Accepting the Hollywood challenge

By Nancy Ridgeway
August 8, 2013

Days after walking across the stage in his cap and gown, Bradley graduate Bill Bowden packed his car and headed west to pursue his dream of a career in film and television production. Ten years later, he is an Emmy nominee for his work on the popular CBS reality television show “Survivor.”

Bowden, who has been with “Survivor” for 16 seasons, was nominated along with five fellow editors for outstanding picture editing for reality programming. The nomination is for their work in “Zipping Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the tenth episode in season 26, “Survivor: Caramoan—Fans vs. Favorites.”

“This episode got a lot of audience feedback. Sometimes everything falls into place because of conflicts and connections made, and in this episode, all the elements came together. There were many twists and turns that don’t typically happen on ‘Survivor,’ and it all came to a head. One of the villain characters who had been running the show was voted off,” Bowden said.

Bowden’s primary role is to edit the challenge segments for each episode. The challenges are tasks that test contestants’ endurance and physical abilities. Winners gain immunity from being voted off by their peers.

Discussing his role, Bowden said, “Editors are responsible for the look and pace of the show. The challenges can take anywhere from 10 minutes to eight hours to complete. Our job is to go through the footage and pull out all the best parts.

“I have to make each week’s challenge fit, make it compelling, have it make sense and draw the most emotion,” he says, adding he also chooses the accompanying music. “The main component is storytelling. You tell it the best way you can to captivate the audience.”

Bowden also has been a producer for the last three years. He goes on location during the summer as the show is being taped, then returns to Hollywood to edit the footage. “It’s very rare to find a year-round gig in L.A, but that’s what ‘Survivor’ has become for me,” Bowden said.

 “My main job as a producer is to track any and all stories whether they seem relevant or not. Someone sneezing on another person the first day may come up again on day 10. You don’t know what’s going to happen and whether it will have repercussions. That’s why the cameras are always rolling.”

The crew often works day and night in the same conditions as the contestants, sometimes working 50-hour shifts. “We can’t eat or chew gum in front of them because that would be torture. I lose as much weight as the contestants do.”

Looking back to his Bradley days, Bowden said, “I knew at a young age that I wanted to work in television or film. My sister went to Bradley and sold me on it. The GCC (Caterpillar Global Communications Center) with all of its technology was fairly new. Working with the professors at Bradley reinforced that I wanted to work in this field.”

The January interim Hollywood Expedition course led by Dr. Bob Jacobs, director of Bradley’s John C. Hench Production Art Studios, was instrumental in helping Bowden gain the confidence to make the move to L.A. Jacobs took students to a variety of production houses where they were introduced to a spectrum of career opportunities and people in the industry.

“Meeting people who were willing to talk to me and answer questions made me feel more at ease about moving 2,500 miles away to a city I didn’t know very well,” Bowden said.

He offers advice to students aspiring to a career in the industry. “The first and hardest step is to move to L.A. Rarely would somebody offer you a job if you aren’t already here. You have to bite the bullet, come out and the work will come. There’s plenty of work here. You just have to leave everybody behind and pursue your dream.”

Bowden was a production assistant on several projects before landing a job on “Restaurant,” his first job with Mark Burnett Productions. After that, he worked on several other Mark Burnett shows, including “Casino” on Fox, “Contender” and “Martha Stewart Apprentice” on NBC and “Rock Star: Supernova” on CBS.  He took a temporary position with “Survivor” and has been working his way up the ladder ever since.

Eventually, he hopes to become an executive producer and ultimately the head creative mind for a series or show. “I have a lot of steps between here and there,” Bowden said.

An Emmy nomination is one more step. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be presented Sunday, September 15.