I spoke a little bit about this to some attendees at Story Expo this past weekend, and it bears posting here.

You’ll often hear reality producers talk about taking “ownership” of their shows.  It’s that satisfying feeling wherein the time and emotional investment you’ve made at the episode or series level feels like it has paid off, and that your voice has come through in the show.

What has to be remembered when seeking “ownership” of your work is that ultimately, you have a showrunner, execs, and a network to please.  Your idea of what the show is can be compromised by everything from its bottom line to any one of a host of issues beyond your control.

Always, always, always care about what you do, but remember that some arguments aren’t worth having and that your first job is to have one.  Ownership isn’t always possible.

This is why it’s critical to understand your showrunner.  Do they like to discuss story or dictate it?  What’s their vision of the workflow on their show?  Do they thrive in times of calmness, chaos, or both?  Figure it out.

Some years ago, I had an exec at network who created problems just so they could heroically resolve them later.  I’ve also had a company owner who would show up and ALWAYS trash the first act of a rough cut and storm out, seemingly operating on his unspoken philosophy that good work only comes from stressed out employees.  While he apparently never saw a California Cheese commercial in which “Great cheese comes from happy cows,” he was clear about the level of ownership he took in the programs he made.

The real world is about working.  Creating and feeling fulfilled is a luxury afforded to few, even in a “creative” business.  Understand that your EP/showrunner has worked a long time to get where they’re at, and that one of the most important aspects of their job is expressing a vision, theirs, consistently.



7 thoughts on “Ownership

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  1. But isn’t the opposite also common? In fact, isn’t it FAR more common? The “whatever” approach. The cynical person who knows he owns nothing, that it is just a paycheck, and that whatever he contributes can be and is usually discarded, morphed beyond recognition, and/or later scrapped. “It’s just a job.” mentality. Show up, smile, and say “Yessir” to whatever is demanded on you. Don’t stick your neck out or it might get cut off. Don’t get emotionally invested because only damaged ego and feelings are ahead on that path. Network for your next job and don’t rock the boat. Who cares about the current project since it is garbage anyway and temporary at best. Those who fight the tide always lose and get swept away by the undertow to their doom. Leave work, deposit that lovely paycheck, and bitch about the assholes while having a beer at the pub where no one from the workplace is present.

    Honestly, throughout my life, I have seen the above FAR more than what you describe. Who you describe also tends to be people who are fresh out of college and full of idealism. The older the employee, the more they are as I describe.

  2. Well, sure, it’s common. A weekly paycheck is a helluva sedative. The real distillation of my point here is that taking ownership of the work will either be up to you or up to the person/persons above you.

    I worked on a show for a number of years where what happened in my department was pretty much my business until notes rolled around. I felt invested and that my sensibilities were being translated well to the work. I’ve also worked on other shows where I’m essentially a well-compensated and often overruled cog supporting someone else’s specific tastes and workflow choices.

    I can function in either just about as well as the other. You’ll rarely hear me gripe about someone not going with one of my ideas or deputizing me to take care of the not-fun part of their job. Every show’s different, every company, every exec. We’ve got to be able to adapt.

  3. Interesting side note: The most-asked question I get from newbie show-creators is how to sell their show but still retain creative control of it. It’s unbelievably rare, and why is it important?

    1. Because it is their “baby”. That and they want all of the glory because they believe (possibly rightly) that if they get it, they’ll be the next Joss Wedon or Steven Speilberg.

      1. A man can only answer for as much as he’s been allowed to execute. Even if my job was just to whistle “Moonlight Serenade” every afternoon at exactly 4:59, I could really knock that out of the park, and I’d own that performance.

      2. “Even if my job was just to whistle “Moonlight Serenade” every afternoon at exactly 4:59, I could really knock that out of the park, and I’d own that performance.” LOL Good attitude. 🙂

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