Going behind the scenes of 'The Drive'
STANFORD, Calif. – The look in Jim Jorden’s eyes is blank. It is certainly not one of joy – and definitely not one of despair – but simply a blank stare across Stanford Stadium as a torrential downpour covers The Farm.
At this moment, he is a man going through a few deep thoughts. Like Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, Jorden has a plan in place for the Sun Devils’ game that afternoon but the rain is throwing an unexpected curveball at him.
The longtime television veteran has faced similar situations before and so it is no surprise that it doesn’t take him long to snap out of his trance and go about discussing changes with his crew and readying his camera.
Jorden spent nearly 15 years at NFL Films but has transitioned to the college level as the executive producer of The Drive on Pac-12 Networks, an all-access look at the Arizona State and Cal football programs. With the Golden Bears off last Saturday, he made his way to Stanford for the Sun Devils’ top 25 matchup.
Just like ASU, he has his own team (three other production members and two producers), a game plan, an idea of how the actual game is going to go and what to focus on. Just like in a football game however, there are situations that come up – in this case the early rain, which moved on by kickoff – that force him to audible on the fly.
Regardless of the late changes, it’s all in a day’s work for one of the most unique shows on television.
“I’m not aware of any other sport, at any level, that’s had a production team with them for the entire season making shows as the season goes on,” Jorden said. “Showtime had The Franchise but they started late. [HBO’s] Hard Knocks only goes through training camp. NFL Films does A Football Life but it comes out when the season is over. Even The Journey on Big Ten [Network] didn’t do it every single week. This is really the first time any network has attempted something like this.“
The show also pushes the envelope by following not one but two programs, each as different in where they’re at in the standings as their location off it (Berkeley and Tempe are each unique to say the least). With Cal on a bye last week, the show naturally has a lot of eggs in ASU’s basket with a nationally televised top 25 matchup.
“Our biggest fear was ‘What if Stanford had a big crushing win?’” Jorden said. “But the way ASU played in the second half, there’s great, great content. You’ll see in the show what Coach Graham is all about, what the players believe in.”
Stanford showed why they’re ranked No. 5 in the country by racing to a 29-0 lead before halftime. Graham rallied his squad however, with four second half touchdowns threatening the Cardinal so much they had to reinsert starting quarterback Kevin Hogan to lead a late drive to ice the game.
What seemed to be a blowout, actually turned into a decent game.
“It was very interesting to hear what their attitude was, what their plan of attack was, how important it was to show their character,” Jorden said afterward. “They say sports doesn’t build character, it reveals character. We surely saw that from Arizona State in the second half.”
The footage captured by the crew at Stanford was sent off for processing almost as soon as it was shot and turned around for a show completed by Tuesday night. Technology has been one of the reasons why The Drive can even make it to air. The evolution from reel-to-reel editing of film for these shows to digital files with high-speed transfers is not lost on the producers. Part of the crew edits footage on laptops before sending it over the internet to various places – a totally new concept from what Jorden is used to.
“We’re shooting all Canon cameras and all digital,” he said. “It’s the data management that’s really different today. You don’t need to have a post-production facility anymore. It can get mixed at one place and color-corrected at another.”
The amount of footage shipped back varies each week but the ratio can be as high as 100 minutes shot to one minute of airtime. While game action garners the most attention and resources, cameramen will often shoot entire meetings just to get one sentence that frames the lead-up to Saturday.
Writing is the most important part of the show and happens last. Most of it is transitional in nature and completed Tuesday morning. Producer and narrator Yogi Roth voices over everything Tuesday afternoon and the final show is completed Tuesday night.
Despite all the progress in how the show is filmed to make a compelling half hour of television, there’s still little change from 20 years ago in what the crew is looking for with each team.
“Characters,” Jorden remarked. “It’s different because they’re amateurs. They’re young, they’re kids. In some ways they’re more authentic, but you also have to be careful because they’re not as guarded. You have to be careful not to misrepresent them in any way because they don’t have that protection.”
“You’re shooting more than just what’s happening in front of you,” cameraman Tyler Adams added. “You’re trying to pay attention to the small details of things. Instead of seeing a player sit on the bench, you’re watching his fingers tap on his knee or watch a tight end’s eyes to see if he’s down in the dumps or ready to go out there.”
“Doing this type of project, you know individuals on the team better than members on the team know them.”
Despite Cal being off, they’ll still be featured in half of Wednesday’s show as they prepare for No. 2 Oregon. Sonny Dykes has been building a winning attitude in practice but the crew captured some of the lighter moments for the Bears the past few days.
Among the highlights: a talent show making fun of some of the coaches, trips to both players and coaches’ homes and a trip to class with players in Berkeley.
Combine that with a compelling second half storyline for Arizona State and Wednesday’s episode may be the best yet for The Drive.
“I’ve been asked a lot of times which place do I like better,” Jorden said. “I always reply that it’s like asking me which kid do I like better. It’s really hard to say because they both treat us very well.”
And that’s clearly evident in the finished product every Wednesday at 7 p.m.