Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Reality of Reality TV: Part 1

If anyone who knows me personally, you'd know that I'm not a fan. In retrospect, who really is?

Working in the production world is hard because starting out, most of the jobs you can get fairly easily are in this field. I've declared to some friends and I'm declaring here on the internet this one point I want to get across: I'm done with Reality TV. There's something totally unethical about it and I want to get it off my chest. I don't mean any disrespect to any of the people I've worked with, mainly, they're just trying to make a living. This anger is not towards them in anyway, the anger I feel is geared more towards the executives and the production offices that are often too far removed from the process to have any sort of sense of the "reality" that goes into making their "reality tv" shows.

This entry is separated into two parts. The first part I want to spend talking about the success of reality television, like it or not, it's very successful and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. Part two will talk about why its often abused and seen as highly unethical. So, without further intrusion, here's 5 reasons why Reality TV is what it is and why.

1. It's cheap to produce.
2. It's fast to produce.
3. It's disposable and doesn't need a long term multi-platform distribution plan.
4. It's sensational for the viewer.
5. Relies on the key axiom: everyone wants to be on TV.

Cheap and fast go hand in hand as far as this goes because reality tv doesn't need to look high quality. If it were high quality, chances are it wouldn't be cheap, or if by some miracle they were able to keep it cheap, it sure as hell wouldn't be fast to make. So, when thinking penny-wise, you can't have all three, but you can get a good mix of at least two.

What makes a production look high quality are the crafts people used to make the lights perfect, the wardrobe and make-up spotless, and the portrayal of the characters as something seeming "professional." Reality TV needs none of these things and because these things take a good bit of skill most of these people belong to unions and union contracts are very expensive for productions to take on. Also, unions are very strict on how many hours their members can work before the producer is required to pay overtime and meal penalties (penalties for not eating every 6 hours on the dot), and all that can add up very very fast. If I calculated the amount of overtime I could've made on some of the shows I've worked I would have very easily made double or triple what I originally got.

Perhaps the biggest boost to the whole reality tv thing is the writer's strike that happened in 2007 - 2008. Of all things, this more than any other has probably hurt the scripted tv industry and tipped it in favor of reality based programming. the WGA union decided to walk-off the job over royalties involving dvd sales for tv shows that had never been clearly laid out in their members' contracts. At the end of the day an entire tv season went by without any scripted programming which opened the flood gates for the "reality" world. Since all that happened, we have yet to reach a point where we were "pre-strike" in terms of writers who are employed and scripted shows that are being produced. In plain speak, the WGA took a double barreled shot gun and shot themselves in the foot. Now, the cost of producing a scripted show has risen even higher, so high, most networks are doing less and less of them.

Here's some hard data, the average cost of one scripted television show is in the area of a million dollars per episode, often times more. If you look at the premium channels and top rated network shows, it could be as much more, as much making a block buster. Reality tv costs far less than that and because no one has to write it, it gets done very quickly. Best of all, no one has to worry about making money after it premiers on TV and we can all live happily ever after.

Reality TV shows are disposable, they're here today, gone tomorrow, and if they get a next season, you'll probably forget about who was in the first. It's disposable because it doesn't need to be on your dvd shelf and you don't need to go out and buy t-shirts, participate in fan clubs, or even do much except watch it. Sure, there's always a fan club for everything and I'm sure reality tv has some bored and confused fan club out there just waiting on the next big thing like, "the biggest, biggest loser 7" or "crazy suburban mom season 3." Who wouldn't want to wait for those right?

Now, usually a reality tv show will get a marathon run somewhere towards the end of it's season or if it gets slated for a second season, it will get re-run episodes in order to remind people that there's another season coming out. This form of recycling is not new to television and still generates money (or else they wouldn't do it) but, for most shows, the end of the line stops here.

Best of all, the only ingredient required to make a reality tv show is something sensational. You know, like some former has-been-celebrity to come out of the woodwork and announce that he or she is looking for a new baby's mama/baby's daddy. Or, a rich family in a Beverly Hills like neighborhood has a hard time connected with one another and being "normal" because they're so filthy rich. Who wouldn't want to watch that? I know I for one am a huge fan of shows about parents who have way too many kids... mainly because I just like laughing at them and their countless little "accidents." Best of all, whenever our main characters get emotional for the umpteenth time, there's always some music lightly blaring underneath in order to enhance all this "reality." You really can make a reality show about anything. Take the right music and mix it with people who are crazy enough to do anything for their 15 seconds of fame (oh yeah, it's no longer your 15 minutes of fame, in the reality world you only get seconds) and you've got a hit show.

Or so we think...

All this boils down to the fact that everyone wants to be on tv. Or at least, executives who produce reality shows seem to think that way. You could even extend that axiom and say everyone wants to work in tv and then you'll be about where I am. See, I do want to work in TV, but I don't want to work on a solid fixed rate that is based on a certain amount of work, then work double what I'm getting compensated for and told "too bad, you should've thought about it before you signed your deal memo." Far too often deal memos are vague and written by someone who doesn't understand production.

I don't know about Joe Public but as far as for being in front of the cameras, I for one can skip out on the whole reality tv thing. It only shows certain parts of you, generally the parts you don't like, you always look fat, and 99% of the time you're not getting paid for whatever it's worth.

Taking all this into consideration it's definitely a good foot in the door that can lead to many different types of things when it comes to production. It's a good starting point. You learn from a lot of things that go wrong and most of what you should learn is "how not to run things."

Next: why I feel reality tv is unethical.

3 day indy car shoot

At the beginning of the week I actually worked as a production assistant again. Taking a break from my unemployment I worked for a company shooting a promo for the Indy Racing League. Everything went fairly smoothly as things go. I got a little annoyed at things here and there, but overall it was a good shoot.

The best part about it was taking the director back to the hotel after the last day had finished. He was very complimentary and interested in what I wanted to do in this here industry. It's nice when someone takes a personal interest in what you want to do. I told him how I'd had a string of not-so-fun production jobs and with the economy the way it is, am looking to get out of this whole ordeal. He didn't want me to give up and ended up giving me a good bit of advice and guidance to help me along, offering to pass my resume around when he got back to New York. We'll see.

On the fun side of things, I ended up driving some of the best race car drivers in the world to their photo shoots and found some pretty interesting things about breaking awkward silences. It's hard to talk to someone whose sorta famous without asking them the usual barrage of questions, so my new trick is to spout off useless information like, "did you know that kangaroos and emus can't walk backwards?" and they're like, "Uhhh, wow, no you know I didn't." Which then leads to other neat and pointless conversation instead of the usual awkward silence that happens when driving people like that.

Anyways, I'm working on a big post about reality TV which will probably end my career working in it--soooooo, stay tuned!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Oh, Oscar, dost thou really give a shit?

Peter Bart is hilarious. I read his lately article on Variety about how he is approaching his oscar voting and how he perceives it all to be going. It's a wonderful insider look at what this is really all about--a concept that even someone like Mr. Bart admits rather blatantly, he doesn't understand. I imagine the editors and executives at Variety told Peter to write something about how he sees the Oscar race to be shaping up, instead he gave a "who knows what the hell" article that is probably far closer to the point than most oscar analysts would like to admit.

I've always agreed that the oscar race is more like a three legged rodeo ride and that what wins doesn't always mean its best, just that it was pretty good. If any of the films win for best oscar, (except "district 9" and "blind side") I will be okay with it. Though, on a personal level, I'd rather not see Avatar win, as I'd like to see Cameron lose to his ex-wife katherine. And that's what the Oscar race really is all about, a personal, vendetta-like experience that pits brother against sister as every vies what what is the "best" when in actuality there really isn't (again, except for "district 9" and "blind side") because even to be nomintated you have to be really good, again, I can't understand why "district 9" and "blind side" got nominated, after soooooo many better films (Star Trek, Moon, Nine, Public Enemies, Watchmen... Hannah Montana) Seriously, "district 9" why? Was it because they had the most viral ad campaign ever made? give me a break for god's sake.

Enough digressing. I'll be spending Oscar night at a fundraiser for the AIMA, which is some acronym for Alabama film makers, though I forget what it is. The Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin act should be mildly funny, and I'm sure the speeches will be same-ole shoe. Doesn't matter, as I expect I'll only be half watching it anyways and no matter who wins, I'll probably say, "well that figures."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First Draft Completed

I've just finished 68 pages of the first draft of a stage play I've been working on since August 2009. I typically don't write stage plays but for some reason I just figured, "Well, what the hell..."

Catharsis is setting in. It's like I've gotten some huge elephant off my chest and I want to shout about it to the world. I've stayed up all night working on this! I'm excited about this next stage of editing and refining, adding and subtracting. It's like I have all my meat finally on the grill and next is the fun part--the seasoning. When I'm done with it, I'll probably have added enough seasoning to make it around 100 pages. That's roughly about two hours with a break in the middle.

Switching gears, I've been mulling over for quite some time about something a friend of my who writes said about story telling. He told me that coming up with the story is art, writing it and putting it into dialogue form is the science. I think he was being facetious and referencing the usage of really bad catch phrases, but just in case he wasn't I have to strongly disagree on that point. Writing follows a natural path. Every story has one other wise they wouldn't be stories. They'd be beginnings without ends, trials with no tribulation, or endings that never actually began. Without the science of story telling there would be nothing compelling about anything. It's not art, it's just common sense, much like cooking. And like cooking what makes stories good is not what the dish is trying to be as a whole but what goes into it. Like, umm, words?

Whoa, I'm hungry.

I'm liking the cooking references but right now I'm too tired to really go anywhere with them. Hopefully one day I'll see this play come to life and hopefully audiences can experience what I've felt and been through in ways I never even imagined. Or, maybe they'll just hate it. I'll take my chances.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I'm about to watch the last season of LOST. What an incredible show this must've been to work on! I really want to work for people making content like this. While I think every project turns out to be a bit of a cluster fuck, working on a cluster fuck in Hawaii on a show as complex as this with actors as cool as these would be really cool. We'll see how it goes, I'm really excited! Can't wait to see how it all turns out!