Thursday, February 11, 2010

Everybody Hates Logging

[ Today's article was originally posted on MySpace, January 27, 2006. ]

Today brings to a close my first four weeks in my new position here at "The Amazing Race." A full month. So I figured it was high time to collect my thoughts and evaluate where I am in life.

I don't think I've written much about my new job, so I should probably take a moment to describe it. My job title is Associate Producer. Now, lest that sound impressive to the uninitiated, allow me to knock myself down a few pegs. In most instances throughout the entire entertainment industry, associate producer is a bullshit title. It's a job title without a job description. Associate producer is what they call you when they don't know what to call you. You've contributed in some way to a production, but you did not perform a series of tasks that fall in line with any other job title. Congratulations, you're an AP.

I know it can sound impressive. It has the word "producer" in it. "Producer" is the top guy, isn't he? The man in charge. Pull the strings! Right? Take it from me, the answer is no. People hear "producer" and they think you're a millionaire. They think you know all the ins and outs of Hollywood. This is an unfair prejudice. I don't know shit.

All right, I know a little. And my knowledge and experience grows every day. But, in the meantime, no, I am not running the place. Not even close. If anyone ever tells you that he or she is an associate producer, I encourage you to fold your arms, lean back, put a smirk on your face, and ask that person, "So, then, what do you actually do?"

My associate producership finds me in the story department, which is a fine place to be. I'm basically a writer's assistant... except they're not allowed to credit me that way.

The next questions that pop into people's minds after hearing all this are usually along the lines of, Hey! Wait a minute! I thought this was a "reality" show. How can "reality" have writers? Aren't you just supposed to tape what people do, and then put it up on screen? See! I knew it! It's all fake! It's all bullshit! How can you live with yourself? How do you sleep at night?

Okay, here's the way it works. Yes, reality shows have writers. No, that doesn't necessarily mean they hire actors or coach the contestants on how to act. Some of them do, to varying levels of intrusiveness. Most critics and critical viewers consider "The Amazing Race" to be among the classier reality shows. That's because the show does, honestly, keep the intrusions to a minimum. In planning, shooting and editing, things are kept much more straight-forward on this show than they are on most reality shows.

So how do "writers" figure into the equation on a reality show? Well, we receive about 11 hours worth of footage per team per episode for this show. For the first episode alone, that's 110 hours (not counting additional b-roll footage, such as landscape shots, as well as footage of the host doin' his thang). Over 110 hours has to be whittled down into about 1 hour and 26 minutes for the two-hour premiere episode. That's what a "writer" does on a reality show. He keeps track of all that footage, keeps track of all those teams, figures out what everybody says and does (and in what order they do it), and then has the monumentally stressful job of figuring out how to make an intelligible story out of what is, to be honest, a bunch of random, meaningless events. That's an abbreviated version of how it works, anyway. There are multiple writers and multiple assistants, and then all sorts of supervisors and show runners and whatnot. But you get the idea.

So, what do I do? Well, you know those hundreds of hours of tape that we were talking about? My primary job is to go through all of those minute-by-minute, second-by-second, and type it into a transcript on the computer. Every inane little utterance made by the people on the show, every thoughtless word that trips out of their mouths, I have to write it down.

At least, that's what the first month has been. I'm told that, in the future, once we get past the intensive logging stages, I'll be more involved in helping to shape the story. You know, actually working on individual episodes. Doing work that you can directly see on your TV screen. In the meantime, I have a little VCR/TV combo, and a computer. I listen to people who I don't usually like, and I write down the things that they say.

You can imagine how tedious it is to log and transcribe these tapes. (Almost as tedious as reading this, I'm sure.) And it takes FOREVER! (Again, like reading this.) The average output expected for all of us APs is one 60-minute tape per day. In a 9- or 10-hour work day, they only expect us to get through 60 minutes worth of footage. Most of us can top that, but still... you get a sense for how slow and dull this can be.

Now, I'm not complaining. (Well, maybe I'm complaining a little. But who doesn't like to complain about their job? It's fun. Anyway...) I'm just explaining how it is. And, slow and dull pretty much sums it up.

But the real sickness is this: we secretly love it. It's all part of the process, all part of climbing the ladder. We're happy to have gotten as far as we have. And we know that we're learning a lot, and being groomed to climb even further. Ideally, doing the work we're doing, we're all on our way to becoming story producers ourselves. Only time will tell where we all end up. But this is probably an important step for most of us.

So, am I happy? Sure. Happy enough for now. I wouldn't want to be doing this for too long. But, then again, nobody would. Everybody hates logging. But I'm happy with what I'm doing. Again, it's all part of the process. I'm happy that I'm being processed. And I'm happy that people who don't know any better are impressed with my job title.
"We were going to hire chimps to do your job, but they wouldn't accept associate producer credits."
--My former boss, Chad.

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