Becoming a television motoring Journalist.

Why would anyone want to? How can you?

The first undeniable fact is that, yes, many people would like to embark upon a career as a television motoring journalist. Masses of people made clips for Chris Evans' Top Gear audition call. For a brief spell You Tube was riddled with hopefuls setting out their stalls, some of them fantastic, some of them weird and some of them actually quite terrifying.

I even made several clips myself. You won't find them on You Tube though, because basically, I was shit. I mean embarrassingly shit at it. I think part of the problem was my cross-wired brain not really 'getting' the brief. Part of the problem was I'm generally a, miserable-as-sin, anti-social, grumpy bastard.

When you look at Reid's clip, he's warm, smiley, almost smug about how overtly a happy person he is, and that's something you can't fake. That was really what Chris Evans was after.

A question which occurred to me afterwards was 'why would anyone want to do the job?'

Now it's easy to point at Clarkson's mind-boggling wealth or fantasize about living in Richard Hammond's Castle and owning James May's collection of motorbikes. However personally, the wealth was never something I took into consideration. I'd more or less assumed, if the judges had had some weird mental break-down and hired me, I'd have taken a massive financial hit to do the job. I would never have expected to be remunerated more than I get now. The fact is I assumed, IF I'd won the audition, I would have had to weigh up whether or not I could afford to accept the job.

So why else would I or anyone else want to do the job? Yes, the travelling around the world to exotic locations is kind of appealing. But whenever Top Gear or The Grand Tour do a travel special, a large portion of the humor and the narrative is about the presenters being subjected to varying levels of discomfort. From mild, to 'Oh he's injured. We'd better get him to hospital'. If it's the travel that appeals, then really you're better off being crew rather than a presenter.

So what? Doing pieces to camera while driving?

You don't need to work for the BBC or Amazon to do that. I had a You Tube channel FULL of my practice runs and random ramblings doing this. However there are pitfalls to doing this. A lot of people rightly or wrongly, are getting criticism for vlogging while driving. It's called out as being narcissistic, distracting and even dangerous. Whenever anybody commented such on my videos. I directed them to the UK HSE Guidelines on doing pieces to camera while driving. The trouble is, doing it for free to an audience that may or may not even exist feels fraudulent. If an accident occurred while you were filming, I wouldn't like to have to argue that the accident wasn't caused by me being distracted by vlogging while driving. These are some of the reasons I stopped making these clips and actually made over 300 of my clips private. I really enjoyed making them, but without the backing of a media company, I felt there was a risk involved. There was also a limited scope to my video clips given that I didn't have the backing of a production team, and I have the video editing skills of a dead rabbit.

Ultimately though, if you're prepared to take the risk - there's nothing legal to stop you doing pieces to camera while driving.

You might say, the 'cheap car challenges' look fun. I'll be honest I'm not sure if Clarkson or the BBC owns the copyright on that. They DO look fun and there's actually nothing to stop you doing your own cheap-car challenge videos and hosting them on You Tube. Ultimately though, there's a hassle factor in buying, filming and destroying and then disposing of old bangers that might dissuade most people with a 9 til 5 job. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if the average DriveTriber bought a couple of £200 cars and did a cheap car challenge video - it would suck. You'd probably end up having to pay for some track time, and you'd want camera operators, video editors, and you'd probably end up with a film was neither particularly funny or watchable.

Why? Clarkson spilled the beans on this years ago. Everybody knows the stunts and challenges are heavily scripted. I suspect this is the only way they can actually work. The trick is to make them look easy to make and unscripted, but to achieve the appearance of them being fun and easy to make, probably requires a great deal of talent, experience and hard work. Clarkson actually cited this as one of the flaws in the ill-fated Chris Evans series of Top Gear. The writing is critical. Every film rides on the writing. If the writing isn't 100%, then the film simply won't be good. Even IF the writing is spot on, everything else has to be right too. However it starts with the writing. The writing is the foundation upon which a Top Gear or Grand Tour film is built.

So they'd be rubbish, but technically you COULD make your own cheap-car challenge films.

So what? You think driving on track and testing new cars out is why it appeals? Well, actually you can pretty much do BOTH of these things without being a television motoring journalist. Trackdays aren't cheap. But you can get an evening session for £150 if you own your own helmet and don't want to bother insuring yourself. Public days at the Nurburgring aren't actually that expensive to attend. If you really want to try out exotica, all you REALLY need to do is ring up your local dealer, feign genuine interest and roll up for a test drive.

Okay, YES. You're going to be putting a car through it's paces with a rather nervous sales guy in the passenger seat urging you to ease off. If you want to make a review film you're going to need to strategically hide your in-car camera and place accomplices with camera's by the roadside en-route...

Plus the sales man might think you're a bit peculiar when you start talking to yourself about how fiddly the stereo buttons are or how good the gear-change feels.

I suspect putting together a review of car and filming it this way, with the sales guy on board - is not easy and will ultimately lead to a very clunky film.

However, legally I'm pretty sure there's nothing stopping you doing this.

Okay, you might say you REALLY want to do the studio hosting bit. You COULD do that, but I think as an unknown, filming in your dad's shed, you might struggle to attract A-list celebrities. Your local butcher, setting a lap time while you commentate on it in Forza Motorsport on the Xbox might not make the most exciting viewing.

However technically you could probably do it.

Ultimately, there is nothing stopping you becoming a television motoring journalist, at least if you're prepared to limit yourself to a You Tube audience. The trouble is it will probably be a lot of hassle and the finished product will probably be crap.

I actually penned out a whole idea for a series of a motoring show, which would have been heavily scripted, but which was crap intentionally and predominantly poked fun at it's own crapness. The basic premise was that going to called 4th Gear (The theory being that we intended to sell the show to Channel 4 once it was successful.[The joke being that 4th Gear is pretty crap by modern car standards].) I really wanted two other actors to join me. One to play a producer who would start the show with me. The other, preferably a female presenter to join an episode or two later after some auditions.

The character I'd intended to play was a Clarkson parody, who was passionate about impractical, silly cars and mainly concerned about power and speed. He'd be an anti-environmentalist to the extreme and proud of it. He'd be a stereo-type of Clarkson.

The series was going to be filmed in small clips, with one being the actual clip and the other being a behind the scenes, making of style clip. The making of clips mainly featured the producer shouting and arguing about the film and moaning about the attitude of the presenter. After one episode the argument for a co-presenter would have come in.

The character of the second presenter was going to be a direct opposite of the Clarkson parody. She'd be interested in fuel economy, and practicality and how many cup holders a car had. She'd be the sort of person says things like, 'But why do you need a car that goes more than 70mph when that's the legal limit?'

Much of the humor and the appeal of the series was going to be arguing and conflict between the new presenter, who wanted to make the show a serious motoring magazine style show with useful consumer advice and the Clarkson parody who wanted to do a Top Gear/Grand Tour style show and their opposing views were going to be reflected in the cars they liked. The producer would usually find themselves siding with the new presenter who would often complain and threaten to quit over the obtuse and narrow-minded views of the original, Clarkson parody presenter.

I'll be honest I'm 40 now. I've realized I'm about as suitable for television broadcasting as a Toyota Prius is for motorsport. My vision of '4th Gear' is never going to happen. I think I've realized WHY I made the audition clip and sent it in though. I think having seen Top Gear for over a decade and admired the finished films for their humor and general polishedness - I wanted to make them. Really, all I wanted to do was to make some absolutely fantastic films. There's nothing stopping anyone making films, but ultimately I will never have the talent, experience or resources to produce films of the quality that 'The Grand Tour' and 'Top Gear' put out.

That however doesn't excuse YOU! If you really want make some motoring films, hook up with some local DriveTribers, sit down, do some writing, then get out there and film it! Not only do you have You Tube, but now you can host your show on Drive Tribe!

All you really need is the will and a bit of effort. So your first film will be crap. That's fine, make another and make it better. If you keep rinsing and repeating, eventually you'll be putting something pretty special together.

If I knew some like-minded people in the Stoke-on-Trent area that were interested in having a go at this, I might even revive my shelved idea of '4th Gear' anyone up for it? :)

Martyn Stanley

[ICT] Irreverent Car Talk

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Comments (6)

  • "I'm generally a, miserable-as-sin, anti-social, grumpy bastard."

    You too, eh? You left out "misanthropic, to the point of hoping there is intelligent life on other planets with ray guns" and "murderously intolerant of fatuousness."

      3 years ago
  • "[...] but ultimately I will never have the talent, experience or resources to produce films of the quality that 'The Grand Tour' and 'Top Gear' put out. [...]"

    Yes, resources are hard to get, but there's no such thing as "talent." Talent is something subjective, and it's most said by people that don't see others doing hard work. Experience one gets by doing things. Which brings us back to the cycle of hard work and experience, which sort of looks like talent.

    I know exactly what you're feeling, though. When I was in music school I would listen to amazingly advanced repertoire and love the idea of playing that thing. Most of the times I felt like playing it would be Mission: Impossible. I felt "talentless," inexperienced, and lacking of resources; all of that used to hit me even harder when I looked at my colleagues, who started their instruments at age 3 and had had private tutors all their lives. It's a defeating thought thinking that you're set to lose before you even start. If you succumb to that thought, you will miss the whole process and the process is the most important thing, as that's how you gain experience. Hard work. Most of the times I did not accomplish all musical ideas I had in mind, because I didn't have a solid technique, or because my strings were like 2 years old or because (insert excuse here). Now I understand that it doesn't really matter, as long as you offer your absolute best.

    Being realistic about things shouldn't stop you from doing what you love. So what you're 40 years old? Do your thing.

      3 years ago
    • Haha! Thanks Patricia! To be fair time isn't really on my side. I work full time in a serious job, I'm studying for my degree part time and I'm an active author, with four novels and two short stories published and many more on the way. I'm also a...

      Read more
        3 years ago
    • Time isn't on anybody's side. There's no time, really. It is just a concept. The only truth in life is that we are all dying of oxygen poisoning. (That will cheer you up, huh?!)

        3 years ago