The Drive, a web series chronicling life on Commercial Drive, takes a serious approach to documenting the East Van ’hood.
> BY JANET SMITH
From locations like the Libra Room and Renzo’s Cafe to a soundtrack filled with East Van musicians like Dan Mangan, Peregrine Falls, and Veda Hille, web TV series The Drive has always taken the neighbourhood it documents seriously.
The second season of the show, which garnered multiple Leo and web award nods last year, debuts with a public opening party at the Rio next Sunday (October 15). Following the lives and loves of six 20- and 30-something roommates who share an old East Van house, The Drive once again makes use of neighbourhood landmarks like Grandview Lanes, Britannia Community Centre, and 1000 Parker Studios, as well as the streetscape’s colourful assortment of grocers, cafés, and boutiques. Adding to the rich look, feel, and mood is the soundtrack, which is curated by critically lauded singer-songwriter Mangan.
“Everything had to be grounded in the community and the place,” stresses Nick Hunnings, the show’s co–executive producer, who also plays Leo, a bartender who sometimes questions whether he should settle down. He’s sitting in a Drive coffee shop with fellow SFU grad Kirsten Slenning, who in addition to working as executive producer on the project also appears as Emily, an actor who dreams of making it big in L.A.
“Shooting in this place and Dan opening the door to these amazing local musicians—it grounded us with all these elements that are all true to the place and really created a structure for our tone and atmosphere,” Hunnings explains. “That really gave it an authenticity, too. I felt all these subtle elements give it a really strong sense of place.”
Slenning and Hunnings say they’ve tried to up the local touchstones in their second season, building on the success of the first. Look for lamp-and-light installations by Leah Weinstein and jewellery by Mindan’s Designs alongside appearances and music by the likes of prophecy sun.
By making the show ever more local the producers have found they’ve made it speak universally, too—not only has it won awards at web festivals around the world, but its first season was picked up by Canal+ for video-on-demand distribution on its mobile platform in Europe and Latin America.
“That’s the paradox: if you’re really true to the details and really specific to any scenario, it’s inevitably a human experience,” Hunnings says. “We hoped that it would resonate.”
Slenning adds: “We made it about a specific place but we wanted it to also be for people who had never heard of Commercial Drive.”
When Hunnings first cooked up the idea to launch the series with actor Graem Beddoes, the neighbourhood was familiar—he’s now lived there for about a decade—but the format was new territory. The acting friends knew the Drive offered rich potential storywise, visualwise, and artistwise. Slenning had cofounded the local indietheatre company Tigermilk Collective with Hunnings’s wife, Lindsay Drummond, another of the show’s exec producers, who plays the installation artist Aubrey. (As do most involved in the show, Slenning—who is married to Mangan—lives just off the Drive. Hey, it’s a cozy community.) Together the friends set up an Indiegogo campaign to try to get the project off the ground. “The response was so immediate—it totally exceeded our expectations,” Slenning relates.
After that, the team received Telus Storyhive funding, with the show offered free on Telus Optik TV On Demand. Slenning, Hunnings, and their colleagues were now in unexplored territory: the new terrain of a web series required them to build the stories of six characters within 11-minute episodes. Inspired by the success of Netflix TV episodes that pack in complex plots, they set about drawing viewers into the lives of their characters and structuring mini cliffhangers.
“We’re telling a dramatic story in 11 minutes with a six-person cast, so we’re trying this unconventional structure,” Hunnings explains. “When we first started looking, the web was probably most saturated with comedy and sci-fi.”
While shooting is done on a shoestring budget, the series’ warm visual style and pro acting have made The Drive appear anything but low-rent.
The main house, where the six roommates struggle with relationship and career goals, came courtesy of Mangan’s sister—an integral piece because renting a home for filming is so prohibitive on a small budget, Slenning says. From there, the team has relied completely on the generosity of the community, including shops and cafés that let them film for free.
Shooting the second season in June was especially challenging: Slenning had just had a baby, and Drummond and Hunnings had a one-and-a-half-year-old. Filming on a notoriously busy and unpredictable street also poses the odd issue.
“There were challenges, but gifts too,” Hunnings says. “We couldn’t cordon off an entire street with our budget. So, there’s technical people tearing their hair out. They’ll be like, ‘Someone’s singing in the park!’ But that’s also the show.”
Despite those struggles, for the second season, the team is feeling more assured about its trajectory. And with the buzz they’ve built, there are dreams on the horizon. Slenning admits it would be cool to see the show expanded into a longer, 22-minute Tvseries format, while Hunnings says the trend toward mobile Tv-viewing could take them to an even smaller platform.
Whatever form the series takes, as Slenning, Hunnings, and friends let the world know about the Drive and its artists, they’re also indebted to the ’hood that spawned their project.
“That’s been the other big thing: the generosity of the community,” Hunnings says. “The community has really supported us. We couldn’t have done it without that.”
East Van Entertainment presents The Drive: Season 2 at the Rio Theatre next Sunday (October 15) at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6.