Restaurant: Nearly Impossible

By Mr. Tyler Burroughs


It’s not every day that a large network television show comes to shoot in the San Francisco Bay Area, let alone in one of our favorite seaside towns (although, strangely enough, the feature film Mavericks started shooting on the same day just down the street). But the Food Network hit Restaurant: Impossible was filming an episode in Santa Cruz, California to bring it’s own brand of renovation to Hoffman’s, a local restaurant and patisserie located in the heart of downtown. Three staff members here at CLAi were asked to join the production team during the three-day production. From my perspective as a relative newbie to the professional ranks, the chaos of shooting a reality TV show combined with eighteen hour days proved to be exhausting yet eye opening.

It’s always interesting to observe how other companies operate on location – and how different it all is to the perfectly balanced picture painted at film school. So I was surprised at how unorganized everything was for such a major television show. At times the shoot was very productive with an unbelievable amount of progress being made at a wicked pace; but at other times it seemed as if everything had been put on hold with nothing to do but stand by for hours at a time. With not one but five different producers on location you would think that progress would be silky smooth, but in actuality everyone on the film and the design crews were constantly receiving conflicting direction and barely knew which way was up and which was down.

Yet another shock came when I discovered that the show wasn’t being shot in high definition. The camera package consisted of three standard definition Panasonic AJ-SDX900’s, each tethered to an EasyRig. The SDX900 is known to be one of the highest quality SD cameras ever produced for broadcast work, however it was surprising to me that a network that embraced the leap to HD several years ago is still shooting new content in standard definition (apparently the next series will be in HD of some flavor).

Robert Irvine, the shows host, is a well-respected chef and personality starring on multiple Food Network shows including Iron Chef, Restaurant: Impossible and its sister program Dinner: Impossible. He is known for his “slightly” coarse and aggressive persona, and likes to be seen yelling at the restaurant staff or design team as he flexes his muscles and demolishes a wall or two with a sledgehammer.

What viewers don’t realize is that he isn’t acting – if anyone messes up within a hundred yards of him, Robert will go off on them without hesitation. Of course, the cameras aren’t always there or rolling at the time, so he is happy to oblige the producers with a perfect re-take to repeat any hissy fit! And anyone who has seen the show knows that he is not the type of guy you want yelling at you – real or re-take. On the final day, with the project nearly three hours behind schedule and a real risk that this one would be the wrong sort of Project: Impossible, nobody on set was safe from Robert’s in-your-face personality.

The restaurant was due to re-open at 6:30pm, but as customers gathered to enter the restaurant, paint was still wet, the building was still empty, the producers still had a lengthy shot list to get through, and, of course, the owners hadn’t even seen their new restaurant. Those final three hours were the most productive, and totally disorganized, portion of the entire shoot. With five producers and one (much louder) Robert Irvine all barking opposing orders at everyone, the entire location erupted in chaos. Robert began directing the production crew, and with so many producers all trying to do the same thing at the same time, but in different ways, nobody knew who to listen to. Finally, at 9pm the doors swung open revealing the restaurant to the hungry crowd – many of whom had been waiting patiently for five hours or more (others impatiently)… a great captive crowd opportunity missed for the local Santa Cruz street entertainers.

As the restaurant was revealed it became obvious that the whole team had followed a very generic “formula”, probably due to the sheer number of these restaurant remodels done by the design team – from a distance. As a result the new look and menu lacks character and fails to fit into what is a very unique Santa Cruz style – the traditional home of hippies and surfing is not what you might call “everyday.” After all of the blood, sweat, and tears the restaurant has now turned in the potentially more profitable direction of a bar and tapas restaurant. But will the hard work of everyone involved in the physical transformation, and the emotionally torn family that owns the property, change the financial prospects of the restaurant – or was the goal just to get another episode of the show in the can before the production team moved on to a new location?

As a local, I want nothing more than to see the restaurant succeed, but it’s too soon to tell. We will have to cross our fingers, hope for the best and then wait and see. As a part of the production team I feel I have a far better insight into what goes into making a reality show – and, as I should probably have guessed, it’s much more about manufacturing conflict, stress and just a little chaos, without an awful lot of reality involved at all… now I think that I’m finally ready to take on Jersey Shore – where did I put that hazmat suit and oxygen mask?