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‘Top Gear’ Producer Gets in the Driver’s Seat
The BBC has offices throughout the UK, but the epicenter of activity is White City in western London. Before 1908, there wasn’t much going on in White City. This changed when a giant stadium was built in which to hold the Olympics that year. Once the Olympic shine had worn off the sporting venue, it was used for various events sporadically before becoming a greyhound racing track. In 1985, the stadium gave way to the BBC’s expansion and a complex of modern buildings was built creating a BBC campus. This sits just down the road from Television Centre, which is the cornerstone building for BBC’s television production, complete with hourly tours. Often when I’m approaching the White City complex I try to imagine the roar of the crowd during the 1908 Summer Games or the slumped headed masses dragging themselves back to the tube after a daylong beating at the dog track. But today, I was all about “Top Gear Top 40!” Denny [Sheehan, BBC America Producer/Editor] and I popped into Starbucks and got some $9 coffees (thank you weak U.S. dollar!) and sat on the benches just outside of the building that housed the “Top Gear” office.
I have failed to mention up to this point, we actually had a secret weapon on this project. So, I didn’t have a script, I didn’t have a crew, and I didn’t have an exact shoot day. These were all things my two years of graduate film school had mentioned as necessary evils during the creative process. Was I worried? Well, a little. But, I had an Elena Christodoulou. Although never covered explicitly in film school, she was critical to this process. Elena is the Production Coordinator on “Top Gear” and you can just tell she’s the one who keeps the wheels spinning on the production machine (pun intended). She jumped in and helped us at every turn and I’m not exercising hyperbole in saying we wouldn’t have gotten this project done without her! I called Elena to see if we could come up and talk with her about the project. She said she’d be down in a few minutes to meet us as finding her workspace could be a little tricky. Knowing she was on her way made me feel like Jules in “Pulp Fiction” when Marcellus tells him the “Wolf” is coming to clean up the dead guy. I wasn’t exactly on brain detail, but this production had me jittery. With Elena on the scene, I could finish my coffee. It was $9 after all!
We went over the schedule with Elena and she already had good news, Andy wanted to shoot Saturday. It was now Tuesday. This gave us a few days to pull everything together before we needed to head to Surrey and start scouting the location. She had also locked up the crew for the shoot. We had to pony up a little more dough because it was going to be a Saturday shoot, but that’s life in Hollywood… eh White City, you know what I mean. The only thing missing was the script and I was assured Andy was finalizing it and would have it for review on Thursday. He’s shredded more witty scripts than I’ve written, so I wasn’t worried about this. Time for another coffee.
We decided it would be good to go see Andy, just so he could put faces to names and hopefully instill a little confidence in him. We didn’t want him to think we were going to screw his show up in the process of making these specials. We made our way up to the “Top Gear” workspace. It should be noted BBC is a big fan of open plan seating. By big fan, I mean nobody has their own office. The head of the BBC Worldwide (the division I work for) sits at a team table, just like everyone else.
So sitting in the corner of the “Top Gear” production area, at a “team table” was Andy Wilman. He was banging away on his computer in a hunt and peck typing style that I’m not unfamiliar with myself. I really respect “Top Gear”; it’s one of the biggest shows on the BBC. Premiere episodes get nearly 350 million viewers in over 170 countries worldwide. It’s an important show, and by extension the Executive Producer of that show is an important person… and I’m milliseconds away from making my first impression. My nerves about meeting Andy were immediately calmed once we spoke. He is the nicest guy in show business, really, he is! For a guy who heads one of the most successful shows in television history, he’s one of the most humble, gracious, and friendly guys you could ever meet. After a few minutes it became obvious Andy was onboard for the fans, he was so busy that week, was fighting a cold, and was planning for the Christmas Special. But he genuinely appreciates the U.S. fans and was glad to be a part of it! So, we went over the script notes a little bit, said our goodbyes… then off to the pub for a $12 pint!