Q&A: Looking at ‘The Drive’ with producer Michael Tolajian

After two seasons of shooting football, the Pac-12 Networks’ “The Drive” docu-series is trying to focus on basketball for the first time — jumping around the conference to focus on its various teams. Tonight’s episode, which airs at 9 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks, is focused on UCLA and Oregon State.

“The Drive” crew shot the Bruins’ loss to Oregon State on Jan. 22, their win at home over Colorado on Jan. 31, and some of the practices leading up to each one. It also focused on the respective coaches, Steve Alford and Wayne Tinkle, as well as Bruin freshman Kevon Looney and Oregon State’s Gary Payton II.

I caught up with senior coordinator Michael Tolajian to ask him how the experience of shooting the two sports compared, as well as his thoughts on Alford and Jim Mora.

How did you pair teams together for episodes? This is the first episode that isn’t arranged geographically (i.e. Arizona State and Arizona, Colorado and Utah). Was it a factor that UCLA and Oregon State are teams have underachieved and overachieved, respectively?

Michael Tolajian: We weren’t set in stone with doing the local teams. We did it sometimes. A lot of it had to do with what the programming lead-in was going to be. … Ideally, there would be a live UCLA game or live Oregon State game going in. we weren’t able to do that every time, but that’s a good way to get audiences to tune in.

The other aspect was talking to the coaches and talking to the school. A lot of the times they had preferences. There was no set formula. It was kind of a combination.

We kind of set this early. We didn’t really know (who was good). Other than knowing Arizona would be good and maybe Utah. Really, the rest of the Pac-12, you could throw them in a hat. Any given night, you don’t really know. We shot with Cal. They started off well, went in the toilet, and then now they’ve won a few in a row. … It’s really been hard to predict. Like any documentary type programming, you just have to be there and follow along. Sometimes the stories contrast nicely, and sometimes not.

How does it compare to shooting “The Drive” for football the past two seasons? Do you lose a bit of depth in favor of breadth versus depth compared to the football format? Are there any advantages to being able to dabble around the conference through the season?

Tolajian: Unlike football, where it’s kind of episodic, you’re following along each and every week. You’re tied in every week. With basketball, we’re bouncing around the conference. More than it being about the narrative of the team, it’s really taking a step behind the curtain, hearing from some of the players, hearing how the coaches run the teams. … It’s really sights and sounds and process, rather than trying to tell some overarching story. Continue reading

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UCLA basketball notes from Pac-12 Media Day

My story today from Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day focused on UCLA guard Norman Powell, but also touched on head coach Steve Alford’s reactions to an offseason that included a campus flood and the loss of not only three NBA draftees, but also two prospective newcomers.

Some more notes from the event:

» Whether or not big man Tony Parker can stay out of foul trouble will affect how successful UCLA will be on defense this season. Alford said he hopes to play the junior around 25 minutes per game this season, up from the 17.2 he averaged last year.

Parker was one of the most foul-prone players in the Pac-12, committing an average of 6.77 every 40 minutes. Earlier this week, he gave himself a D- for his sophomore campaign, citing those foul troubles. He added that he’s in better shape now, and is also learning how to adjust to officials more.

» Based on what Alford has said in recent weeks — as well as the realities of the backcourt depth chart — sophomore Noah Allen appears primed for a significant uptick in playing time. The former three-star recruit only played in 11 games last season, averaging 1.0 point in 3.5 minutes per outing. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Marcus Rios recovering from life-threatening illness

The biggest moment of Marcus Rios’ football career happened last Saturday, when his late interception clinched UCLA’s 36-34 win at Cal. His ongoing battle back from a rare fungal infection is even more impressive. Here’s columnist Vinny Bonsignore’s story on the redshirt sophomore, who had his latest surgery less than a month ago.

“It had been a long, long time since I saw him smile on a football field,” said Rios’ father, Richard. “So to see him smile like that Saturday, it just really put into perspective everything he’s been through. It’s been an incredible ordeal.”

Rios was also featured on Wednesday night’s episode of Pac-12 Networks’ “The Drive,” teased in the video above.

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Center Jake Brendel talks about being featured on ‘The Drive’

Pac-12 Networks made UCLA the focus of its docu-series “The Drive” this season, and Mora has pointed out numerous times that the film crew has been very unobtrusive in their day-to-day work.

That hasn’t prevented the Bruins from ribbing one another when one of them is featured. The half-hour weekly show usually begins with an individual feature, and the latest subject was center Jake Brendel — a Harley-riding Dallas-area native whose maturity was played up as the show recapped UCLA’s 20-17 win against Texas.

“It’s never good to be that one guy,” Brendel said. “At the same time, it’s something that someone’s got to do. So I guess I’ll take the hit on that one.”

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What goes into filming Pac-12 Networks’ ‘The Drive’?

The second season of “The Drive” premiered on Pac-12 Networks Wednesday night, focusing on UCLA’s training camp at Cal State San Bernardino earlier this month.

For the most part, the 26-minute episode was spent setting the scene for the Bruins’ season: Players get settle into their dorms, and hit the field while mic-ed up coaches bark instructions. Head coach Jim Mora gave a few inspirational speeches, and all was well.

One interesting scene was when cameras followed Mora on one of his runs in the San Bernardino hills. You could hear Mora trying to catch his breath as he waxed on about his coaching philosophy — making for an up-close slice of his daily routine. The Pac-12 Networks crew had noticed Mora jetting toward the trail after practices. When they asked about it, he told them, “You can shoot it, but I don’t think you can keep up.”

To make sure they didn’t fall behind the obsessively in-shape 52-year-old, “The Drive” needed three cameras: one at the bottom of the hills, one mid-way up the trail, and a GoPro strapped to show narrator Yogi Roth. Continue reading

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