How To Stand Out: Reality TV Producer
Updated: Jan 15
I thought I knew it all before I became a producer...now I realize I'm learning more than ever. With over 8 years of experience producing Reality TV Shows, Commercials, Corporate Videos and Music Videos I've learned that no job is built the same. But what makes a good producer? In a sea of producers how do you stand out? Many of us throw the term producing around but what exactly does a producer do? Sometimes its grueling work like building a small business, sometimes its hand holding clients and cast members, other times its gaining and managing finances utilizing a Rolodex or resources/trade-outs, and sometimes its just following stories. But being a producer is knowing you don't know everything, it's about always adapting. In this blog we will cover the surface subject of what kind of producers are required in each genre and what roles and responsibilities to expect in the Reality TV world. Of course I can only speak to what I know so if you are a seasoned producer reading this, I apologize if I miss anything. REALITY TV SHOW PRODUCING
Reality TV Shows are very interesting to talk about because its probably the oddest form of producing. Why? Well most productions require lots of planning, like months of planning before filming even begins, on average after the idea is pitched its usually starts shooting 6 weeks in. There you run into the need to find and clear cast, shooting locations and build out the rest of the story points without really a clear idea where the story is going to go next. These roles below help control the chaos on set:
Executive Producer- The Executive Producer or EP helps create and/or manage the show from beginning to end. These folk work directly with production company owners and the network to carry out storylines and expectations. Some EPs are on the field working with a multitude of teams compiling all their story nots and suggesting different things along the way. Line Producer- The Line Producer or LP helps manage not only the shows budget but to make sure they work with legal and field teams, like production managers and cooridnators, to make sure all the proper paperwork is in order. They also help manage payroll and hire below the line crew, source gear and put out "metaphorical" fires on set and in the office.
Field Producers- Field producers are the "boots to the ground team". These are the teams that usually only follow a handful of cast members to create beat sheets (what will happen in scene and coverage), pitch story ideas, work directly with casts during the good and bad times and be in charge of their crew. A lot of times these producers are also acting as directors, following the camera operator and making sure everything is being captured. Segment Producers- For shows with large scenes and multiple cast members, segment producers can be brokering trade-out agreements (I.E. trading exposure rights and negotiating low rates for locations and secondary cast members), managing location expectations and help pitch feasible show ideas/execution. Sometimes segment producers act as secondary producers to help maintain cast expectations and work closely with the EP and LP. Associate Producers- Associate Producers or AP's are what I like to say, PA spelled backwards. Their bosses are usually Field Producers and Segment Producers and have them do a wide range of things from story notes, to finding secondary locations, to working with cast to facilitating coffee orders.
HOW DO I STAND OUT AS A REALITY TV PRODUCER? Did you notice what's missing between all the producers? Most producers don't seem to know the technical aspect of what goes into a reality show. In Reality TV most of the time you'll find journalists that only hyper focus on story. Having a clear understanding what a camera operator, location audio guy and even the tech guys can go a long way. Why is this the case? Because most of the time you will only be rehired or be able to find the right crew if the crew likes you. In a world full of egos and nepotism, something like understanding which camera you would use to shoot long format or how long it typically takes an audio guy to mic someone up will earns you respect of the crew. It will also protect you from getting the "wool pulled over your eyes". Some crew members, not everyone, will be deceitful and try to convince you that it can't be done because XYZ.
For example to set up Go-Pros for a "ride along" should take no more than 30 minutes. Unless you have a bad suction mount or the gear has been beat to all hell, it shouldn't take more than 30 minutes. Some people move slower than others so you'll see some that can pull the same trick in 10 minutes compared to 30. This is human nature, just like producing no two people are the same either. Another great way to stand out is always be an innovator. Understand that the industry is filled with flaws and how you can be the one to fix them. When I was having a hard time segment producing I realized I wasn't able to sell big business on 3 seconds of fame but they wanted more SEO and traffic to their current business. So what did I do? Convince shows to use the Diners, Drive-ins and Dive model by creating links and posts linking their business online. HOW DO I MARKET MYSELF REALITY TV PRODUCER?
Producers are very good at talking, so good that most of the time they will convince you that they are doing a job they never did. They speak with such great confidence that you'll believe every word they say. Their literal job 60% of the time is to manipulate cast (and sometimes crew) to get what the network wants out of them. Of course being an honest producer is the best solution but what else should you do? Back in 2014 I realized that people were just throwing my business cards to the side and that got me thinking. How can I be different? How can I innovate?
So I printed my business cards on over 1200 lighters and handed them out. Bought market gaps like Motorola CP200 walkies and directors chairs and even developed an app called Chicago Callsheet connecting local vendors in the market to filmmakers. The results? I became a segment producer by 24, a senior segment producer by 26 and a PGA producer by 27. This showed that I not only talked the talk but walked the walk. MORAL OF THE STORY (PRODUCER)? Be different and always keep learning. Keep innovating and understand market gaps. Be true to yourself and be honest as much as you can.