Medway chainsaw artist saw TV as a way to boost business
MEDWAY — Four years ago, Jesse Green was a chain saw artist with a dream: starring in his own TV show.
It wasn't just about the fame, or that Green, a burly 36-year-old with a full beard and an even bigger personality, is a natural-born entertainer. Getting a TV show was the ultimate way to promote his fledgling chain saw sculpture business, "The Machine" Jesse Green Inc.
Green finally realized his dream a few weeks ago after a long campaign that included cold-calling about 100 TV producers and talent scouts and posting video of him using a chain saw to transform a log into a plumber plunging an exploding toilet, among other creations. On the last Thursday in November, the first of eight episodes of "American Chainsaw," starring Green, his four employees, and his cartoony wooden creations, debuted on the National Geographic Channel.
"If I'm going to really make a splash," Green said during a break from carving the heads of two professional wrestling announcers in the backyard of his Medway home, "I have to try to be on TV."
Green's newfound stardom shows the importance of exposure for small businesses in the Internet age, when competition can come from anywhere in the world. Green's business wasn't exactly hurting, with a six-month waiting list for sculptures that sell for between $2,000 and $10,000 apiece. But since the first episode (the last two 30-minute segments air Thursday night at 10 and 10:30), Green has been flooded with fan mail and queries about new orders, and he expects to be able to charge higher prices as demand grows.
"Small businesses have to do something to become visible in this market," said Debra Murphy, a marketing coach in Marlborough. As for Green, she said: "He worked it."
Green carved his first log as a sculpture student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. After holding a series of "dead-end, thankless" truck driving jobs, he got his wife's permission to pursue his chain saw-wielding ways full time about five years ago. He started to rack up clients — schools, businesses, home owners who wanted a stump in their yard turned into an owl — but he wanted more. That's where his friend Puck Fernsten came in.
Fernsten, a fraternity brother of Green's at UMass Dartmouth who later earned an MBA, saw the potential for Green, a natural showman who plays harmonica in a rock band and loves professional wrestling, to turn himself into a brand. Their timing was fortuitous. Chain saw art is having a moment this year, with reality shows about chain saw sculptors also airing on cable channels CMT and Velocity.
"If you happen to have a business that can fit into the mold of a reality show," Fernsten said, "then you're getting the message out for free."
To build up recognition, the friends created Project Eco-Art Massachusetts. The plan was to get one of his sculptures into each of the state's 351 cities and towns, applying for grants through historical societies and cultural councils and proposing a chain saw sculpture unique to each community. Fall River, for instance, got a log carved into the likeness of native son and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
They also developed cross-promotions with the likes of Ernie Boch Jr., with Green carving a sculpture of the auto dealer during an event at an ice rink. Green also started emceeing the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show, a competition of log rolling and axe throwing that travels to state fairs across the country.
All the while, Green and Fernsten polished Green's website and sought sponsorships from power tool companies. After several years of mining their contacts, Fernsten said, they found a producer through Fernsten's sister-in-law who "knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy." That guy, Kevin Harris, a veteran of "The Apprentice" and other reality shows, knew that quirky small businesses make for good TV, and good TV is good for the bottom line.
"It tends to increase everybody's business when they become involved in a reality show," Harris said.
Green had pictured the show as a docu-drama along the lines of the late Bob Ross, the soft-spoken, bushy-haired painter on public television, "but with more excitement, rock 'n' roll, and chain saws." "American Chainsaw" focuses on Green running his business, with the help of his wife and father, and all the growing pains that come with it.
In one episode, Green struggles to delegate authority to employees — and with good reason, it turns out. One worker forgets the tape measure and camera when they go out to inspect a log for a client. Another employee gets the wrong day for the delivery of a roller derby girl sculpture.
But Green, who admits he is figuring out his business as he goes, sometimes with the cameras rolling, said he isn't worried about having his struggles documented for all the world to see. Ultimately, the sculptor — usually covered in wood shavings, wearing sunglasses, a knit cap, and a sleeveless T-shirt revealing a chain saw tattoo on his right arm — just wants to live up to the expectations of family and friends who have supported him through the years, and hopefully become a rock star along the way. "I want to be the most recognized chain saw sculptor in history," he said. "I mean, how cool is that?"