About Agencies

The simple answer to whether or not you need representation in reality is that there’s no simple answer.  The right decision for you lies on the other side of this question — what do you expect to get out of having representation?

If you’re brand spanking new to the reality business, I think you’re throwing money out the window hunting representation. Most agents that will handle you as a green client are playing numbers, hoping you’ll bring in what you can so they can take ten percent off the top from you and a legion of other self-starters with minimal effort. also, in all honesty, there isn’t much an agent can do for you at that point in your career.

As for seeking representation later on, I know plenty of successful, mid-career story producers (earning in the low six figures) who represent themselves.  If you can self-pilot a career earning $2300 a week, you’ll be taking home about $1500 a week after taxes.  With an agency, subtract another $230 each week in commission… your $1500 is now $1270.  If you worked 45 weeks (a great year), you’ll pay out $10,350, about the cost of a barely-used Ford Taurus.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  If you work just three or four jobs a year (as most of us do) and your agent simply negotiates rates and executes contracts, you’re likely better off paying an entertainment attorney three to five hundred a pop to handle your negotiations. But if you know how to use your representation effectively, your agent can be worth every penny.

This month alone, I have a number of meetings with production companies and networks to present some original shows.  Even with more than 20 credits under my belt, I doubt I would have been able to arrange most of these without benefit of my lit agent.  I’m paying for access and occasional counsel (my agent and I have been together a while now, so we talk more often than most agents and clients might), and hopefully it’ll pay off in a big way if my original shows make it into production.

Know what you want, ask for it, and if your agency is unwilling to help you move forward with your career, move on.

Do’s and don’ts:

DO ask yourself if you can afford to spend 10 percent of your gross income on representation.

DON’T sign with any non-WGA-signatory lit agent or agency.

DO look for representation once you have a few credits and have long-term goals as a showrunner or creator.

DON’T look for representation as some sort of validation or if you think it’s an agent’s job to find you work.

DO do your homework before you sign anywhere.  Who are your agent’s other clients?

DON’T think your agent holds the power in your relationship.  They work for you, not the other way around.  If they don’t want to set meetings for you or present your work anywhere, preferring to handle only the negotiating end of the jobs you find for yourself, run.


Starting Your Reality TV Career

Back in 2007, I posted a primer on how to kick off a career in reality television at the old blog, www.troydevolld.com.

For those of you considering reality writing / producing as a full-time job, I’m reposting it here with a few revisions.

As with most other jobs, you start at the bottom. In reality tv, you’ll begin as a “logger.” Logging isn’t the most difficult job to land, because most aspiring film school types aren’t beating the doors down to get jobs transcribing or (less painfully) summarizing hundreds or thousands of hours of source material so that the story department can more easily locate juicy moments.

In this position (which usually pays $500 to maybe $850 a week, you’ll be a star if you can turn out a good number of tapes every day, show up on time, and use THE SIMPLEST LANGUAGE POSSIBLE when describing the action in your logs.

Pay special attention to that bolded bit of advice. No one in a log “saunters.” They “walk” or “run,” because when I’m still working at nine o’ clock at night to find a shot the producer insists exists, I probably won’t be running word searches on “saunters.”

Also, if your spelling’s not up to snuff, don’t even think of going out for a logging position.

Once you start logging, get friendly with the story department. If you notice trends in action (as in, Participant X is annoying everyone by commanding the remote control in the house 0r Participant Y has mentioned three times already that he’d like to see Participant Z go home), point it out to your head logger or mention it in the breakroom to one of the story folks.  Show them you’ve got your “story brain” on.

Once you’ve paid your dues as a logger and someone’s noticed your aptitude for story, you’ll likely move into an Assistant Story Editor or Assistant Story Producer position. Here, you’ll get some light scenework thrown your way and probably make between $850 and $1200 a week while you help Story Editors or Story Producers review logs for action and possible storylines.

From there, you’ll eventually get your break as a Story Editor or Story Producer at $1200 to maybe $1800 a week (mid-career story people should eventually expect $1800-2500/wk). You’ll be placed in charge of either certain acts within an episode or full individual episodes, alternating those honors with your other on-staff story editors/story producers. You’ll have about a fifty percent chance of interaction with the Exec or Co-Exec Producers and the occasional development person. Some will be awesome, some will drive you bats with their notes. Either way, remember the words of Dan O’Shannon, whose words for traditional scripted writers hold true for reality writers as well — it’s not about creating the best television possible, it’s about pleasing your employers. Don’t take notes personally, just address what you can and move on to the next episode or series.

Lead Story Producer and Lead Story Editor positions are hard to come by, largely because these gigs are filled by people who’ve been with the companies forever or are well-known to the EP’s from other shows. Most Lead Story Producers and Lead Story Editors I know make between $1800 and $3000 a week, depending on whether the shows are cable or network and what kind of budgets are in place. They interact heavily with the EP’s and co-EP’s, and will almost certainly have some communication with the network development folks, who will inherently want to fiddle with your work — so again, don’t take it personally.

If you have any specific questions, comment away.  That’s what this blog is here for.

You found me!

Hi, folks.

I’m Troy DeVolld, a reality television producer, writer and sometime academic guest lecturer on the genre.  While my old blog (www.troydevolld.com) still lives, this one will deal solely with the craft of reality television writing and production.  Special attention will be paid to answering questions relating to beginning and maintaining a career in the genre.

This isn’t the place to take poorly produced material to task or discuss the stars of your favorite programs, on-screen or off.  Let’s keep things civil.

I look forward to posting soon!

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