Steven Youde stands on the Price Is Right set.

How much value is there in 2.23 million sets of eyes? According to Steven Youde ’00, ’23 M.A., the answer is $21 million.

That’s how much free advertising the U.S. Coast Guard received through an episode of MasterChef  last year, which Youde helped arrange as director of the Coast Guard’s Motion Picture and Television Liaison Office in Los Angeles.

Every time the Coast Guard appears on screen — whether that’s a Mr. Beast video on YouTube, epsiodes of Deadliest Catch, or the 2006 Kevin Costner film The Guardian — Youde’s office is involved behind the scenes.

“There’s three people in the entire Coast Guard that do this job: myself and then my two staff members,” Youde said. “It’s a very unique assignment.”

If you’re, say, Katy Perry and hoping to film your Electric music video on Coast Guard-protected land in Hawaii, your first step is to call Youde’s office. He and his staff evaluate each request — around 200 a year, though only about 30 will pan out — and then coordinate any necessary assets, like boats, helicopters, and the crews that operate them.

“It’s not always yes, because we don’t have extra boats and helicopters laying around,” Youde said. “Every Coast Guard resource we use in a production is also an operational asset. We can be called on at any time to respond to an emergency.
We try to participate in as many productions as we can, but it’s a delicate balance. Entertainment productions are a great way to tell our story to a large audience, but our primary missions always come first.”

Requests that would portray the Coast Guard in a negative light or operating outside normal procedures are nonstarters. Part of Youde’s role includes being on set to make sure a director or cinematographer isn’t asking for unrealistic or unsafe actions from Coast Guard units.

Steven Youde and Scott Bakula
Steven Youde and Scott Bakula

“Production days are a lot of fun. It’s often a long and grueling day, but it’s exciting to see all the planning and hard work come together,” said Youde. “If a director asks us to do something that wasn’t part of the original plan, we have to make a quick decision, which often means telling them no. We have to be there to protect our people and our assets.”

Branches of the armed forces have been involved with media like this since before World War II. As Youde calculated with MasterChef, the publicity is well worth it, especially given that production companies cover any costs the Coast Guard incurs during filming. It’s also a fun perk for guard members to appear on screen.

“They get to tell their mom, ‘Hey, turn on NCIS, and I’m going to be on TV.’ I got to do it too. I got to call my mom and say, ‘Hey, turn on MasterChef tonight, you’ll see me,’” Youde said. “I’m generally not on the show. I’m the one moving the pieces. But I did sneak into a couple of things,” like MasterChef and a taping of CMT’s Hot 20 Countdown.

When pressed about his favorite celebrity encounter, Youde is quick to note he typically works more with directors and writers than on-camera talent. “We don’t generally get involved with the actors until the day of filming. Most of our work is done well in advance.”

Nevertheless, many of the big names attached to these projects have been eager to work with and thank their Coast Guard co-stars. Youde admits meeting Scott Bakula was “pretty exciting, because I grew up on Quantum Leap.” Gordon Ramsay, the infamously irascible star of MasterChef, is also a nice guy when the cameras are off.

The Coast Guard was involved in a scene for A Quiet Place, directed by The Office’s John Krasinski. “John was really great to work with. He has so much respect for the Coast Guard and the work we do,” Youde said. “At the end of filming that day, he was the one asking for pictures. It really meant a lot to our crew.”

Moving On

We spoke with Youde over Commencement weekend, where he was part of the historic first cohort of Master of Arts in leadership graduates. Since then, he has retired from his career with the Coast Guard — a planned move that drove him to enroll in the leadership program.

“I wasn’t sure what life after the Coast Guard was going to look like,” said Youde.

“I wanted to leave the service with something new and fresh on my resume, but really, as I entered a different workforce,  I wanted to find a way to sort of refresh my skill set.”

Why pursue his master’s degree at Wartburg?

This was my home for four years. This is where I met my wife. This is such an important place to me that the opportunity to come back to a new program, I couldn’t pass it up.

And the most important thing he learned?
My career has been in a world of authority and orders and compliance and things like that. But that’s not leadership. Getting people to do what you tell them to do is not leadership. Leadership is really truly connecting with people to develop a shared purpose. It’s leading with people instead of leading over people.

Steven Youde in his graduation cap and gown with an active duty Coast Guard stole