My reality television career began as a logger. Not the manly, rugged, bearded, plaid-wearing, log-rolling, song-singing type of logger, but rather the type of logger who sits at a computer all day, watching hours and hours of footage and making a note of what happens where. Some people call logging the most exciting job in the world of television. These people have either never heard of any other job in television, or have been hit in the head repeatedly and are suffering from an excessive cerebral hemorrhage, because logging really sucks. It's painfully boring. Soul-crushing even. But it's a job, and I needed a job at the time, so when the opportunity arose to become a logger, I lept at the chance.
My first job, this logging job, came at an opportune moment in my life. I had been in LA for about three months and was fresh off an internship with Unapix Films, a now defunct company best known for producing the film Jack Frost. Not the one with Michael Keaton, the one with the killer snowman. You might remember the box. It was a hologram. Turn it one way, friendly snowman. Smiling. Happy. Turn it the other, evil snowman. Sinister. Menacing. During my time at Unapix, the creative team behind Jack Frost came in for a meeting, to pitch the sequel, Jack Frost. For historical purposes, I provide their pitch, in it's entirety. "It's Jack ... in the Bahamas. Can't you see the box?" End of pitch. They had not a story, not a script. They had a box cover. It was my first welcome to Hollywood moment. There would be many more to come.
When that internship ended, I was out of work, briefly homeless, and car-less. I had a car. It was a nice car. An '89 Dodge Spirit. I totaled it. Lost in Burbank, looking for a post office early on a Saturday morning, I made an illegal u-turn, directly into the path of an SUV in the lane next to me. He had been in my blind spot, hence the name. He plowed into me, drove me across two lanes of traffic, up onto the curb and into a building. Luckily, no one was harmed. The same cannot be said for the building. If you're ever in Burbank, near NBC, you'll find a restaurant named Chadney's right across the street from Jay Leno's studio. About two feet up the wall, there's a patch of paint that doesn't match the rest of the wall. That's where my car hit the building. That remains the most lasting impression I have made in Los Angeles.
I had been in LA for less than three months. I had no job, no car, and $300 to my name. I needed a job. A friend put me on to a lead that Film Garden was in need of loggers. A phone call was made, an interview was set up, a meeting was had. During the interview, I was asked if I had an logging experience. "No, no I don't" I said. Note to potential loggers and all job applicants in general: When a potential employer asks if you have any experience on the particular task for which you might be hired, always say "Yes!" Exactly that way. Exclamation point and all. Now is not the time for honesty. It impresses no one.
As I mentioned above, in the last sentence in fact, my potential employer was not impressed by my refreshing blast of honestly. Rather, she seemed perplexed that she was interviewing someone for a logging who had no previous logging experience. She asked me to do a sample log . I was given a half-hour tape and sent away to log. No format was given. No rules to follow or helpful suggestions. No guidance at all.
I sat down in a random office and began to type. My fingers worked quickly. My mind buzzed. My descriptions of the on-screen action were painstaking accurate. "Medium shot of woman on street, pan to cat, push into MCU of cat" and so on. I had no idea what they actually expected out of these logs, but they weren't going to hire me for lack of detail. After an hour of furious logging, my potential employer returned. I was excited to show her my work. Excited to show her that I could, indeed log. Despite my utter lack of experience, I knew I was a natural at logging. Surely she would agree. Surely she would be amazed by my attention to detail and knowledge of cinematic terms.
"Oh, you're still here?" she asked. These were not the words I was expecting. Undetered, I handed her my logs. She gave them a glance which can best be describe as cursory. "These look fine. Someone will call you." And she left. And then I left. Or rather, walked outside, called my friend from a payphone (1999!) for a ride home. I still did not have a car. In fact, it would be a couple years before I drove in LA again, but that's a story for another time.
Later that afternoon, someone did call and I was hired. I would be a tape logger on a show called The Keepers for Animal Planet. It was a reality show based around the vets, zookeepers and other employees who cared for, fed and cleaned up after the animals at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Actually, it wasn't called The Keepers when I was hired. It was called Zoo Story, a title loved by none. One day, the writers came into our little logging room and asked if we had any ideas for the title. Various ideas were bandied about; A Day in the Park, The Keepers, Animal Tales, and so on. I suggested BeastMasters. They decided on The Keepers.
Working as a logger was an eye-opening experience. I discovered a great many things about the realities of reality television. I discovered that the best most interesting stories never make it to the screen. The amazing footage of Dr. Jeff, the show's lead veterinarian, trying to safe the life of an eland that aspirated while under anesthesia by giving the animal CPR with his knee? Cut out of the show, because the animal died. It didn't matter that the vet looked like a hero, climbing onto the eland's chest and using all his body weight in an attempt to re-start it's heart. The eland died, and the dead animals make the park look bad. The dramatic footage of the baby zebra, born with shattered front legs, that had to undergo hours of delicate surgery in hopes that he could someday rejoin and be accepted back into his dazzle; the footage that shows the baby zebra, mere days after surgery, casts on it's front legs, struggling to take those first few important steps? The footage that no one with a heart could watch without getting a tear in their eye and a lump in their throat? Cut from the show, because the zebra passed away, and dead animals make the park look bad. What did make the show? Keepers feeding leaves to Hippos. Keepers digging through enormous piles of rhino feces. Keepers having meetings. None of that footage made the park look bad. Of course, none of that footage made the show look compelling, either.
When I started logging, during those first weeks, I could get through five, six tapes a day. By week five, thanks to my annoyance at the subject matter and the constant lure of the internet, I was down to maybe three tapes a day. By week eight, I would get through one tape, one a good day. It was not a rarity to walk by my desk at ten in the morning and see a frozen image on my screen, an interview paused mid-reply, while I dicked around on the internet, mostly on wrestling sites. If you stopped by my desk fives hours later, you were likely to see the same image still frozen on the screen. I would, however, be dicking around a different wrestling site. You see, I have a condition which prevents me from doing something if I don't want to do it. Doctors call it being an incredibly spoiled brat.
I was in the middle of one of those days when I really didn't feel like doing that much transcribing when Tony, the show's supervising producer shuffled up to my desk. "Ryan, can I talk to you for a minute?" he asked, in a tone that suggested this wasn't about to be one of our occasional gab sessions about comedy or screenwriting or pro wrestling. The jig was up, it seemed. I was about to get The Talk. The "you know, we are paying you, you really have to do work at some point" talk. At least, I hoped I'd get The Talk. It crossed my mind that I might be fired. I was just a logger after all, and easily replaceable.
It was with those thoughts on my mind that I entered his office, closing the door behind me. He leaned back in his chair and narrowed his eyes at me. "How would you like to be an associate producer on the next season of The Secret World Of ...? It won't start until the new year and I can't give you anything in between, but it's yours if you want it." And that's how I became a producer. One season as a logger. A terrible, lazy logger. And with that I discovered the first secret of being a reality TV producer. There's no substitute for being like-able.