The Man in the White Suit – Ben Collins Stig Book

ben collins is the stig 2010 and a pretty hot guy if you ask me.I just finished The Man in the White Suit by Ben Collins and I found it to be an interesting look into the life of a man that landed in an amazing job on TopGear UK, and a telling look at the life of TopGear behind the scenes.

I was one of the many people saying “why?!” after I heard that The Stig published a book about his experiences on TopGear and revealed his identity and effectively lost his job. It seemed like career suicide to do this and lose this sweet gig racing some of the rarest cars on the planet and hooning some of the funniest moments in car television for an audience of 350 million people worldwide.

After reading the book I understand his motivations a bit more. In the press Ben Collins has said that he revealed this information in order to better move on in his career rather than be taunted by Jeremy and the other presenters about the difference in pay and benefits. And, I agree that taunting or lording things over the heads of your employees will produce resentment that can’t be undone and eventually things always end badly.

Reading this book has surprised me though, about the man who was The Stig and about how TopGear UK is actually run on a daily basis.

I think the first thing people realized after hearing that The Stig had written the book (after they were initially upset to lose the stig on the show) was that they had never heard of Ben Collins and most of the speculation up until that point was about F1 drivers in this role.

The truth seems that while Ben Collins was talented and up and coming in the racing circuit ranks of England he did not make it to F1 or stay in any one race style for that long. His race story started late in life (teenage years) and was mostly considered too old for positions with teams or had bad timing/luck with the teams he was on. But that is the story for 99% of race car drivers isn’t it? We just never hear about them so it seems unusual.

So, TopGear coming up as an opportunity was a blessing in a way, almost as much as it was a curse. What it seemed to be was a very-very part time job that despite the risk involved, would not provide enough regular pay to live on. The calls for doing appearances seemed irregular and in order to make ends meet after ditching his marketing career in favor of race driving, he had to enlist in the army in order to pay the bills.

Something does strike me as slightly crazy about Ben Collins knowing that at one point he was working in Marketing, racing cars, doing stunt work on films, enlisted in the Army and doing TG all at once. Who does this? It isn’t possible. That is like burning the candle at four ends. Nobody can keep that up and not end up dead somewhere. (yes, marketing is deadly)

On the same note Ben has also had some amazing skill/luck combinations that have mostly kept him out of the hospital/emergency room with a racing, stunt driving and military career. He only details one serious crash injury and with all those miles. It seems amazing it has only happened once considering all the crashes in racing that you see on TV.

On other notes it is surprising that in the Top Gear early days many of the stunts and shots they want to get with the Stig are vaguely defined and not at all specked/planned out from a safety or logistical perspective before Ben Collins gets there. It seems to be all managers and idea people pointing at him to figure it out and do the stunts without killing himself. This knack for figuring it out and nicely working for people who don’t really know what they’re doing landed him in his fifth career as a stunt driver and that has worked out in providing some choice movie driving roles, but again not regular salaried work.

I don’t know if I identify with the side of Ben Collins that puts himself through grueling Army military exercises running marathons through the un-marked wilderness while practically starving… but the side that shows juggling act of career with ambition is one that most people face and can relate to, so that angle in his writing works. I think most people have genuinely appreciated the creativity, skill and tenacity that he has brought to The Stig role over the last six years (this was way longer than the time the last stig was able to remain anonymous).

Do I think Ben did the right or wrong thing in reveling his identity? I think he realized that this job like most had an expiration date on it, and with the press on his heels he would be fired eventually when they published some weird proof of his identity without his knowledge. I think he just wanted to get in front of that and get the real story out before it got ahead of him and he lost his job as a result. Everyone wants some kind of control over their career and he hasn’t been allowed any in the last 6 years by taking extreme measures to remain anonymous and it was hampering his ability to get legitimate work so I can understand the motivation on his part.

I’m not sure what the BBC, Andy Willman, Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the TopGear staff should do about this. It is obvious that the unknown driver element is crucial to the Stig character but there are serious gaps in their understanding of what constitutes a full time job. Either find different drivers to freelance all the time or find one to employ with regular pay and benefits. Even if that means they have a desk job the rest of the time or something. You will have far less resentment between presenters if there is more fairness in the compensation structure of the show. That said, keeping secrets in a TV show that is seen by 350 million people in the camera phone internet connected world is going to get more and more difficult. The person tasked with this needs to be compensated/rewarded as much for their secrecy and confidentiality as their driving skill since that is half the work.

I hope that the BBC and TopGear can come up with a solution for this because I certainly can’t. It is weird from all angles and delicate for the BBC as well as the Driver and the fans of the show. I will still enjoy the show regardless though, because of the creativity and general nuttyness of what they continue to do.

Yet, we are dealing with a completley different issue here in our family this week so with a slight change of topic I’d like to remember our car past here a bit. We are mourning the loss of one of our dear friends here that was a hoon-tastic car loving, Granada driving part of our high school years back in the 90’s. This reminds me that there are guys (and girls) all over America that could and would be great TG presenters (and Stigs) because of their love of cars and of pushing the boundaries with them (and laughing at them). 

In comparison, looking at the issues facing the BBC and Ben Collins, it is hard to identify with either side at this point, because they have both had so much success with their shows/careers already and probably have worked something out within five minutes. I’m not sure it is worth getting upset about.

granada whiteWe had just as many laughs with the guys from DGS high school and their Camaros, Mustangs, Fords and Imports over the years as TG has on a daily basis. Now years later it is sad that we’ve seen that some of them have had some serious issues in their lives and in this case we’ve lost one of the best guys to ever take apart a motor. We will miss Edgar Schuster and always remember his 8-track stayin-alive tapes, the 70’s white Granada and the snow tires with spikes doing sparky burnouts while driving my brother to school in 1994-95. Almost all of the four-corners guys showed up to pay their respects this weekend and say goodbye. For my brother, things just won’t be the same without his friend Ed. I’ve heard there is a VHS tape floating around of some hoontastic stuff, maybe worth uploading at some point. Maybe some car-sledding?

Why is it that the brightest stars go out the fastest?

camaro n mustang

I didn't have a picture of the Granada or Ed all I could find on facebook was this one of Scott and Brian from that era. It seems like a blink of an eye and yet it was 15 years ago. Brian says this is the only time Scott wasn't behind him while they were racing and Scott says that Brian has a broken dryer vent sticking out from under his car. I'm just glad they couldn't afford cars with very much horsepower back then when they were 18. Edgar's Granada probably smoked both of them with his nitrous.

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2009 Super Bowl Ads Commercials Selling Fast on NBC

super bowl 2009 tampa bay florida game logo XLIII

super bowl 2009 tampa bay florida game logo XLIII

It’s that time of year again when the first rumblings of the next year’s super bowl advertisers come out. (for super bowl 43) I think the companies just ask that their info be released this early to start the buzz cycle and get more mileage out of the media buy. There really isn’t any other reason to release the advertiser names now in September when the ads aren’t even finished yet.

They say the 30 second ad spots are selling for $3 Million dollars each. That is the going rate for a direct sales pitch into 88 million homes and TV sets all at the same time. (when are they going to start webcasting the game and the ads all together like a second delivery system of the same signal? why wouldn’t that work?) Advertisers that actually get a positive ROI from that kind of heavy hitting creative investment are wide appeal mass market companies that have products that are either seasonal at that time of year or products that relate to sports watchers or families watching at home.  Products like snacks, drinks, beer and cars have long been popular categories for Super Bowl Ads.

This year some of the confirmed advertisers are Pepsi and CocaCola, Anheuser-Bush, and a bunch of un-named Automotive, Movie and snack companies. Doritos have done really well the past few years and I wonder if they will plunge in again. I think the trend may be finally waning in the internet sites do ads category since few of them have that kind of money laying around anymore and/or need the visibility.

The timing of your ad during the Super Bowl Game is also crucial. The good spots are probably taken already in Q1 and Q3. Q2 gets boring because people have been sitting a while and just want halftime to start so they can use the bathroom and Q4 may be less well watched if the game isn’t almost tied the whole time. Many people just turn it off when the game is a blowout. The ends of pods are also bad because it just leads back into the game and consumers forget the ad pretty quickly. Being first in a pod is best since people have been proven to remember things in chunks and the beginning and end are usually the chunks they remember most.

Sometimes companies get their ads in at the last moment when 1 or 2 ads are left a week or two before the Super Bowl Game but this may not be available this year if companies are paying 300K more per ad willingly and forking over the money (or deposit) this early in the year. I think that marketers are realizing that in a fragmented market you have to be as prominent on every screen as possible to stay top of mind and above the chatter that gets tuned out. But ad placement is only 1/2 of the strategy. The other half is really the most important. It is really about relevance and humor. If you can make your product funny in a way that real people identify with personally, you have a winner and get all the chatter at the watercooler the next day.

Kristi Yamaguchi on Dancing with the Stars

I was hopeful when I heard that Kristi Yamaguchi was going to be on the ABC show Dancing with the Stars that she would rock the competition because she was such a talented figure skater. I made a similar transition from competitive figure skating in my own life (hobby) from 1984-1994 to social and sometimes competitive Swing Dancing in 1998-2003. I found that dancing was really easycompared with skating. No jumping was involved (lucky for me) and all the footwork was much much easier on the floor than it ever was on skates. Plus skaters have to have a great sense of body awareness to do what they do and in dancing that is useful to let you know where your head, hips, feet, shoulders, butt and fingertips are all at the same point in time and coordinate them all in different directions at the same time. Body awareness isn’t something you need for all sports, but you do need it for dance, gymnastics and figure skating because of the musical interpretation involved. (Those hobbies and pursuits that straddle the line between sport and art.) It was also great to finally really interpret the music with choreography and improvisation. The lead follow connection was easy too, but I would assume Kristi has that too since she skated pairs also for many years before concentrating on singles skating and winning the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics.

There are a few things Kristi Yamaguchi probably did have to learn in the Dancing with the Stars training sessions. The thing you don’t use in figure skating is the rest of your upper body, arms, head or expressions in much detail or variety. And skaters are not into the same kind of footwork as dancers because they are always skating for the sake of speed, to get to take off for jumps and can’t really spend time on any detail at a slow enough speed to be intricate. (it doesn’t get you any points) After learning to dance though, I thought skaters lacked real choreography, musicality and interpretation. They fell flat on TV as non-expressive beings trained to jump and without any real enthusiasm or artistic expression on the ice. Pretty posture isn’t enough to sell your performance or story to the audience let alone really interpret the music in a real way. I now prefer dancing both personally and for watching as entertainment, I think it has so much more to offer.

I think that Kristi Yamaguchi has the potential to be as good a dancer as the real ballroom dancers because she is in strong physical (cardio) shape, has great body awareness and seems to be learning the musicality and interpretation she needs to sell her dancing to the audience. I hope she goes all the way just like speed skater Apollo Anton Ono did a few seasons ago. It’s true, after figure skating, everything else in life is easy.

TopGear USA Names New Host Adam Corolla

adam corolla, topgear USA, Gear, NBC, host, presenter, newAs Jalopnik reported last week Adam Corolla has been named the first host of TopGear USA in it’s newest iteration of GEAR on NBC in 2009. (per an announcement on his radio show and some pix with TG cars, see K Nob left.) I have read all kinds of mixed reviews online and heard people’s opinions on this pick and here are my thoughts to add to the fray:

1. I don’t know Adam Corolla from a bag of rocks but a lot of people seem to know him from The Man Show and they seem to think he is funny and willing to get shoved in frozen lake for a laugh. (which sinefeld and leno wouldn’t do) This is encouraging. He doesn’t have a persona that is so well known it is career limiting (being typecast) yet people are pretty sure he can do (or has done) Improv in his day and has some snark. This was a big qualifier for this job. I am sure they did some pilot episode recording or something to compare the candidates on film (per Richard Hammond’s book where he mentions his interview & audition) and I bet Adam probably does ok in the snark category. (he also seems to do well in the 1991 wardrobe category) This is probably the most important part of the selection process.

2. Many people seem to be up in arms about the TopGear USA show needing to be an exact replica of the TG UK show down to the exact personality traits of each host. (presenter) They say they need an overbearing stubborn tall guy, and an emotional and hyper short guy and a long haired geeky guy. This couldn’t be more wrong. You need some great personalities, some strong opinions and some great improv and mucking about to make a great show. You can’t re-create the actual people and their attitudes over here that Jeremy, Richard and James have in real life. That would be monkey-stupid and not at all viable. The mix should be diverse but the personalities all will be different.

2.5 I have also read that people think Adam Corolla doesn’t have a car background. He must have some car knowledge though or else they wouldn’t have selected him. I would guess that you would have to have all of the following skills to host: know how to drive a manual transmission well enough to talk to the camera and drive at the same time, know some basic autocross skills for the lap times and tests, be familiar with fancy and race type cars so that you know how to power slide and such. I would also hope the person genuinely enjoyed power sliding and pushing a car’s limits. I think a lot of the technical things that Jeremy, James and Richard say are discussed with the producers and prep people of TG to give them some topline analysis from the team of research geeks behind the scenes. Hopefully NBC’s GEAR will have a team of car geeks behind the scenes too.

3. Some people are complaining that the show will be all about NASCAR and that will suck ass. Yes, that would technically suck ass if it happened, but I think the show will have diverse talent and diverse activities all around the different car type groups. (Imports, Domestics, Pony Cars, Muscle Cars, Roadsters, Trucks, Minvans, SUVs, Street Racing Mods, Low Riders, Classics, Really old Classics, Classics with wooden wheels, Green Ecological leaf-eating Cars, Exotics and Supercars. And hopefully there will be some fun crossover with the auto racing sports in this country Indy, CART, NASCAR, Funny Cars, F1, Unlimited Fuel Dragsters, Autocross, Sprints, and Demolition Derbys at the county fair. (please use the last one I beg you) The content is usually based on a couple things:

    A. Supercars awe inspire us all, so cover as many of those as possible and make the editing and camera work turn it into car pron. This keeps the 10-50 yr old boys happy, and the beauty of the cars even makes it interesting to some of us women. We also enjoy the speed.

    B. People need practical every day cars reviewed in a non-sleep inducing non-autoweek way. This means everything from the YuGo to the Mercs. (by merc I mean Mercedes not Mercury, I can’t believe I just said that) I can’t believe MOTORweek is still on TV. I want to shoot my television when I run across that show accidentally.

    C. Challenges building things and Road Trips through other countries are the comedy and entertainment portion of the program. Do the ridiculous, seriously. Do the serious, ridiculously. And please Fork it up in ways we never thought possible. The only difference here is that it should require less passport use in the USA. Route 66 anyone? Highway 1 PCH?

    D. Weird sometimes stupid stunts. Jumping minivans and seeing how long a car runs with all the coolant drained out of it. endurance, destruction and general stunt-ness is needed here. These segments are short on time and long suspense and hopefully provide either humor or carnage or both. (ala the car chases in the blues brothers movie)

    E. The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment. It allows the BBC to make some marketing money and it gives us some interesting non-car related person in an autocross race situation. This either ends up being impressive or rediculous, it works great either way. I recommend a Chevy Malibu as the car here. It’s so average it hurts. It will also be painful seeing George Clooney actually sit in one instead of the fancy schmantsy things he is used to.

But the question I want answered that no one was asking is: Did Adam Corolla get the job just because he was named after a cheap econo-box Japanese car? If so it’s a really bad pun, and I wouldn’t mention it. I think using the corolla as the reasonably priced car is out too.

Also read about the interview with Adam Corolla and my suggestions for the show here.

Also, I am a little baffled that this got ranked #1 on a TopGear USA search in Google. I am not sure how that happened. This blog isn’t really that great, except possibly when I write about TG or Marketing. Anyway, if for some reason you officially want to contact me about what I write here, you can through my other blog here. My stats say that about 50 people a day are looking for TG USA info and come here. I hope that is enough for NBC’s to keep the show on air this fall.

New Quarterlife TV Show on NBC ROCKS!

I have been reading for months about this new show Quarterlife and how because of the writer’s strike, it got a shot at airing on network TV when it had only been an online show before that point. I ran into the Quarterlife show the other night on TV by accident and thought I would check it out. I was surprised that despite being 32, and not the target of the show, I really liked it. I specifically remember being 25 and having a quarterlife crisis (term coined by John Mayer in a song) and going through some things with being on my own for the first time, with my first job, dating woes and dealing with being a full on adult for the first time. Plus leaving all childhood frivolousness behind is a somewhat scary thing. No more silly stuff? No more hip clothes? Will I just be a boring blah worker that never gets anywhere? All my friends too had these thoughts.

I found that the show Quarterlife represented these feelings pretty accurately. The content of the show was very genuine and right on for that age group and I watched earnestly remembering that time in my life. I thought it was funny and clever and very dramatic and true all at the same time.

they were open and honest about everything from sex to work to relationships and I found it refreshing, although the show moves at a very fast pace. I had to speed up my brain just to keep up with all the cuts to different angles and fast dialogue. Quarterlife does seem very real though and the actors are pretty good. (although one girl that blogs is reeeeaaallllyyy overacting)

Then I saw online that people were calling it a failure because it only had 3.9 million viewers. I don’t know if that is really bad since I saw no online or offline campaign promoting it and I am online all over the place. How would that 20-30 yr crowd that doesn’t watch TV know it was going to be on? Did they do any WOM marketing? Duh? if you don’t invite them and tell them it’s coming no one will show up.

I think this show has all the elements of a West Wing for the Millenials but about personal politics rather than national politics. I think it should stay on the air and they should give it some marketing boost, and maybe a tripod to anchor the camera better in some situations. Anyway, I just thought it was important to say that I watched the show and I liked it a lot and it should stay on air at NBC and online.

I know that the commerical spots were sold with X amount of audience guaranteed and if they miss that point the network has to refund or give away more free ads to compensate for it. But maybe this show was not positioned right, promoted right or sold right by the network. I thing the writers, actors and developers of the show did a great job and the show may get shuffled around, but should certainly stay on the air.

Oscars, Trends and Once Movie Wins Best Song

once movie, wins oscar, best, music, song, musical, 2008, 2007, 2006, marketa irglova, glen hansard I think people were generally happy with the outcomes of the Oscar awards last night. Although there weren’t any big blockbuster films this year that were box office smash hits or huge societal movements, there were some well made movies that got recognized for their hard work. I was especially happy to see that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the Oscar for best original song. I felt like the Enchanted people were good at producing a Disney musical and Amy Adams sang and danced on stage twice (not easy when it is in addition to her regular attendance duties) but Once was a great movie with a lot more meaning and resonance than a Disney musical could possibly ever have. (especially for people over the age of 10, which I would think most of the academy is made up of)  I was also thrilled to see that Jon Stewart gave Marketa Irglova a moment to come back out and say her thank you for her award after the commercial break. Kudos to him for that. And we should all remember what she said quote: “fair play to those who dream and don’t give up“. Those are great words.

I think someone said on NPR this morning that international (foreign) stars dominated the awards last night and that may be true but I don’t think it was the trend that explains why they won. I think the academy awards are moving past the popularity contest that they used to be and really rewarding the most meaningful and powerful quality work in every category. It makes movies like la vie en rose or Once possible to win when they were only even shown at Art House theaters here in Chicago and most people never even heard about them. (in an unrelated event I went to a blockbuster video store this weekend and I didn’t recognize 1/2 the movies there either) I think this may help these indie, foreign or cutting edge films find an audience they would not have before but more importantly it rewards people with more work because of the award and makes the careers of talented people doing great work so they don’t have to sell out and just do what makes the most money. Its kind of like trying to positively influence capitalism’s negative affect on art.

I also think that it just so happens that the people willing to make these different movies that aren’t big blockbuster type films are more likely foreigners that are less influenced by the lure of the big Hollywood blockbuster that has no artistic quality but brings in a big paycheck and instead, these foreigin actors make movies for the love of making movies and the chance to do good work. And, they got rewarded for that. It is refreshing to find people who are interested in quality work over money. It seems that foreign people not only have the better work ethic and simpler lifestyle demands to be able to manufacture everything from our cars to our clothes but now they also have captured a more pure (not money only) sense of making movies also now. I think it’s kind of a sad sign in general for the U.S. but like always it doesn’t really mean anyone would really try and make a change. We’re not good at that.

I look forward to seeing some of the films that I had not seen yet by the Award telecast and hope to discover some new great actors and films that I can enjoy. And if you haven’t seen Once, go rent it on DVD from Netflix or wherever you rent DVDs today.