Reality TV characters, documentary series subjects — any real life person you want to put on television? Don’t waste your time, money, or other resources unless they have these 6 Must-Have Traits.
The 6 Must-Have Traits of Every Cast Member You Pitch…
…are wrapped in the spoiler below.
We hope you’ll consider pressing that giant “PLAY” button at the top of the post before opening this up.
We’re able to go into much greater detail in the podcast on many points related to reality TV characters and documentary subjects, a big part of how to pitch a reality show.
Later, what’s inside the spoiler can serve as a handy reminder of this episode’s big points, and add a few handy clarifications:
Find Great Reality TV Characters and Documentary Subjects – 6 Traits:
- Bring an Extraordinary Perspective to the Ordinary
- Someone You Can Build Trust With
- Don’t Self-Censor
- Not in it for the Money
- Fit Somewhere on the TV Landscape
You might think this one’s a no brainer. Nope. We get pitched characters all the time who are not unique at all.
Going to pitch us a bounty hunter? They better be NOTHING like Dog, and even more watchable. (Tough to do…so maybe you don’t want to waste your time in the bounty hunting world.)
Unique characters are out there. Be sensitive to the new people you’re exposed to every day.
That one person who commands attention at a party? The local business owner who’s famous for doing things her way?
They might be your next show.
Bring an Extraordinary Perspective to the Ordinary
Because of their unique personality, great unscripted characters naturally turn everyday activities into a whirlwind adventure.
- A trip to the grocery store is peppered with a conspiracy theory about organic vegetables.
- A visit to a local cemetery turns into a comedy routine about life, death, and great sex.
- A glance at the Yellow Pages and they charge to a specific section and rant about it.
Joke gives two great examples to help clarify this in today’s podcast episode. BTW, you can subscribe in iTunes here.
Someone You Can Build Trust With
People who agree to let themselves be filmed for a reality tv show, documentary series, or feature-length doc are making themselves extremely vulnerable.
After all, they’re opening up their lives to scrutiny by the entire TV-watching world.
It’s up to you to make sure you take good care of them.
Complete honesty at every stage of the journey is paramount. What kind of project are you making? A verite doc like our MTV True Life Presents special, or a more “planned-out” project like “Duck Dynasty?”
Your potential characters have to be okay with the fact that they’ll have NO SAY in how the project is edited, how it will be promoted, or what title the network approves for the show.
This means they have to trust you.
At every step of the process, they will turn to you for answers, and they need to have faith that you’re doing your level best to keep them up-to-date as best you can.
Just one reason this trust is so important is that great potential cast members…
Joke does a great job of explaining this in the podcast this week.
You can’t have your subjects constantly thinking about what they are going to say before they say it.
Not because you want them to make fools of themselves, or act outrageous in the name of “good” TV.
But because that’s not how people in the real world talk.
Your audience will sense when characters calculate every phrase that comes out of their mouth, and your show will suck because of it.
People who don’t self-censor tend to be very comfortable with who they are, don’t give a rat’s rear-end about what others think of them, and will be true to themselves whether they’re on a TV show or sitting alone at a coffee counter.
Those are the people you want on a TV show.
However, it’s important that they are…
Not In It For The Money
At least not at first.
A TV network is investing millions of dollars to promote a TV show that may fail. They’re taking all the risk. In the process, they are making the people on that show into potential superstars.
Because of this, TV networks have adopted certain attitudes.
Among them, that it’s up to cast members on a show to use their new-found fame to turn a dollar. In short, they’re not writing fat paychecks to people who appear on-screen.
Actual payment per-episode to your cast on season one shows is often in the hundreds of dollars, not even the thousands.
In success, talent can sometimes renegotiate their pay, but the fact of the matter is they will not be getting rich off the show itself, especially in season one of a show.
That said, the exposure brought to an individual or company by being featured on national television week after week can lead to huge money-making opportunities for the cast down the line.
One example: Jonathan Anton of the Bravo show “Blow Out” was able to launch his line on QVC thanks to his TV exposure on Bravo. He’s made millions on top of millions of dollars. Far more from his QVC line than from the show itself.
Finally, your characters must…
Fit somewhere on the TV Landscape
Your potential subject may nail points 1-5, but if they don’t fit in on any of the current TV networks at this particular time, you’re sunk.
It can be heart breaking. We know. You’ve got a one-of-a-kind character that breeds drama everywhere they go, aren’t worried about the money, don’t self-censor, and trust you implicitly. But they just don’t fit in at any TV network at this time.
That’s part of the reason we want you to get our newsletter and start a dialogue with us. We can help you decide if it’s a good time to invest in a potential character, and we’ll let you know if we’re interested in teaming up with you in the process.
Be sure to check out the above spoiler at some point by clicking on “SHOW.” It’ll be a good reference and adds some extra perspective to the podcast.
Live Outside New York and Los Angeles? Congrats!
This is the one time in recent memory when you may be at a real advantage when it comes to breaking in to the entertainment industry.
When it comes to Unscripted Film and TV, people are getting sick of characters in New York and Los Angeles.
Take advantage of this by exploring the great characters in your own neck of the woods. Who are the reality TV characters and doc subjects we’ve never seen before who could fit in somewhere on the TV landscape?
Who knew about the aligator hunters on “Swamp People” or the duck-calling billionaires on “Duck Dynasty” before they became hits?
Well, probably the people who lived close to them!
Hollywood producers are, by definition, stuck in Hollywood.
We can’t be everywhere, and we can’t be where you are. Exhaust your unique part of the world to find potential TV characters. It’s likely you’ll find some.
Now on Stitcher
As mentioned in the podcast, you can now find us on Stitcher.
Helpful and Related Links
Our show Secrets, Lies, and Sex. As Joke explains in this episode, for these guys, going on social media, a seemingly ordinary activity, became something dangerous. An extraordinary perspective on the ordinary.
Don’t rush out and shoot tape without talking to us first – 5 Steps to Develop Shows Without Going Broke
Before you pitch a show concept, Make Yourself Valuable.
Transcript coming soon!
UPDATE: Transcript Now Available
Okay, you know what to look for in potential unscripted film and reality TV characters. What’s next?
Sign up for our newsletter and you'll learn how to submit your unscripted concepts to us. You'll also learn how to develop, pitch, and sell reality TV shows and documentary series, and improve your filmmaking skills. From time to time we'll even tell you exactly what kind of shows we're looking for: