The Drive, a web se­ries chron­i­cling life on Com­mer­cial Drive, takes a se­ri­ous ap­proach to doc­u­ment­ing the East Van ’hood.

> BY JANET SMITH

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > 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.

The cast of The Drive: Sea­son 2 hangs out at one of their lo­ca­tions: Renzo’s Cafe.

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