Pathways with Amber Stitt

Focus on Talents: From Toy Soldier to TV Producer, Talking Transitions w/ Donny McGuire

November 28, 2023 Amber Stitt
Focus on Talents: From Toy Soldier to TV Producer, Talking Transitions w/ Donny McGuire
Pathways with Amber Stitt
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Pathways with Amber Stitt
Focus on Talents: From Toy Soldier to TV Producer, Talking Transitions w/ Donny McGuire
Nov 28, 2023
Amber Stitt

In this episode of The Amber Stitt Show, host Amber Stitt welcomes special guest Donny McGuire, a production manager in the world of reality TV.

They delve into Donny's fascinating career, from his time in the military to driving freight trains and eventually finding his niche in the fast-paced world of reality television.

Donny shares stories about working with different personalities, the importance of teamwork and communication, and his most exciting project, Top Gear USA.

Join the conversation and gain insights into the behind-the-scenes world of reality TV in this engaging and informative podcast episode.

Don't forget to like, subscribe, and leave a comment below!

To learn more about Donny please connect with him on LinkedIn:
and check out his new podcast which you can find at:

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of The Amber Stitt Show, host Amber Stitt welcomes special guest Donny McGuire, a production manager in the world of reality TV.

They delve into Donny's fascinating career, from his time in the military to driving freight trains and eventually finding his niche in the fast-paced world of reality television.

Donny shares stories about working with different personalities, the importance of teamwork and communication, and his most exciting project, Top Gear USA.

Join the conversation and gain insights into the behind-the-scenes world of reality TV in this engaging and informative podcast episode.

Don't forget to like, subscribe, and leave a comment below!

To learn more about Donny please connect with him on LinkedIn:
and check out his new podcast which you can find at:

Amber [00:00:00]:

Hello and welcome to The Amber Stitt Show. I am your host, Amber Stitt, and today we welcome the amazing Donnie McGuire. Thanks for being here, Donny.

Donny McGuire [00:00:08]:

Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

Amber [00:00:10]:

So our mutual friend said, we have to meet. We have to get together. He knows you and he knows me and so he thought we'd have a good time chatting about your life and kind of the day in the life in a whole different arena outside of the standard financial services financial discussion. So here we are. So I appreciate it, so you're traveling for the most part for your job, but right now you're sitting in Nashville. You said in Tennessee.

Donny McGuire [00:00:35]:

I am. That is correct. In a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee.

Amber [00:00:38]:

And we do what we do, you know, working with so many people nationally via virtual, too. And I know your projects can be anywhere. It's really fun to be able to pull people together. And so I appreciate you being here, and I want the audience to know who you are and what you do. What's a day in the life for you?

Donny McGuire [00:00:54]:

Well, currently the day in the life of me is working as a production manager in reality TV. And so I'm here in Nashville shooting a show that will premiere after the Super Bowl. I mean, we're like gypsies in this world where we travel a lot, we come together and we have to mesh really quick together. And a lot of times we don't know each other. So we get intimate really quick. We get through the project and then we all disperse. And sometimes we see each other again. Most of the time we don't.

Amber [00:01:23]:

So, interesting. So when you think about, like, a team, you're essentially not working for a corporation, but you have to get together and work skillfully and have some patience with different personalities. Like you said, you might have worked with them before, maybe once, maybe never again. There's got to be a little bit of resilience and high adaptability skills to be able to get in and do, like, a batched project, especially in segments. So that's got to be a lot of work. But over time, I guess you kind of figure out how to work well and mesh well with different personalities. Do you find that a lot of creatives are the same or can it just be a mix?

Donny McGuire [00:01:58]:

Oh, it's a total mix, yeah. Some people on the crew, they get it. We know we have to come together quick. We know we have to get along very quickly to get the end product because we're with each other twelve plus hours a day. But unfortunately, not everybody gets it. But for the most part, I think a lot of the crew understand what we have to do and what they have to do when we come together and play nice with each other and get through the project, because when you don't, it's not a fun project when you have that bad energy.

Amber [00:02:23]:

Right? The energy, too, because that could just translate. It could be on a phone call. People can feel the energy. So I can imagine it could come through on the creative side. We want to have that positivity, and we really focus on talents and doing what you love. And sometimes you don't always know what you're going to do in life, but I like to encourage the younger people, too, just as they're getting out of, say, education, college, different things. You might not know exactly what you're going to do, but try some things. Work with people.

Amber [00:02:49]:

I'm big on talking about really having great communication skills where you can with different groups, and it could be taxing in some environments. Like, you work behind the scenes a lot, so maybe you're not always out working, like, say, a person across the table from a client. You're more behind the scenes there. But having the ability to almost ninja through some of the different variations, I think, is going to make people really globally competitive. So I like learning about stories and where people came from to see where they landed. Like, now you in reality TV, but tell us a little bit. Before reality TV, was there any crazy, odd job that you're like, can you believe that? I was, because I heard some rumors, and I think they're true, but I think it'd be fun to hear. How did you get here? Or what was that crazy job you might have had that just maybe didn't make sense? Or maybe pieces of it made sense for your present life.

Donny McGuire [00:03:39]:

Oh, boy. Okay, get ready for this story, Amber. It's a crazy one. So I was in the Honor Guard in the Third United States Infantry.

Amber [00:03:46]:


Donny McGuire [00:03:46]:

And what that was is we were basically toy soldiers. Thank you. We were toy soldiers. We did parades. We did a lot of funerals. I worked at the White House, the Pentagon. So doing that and then moving to the office that coordinated all the joint service to Honor Guard ceremonies for Washington, DC. And the military gave me a taste of what I do now.

Donny McGuire [00:04:06]:

So I was in the Army. I did my time in the Honor Guard and then went to Garrison, did my time with the office that coordinated all the ceremonies for joint service to Honor Guard ceremonies. And then when I got out of the Army, I didn't know what I was going to do. And so it kind of led down a path of working for the railroad. And I got into the railroad working as a track maintenance worker, which is basically manual labor, where you're pounding spikes and laying rail. And one day I looked up and saw a train going by, and I looked at the engineer, and I was thinking to myself, "I'm too smart to be doing what I'm doing. I should be doing that." And then not too long...

Amber [00:04:39]:

Warmer up in there, too, right?

Donny McGuire [00:04:41]:

It's a lot warmer up in the cab.

Amber [00:04:42]:


Donny McGuire [00:04:42]:

You have a fridge, you have a heater, you have restroom. I mean, it's lap of luxury in those things. But I transitioned from track labor to a conductor and moved to California, where I started my career as a train conductor and then eventually led me to be an engineer as well. So I drove freight trains for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.

Amber [00:05:03]:

Okay, that's where I was going to ask next. I grew up in Nebraska, so Union Pacific held great jobs, but I don't know anything about the literal railway part of it. But I know a lot of people worked within that business growing up. It was a highly sought after job, and I think it might still be in the Midwest.

Donny McGuire [00:05:18]:

It still is. And my family were railroaders, so I was the first of my generation to do it, which is kind of cool, having that connection with my uncles that were with the Union Pacific. So it was great doing that, and you can make a great career at it, but it's a lot of time away from your family, a lot of times giving to the railroad, you're just working a lot and didn't really sit well with me. Which led me to this transition that I'm in now. It just kind of happened.

Amber [00:05:42]:

Where you can still travel for your projects, too.

Donny McGuire [00:05:46]:

I suppose I can. It's just a little bit of different travel where on the railroad you just have turnarounds, and it's not the glamorous part of where you're staying. Like Barstow, California, Stockton, California. Fresno, California. No offense to all the cities, they're great, but to stay there and then turn around, get another train, and go back home was just really...

Amber [00:06:04]:

For social life, family life, and so on. I think we often forget what paved the way, literally, back in the day, that maybe we need to have more gratitude for the ability that we can have these hybrid positions where if you're on the road, like, if I go to conference, I might bring my family, have a way to write something off and work and play, and there's some beauty in that. It's interesting that you can do that now, but I suppose you had to have a lot of discipline to be in the military, so I didn't know that about you. I knew that there might be something with the railway. We briefly talked about the younger generation and being timely and having some of those basics. Like, we were talking about maybe showing up on time, like, you're pretty disciplined. I think I'm really high responsibility, so I think we would always get that. But people can sense if you're showing up late or not, communicating well, or playing nice on a team environment can be detrimental, and that could potentially hurt when it comes to financial or other opportunities, when it comes to work.

Donny McGuire [00:07:01]:

And it's funny you say that because those three things you just mentioned are things that I learned in the military, which I've carried on with.

Amber [00:07:07]:

You didn't always maybe grew up being that kid?

Donny McGuire [00:07:10]:

No. Yeah, the army really took care of that, instilled that discipline in me that I needed at the time, and I've carried that over to present day, being on time, my leadership skills, knowing how to talk to people, those are all things that you learn in the military to get the best out of a team. Because in the end, that's what it is, it's getting a team of people together and getting the best out of them.

Amber [00:07:29]:

Usually at the end of an episode, I like to think about takeaways, but for the audience, what I'm hearing is, if you're not really dialed into some personal development of some level of honing in on speaking styles, and right now I'm reading a few books on just storytelling because I'm doing some writing. And there's some beauty in that age old communication style of people loving to hear stories and refer stories or communicate something that's going on in our lives as people, in our tribes of people. It's something that's so important. So I think if anything, as we get through this episode together today, that's going to be kind of that highlight of like, what are you doing to improve? And you didn't grow up with this discipline, but if it's important to you, you can work it into your life. So in addition to, say, the military and having this, let's say, systematic kind of learning how to have the system behind the process, when you went into reality TV, are there some sort of metrics or things people have to kind of pass to be a part of reality TV? Or is it just if you're a Kardashian, you can just tell a story? Is there any science or systems behind reality TV that people would maybe not know about?

Donny McGuire [00:08:34]:

I think they have an equation of how to piece something together that works across the board for most reality shows. Some of them will break that and come up with something different, like they did with The Hills in Laguna Beach back in the day with MTV, it was shot totally different than anything was. People thought it was real. Yeah. And everyone thought it was real, but it was all reality. So, yeah, there's a template, but it's up to that producer to push the boundaries and change it and come up with something different, new.

Amber [00:08:58]:

So let's talk about what you do as far as crafting the show. So, like "Book for Dummies" -- Give it to me straight. Is your day different depending upon what the duties are to produce this?

Donny McGuire [00:09:10]:

Yeah. No, every day is different. I'm usually hired first. So we in production management will handle all the pre production, everything from hiring crew to looking for locations, to bringing in equipment for that location, to communicating with the on air talent in whatever capacity that might be, to actually doing the shoot during production, being on set every day, having to come up with call sheets every day, with schedules every day.

Amber [00:09:35]:

So call sheets are kind of like, here's what we're doing today.

Donny McGuire [00:09:38]:

Yeah. The call sheet is just a schedule with everybody's names and numbers on it. So that way it's a quick reference to where you're going, what you're doing, the weather, all that.

Amber [00:09:46]:

Yeah, true. Because it's true because there's things that can just change it up. So what gave you the most excitement when it came to one of the shows that you've worked on?

Donny McGuire [00:09:54]:

That would be hands down Top Gear USA. Because what I didn't mention before is I do work in production management as a production manager and a line producer. Those are different roles, but I also work as an assistant director (AD), and the assistant director basically echoes whatever the director wants and needs. And you basically have one voice on set for safety concerns.

Amber [00:10:12]:


Donny McGuire [00:10:13]:

And to be able to push out information so there's no misinformation. Communication we just talked about, it's given and then received. That's proper communication. So doing that on that show was just so much fun because that's really the capacity that I have, is to be able to talk to a lot of people at once, hear a lot of things in different ears at once, and then get the information out in a timely manner. And it's something that people always ask, "Can you teach me this?" And I'm like, "No, it's something you can't be taught. Either you'll have that in you or you don't."

Amber [00:10:41]:

Like, you have to immerse yourself into the chaos. And I suppose even police, I remember doing some gun training and they have the piece in the ear. They could have a person in front of them that's bad. And they're getting information, but they have to stay cold and not have their heart racing because there's danger and just sirens are going off. But, like, in your world, for the audience that doesn't know about the show, I believe you're talking about car racing, correct?

Donny McGuire [00:11:03]:

Yeah, it's a show. We have three great hosts, Adam Ferrara, Rutledge Wood, and Tanner Foust. And they do crazy fun things in vehicles. So it is up to me to make sure that we're safe. It is up to me...

Amber [00:11:15]:

How do you determine that?

Donny McGuire [00:11:17]:

Well, like, when we're filming on live roads, we will have police working with us to close down that said road. And it's up to me, the AD, to make sure everything's safe before I call action for that said host, like Tanner Foust, to come ripping around the corner. He's got to trust that I cleared it and everything's safe. So I have to go up and down that road with the officer, make sure there's no cars around. If there's any roads leading to that, we have someone locking it off. And so we make a run just before we hit action, and then I call action as soon as it's safe. So it's just being diligent, really, and being slow because we move so fast, but you have to slow down and make sure everything's safe.

Amber [00:11:53]:

But I could just picture that in my head. So I appreciate you describing that. It's very neat to see that the progression, if we're talking about from looking up, working literally on the railroad, to then say, I want to do something else. But I think it's important for people to know that you might not know what's going to be out here. And it could be at any age, too, where you can have different changes. And I have a lot of transition people in my world where my colleagues, I'm in my forties and they might be in their sixties to seventies and they might be doing something new because we're living long lives. And so that's why I really want to encourage people to think, like, if there's something you're being called to change it up, add it on, maybe do that second job or that train yourself in something, because what you're doing now sounds pretty amazing, but it makes sense as far as working the type of, like now you're working with police and other people for safety, in addition to having the military background. That is really cool to see that unfold.

Donny McGuire [00:12:45]:

And I didn't talk about my transition, of how I got into the industry from driving freight trains. So every three years they have a tri-anual exam. That's a written test, a ride along test with your boss, and a physical. And so I've always been partially colorblind. When I first hired out the railroad, I just had to tell them what colors were on the page.

Amber [00:13:05]:


Donny McGuire [00:13:05]:

So on this typical reexam, if you would, we had to stand certain feet from some signals and tell them what color they were. I missed two of them because they weren't bright enough. Went back at night, got them all right. And then after all that, the railroad said that you're colorblind and you can't drive trains.

Amber [00:13:20]:

You didn't know younger?

Donny McGuire [00:13:22]:

Yeah. No, well, I mean, I've always been partially colorblind, so I can tell primary colors, which led me to be able to drive freight trains, but for some reason they thought I was colorblind. So that led me down a road of trying to figure out if I would be working with railroad again or if I had to go elsewhere. And I eventually had to go elsewhere. And so a good friend of ours was head of HR at MTV Networks, asked me if I wanted to answer phones at the front desk until I figured it out. And so I said, "Sure." So I spent a summer at MTV Networks answering the phones at the front desk and had a great time until I figured out that I wasn't going to go back to driving trains and I had to do something else. And that was, gosh, I think I was 31, 32 at the time that I had to make a career change.

Amber [00:14:02]:

Which is, think about that. It's been up until the last 10 to 20 years that there's been more virtual options, or like hybrid. Like, you don't go work somewhere, specifically those natural, traditional jobs. So if you're going to go answer phones, you might just say, "Well, gosh, I'm going to have to work up the ladder here." It'd be hard to know what's out there, what's available, but I think a lot of us have to cut the teeth comment. But the phones sales calls, some of those things that are just like, involuntarily, you're just like, "I don't love this," but it's also part of getting your foot in the door. And so a lot of times it's like, if you want to get in that room, pour water at the table, serve the people that you want to be around. I've heard other people say that.

Amber [00:14:43]:

And we have an MC that we interviewed once, and he said, I was a DJ at Disney where there was the long lines for the rides and he would just do hip-hop or whatever for the kids to like. And because of the relationships, though, that he met, it's taken him around the globe. And so there's some magic behind things that you might not be able to see that are worth it. But the reason I went down this tangent, though, just to go back to age 30 and learning your colorblind, that could have been pretty devastating to say, ""ow, what am I going to do?" Or scary, like, "Am I limited now?" And that's what I meant to say at that transition. Like, in your thirties...

Donny McGuire [00:15:18]:

I had no idea what I was going to do. It was a dark period where you're just kind of having to figure out things. And I didn't know that the industry that I'm working in now really existed, or I could do that until I started answering phones and realized that, "Hey, maybe I could do something else." And so I literally went upstairs to Nickelodeon talent for a hot minute and then ended up in development with MTV Two. And I stayed there for about a year before I figured out I had to leave. And so I left development and then started working in production. And I've been in production ever since. It's just from project to project to project.

Amber [00:15:51]:

So I imagine that you have a lot of juicy stories. Are you ever going to potentially have a podcast where you're going to share all these nuggets? Am I going to put that goal out there for you?

Donny McGuire [00:16:00]:

I mean, you know, truthfully, Amber, you're the reason why I decided to come up with this podcast called "Go For Donny!", where we are going to actually talk about some fun, crazy, behind the scenes stories from reality TV and branded content and film. So I want to thank you for putting the bug in my ear. So months ago when we connected...

Amber [00:16:22]:

Oh right, we were trying to get together.

Donny McGuire [00:16:24]:

About being on your podcast. I was like, "This is really cool. I've never done anything like this. Why would you want to talk to me?" And so in talking with our mutual friend Jay, who we worked together on Top Gear for five seasons, I just said, "Hey, Jay, why don't we do a podcast? Why don't we do a podcast and we can talk about all the fun stories that we had on Top Gear," because whenever we're together, that's all we ever do. And it didn't take him long before he said, "You know what? That's a good idea." And so it really happened that quick. And it happened because you asked me to be on your podcast, so I can't thank you enough.

Amber [00:16:56]:

Yeah, lots of things there. I do a personality assessment called Gallup Strengths Finder, so I have high input. So sometimes I'm collecting all these thoughts up here, and it's like, how do you put it out? But for today and for listeners, what you just said, Donny. I have a friend right now, she admits I have this imposter syndrome. I know that I'm good at these things, but I don't know why I'm in the room sometimes, and I'm like, "You don't understand how great your communication style is." I'm telling her these things, like, she needs to hear this. And I've gone through where people support me and level me up and say, you're great at X, Y, and Z.

Amber [00:17:26]:

And I'm like, "Oh, no." And I had to train myself about, I don't know, a couple of years back to stop doing that because what people see in you, like your friend Jay, or myself, knowing that you'd be a good fit here it goes back to those stories and what I've been reading, too, but sharing stories, I mean, there's like this standing the test of time. We could have AI, we could have all this tech and all these things, and we're moving so fast. But ultimately, at the end of the day, having those conversations is what lifts people up. So it's like putting yourself out of the comfort zone. My uncle, he kind of retired, went into some commercial real estate, and he does a podcast, but he'd rather be on stage. Podcasts get him kind of fidgety. He's like, I need to walk and touch and move around.

Amber [00:18:06]:

And Pete Vargas is a speaking coach that I go to his workshops, and he's like a lion on the stage. He's just moving around. But he's a pastor at heart, and he's just, like, up in the audience. So podcasting, he can do it, but he's roaming on the stage. But it's like, kind of giving yourself that push outside your comfort zone. It's good. And then you look back and you're like, "Oh, that wasn't that big of a deal."

Donny McGuire [00:18:27]:

Yeah, totally.

Amber [00:18:28]:

And it's like, onto the next. The analytical ones need a metric to say, how does this monetize me? But I think we forget the magic that can come from the networking, and you never know what can come from it. So that's really been great for me.

Donny McGuire [00:18:41]:

Networking, 100%. My wife works in HR, and she does a lot of classes on that. And networking is one of the biggest things that she puts out there.

Amber [00:18:48]:

HR, that's pretty amazing, because sometimes HR, they don't get access. I think sometimes, to be super helpful, they could be inundated. There's a lot of admin.

Donny McGuire [00:18:57]:

Yeah, no, she's an executive coach, so she does workshops and she preaches that. And so just by osmosis, I'm like, "Oh, relationships count. Relationships count." And making those relationships, because you never know where they're going to lead to.

Amber [00:19:08]:

And that's where I really, I have this thing that I say, "Take action today," and I say that when I do my financial discussions, little changes can make a big difference. So whether or not you claim to be introvert, extrovert, or even if you don't believe those are things, you can take your time out of your comfort zone to go collaborate virtually, or in person, or both, and you get to decide and put boundaries on that. If it's a coffee meeting or, no, I'm just going to podcast or no, I need to be out and do social things like happy hours with people. You get to decide, but if you're not doing it, you got to put yourself out there. There's going to be no fruit if you don't really plant those seeds. And so sometimes it takes a little bit of patience and giving yourself grace. But I think you're going to motivate people to kind of think outside the box.

Amber [00:19:51]:

And I'm glad that you're doing something new for you, too, because I think that's just good for us, otherwise...

Donny McGuire [00:19:55]:

Seriously, I can't thank you enough because I never would have thought about doing this. And for years, I've talked about getting together and talking about stories. Some of the guys wanted to write books about it, all these great ideas, but there was no action taken, and I always wanted to take the action. And now that we're doing it, it just feels weird and cool and unsettling, but exciting at the same time. Because you don't want failure, because you want to put yourself out there, but you don't want people to tell you that it's shit.

Amber [00:20:22]:

So there's like, they call it vanity metrics, too, where there's certain influencers that have a ton: reality TV, makeup... There's other things that are always going to be cooler than talking about financial and building business, maybe, but ultimately, if you're still affecting a few people, and then you feel that purpose. And that's where I'm seeing a lot when I talk about my older generation of colleagues, they're transitioning and they don't have that other thing. It's just I was on stage for this thing, or I've only worked with clients face to face thing, and there wasn't, like, this other layer of another path. Two, three, four, and then it gets yanked from them, and they're trying to like, it's like going from military to civilian. "I don't know how to be, I just came back from war," and that's awful to say that, because that's a way more serious thing. But I think people can really lose themselves if they don't have this other layer to blossom, essentially, from what I've experienced, not to take away from people that go to civilian, because I have a lot of clients that are military physicians, but, like, that experience of trying to plug back in, that's transition world.

Donny McGuire [00:21:22]:

Yeah, it's a totally different world. I had a hard time. I was infantryman, so although what I did at the end, I even played soccer for the army team, but we were still infantrymen, and we still had to train and be proficient at it. So you're still training to shoot someone, and so you have it in your head.

Amber [00:21:38]:

You can't be relaxed and like, yeah.

Donny McGuire [00:21:40]:

You have to be on guard. It's just a weird thing. So transitioning, even when you're not in combat is just a strange thing.

Amber [00:21:46]:

Yeah. So that's where the personal development part is. Like, keep doing it, because with new technology and new things in our environment, there's just going to be more than history is ever provided for us. We can study history, but there's always going to be new things. We can't predict what's coming. So always innovating is part of one of the steps, too, in our framework. So really, I appreciate you being here, and it was good to finally get together. So if you need a guest or anything, like, maybe, I don't know how to plug in over there, but Jay has my calendar.

Donny McGuire [00:22:17]:

I'll raise you up and give you props for this idea. Hell, yeah. I mean, you literally are the idea for it, and it's such a cool idea. And the research that I've done, there's just nothing like this, like, talking about that.

Amber [00:22:27]:

I think it also can help you bring the memory, the nostalgia back, too, for you. Those moments were pretty impactful, and then telling the story vividly can then help people kind of relate and pull in maybe something else for themselves. So I can't wait for you. So it's got to happen. I can't wait to see the launch. So we're going to link up some information about you to our description box, but then we might be adding more to it. We'll see how that goes.

Donny McGuire [00:22:52]:

That'd be awesome. No pressure at all.

Amber [00:22:55]:

Thanks so much for being here today.

Donny McGuire [00:22:56]:

Thanks, Amber.

Amber [00:22:57]:

See you soon. Okay.

Donny McGuire [00:22:58]:

All right. Thank you.

Amber [00:22:59]:

Thank you.

Donny McGuire [00:23:00]:


Amber [00:23:03]:

Thank you for joining us on today's episode of The Amber Stitt Show. For more information about the podcast, books, articles, and more, please visit me at: Until next week, enjoy your journey at home, and at work. Thank you for listening!