September? Already?


Holy Earth, Wind and Fire… it’s already September?  I can’t believe I haven’t posted since July.  How’s everything with you?

On August 17, YouTube Red launched FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: EXPERIMENT 88, an original series I served on as Supervising Producer earlier in the year.

Just last week, I started work on a new show for reality powerhouse ITV / Leftfield that I’ll discuss just as soon as it gels into a thing and they announce it.

Beyond that, I’ve also been making strides on biographical feature film you’ll hear more about as it moves forward.   I absolutely love the subject of the film, and she’s been incredibly cooperative in helping me to tell the most realistic version of her story possible.

Finally, thanks to the folks at MWP and the University Film and Video Association for such a great time last month in Las Vegas.  I’m grateful that so many educators are getting behind the book and that the new material in the second edition has proven helpful.

New posts in the works.  See you again soon!

 

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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.

Want to be on a Reality TV Show? Read This First. No, Really.


Let’s say you’ve been approached about being on a reality television show.  You’ve given it some thought, and you think that the experience might be fun.  There are some nagging doubts in the back of your mind about whether or not you should sign on the line, but you’re not even really sure what you need to know to make you feel more comfortable or help you decide to walk away.

First, understand that your life will lose a certain amount of spontaneity for the duration of taping.  If you’re being followed, a producer and camera team can’t just follow you to the mall, to the grocery, to a club you like, or to some place you decide you’d like to go to on very little notice.  It’s not an issue of manipulation or control, it’s just that locations have to be precleared.  If you have existing commitments or things you’d like to do, consider it your job to discuss them with your producer and story team as early as you can so that they can try to help you make arrangements.  Big travel is quite likely out, so if you’re planning to be out of town for two weeks in the middle of shooting, make sure that’s discussed and approved before you sign on to do the show.  Given the fact that most reality shows are on tight budgets, the idea of you being out of the story loop for ten days has a massive impact on production.

Be clear from the onset about access and how production works.  There’s virtually no such thing as a pure follow show, where a crew simply tags along during your everyday life and winds up with enough story content to fill six, eight, ten, thirteen or fifteen episodes.  You will probably be asked to do certain things that will help steer story, like having dinner with a friend or cast member to discuss an issue that’s been weighing on you.  You might even be asked to reenact some part of your life that happened off camera.  You’ll most certainly be asked to come in for interviews time and again, often being asked about the same topics if previous answers don’t completely explain what happened in-scene once the post team has had a crack at the material — we don’t like having to ask you similar questions over and over again, either, but until a scene starts to come together in post, we don’t always know every aspect that will require clarity in order for viewers to understand the action..  If you are too busy or someone who is overly protective of their downtime, a reality show is probably not a great idea for you.

Understand from jump that honesty is essential.  In my book, Reality TV: An Insiders Guide to TV’s Hottest Market, I complain a little bit about cast members who are self-producers.  These cast members are so worried about being seen in a positive light that they often withhold information in interviews or refuse access to many parts of their lives.   The unfortunate end result of withholding or walling things off is that now other cast members (and post-production based story people) are responsible for telling your story.  Would you rather talk about a disagreement with a cast member or simply allow that cast member’s interview content to define your role in that conflict?  Your words and feelings matter, and when you’re the member of a cast who never wants to discuss anything negative, you often come off looking like someone who’s dishonest and overly concerned with their image.  You are putting the power of your personal story in the hands of others if you don’t open up — and if you can’t handle granting genuine access to your thoughts and feelings consistently, a reality show is probably not a good idea for you.  

You’ll need to help tell your story.  I know that this sounds simple, but it’s true… you’ll need to be an active participant in planning if you want “TV you” to seem like you.  Producers will constantly be asking what milestones or events you have coming up, so if there’s something on the horizon that you think the producers might be interested in taping, let them know.  One of the hardest parts of our job is trying to forecast where your life is heading, what obstacles you’ll be facing two weeks or two months from now, and ensuring that your storylines are advancing.  If we don’t know what’s coming up for you, we’ll start making suggestions:  “How about you all go to dinner?  How about taking a trapeze class?”  Trust me, none of us want to spend another afternoon shooting someone on a trampoline or having a three hour lunch about nothing, and one of the things many cast members resent about their reality experiences as they happen is having a schedule of simulated life events that make very little sense.  The more you bring to the table in terms of communicating and coordinating with your producers, the more screen time you’re likely to have and the more you’ll be able to have fun living your real life instead of the cartoon version.

Once you start, don’t judge a team by their past credits — do, however, judge a production company or a network by theirs before you sign.  I’ve been all over the place in my career.  I’ve done shows I’m proud of and shows I don’t bring up very often.  If you’ve signed to do a show and find out that a story producer assigned to you has a credit on Teen Rednecks Hitting Each Other With Bagged Hammers Season Five, that producer is probably thrilled to be working on a show with real story and not that clinker they were offered for eight weeks when they were totally broke.  If, on the other hand, you haven’t signed yet on a show made by the production company that put out not only the Teen Rednecks Hitting Each Other With Bagged Hammers franchise, but Half-Naked Mud Bog Sexy Time Show and Randomly Punched in the Face as well, you are probably not about to embark on a life-changing journey of self-discovery and wonderment.  If you liked those shows, though — don’t let me get in your way.  I’ll go one step further and just suggest that you don’t imdb people you’re working with.  We all have our crazy exes… and by exes, I mean ex-shows.

Remember, the money is terrible — so do it for fun.  Being on a reality show isn’t a job that’s going to sustain you.  I know plenty of people who signed on to do shows for $500 an episode or a few grand at most.  Sure, it can turn into something by a third or fourth season, but for now, it’s not going to pay much.  Don’t let this become a sore spot for you when you’re being asked back for your fifth interview on the same subject because the post team needs a few bites in order to shorten a scene without losing information.  Again — do it for fun.

Bracing for the Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations Finale.


I’ve been trying to find time to finish my second book, 50 REASONS TO LOVE REALITY TV, for the last year or so, but I’ve been utterly swamped.  Too bad, because it means my number one reason to like reality TV will be moving on next week:  Anthony Bourdain, whose Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations airs its finale on Monday night.

What doesn’t this show get right?  It satisfies our curiosity about the world and cuisine on multiple levels, and Bourdain’s voice is so clear in this series it’s unmistakable.  This isn’t a guy who was plugged into a format, this is a real portrait of a person and his passion for people, food, and the world.

Here’s that number one entry from the book’s preview edition on Amazon Kindle:

1. ANTHONY BOURDAIN

“To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.” — Anthony Bourdain

Perhaps my favorite reason for loving Reality TV is chef, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain, whose Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations has earned its place as one of my favorite reality shows of all time.  The tough-talking, no-nonsense Ramones fan and frequent picker-o-fights in his astonishingly frank series of books including Kitchen Confidential, The Nasty Bits, and Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook has artfully put himself forward as the Poet Laureate slash Arthur Fonzarelli of Food… and damn if he isn’t fun to watch.

I don’t say that just because he’s game to chow down on everything from the familiar to the exotic.  Sheep testicles?  Check.  Fermented shark?  Check.  It’s his brilliant observational humor, which spills out on camera as easily and naturally as it does in his narrative voiceover, which he pens himself.  It’s so good, in fact, that Bourdain’s been personally nominated for Emmys® twice for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming.

How exactly did a kid who spent his college years working in the seafood restaurants of Provincetown, Massachusetts come to be one of the world’s most watchable globetrotting chowhounds?  Well, the adventure began with his 2002 Food Network series A Cook’s Tour, which ran for 35 episodes over two seasons as Bourdain trotted from Tokyo to Thailand sampling local fare.  Audiences who hadn’t already been bowled over by Bourdain’s book of the same title fell hard for the guy, and it wasn’t long before The Travel Channel was airing the strangely similar Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

Bourdain’s No Reservations quickly expanded beyond the boundaries of being a “went-here, ate-this” travelogue, broadening to include storylines that often overshadow the mere foodie appeal of the show.   Notable episodes include Season Seven’s premiere, “Haiti,” where Bourdain called attention to the nation’s ongoing struggle to rebuild after a massive natural disaster, and Season Two’s finale, “Beirut,” which garnered an Emmy® nomination in 2007 for its hair-raising account of Bourdain and crew’s escape during the early days of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.

All in all, Bourdain and his shows serve as some of the best reminders of how the genre can be both powerful and entertaining at the same time.

Oh… and I’ll have the black bean snails, please.

Upcoming Event: TV Writers Summit in London / Also: Consulting & Personal Appearance Announcement


Just wanted to remind everyone of the upcoming London TV Writers Summit in June. Information here: http://www.tvwriterssummit.com.  Come see me and some other great folks!

London – June 23-24, 2012
What TV Writers’ Summit 
Starring Ellen Sandler, Troy DeVolld, Chad Gervich & Jen Grisanti
When June 23-24, 2012 (Saturday and Sunday)
Times 8:30am to 6:30pm each day
Where Tuke Hall
Regent’s College
Inner Circle
Regent’s Park
London, NW1 4NS
United Kingdom
Fee £275 + VAT – Regular Fee

Also wanted to announce that I’m now consulting on projects. See the right hand side of the home page for info. I’ll still be answering smaller questions here on the blog, but if you need help, Saturday and Sunday phone consults are now available. Please refer to the (cheap) book and (free) blog first, as appointments are limited due to my work schedule!

On the personal appearance front, there will be a signing of REALITY TV at L.A.’s famous comedy spot, The F.A.K.E. Gallery the evening of May 12.  Also signing are good friends Martin Olson (author of THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF HELL), Jim Earl (the award-winning writer of MOURNING REMEMBRANCE) and more.  More information and time TBD.  It’s the same night as the BASKETBALL WIVES SEASON 4 REUNION SPECIAL taping, but I hope to wrap out in time to be there.

One last thing… all media inquiries can now be sent directly to realitytvtroy[at]gmail.com.

Contest Update: Yikes.


Well, the contest is still on through the end of March, so pass it on — You can win dinner with me here in LA or $100 in http://www.mwp.com titles just for sending me a picture of you with your copy (or any copy, really) of Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market.  Bonus second drawing if there’s a reality TV cast member in the shot with you.  Details in my 2/24 post!

By the way, if you wouldn’t mind keeping your entries to PG-13, that would be really great.  This is a reality TV blog, not Penthouse Forum.  To the entrant who knows who she is, the effort is appreciated, but please re-enter with a more appropriate picture I can post if you win.  Also, you should get that mole checked out.  (I kid, I kid.)

Good luck.

I’ll Be Back Soon!


You’ve no doubt noticed that I haven’t posted in a little while save for the link to the TODAY show appearance. Things have been hectic with the ultra-whammy of the book launch, multiple shows in production and loads of other crazy things going on. Things should be back to normal by early next month, so hang tight!

Educators: Find me at UFVA 2011 in Boston August 3-6


It’s my pleasure to announce that I’ll be a panelist at UFVA11: The Future of Media Education at Emerson College in Boston on Thursday, August 4 at 1:30 in Walker 310 as part of MWP’s Jump Start Your Career and Make Your Scripts More Saleable, Too. I’ll also be attending the picnic and closing night dinner at the Omni Parker House, so there will plenty of time to say hello.

If you’d like to discuss Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to Television’s Hottest Market while I’m in town, drop me an email at realitytvtroy(at)gmail.com. The book does have an accompanying syllabus and includes exercises to help your students better understand a genre that employs thousands of talented writers each year.

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