Saturday, July 2, 2011

Music, Teamsters and Reality TV

KCRW's The Business interviews three "reality tv" producers and asks "is it real"?

Film LA, a non-profit that keeps track of permits shooting in LA, reality show permits has grown 42% since 2009. The cost is much cheaper, audiences do like it (only slightly less than high price scripted dramas), and editing  plus set-up conflicts can keep it very entertaining and on the solid dramatic curve needed to maintain the audience.

Casting is a key, just as it is in dramatic and situation comedy television. Look for personality mix, for audience favorites and black hat bad guys, for romance and comic relief. Looks are key, depending on the show's premise and needs, just as it is in casting scripted television. The shoots are non-union so they look for outgoing individuals who will be able to do the work in a reasonably fast and consistent way. Racial mix. Person with big mouth. Person who cries....

Interviewing and personality profiles are an important, and time consuming part of "casting."

Reality TV does require reality. No matter how you plan it, the show may take new turns, and the show runner producers must be flexible and creative. It has to feel real, at least in the larger than life television world.

They do have semi-scripted scenes, they say are needed for continuity, but which may also be to augment the responses that did not happen in a way conducive to good television, or the reaction shot the camera missed, or the words the microphone did not pick up...

Fame and ego grow, so if you have an ongoing cast you end up with the premadonna effect, including a camera awareness where the cast performs instead of being real. They put themselves into stereotypes they know from TV and movies. So in away it is polluted and altered reality, not what happens on the street or in real circumstances.

Some realty shows are moving toward drama and even documentary. These programs still involve a willing suspension of disbelief, but not as much as in scripted tv or the lighter reality shows. On serious reality shows there is more of a responsibility because of how the very act of filming and manipulating for ratings and audience (character development, story arch, and so on) changes people and can have both positive and negative impacts on those people, their lives and their problems.

"Soft Scripted" means there is a plan, and certain scenes are needed, but the producers deny that they are used much. They say that restaged or preplanned scenes do not play as real, they need to be authentic. Yet crew members say otherwise.

On the first season of "Survivor" the cast ate the same food as the crew and spent the night in hotels, regardless of what was presented on screen. Liability insurance comes into play on what can and cannot really be done on "reality" programming.

"Shiny Floor Shows" are shows on a set that is flashy, such as "America's Got Talent."

As for who is responsible for the product. The producers say that the WGA (Writers Guild) cannot organize them because everyone involved in a part of "writing" the final product. The crew, cast, producers, story or continuity people, editors and networks all play a role in what finally ends up on the air.

Other news of the Business...

Have we moved to an ownership society to an access society? Netflix and other video distribution systems seem to support the shift, as do the new "cloud" music services gaining popularity. Even Apple has an in development to offer music on demand either on a subscription or rental business. iTunes already 'rents' videos through Apple TV.

Comic-con has become a big marketing launching platform for big Hollywood movies, looking forward from weeks to years in advance. There are still around 100,000 people who attend, but increasingly the audience is a Hollywood audience. 

The Teamsters settled but with a two year contract to bring them in alignment with IATSE, just as SAG negotiated a shortened contract to bring it in line (and at the front) of the above the line talent unions (DGA, WGA and do forth).

First Posted July 26, 2010

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