On rare occasions, I get the call to be a professional driver on a closed course—the disclaimer that scrolls across the bottom of nearly every car commercial ever made. It’s odd, because I do not make my living as a professional driver; nevertheless, when the call comes, I approach the job like a stone-cold professional. The fundamentals are no different from my professional flying job: complete the mission without bending metal or killing anyone.

The most recent call happened last week. A friend of mine needed a precision driver to entrust with a very special car for a short film promoting a very good cause. It was an extremely low serial number (single digit) of a certain company’s newest model. I’ll just say that if that company had a first name it would be Nikola, and its newest “Model” ends with the number of BMW’s most popular “Series.” I was told quite frankly that it was irreplaceable—but also that I was trusted with it unequivocally.

It would be a full day of filming on multiple locations. We would start in the early morning, shooting static, aerial, drive-by, and vehicle-to-vehicle shots. Mid-day we would break for dialogue shots at a static location, then more B-roll car footage at sunset. I was given wardrobe requirements, times, and locations.

I spent the evening before researching the car, its controls, specs, and performance. Other than company literature, there have been few journalists’ reviews, so information was vague. Out of respect for my role in the project, I’ll keep my journalism vague, too.

The wardrobe part was easier. If I dug deep into the dark corner of my closet, past the oil-stained trousers and Blipshift T-shirts, I could meet the image requirements: smart, sophisticated, and modern. Neutral and dark tones were a must—something that would complement, not distract from, the car. I opted for mildly tight-fitting black Calvin Klein jeans (luckily, no clutch-pedal flexibility would be needed), a dark blue collared shirt, and a black high-collar jacket to hide the scar from a recent neck surgery. I was told to shave the night before so that I would have a five o’clock shadow in the morning; it would give me a masculine look, while not compromising the hard lines of my face (not my words). All other facial hair needed to be groomed, lest a wayward ear hair catch the sunlight in an over-the-shoulder interior shot and glisten like a sparkler on the Fourth of July (my words).

The winter air was crisp and the sky was clear as we drove to the first location in the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The morning sun painted the yellow wild grass and green conifer trees in a rich warm light. At times the road meandered through the scars of past forest fires, where the only remains were charred monolithic tree trunks. It was an enchanting landscape, which made a fitting backdrop for this car.

I used the opportunity to familiarize myself with the car. The controls were simple and intuitive; nearly all functions and information were accessed and displayed through a central screen. There was only faint road noise, because, unlike our BMW X3 camera vehicle, this car consumed only ions—more accurately, it transformed them from a giant lithium-ion battery pack beneath my seat to instant rear-wheel-drive torque. And speaking of torque, there was enough on tap to power a Washington D.C. Metro train—but that is a dangerously journalistic statement. The small-rimmed leather sport steering wheel was connected to delightfully crisp and direct steering, too—okay, that may have crossed the line.

Once we started rolling, my job was to put the car exactly where directed, be it six inches or six feet from the camera car. It’s just like flying in formation, but doing so while not breaking character with my concentration face (think mediocre guitar player trying a Led Zeppelin riff). I did my best to maintain a neutral, relaxed driving expression while constantly scanning for outs, and threats—like wildlife. This was a zero-failure mission, no bent metal!

There are other rules on a car shoot: for example, never cross the double yellow line. An entire take could be ruined by one tire excursion across the double yellow—and on the scenic, tight, twisty mountain roads we filmed on, it’s easy to do.

Continuity is also key; i.e., seating position, hand position, clothing, sunglasses, and headlights. If the headlights were on in one take, they had better be on in the next, unless otherwise directed.

I was nearly flummoxed by the lack of an actual headlight switch on this car; the lights were easily accessed via a menu on the center screen, which I adjusted to quickly. I made it part of a pre-flight check to affirm that they were on before each take. The hazard switch was more difficult to find; it was located in the overhead panel, forward of the glass panoramic roof, next to the rearview mirror.

Then there is basic set etiquette: When not needed, stay out of the way, but always be close enough so that nobody ever waits for you. Silence the phone, don’t talk, and always mind your reflection in the car.

The most challenging part of the day was a drive-by shot where I had to do a pass at speed in the middle of a mountain curve a few inches between photographers. This is routine on a race track, but the stakes are higher with an irreplaceable car and human beings where apex curbing or autocross cones normally reside. Despite my lack of seat time in the car, it did what I asked with ease; it was communicative, composed, and surprisingly neutral, despite my not being able to figure out how to defeat the stability control. The steering, brakes, and balance were all on par with my expectations of a sport sedan—think E46 M3—but I’d better stop before I get too journalistic. I thoroughly enjoyed it—and no humans, cars, or cameras were injured!

We wrapped the day with sunset static shots at the base of the Rocky Mountains, their pyramid shadows protruding steadily to the eastern horizon. The silence of the moment was piercing, unbroken by the normal ticking of petrol-engine components cooling after a spirited drive. As I stood there—minding my reflection—it was clear that I was staring at the future. This car is a game-changer; it will be relatively attainable compared to its predecessors, and it was even able to satisfy the driving bias of an old-school BMW-lover like me. I really didn’t want to like it, but I found little to complain about.

I was grateful to have the opportunity to participate in the film and contribute to its subject’s noble cause, but I couldn’t help contemplating that something greater was occurring in that fading sunlight. It was an intersection of the past and the future, one where an old-school driving enthusiast like me could experience what is clearly the future—and not have to relinquish the experience that I hold dear.—Alex McCulloch