2016 Booster Campaign


Hi, guys.  Last year’s Booster campaign covered the cost of hosting the REMEMBER WE’RE NOT HERE podcast archive.  This year’s tee-shirt campaign, revisiting a series of promotional stickers from the book’s first edition release in 2011, supports the launch of REALITY TV: AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO TV’S HOTTEST MARKET’s second edition by helping to fund travel and lodging for the NorthEastern stops on its short signing and lecture tour this summer.

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If you’re interested, you can check out the Booster campaign and the first of several shirt designs HERE.

We now return you to the non-panhandling portion of our regular blog.

 

By realitytvtroy

Understanding Credits


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Prompted by a recent discussion with Andy Dehnart at realityblurred.com, here’s the key to understanding credits in reality television:  Stop trying to make sense of them and start relying on context in relationship to the credits as a whole if you want to understand who’s who.

When you see nine Executive Producers listed on a show, a few could be network execs overseeing the show, a few could be owners or execs at the production company, and still others could be showrunners or even talent and their managers.

The difference between a Co-Executive Producer and a Supervising Producer? Sometimes none.  A show may have one or the other or both (in which case the Supervising Producer is likely supporting the Co-EP), and each title can stand without the other.  I’m aware of a few companies that don’t issue Co-EP credits for some reason, so the Supervising Producer is overseeing some part of production and/or post and reporting to an EP.

The difference between a Story Editor and a Story Producer?  Whatever the company decides to call the members of its story team.  In cases where both titles exist on a show, the Story Producer title is likely reserved for the more experienced / senior of the two.

There’s also the Senior Story Editor or Senior Story Producer title, which denotes senior members of the story team in field or post.  A Supervising Story Producer, when one is titled, oversees the story team and reports to either a Supervising Producer, Co-EP, or directly to the EP if there is no Supervising Story Producer or Co-EP on the show.

Remember that experienced writers on traditionally covered scripted shows can often negotiate a producer credit based on experience and seniority on the show. Screenwriter John August explains all of that here.

In short, it’s all negotiable.

By realitytvtroy

“What’s So-and-So Really Like?”


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With Betsey Johnson on DWTS 19

 

This year, I’m giving myself a great present for Christmas: A get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to the recurring question, “What’s (name of reality celebrity) really like?”

Ask anybody who’s met a celebrity exactly once what they think of them, and you’re going to get an absolute answer based on a tiny interaction. That moment eventually crystallizes into a summary “great guy/gal “or “total jerk/bitch” response. That assessment somehow never takes into account the way the celebrity was approached, as the teller/hero of the story, the “toucher of the garment” as it were, always bases their evaluation on how they were received in that moment. Someone I know scared the living hell out of a television actress recently, literally running after her in a parking lot to vomit praise at her. The verdict on return? “What an unfriendly bitch.”

Really?

Nine times out of ten, everything I know about someone on a reality show comes from our limited interaction in a high-pressure environment or by way of my once-removed experience of viewing source material. During production, that reality participant is competing against other people for prizes or screen time while the show is trying to extract enough authentic moments out of them to achieve a great story. Most would probably agree that sitting in the passenger seat of a race car is the worst time to get to know a race car driver, as they’re kind of preoccupied with going really fast and not hitting a wall. It’s the same for reality stars when they’re on the clock, worrying about their image, agenda and performance.

Further, we’re not hanging out in the same places when the cameras drop, so I seldom see them outside of work until the wrap party.

Yes, there have been times when someone’s really been amazing or completely shown me their ass, but those moments remain between us as part of our process or become blind-item war stories among industry friends. I’ve had one late celebrity refer to me as a “passive aggressive Hollywood mother*cker,” and a few others that thanked me at the end of the process with a nice note or a kind word. Their perception of me is formed through the lens of their own experience with how we connected in our brief interactions, and I wouldn’t say they know me any more than I know them.

So, in that spirit, my new response to the question is just going to be a generic “Great guy/gal” or “I don’t really know them.”

By realitytvtroy

University Film and Video Programs


Garrett Hart, radio-tv-film

Garrett Hart, Chair of Radio-TV-Film at Cal State University Fullerton.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel on reality television at Cal State Fullerton moderated by former Paramount Network TV President (now Chair of CSUF Radio-TV-Film) Garry Hart.  It was a revelatory experience for me, as I’m not used to being asked to speak to a group — especially a group of that size, some 90 students — who are already familiar with the basics of reality television.  I’ve spoken to many college and university classes over the years, but this was some next-level stuff.

Here’s some additional context to tell you why I found it so surprising:

Shortly after Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market was released in 2011, I attended a UFVA (University Film and Video Association) conference with my publisher.  When not participating in or attending general panels, I’d always find my way to the table in the vendors room to talk to various academics who were on the prowl for new reads and textbooks.

A woman approached the table and asked what the newest releases from my publisher were. When I asked what her program focused on, she replied, “Everything.  Film and TV, soup to nuts.”

I pointed out a new book on producing for YouTube, another on web series, and my own book on reality television.  Upon hearing the phrase reality television, the woman (the dean of a media school) actually placed her hands behind her back and proudly declared, “Oh, no.  We don’t teach that.”

At the time she wouldn’t dream of teaching reality television (eww, gross, right?), it constituted about fifty percent of what was on the air.  More, depending on whose data you believed and how far into deep cable you were willing to go.  She was willing to close the door to half of the jobs in television so that her students could focus on the pure and sexy stuff –sitcoms, dramas, films and scripted new media.

What seemed even stranger to me was the fact that some schools represented at the conference had critical study/ethics courses built around reality television, but offered nothing about making the stuff.  I’m all for any sort of critical study, but if you can’t then learn how to make a better product in other courses within the same program, why bother?  It would be like paying for a standalone class in not liking 1960’s things-suspended-in-aspic cooking at Le Cordon Bleu, in which you learn nothing about making things suspended in aspic.

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Be sure to sign up for Friday’s class on preparing rabbit in aspic.

Flash forward four years to last Thursday, while an engaged group at CSUF asked real questions about the industry and were willing to accept the very real answers.  They clearly knew plenty about the mundane ins-and-outs and wanted to know more.  We discussed the economics of reality television, what drives the decisions networks and production companies make, the bottom line as far as what a person could earn mid-career, all the sort of questions I almost never seem to get from students.

It’s been a thrill to know that so many colleges and universities have added Reality TV to their curricula, and that some students are electing to pursue careers in an area of entertainment they once regarded as a temporary employer they’d settle for while they worked toward a “real” career in something else.

Reality is still evolving.  Y2K-era shows like Survivor changed the landscape, but there’s much more to explore.  Attracting the brightest young creative minds, thanks to schools that celebrate the best of it rather than looking down on all of it, is key to reality’s evolution.

Thanks again, CSUF.  I had a blast.

By realitytvtroy

Reality Pro Tip: B-Roll Nat Sound (Shh!)


I hear it all the time.

And by it, I mean general chatter on your b-roll.

You’re in a unique location… a big city, under a waterfall, a train station, what have you… and instead of hearing general traffic, rushing water crashing down on rocks or the horn blasts of that incoming train, the story team in post will get to hear about the great price you got on a Canon 5D for a side project you’re working on, where you’re going to have a drink after the shoot, or what you thought of the movie you watched in your hotel room last night.

Why create a need for sound design in post when you can capture amazing in-the-moment natural sound that will make the quality of the end product just a little better?

Help your work really shine.  Enjoy a quiet moment now and again and think about how great your work will not only look, but sound.

By realitytvtroy

Remember, We’re Not Here returns


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Karen Simmons and Eddie Pepitone join my mother and I for lunch during one of Eddie’s stand-up runs in London.

While the documentary continues its slow limp forward, another season of the REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE podcast premieres today, featuring a fun interview with my good friends Eddie Pepitone and Karen Simmons (at home with their pup, Charlotte, interjecting from time to time) recorded earlier in the year.

Eddie Pepitone is an actor and comedian who’s appeared in Last Comic Standing, Bob’s Burgers, Brooklyn Nine Nine and dozens of other film and TV projects including the feature documentary The Bitter Buddha and his own Netflix Special, Eddie Pepitone: In Ruins.

Karen Simmons is a writer and reality story pro with credits on the award-winning comedy Runyon: Just Above Sunset and Basketball Wives.  She’s one of the first people I always call when a show is staffing up and one of the only people I know who cares more about classic radio, TV and film than I do.

Future episodes will roll out as they are completed and as time allows.

By realitytvtroy

Mind the Gap: Rachel Prior on the flow of notes from The Money to The Writer


My entire motivation for writing AND ANOTHER THING was to help newly-minted creatives and assistants/baby execs understand each other better and — hopefully — take it easier on one another during the crazy back-and-forth of the creative process.

This great series of tweets from Rachel Prior (Head of Development at Big Talk Pictures) addresses the tough job of being in the middle, buffering sensitive creatives from the behind-the-scenes chatter that’s going on at the top of the chain.

An absolute must-read.  Click below:

Mind the Gap

By realitytvtroy

Consulting: What It Is, What It’s Not


mail-2When I first moved to California, long before reality television seemed like a real career, I was hell-bent on writing for sitcoms and films.  I shelled out what I could afford (and what I couldn’t afford) on pitchfests, consultants, and anything that I thought would help me get a leg up in the entertainment universe.

It didn’t do much to move the success needle in the short term.  I mean, I made some great friends and watched them bloom into amazing professionals, but that was usually incidental and a result of just being in rooms with like-minded people.

It’s also one of the reasons I was so slow to ever consider consulting, which I’ve only done sporadically, and only when I feel like I can genuinely offer useful input to the client.  More than half of the calls and meetups, unfortunately, end up being a waste of time and gas for both of us. If I think someone’s grip on the reality of the business is tenuous at best, I’ll politely end our session and refund their money. I don’t want to become anyone’s party story as the cruddy consultant (oh, how they love to blame a consultant) who couldn’t deliver them a rose-petaled path to the top of the mountain and a jetliner view in the Hollywood Hills… something few consultants ever even manifest for themselves.

Let’s talk about what consulting is and isn’t, so you’ll know how to get the most out of it if you ever decide to seek someone out for screenplays, reality pitches, or pretty much anything.

CONSULTING IS NOT ACCESS

Except on extremely rare occasion where I know that a client’s project is exactly what someone’s looking for, I’m not going to introduce a client to development execs at production companies or network friends.  I don’t approach those people all that often with my own work, and I’m sure our relationship would suffer if I just started shoveling people into their offices. If access is what someone is after in hiring a consultant, they should really be seeking out representation and learning how to network properly.

CONSULTING IS PREPARING YOU TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE INROADS YOU MAKE

My job, when I do consult, is to help someone get their material into the best shape before they start taking meetings.  What a consultant should be doing is helping their clients understand what’s going on in the industry, aid them in becoming fluent in the language of the business, and assist them in formatting materials in a manner that helps them to look like a professional.  A consultant may advise their client on places that may take an interest in the concept, but they shouldn’t be expected to walk the project in.

CONSULTANTS ARE NOT IN THE MAGIC BULLET BUSINESS

No consultant that promises you that your project will sell deserves your business.  I don’t care how many awards they’ve racked up or how long their list of credits may be, this is a promise that should never be made.  Does the consultant take credit for the success of their clients?  Do you know how much of their clients’ success is owed to sweat, drive and talent versus hiring a consultant to give them notes?

CONSULTANTS ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF HELPING YOU REFINE YOUR EXECUTION

A rough diamond isn’t worth as much as one that’s been brilliantly cut, and that’s the service you should be paying for. A good consultant will be giving you advice on industry standards, pacing, character development and the elements of a solid presentation, not telling you that you can fudge your final draft settings and font sizes to make a script seem shorter or longer. You don’t need workarounds, you need that brilliant-cut diamond.

CONSULTANTS ARE NOT FOREVER

Most good consultants I know offer packages with certain goals to be achieved over a specific number of passes/calls/sessions.  I don’t, but most of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have their questions answered in a couple of calls and some email volleys.  The idea of someone’s script or concept limping along through countless revisions at an hourly rate with no clear end in sight doesn’t make sense to me.  If a client can’t get it together in a couple of calls (and the odd followup email question here or there), I might suggest that our work together isn’t yielding the results it should and terminate the arrangement.  An ethical consultant isn’t going to lead you on forever just to keep you shelling out loot.

A GOOD CONSULTANT EVENTUALLY RENDERS THEMSELVES PRACTICALLY OBSOLETE

The ultimate goal in working with a consultant is to eventually “get it.”  I once heard that all good teachers are essentially out to replicate themselves, and a great consultant should be doing the same.  Once a client is proficient in the ways of the business and creating industry-standard content, that’s the end.  There are exceptions, of course, as many people value an outside opinion on works in progress and a trusted consultant may be revisited again and again over time to provide fresh eyes and a take on subsequent projects… but the goal is for the client to become self-sufficient.

Hope that’s helpful.

Addition, 11/8

I hope this doesn’t sound too curmudgeonly, but I feel like it needs to be said.

I don’t do much consulting, as I’m usually putting in long hours on shows and/or developing my own stuff, all while handling the simple life details like going to the DMV, cleaning the cat box or running laundry. If you’re a regular reader of this blog or have read the part of my book that invites you to contact me, you know that I’m usually happy to answer simple questions not covered in the book for free by email (using the “contact me” form on this blog or the email address provided in the book) as time permits.  

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a lot of invitations to coffee or lunch or dinner to share advice, and regret that due to my schedule and a few unfortunate incidents, I’ve had to discontinue those kind of friendly meetups in which I usually find myself spending two hours, parking fees and gas to answer five minutes worth of questions already covered in my book in exchange for an eight dollar sandwich.  Most people are super-awesome, but three or four of those a week have worn me down a little, so email’s the way to go.  For more detailed conversations, I’m available by Skype on a very limited basis at a non-negotiable rate of $200/hr. 

Please remember that I spent a year writing a very niche book on the reality television story and creative process that you can find online, new or used (under $2 in some places I just looked up), and I strongly encourage you to check it out before asking things already answered there.

My cat, Zoe, also thanks you.

REMEMBER WE’RE NOT HERE Podcast Update


Hi, all.

The long-discussed (well, blathered-on-about-here) REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE podcasts’s second season, which kicks off with a double interview with Eddie Pepitone (LAST COMIC STANDING) and Karen Simmons (BASKETBALL WIVES, VANDERBILT MDs) has been in limbo for a stretch, but it’s still very much alive.

In the meanwhile, please remember that all RWNH season one episodes remain free at iTunes as well as the show’s Libsyn Link.

Cheers!

By realitytvtroy

Your Questions Answered: Reality-Competition/Game Shows and Other Stuff


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Yours truly, lurking behind Bruno Tonioli and Tom Bergeron at a DWTS season finale. 

I’m spending some of this fine Emmy Sunday catching up on old business, working on the book, and FINALLY getting around to some of the questions you’ve been kind enough to ask.

First, from Jack D:

As you’ve worked on game shows (and I am about to launch one on YouTube), what lessons have you learned when doing test shoots and dry runs of a new game show? What are common mistakes? What tricks of the trade have you learned? What’s the minimum number of dry runs do you recommend? Which outsiders (if any) should be brought in to give their input? Have you ever brought in former game show hosts and/or producers for their input?

While I did work on Hollywood Game Night and have had a game show in development for a long while, I have a great deal more experience in reality competition, which I think operates on a number of the same principles. That said, here’s what I know about game shows from my limited experiences on them:

As far as the number of test shoots and dry runs, I’d say the correct number of the former is one, if it’s needed to prove something, the latter being however many you need to get it right.  Don’t shoot anything until the gameplay bugs are worked out, or you’re throwing money down a hole.

Two of the biggest things to consider: Bulletproof elimination metrics and the audience’s ability to play along at home.  In reality-competition, audience participation is replaced by making sure everyone in the audience has someone they can choose to root for as their participatory avatar.  Dancing With the Stars is one of the best examples, as each season starts with someone for every demo on the floor.

When I speak of game show elimination metrics, I mean that if you’ve got a show built to go three rounds with someone being eliminated at the end of each round, you’d better know how to handle or avoid a tie.  If no one’s out of the running until the very end, you’ve still got to avoid that tie.

Jeopardy is one of the all-time great formats because if, heaven forbid, a show end in a tie, they’ve got a contingency for a tiebreaker question in which the first person to buzz in with a correct response takes the game.  While I’m sure it’s happened a few other times, I’ve only seen it once, in the semi-finals of the 2012 Jeopardy Teen Tournament.

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What Jeopardy also handles well is avoiding the feeling that anyone is ever totally out of the game, no matter how far behind they are. The Daily Double on the board can narrow a gap quickly for someone who’s lagging behind, keeping the suspense going, and the final question allows players to wager up to the full amount of their winnings so far.

The audience on Jeopardy, of course, can play along at home, shouting answers over each other for living room domination or even when watching it alone.  I am never louder while viewing a game show than I am watching Jeopardy, except maybe when someone on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader biffs an easy question.

As to outside consultants, I have a number of friends who work full time in the genre, so I’m lucky enough to be able to fly things by them.  You can hire any game show veteran to look over your premise and pitch in their two cents, though I’ve got a great guy you should listen to about that stuff right here on the first season of my podcast REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE: Joey Ortega.

The most common mistake, I think, is overcomplicating game play.  If you can’t tell someone in a few sentences how the game works, rethink your format.  Check this out:

WIN BEN STEIN’S MONEY: Three contestants compete to answer general knowledge questions in order to win a grand prize of $5,000 from the show’s host, Ben Stein. In the latter rounds of each episode, Stein participates as a “common contestant” in order to defend his money from being taken by his competitors.

Simple, right?

Also, for trivia-based game shows, triple-check your writing to make sure that there is only one correct answer to your questions.  If you say “Mia Farrow’s famous film star ex” hoping to get Woody Allen, but your player says Frank Sinatra, they’re still absolutely right.  If you’d said “famous ex-husband” hoping to get Frank Sinatra (since Farrow and Allen never married), but your player said Andre Previn, you’d be stuck again.

Good luck with the game show, Jack!

Another (non-reality) question was posed by Krystol D:

How about taking about the latest films or books that you have read? Tell us about your favorite character in a film and why you liked it.

I’m mostly a biography/autobiography guy, and am currently finishing Kathleen Sharp’s MR AND MRS. HOLLYWOOD, about Lew and Edie Wasserman.  I’d read THE LAST MOGUL, another bio of Wasserman, some years ago, and this is an interesting supplementary take on the guy.

My favorite character of late is Joy from INSIDE OUT, and if I told you why, I’d ruin the movie for you.

By realitytvtroy