Entertaining car journalism video as we know it was born in Britain with two "founding fathers": Jeremy Clarkson and Tiff Needell.
Most auto reviews in the US were in 80s MotorWeek mode, Clarkson a brilliant snarker who never minced words, blew the genre open and created the entertainment behemoth that is Top Gear,. For real tracktards though, Tiff was the man. While we suspect JC is a much better driver than his persona allows him to show, Tiff was always the king of sideways, ripping around tracks he's the man who made it essential for every car reviewer to include a sideways shot, no matter how inappropriate the car.
Then, somewhere around 2007 or so Chris Harris popped up on the radar as sort of a blend of Clarkson and Needell. He had driving cred and could write with a tinge of that Clarkson irreverence. His clips for Autocar were always "the cool ones".
Late in 2011 Axis contacted Harris, CG was going to be racing in the 24 HRS of Daytona and there was an available seat in the car. We thought Evo, where Harris had moved to after a missed opportunity with the internet only magazine Driver's Republic, might be interested in covering the 50th edition on the Daytona, from the inside. But it was not to be, Harris told us he had just left EVO for a secret project that was going to be huge!
That project turned out to be Drive, a YouTube only publisher of long form automotive culture videos. By any measure, the success of Drive has been phenomenal. From scratch, Drive has gained about 130,000 subscribers in just eight months and in the process changed the way everyone does internet videos. Motor Trend re-launched their six year old YouTube channel with a familiar multi segment format, Car And Driver launched their version in May. Content on both of these historic publishers is quite different from what you might have seen just a year ago.
AXIS: Tell us where the idea for Drive came from, how was it born?
J.F. MUSIAL: In late 2006 at around the same time my good friends Alex Roy and David Maher set the transcontinental speed record from New York to Los Angeles, I met Emil Rensing. Alex had introduced me to Emil as someone that could help build the Automotive Division of the newly formed Next New Networks. I took the job working under the wings of the legendary Mike Spinelli. For those that don't know, Next New Networks was the parent company of Fast Lane Daily and Garage419. Next New Networks was eventually acquired by YouTube at the end of 2011 while at the same time I was building my own production firm, TangentVector.
Fast Lane Daily was always designed for a younger demographic. While we demonstrated the value of online video, in my opinion we were too early to the game. Our audience grew, but it was difficult to gain the trust of the automotive manufacturers and advertisers. No one at the time understood such a strange business model with a core competency focused around online video content. I always had ideas for producing something to reach a wider demographic, but it wasn't until the middle of 2011 when we had something on paper that looked feasible.
Emil and I initially had the working title of DriveIT; we never actually thought we could get the name DRIVE. Obviously should have done our due diligence earlier. Come October 2011, I started figuring out how we could financially make DRIVE work and how we could define the brand as being something unique.
By November 2011, I had a plan put together, a list of shows I wanted to produced that knocked on the door of all the different types of gear heads in the industry. Come December 2011 we had the most important element of DRIVE put together: The branding/graphics package. We were a small team but we needed to look big. My best friend Josh Vietze, a graphic designer, branded DRIVE in under two month. We knew we were going to have all these different shows under the DRIVE umbrella, but we needed to make sure they all felt part of the DRIVE family.
AXIS: Give us a bit of an outline of the various segments
J.F.M.: As stated previously, we have scheduled programing. Some shows run every week of the year, while others are quarterly. Shows like SHAKEDOWN, Road Testament, and Chris Harris On Cars run every week. These are time sensitive shows. SHAKEDOWN covers motor racing while Road Testament is our op-ed section. Chris's job is to review a new car ever week. Most of the time those cars are new, but sometimes we have to default to the industry classics. E30 Rally Car anyone?
The rest of the lineup involves content not as time sensitive. TUNED with Matt Farah covers the aftermarket industry, Alex Roy's Live and Let Drive is our road trip show, RIDE APART is for our two wheeled friends, Big Muscle is the obvious muscle car show, and then we have things like DRIVE CLEAN which aims at educating the audience on how to detail their cars properly.
AXIS: Harris is your biggest draw, how did your connection come about?
For the record, our biggest draw is our great content, not just Chris Harris. But to answer your question, I met Chris for the first time while we were filming our 24 Hours of Nurburgring Special in May of 2011; a special originally designated for Fast Lane Daily.
Prior to meeting Chris at the race, we had exchange a few e-mails but it wasn't until September 2011 that things started to come together. I had shared my ideas with him on how I wanted to build an online automotive video brand.
The biggest problem was something called the Atlantic Ocean between us and we were doing everything via email and phone calls.
During the last VLN race of 2011, a race Chris was participating in, I made the decision I needed to go finalize everything with him in person. I flew to Frankfurt on a Thursday morning, met with Chris at the Nurburgring Thursday night. Over beers we figured out how we were going to do this, then Friday morning I was on my way back to New York to figure out the rest of the DRIVE portfolio. My friends all thought I was nuts for flying to Europe for a three hour meeting with a guy named Monkey, but I think it paid off.
AXIS: Looking at your twitter feed, it seems like you are never home....
J.F.M.: I'm normally home in New York one week a month. No doubt the travel has taken a toll on my health at times. It all comes down to balancing the work load. Luckily, we've built out a fantastic team; I truly consider them a family.
AXIS: What is your background, when did you start in film/photography?
J.F.M.: I went to school to be a Mechanical Engineer; that obviously didn't work out.Throughout my childhood I had always had a passion for photography. As a teenager I'd go up to Lime Rock Park and spend hours trackside taking photos of race cars. I still consider myself more of a photographer than videographer.
AXIS: How is Drive produced, can you share some tidbits for our tech savvy readers?
J.F.M.: First and foremost, it comes down to the team. All told, there are 19 people involved with DRIVE, but only ten of them are editors and shooters. You can have the badass equipment, but if the team sucks, nothing gets produced. We usually only have about 8 hours to shoot a new episode for DRIVE. Remember, we're publishing nearly three to four hours of content every week. You've got to keep the machine oiled and operating at full capacity. That means making sure team members don't burn out.
But in terms of gear we use, the typical stuff. No trade secrets: Panasonic HPX and HVX, Canon 7D and 5D, Nikon D800, Sony NEX5, and Contours for mounted shots.
AXIS: Speaking of, what would be your top tip for good video at the track?
J.F.M.: Don't walk with your back to the traffic. All to often I see people turning their back to 180mph race cars. I was across the track from where Allan McNish went off at Le Mans in 2011. We are lucky no photographers were killed in that accident. A VERY lucky day for all parties involved.
In terms of shooting, my tip is to remember that the car is only half the story. Don't just pan with the car, establish the environment and atmosphere. Panning a car on the track with no reference points makes the car look slow. Adding trees and fences as perspective makes it all come to life.
AXIS: What has been your favorite episode so far?
J.F.M.: Spending the day with my two good friends Will Barber and Marc Urbano with the Carrera GTS in the Colorado Rockies. A day with a 911 on snow tires and my two good friends, beautiful scenery in the frigid cold with a Porsche.. Yes, awesome. More please.
AXIS: Do you get to drive, race or generally play with cars?
J.F.M.: I've driven rental cars on nearly every race track in North America. I'm a master camera car driver I'd like to say. But to be honest with you, I wish I got more track time. I spend maybe 3-4 days a year actually in a proper car having fun on a track. I want more. I also dedicate 3-4 days a year to a fun, non-work road trip.
AXIS: What's ahead for Drive?
We've got things in the pipeline we're not ready to announce. More motorsports coverage. Bigger events. New shows. Ultimately, we're here to change the industry and the things we've got planned will do just that.