Outtakes: Downer keeps ‘Five-0′ on track
BY MIKE GORDON / firstname.lastname@example.org
When Jeff Downer gets up in the morning, he worries about the same thing nearly every day: Will he be able to get “Hawaii Five-0″ through another day without a hitch?
Downer, one of the show’s co-executive producers, oversees every production decision that goes into “Five-0,” which started shooting its sixth season last week. His gig isn’t as glamorous as that of Alex O’Loughlin, the star of the series, or Peter Lenkov, the writer/producer who envisioned this new version of “Five-0″ in 2010. But without Downer, there might not be a show.
He is the ultimate behind-the-scenes player, a guy who says “on time and on budget” a lot.
“Basically, my job is to get the show made,” said the 57-year-old Downer. “The whole thing runs through me. I don’t care what we have for lunch that day, but I’m the guy on the ground that makes sure it gets done — where we are going to go and how we are going to get there.”
The job isn’t about the limelight, and one advantage is that no one recognizes Downer when he’s out in public.
“I’m happy being behind the scenes,” he said.
Downer will share how a “Five-0″ episode comes together, as well as the role of producers in the creation of a TV series, during a three-hour Pacific New Media class on Elements of Film and Video Production at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus Wednesday.
“I love doing that kind of stuff,” said Downer, who did it last year, too. “People don’t understand what we do and why we do it.”
(For registration information, call (808) 956-8400 or visit http://outreach.hawaii.edu/pnm.)
Downer didn’t work on the “Five-0″ pilot, but has been with the CBS show ever since.
Each episode takes eight days to shoot, and often the cast and crew shoot at two locations in a day. It’s a complicated ballet of trucks, equipment and caterers.
Staying on top of that means Downer’s phone buzzes with a new text every few minutes.
“When we’re scouting and having meetings, I have to check in with the set to make sure that’s running well,” he said. “If things aren’t going well, I make a visit.”
Downer got into the industry when he was 21. Originally from New York, he moved to Los Angeles with a marketing degree and wound up following an old-school route to success: He started in the mailroom at ABC.
“Back then you worked your way up and became something,” he said. “It teaches you a good work ethic. You have to work hard and you have to prove yourself. If you don’t, there is another guy who will take your position.”
Liking what he saw, Downer enrolled at L.A. City College and took TV production classes.
He worked on TV — one of his first shows was the sitcom “Night Court” with Harry Anderson and John Larroquette — then switched to feature films for a few years. His credits include “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “Never Been Kissed.”
In 2005 Downer returned to television, a genre he prefers because of its predictability.
“You know your schedule, and you know what you are doing,” he said. “It’s a lot saner life. Features are so weird now. They don’t get the right actor and the project doesn’t happen.”
Downer divides his time between Hawaii and his home in Encino, Calif., flying back every other weekend for family time — he has three grown children and twin 13-year-olds.
After five seasons, “Five-0″ functions smoothly for the most part, but things have gone wrong. During the first episode Downer supervised, back in 2010, a dramatic collision became more dramatic than planned.
“We had a car that was supposed to just get pushed to the side by a van, but the car hit the curb and its wheels locked and it ended up flipped over,” Downer said.
“What do you do? I didn’t have another car to do a take two with, so you have to make do.”
The solution? Different camera angles.
“The car was flipped over, and that’s how we shot the rest of the scene,” he said. “It was more difficult because the guys were upside down. Things like that you have to go with.”
Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.