team, it’s all about telling an engaging story to fans that remains authentic.

“I hope when a viewer watches this, and not just a fan of ASU or Cal, they say, ‘Wow, that’s what goes into building program, that’s what goes into being a student-athlete’ and they see the beauty of it, the difficulty of it and the reality of it,” Roth said. “We are going to just show you what happens in real story-form that has never been done on our networks and has never been done in college football.”