Reality TV characters, documentary series subjects — have you discovered real life people you want to put on television? Don’t waste your time, cash, or other precious resources unless your characters have these 6 Traits.You can listen to the podcast episode here:
Reality TV Characters and Documentary Subjects: 6 Must Have Traits – Transcript
Announcer: Welcome to Producing Unscripted with Joke and Biagio.
Angry Man: Is this some kind of Joke?
Confused Woman: Biagee-who?
Announcer: This episode.
Biagio: It’s episode six and we’re talking characters.
Six traits every unscripted character you pitch must have.
Why being completely honest with your potential cast is crucial. How much money someone on a reality TV show can expect to make, a new way to listen to this podcast, and Joke reveals why I’m jumping up and down.
Stitch some Reality TV Together
Biagio: Hey everybody welcome to episode six of Producing Unscripted. She’s Joke.
Joke: He’s Biagio.
Biagio: We’re married, we make unscripted film and television and want to help you do the same, hopefully by teaming up with us.
We’ve got great news for those of you who listen on Stitcher… we are now officially available on Stitcher. I’ll put a link on the show notes. You’ll be able to find it at producingunscripted.com/006 and a big thank you to all of you.
A Noteworthy Thank You
We were kind of shocked honestly. You have taken us to new and noteworthy, not just in film and television, not just in education, not just in the arts but we’ve been popping in and out of new and noteworthy across all podcasts in all of iTunes. That’s because of all of you who have subscribed and left comments and messages. Thank you so much.
Joke: You have no idea how much Biagio jumped up and down when he saw that.
Biagio: Okay I did. Let’s face it Joke, really right? We thought, well no one is even going to listen to this thing.
Joke: Yeah really we made these so that we wouldn’t have to answer the same five questions over and over again.
Biagio: It’s kind of true. We were like listen, the worst case scenario, we can point to people who do submit to us and say, “Hey listen to these so you know how to submit shows.” We have been overwhelmed by how many of you have come out, subscribed and supported us with comments and ratings.
Joke: And now we just hope you start sharing some ideas with us so we can team up.
Biagio: Because that’s the whole reason we’re doing this. It’s because we want to work with you.
Wacky Cartoon Man: This guy think you’re some kind of character.
Strong Reality TV and Documentary Characters
Biagio: Okay so this week we’re talking characters. Whether it’s for a reality TV show, a documentary series or a feature length docu. We’re going to talk about six must have traits every unscripted character you pitch must have.
Joke: The fastest way right now to break into the business is to find an undeniable character. You attach yourself to a character and bring that to a producer, if they’re amazing television that project will go.
Biagio: Having said that here we go, six must have traits every unscripted character you pitch must have.
Reality TV Character Trait Number One:
Joke: They have to be unique.
It’s a very crowded place out there and so if you are just another version of someone that’s already on television it’s going to be a very hard sell.
For example there’s lots of characters in the bounty hunting world. Dog has that market covered so if you find someone who beats Dog than maybe you can find a place for a big bounty hunter character.
The truth of the matter is you have to find someone who’s unique and who we haven’t seen before.
Biagio: We have a show coming up that we’re not allowed to talk about yet but it’s a perfect example of where a particular space was dominated by one kind of character for years.
We brought a new kind of character to that space and that allowed us to sell that show.
They’re out there, that’s the great thing. They come in all shapes and sizes, so keep your eyes open. Are they unique?
Reality TV Character Trait Number Two:
Biagio:They must bring an extraordinary perspective to the ordinary.
Joke: What we mean by that is they need to have a very unique point of view. Things that you and I would go to do which seem very standard like taking our car to a car wash.
What will make this character’s ordinary trip to a car wash extraordinary? Because of how they deal with it? Because of how they interact with people? Maybe they hold court while the cars in the carwash. I don’t know.
While you and I might just sit down and look at our phones and read a magazine, this person does something different.
Biagio: Actually the car wash is a great example. Think about this, Jeff Lewis from Flipping Out. If he actually went to a car wash and saw somebody washing his car with how OCD that guy is, how particular he is about every little thing- he would be over their shoulder all the time.
On the other hand… Dog the Bounty Hunter, how would he be at a car wash? He probably would be on the phone talking business about catching the latest criminal. They would be two completely different stories because of the way those characters are.
Joke: Let’s take our True Life Special for example- Secrets, Lies and Sex about two young African American men living on the down low. Meaning they have both a gay life and a straight life that they don’t mix. For them there’s secrets there, there’s things about either life that they don’t want to share with the other.
When they’re going on Facebook and Instagram they have two different accounts. They have to watch and make sure no one’s leaving comments that might give away their secret life to their other life.
For things that you and I may not even think twice about posting a comment or uploading a picture, for them it becomes a very calculated move. Again even in documentary series you want to find characters that go through ordinary things in very extraordinary ways.
Biagio: I think that’s a great example. When social media becomes scary.
Reality TV Character Trait Number Three:
Joke: You really need someone that you could build trust with. The truth of the matter is that no character will get final cut, will get any say in how the show will be edited and so this is really about building trust with your talent.
Understanding from the very beginning what their concerns are and seeing if you’ll be able to address them. It’s making sure that you don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep because that’s very important.
It’s keeping them in the loop in terms of some networks will want stuff that’s a little more contrived, while other networks will want true doc.
It’s knowing what is the show that you’re going to be pitching with them so that they’re aware of what can and will be expected from them at every step of the way.
Again this is where trust comes into play. You have to have that relationship with them that they know that you know what they’re worried about and that you will take care of it.
Biagio: It’s so important because your reputation is built on the shows you’ve done. I’m really proud of the fact that we’re still in touch with so many of the people we’ve filmed with over the years.
The reason that we maintain those relationships and have been able to keep them is because we’ve been honest with them, we’ve delivered exactly what we told them we were going to deliver and we earned their trust.
A big part of the reason you need to earn trust leads to number four. Right Joke?
Reality TV Character Trait Number Four:
Joke: You want characters who won’t self censor, and that’s where the trust comes in. If you’re able to build a trust with someone that they don’t have to worry about what they’re saying—they can just be themselves— you’re going to have a much better show.
You’re going to have a much richer, louder character. It is so important that you have characters who are not constantly thinking about what they’re going to say before they say it.
It’s not the rhythm of real life. Everything becomes too calculated and your audience picks up on it. You really want characters who can just be themselves, forget the cameras are there and just say what they want to say.
Biagio: It’s not because you want them to make fools of themselves. It’s not like, “oh we can’t have people who think about what they’re going to say because we want them to look crazy on TV.” It’s not that at all.
It’s that people who don’t censor themselves usually don’t censor themselves because they’re very comfortable in their own skin.
They’re who they are. They’re themselves whether they’re on a TV show or all alone at the grocery store. They’re just them.
Joke: These are characters who, like Biagio says, are really comfortable with who they are and who kind of have no apologies for it.
The captains of Deadliest Catch they are who they are. The swamp people and gator hunting shows, the mountain men they are who they are.
Jeff Lewis he is who he is. Patti Stranger she is who she is.
Not saying that these people don’t have some insecurities of course they do but they are who they are and they’re comfortable with that.
When we say find people who don’t self censor you really want to find someone who kind of knows who they are and it’s like yeah this is me and I make no apologies for it.
Reality TV Character Trait Number Five:
Biagio: Trait number five, they are not in it for the money…at least not at first.
Joke: There might be a big misconception because you always read in the trades and it even makes ET and Access Hollywood when certain reality stars and the successful fifth or sixth season get to renegotiate and make tons of money an episode and that’s great.
Again that’s in success, when new shows start out the network is the one who’s taking a huge financial risk and putting money not only into the production of that season but also in the promotion of that season.
What they’re asking for at that point form the talent is listen in success you will find other avenues to make money just because we are making you a brand. Right now when you start a season one the people who are taking the biggest risk is the network.
Therefore season one is not the time where you’re going to negotiate a big pay day.
Biagio: Every network pays differently per episode. Some of them are as low in the hundreds per episode not even thousands. We’re talking in the hundreds.
Part of the reason is because reality TV and unscripted television has sort of a legacy of launching people and businesses into the stratosphere when the show is successful.
Joke: You know we’ve had the Bethany Frankel’s of the world even Mimi Leakes from Housewives, she’s now acting on shows like Glee. I mean look at the Kardashians.
Yes they were already wealthy and therefore they probably commanded a nice amount starting out but the business empire that they built since then because of the show is outrageous.
The Girls Next Door from the Playboy club.
Biagio: Networks know these days, they’re aware, that by spending millions in advertising on a show what they’re really doing is making the characters on the show superstars.
A network’s point of view is, “Look I’m spending you the money to make you a superstar, I’m not going to pay you a bunch of money on top of that.” You go and use your fame to make yourselves a millionaire.
Joke: The network is still taking the risk on the first season. This show may not go, it may not get anybody anything and then who’s got a loss there and that’s really the network, who took a huge financial hit on that show. There’s just as many shows that never went anymore and you wouldn’t recognize those people walking down the street.
You have to find someone who is realistic enough and this might be a conversation you need to have or a conversation that we’re more than happy to have with whatever piece of talent you want to bring to us. Again that money comes only in success.
The main point here is you find a piece of talent who wants to do television just because they think they’re going to be rich they have to understand that is not from the get go. They have to actually first become a success before that money will follow.
Reality TV Character Trait Number Six:
Biagio: Our final point that we want to discuss point number six, the characters need to fit somewhere on the TV landscape.
Joke: This is a really big one and a very heartbreaking one. We have been in this position where we find great, amazing character with great stories in a great world. We love it, we show it all around, every network loves it except nobody buys it because it’s not right for them at that time.
Biagio: You might have a terrific character who everybody who meet them goes wow that is the biggest character I ever met, but because he’s 95 years old there’s no one that’s going to put him on TV as a star of a show right now.
Joke: Sometimes it’s age. A network will be like, we’re actually trying to hit the 20 year olds and you have a 40 year old character.
The world that they’re playing in doesn’t really play for the audiences for the networks that have the 40 year old audiences. Again sometimes it’s just not the right time, not the right place for a certain character.
That’s the shot you have to be willing to take and that’s the part where also we can help you out with. If you bring us a great piece of talent and you hit one through five and we can tell you, you know what this is the right time to take this character on to the marketplace or you know what, it’s not.
Recapping Great Reality Television and Documentary Characters / Subjects
Biagio: Great so, to wrap things up six must have traits of every unscripted TV character you pitch.
One, they need to be unique.
Two, they need to bring in extraordinary perspective to the ordinary.
Three they need to be someone you build trust with.
Four, they don’t self censor themselves because they feel comfortable in their own skin.
Five they’re not in it for the money at least not at first.
Six, they fit somewhere in the TV landscape.
That was a pretty in depth episode there Joke.
Joke: It is and it’s so super important. These are things that we learned the hard way but the bar’s been set so high right now in today’s marketplace for characters that someone you could have sold a TV show with five years ago just won’t get anyone to bite.
Biagio: Before you run out and shoot a bunch of tape and start trying to spend all your money on someone you find that are some great characters. Make sure you start a dialogue with us.
How do you do that?
It couldn’t be easier. Go on over to producingunscripted.com/newsletter. Sign up for our newsletter that has directions on how you can go ahead and get a submission agreement and start a dialogue with us.
Hopefully you’ll connect with us soon and let’s go sell some shows together already.
Joke: I want to meet the characters you know in your lives.
Biagio: Get them over to us. Until next time please head on over and subscribe at Producing Unscirpted.com/iTunes.
Give us a rating and a review if you like what we’re doing and we’ll see you in a couple of weeks.
Joke: See you then.
Announcer: Producing Unscripted with Joke and Biagio.
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