Develop Reality TV & Documentary Series Without Going Broke from Joke & Biagio – Producing Unscripted: Transcript for Episode 004
This episode covers how to develop reality TV and documentary series while making the most of your resources. And let’s face it…none of us have unlimited funds or boundless resources. Our goal is to keep you from spending one second or one dime more than is necessary to develop reality TV, documentary series, or unscripted TV.You can listen to the episode here:
Since this post we’ve built a submission portal, so you can submit your submission agreement and initial materials together. Learn more in this cheat sheet on pitching to us.
This Episode: Develop Reality TV and Documentary Series Without Going Broke
Biagio: Welcome to Episode Four. Today, we’ll give you Five Bullet Proof Steps to Develop Shows without Going Broke. You’ll learn the step-by-step process of connecting with us to take your concept from idea to finished video pitch. And we share how we used the same process to get our new MTV special on the air, a documentary called, “Secrets, Lies and Sex.”
Relax people, our discussion is totally G-rated.
Develop Reality TV and Documentary Series: Concept to Series Without Going Broke
Biagio: All right, thanks for joining us for Episode Four of Producing Unscripted. She’s Joke.
Joke: And he’s Biagio.
Biagio: We make unscripted film and television and want to help you do the same, hopefully by teaming up with us. So Joke, it was a big week right? Our documentary aired under the “True Life Presents” banner.
Joke: So excited. It’s called “Secrets, Lies and Sex” and it follows two young African-American men living a life on the down-low in Northeast Ohio.
Biagio: And by the way, “Secrets, Lies and Sex” is actually being played in full, episode on MTV right now.
Joke: And on iTunes.
Biagio: And on iTunes. So we’ll go ahead and we’ll put a link into that so you can check it out.
You know the way that project came together is really interesting because it speaks directly to the topic of this week’s episode; which is, “How Do You Develop an Idea without Going Broke.”
Pitching Reality TV and Documentary Series Shouldn’t Make You Go Broke
Because we’ve talked lots about making great tape and we know that you need to invest time, energy and sometimes money when you get out there and start putting together a tape that could potentially become a TV show.
So today, we’re going to talk about specific ways — as a matter of fact, five specific steps — that you can take when developing a show with us so that you don’t go broke, and you make the right decisions along the way.
And then afterwards, we’re going to talk about “Secrets, Lies and Sex” as a specific step by step example, a real world example of how that show came together.
Develop Reality TV and Documentary Series: More Than Money at Stake
Joke: It is not only just about going broke; it’s really about spending too much time and energy on ideas that just may not have a shot right now because of the market place. So let us help you decide which projects are worth your time and energy right now.
Cautious Man: Look, I’m not made of money.
Making Reality TV and Documentary Series: What Stage Are You At?
Biagio: If you’ve been listening to the podcast and following along with the steps, you’ve sent over a submission agreement, you know how to make yourself valuable; so now…how do you then develop a show without going broke?
As we hinted about in the opening, spending thousands is the wrong approach.
Joke: Well, it’s a numbers game and so you’re going to have to develop lots of these and so it’s important to manage your resources because the truth of the matter is, it’s going to probably take a few ideas before you can get one going.
By the way, if you’re thinking, “Aha! But I bet they haven’t heard my idea because it isn’t on television. It’s nowhere to be found on television. I have the best idea.”
Then I just have to ask the question: maybe you do have that one in a million or maybe there is a reason that idea is not on television and then if you pitch it to us, we can tell you what those reasons are so that you don’t spend any more time and energy and money in to that project.
Develop Reality TV Step 1: Submission Agreement
Biagio: And of course it starts with Step One, you’re going to send in your Submission Agreement. Don’t send us any ideas until we get your submission agreement. If you want to know why, listen to episode 2, producingunscripted.com/002.
After we get your submission agreement, you will hear back and that leads in to step two.
Develop Reality TV Step 2: Existing Materials for a Reality TV or Documentary Series Pitch
Joke: Send over the best materials you have for a specific project.
So ideally, you send over a little bit of footage or at the very least, pictures and some bios; just what it is that you’re working with.
If this character happened to be interviewed on the local news segment, then you can just send us a link to that. That’s fine too. Just so that we have a little bit of a taste.
Biagio: So at this point we’re going to decide:
- A: is this a sellable show at this time? Is this a world we want to play in? Is this a show we want to make? And…
- B: we’re also going to take a look to see if the show is a conflict
Because like we said, we get pitched a lot of ideas and it’s not fair to you if you’re pitching us a rodeo show and we’re already working on a rodeo show to say, “Okay, we’ll do yours too.”
It’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to the other project so if there’s a conflict, we’ll just be honest with you and we will say, “Sorry, this show is a conflict with something else we’re doing at this time so best of luck.”
However, if we think that your world or your character in your show does have potential, then we’re going to move on to Step Three.
Develop Reality TV Step 3: Additional Materials to Determine if The Concept is a TV Show
We’re going to have a discussion with you about exactly the materials we would need to decide if this truly is a sellable show. We’re not talking about making a pitch tape yet, right Joke?
Joke: No. No, no. The key here is that we’ll look at some stuff that you just sent us from step two and we go, “Okay, we see something. We see a nugget. We feel like there might be a potential sow here.”
And then, we’ll just ask you a bunch of questions and say, “It might be a show if this is the case.” “Hey, I don’t understand this world well enough. What is the actual process of what this people do?” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
The goal with this is for us to give you as many kind of questions or things for you to investigate and explore for your step three. So that when you go back out and maybe shoot more footage or research, you know exactly the kind of things to ask about.
Biagio: Mainly, we’re telling you what we would need to see in order to move forward. But again notice, you’re not spending a lot of time, resources and money because even at this point, you can go out with a flip cam or a cell phone cam, capture a little bit of footage that we need to see.
Joke: And at least the energy and the money you are spending will be more targeted to get you a more positive outcome because again, we’ll know like, “Okay if it’s for this kind of network, we know they’re looking for these angles right now. If it’s for this kind of network, we know you’ll have to watch out for these things.”
So our goal is to help you be more efficient with your time and resources.
Biagio: So let’s say that you do them all, you collect the materials we asked for and we’re like, “Wow! There is a show here.”
Well then we’re going to move on to Step Four and that’s the Collaboration Agreement.
Develop Reality TV Step 4: Collaboration Agreement
That’s where we’re going to officially team up with you and listen, every project is different. I wish I could tell you, “Hey, there’s one simple deal we do with everybody.” There’s not.
If you’re a co-executive producer working in reality television right now and you’re bringing us a show, we’re going to be doing a very different collaboration agreement than if you’ve never shot or edited anything in your life and you’ve discovered some characters and you’re looking to break in the business.
So this collaboration agreement, it’s going to be something that we’re going to have to work out together and we’ll always be very honest about what we’re willing to do and you know hopefully, we can all come to an agreement.
If we can, and we officially team up, then we move on to Step Five which is Actually Making the Pitch Tape.
Develop Reality TV Step 5: Creating a Reality TV Pitch Tape or Documentary Series Reel
Now at this point, depending on the show, our schedule and your abilities, we may trust the first pass of the tape to you.
We may say, “All right, go for it. Go shoot it. Go edit it. Just go do it. This is your investment in the show. This is what you’re doing. Go make it.”
Or we might come in and help you. Me and Joke might fly in for a couple days. We might bring a camera guy with us. We might bring a sound guy. It just depends on the show, the project and what we think the chances of it selling are and how urgent we feel it is to get the tape done quickly.
But at this point, step five, now you’re finally making a pitch tape.
Now know this, if you follow the steps, if you follow the steps we just laid out, which is
- send your submission agreement
- then send over some simple materials
- then send some specific materials we asked for
- then do a collaboration agreement
- making the pitch tape.
You’ve gone through all these weed out steps to figure out if your idea is actually a sellable idea, before you ever get to
So, that’s why I want you to go through this process with us because we can help you save a ton of money if making a pitch tape is a bad idea. There you go!
Joke: That’s it! Pretty simple, straight forward.
Don’t Waste Resources Pitching Reality Shows and Documentary Series That Will Never Sell – Develop Reality TV and Unscripted Shows that Have a Chance
Joke: Starting out, we made a lot of mistakes, working in the bubble because you don’t necessarily have the access as to what’s working or what’s not working and so we kind of want to give you a little peek into the world, so that you’re not developing in the bubble.
So that you can really spend your time and energy on shows that may have a chance because we’ve learned the hard way that you think this is a great idea and then when it’s finally ready, you spend all your time, you got out and pitch it and it’s like, “Oh no! That show just sold three days ago.”
Or “Hey, we’re done with that kind of show.” And those kinds of things and that can be heart-breaking.
Cautious Man: That sounds good in theory.
Case Study: Documentary Special Secrets, Lies, and Sex
Biagio: We want to talk a little bit about our show, “Secrets, Lies and Sex” because this actually went through a similar process, right Joke?
Joke: So we heard about this world of living on the down-low and we were fascinated by it. And so we talked to some of the characters that we felt would be great entry-wise into the story and into this world and asked them to put some stuff on Skype.
Again, these are young guys, they’re technology savvy so they shot some video on their iPhones or flip cams or whatever it was; I think some of it was like the web cam on their computers.
It wasn’t great quality, the audio wasn’t fantastic but here’s the thing, it gave us a real sense of their stories and their openness because again, this is a subject matter that is pretty deep and we wanted to make sure people felt comfortable talking about it on camera.
So, once we got in those little tapes, Biagio cut together maybe like a minute tape, just kind of compiled maybe a minute, 90 seconds worth of some of the best kind of clips and really kind of explaining this world; and then we took that footage to MTV.
We felt like they were the right age for MTV. MTV does these kinds of stories.
We had a relationship with them because of our docu series, “Caged”. We showed it to them, we had lots of conversations and they said, “Okay, we think there might be something there but we need more footage.”
And so Biagio and I thought it was a worthy investment because MTV had showed interest and because we were really passionate about the story.
And so we flew to Ohio and the two of us shot with about nine possible cast members for, I don’t know, a day and a half, two days?
Biagio: Two or a day and a half, yeah.
Joke: I think we spent about two or three days with them and shot about a day and a half or something. It gave you a sense of who they were to each other and then also what their personal stories were.
And so you know, talk about “showbiz is slowbiz” I think we delivered that to them in June and then the summer happened and people would go on vacation, yada, yada, yada. Long story short, the head of the department saw it and really, really liked it.
And usually, the next step in terms of going to series would be a non-airable pilot.
I felt and so did Biagio, that the story was so great that to just shoot it as a non-airable pilot — and the reason they make it a non-airable pilot is because it costs them less money — would be a little bit of a waste because it’s such a great story and either way that you would see the reveals and the coming out soon in that episode and then it would all kind of be for not.
And the guys had expressed that they really wanted to share their story because they wanted it to help other people going through the same thing and mentioned specifically had they seen something like this growing up, it would have helped them tremendously.
So, based on what our guys had said and then talking to the network, together we kind of all decided that it might be better if we tried this as a special.
As a True Life Presents Special, since that’s the banner that they do their specials, their one-offs under.
So that for sure, it would go to air. For sure, the guys would get to tell their stories and then depending on the success of the special, maybe there would be a spin-off, maybe there would be a series or maybe the story would run its course and that’s that.
And so, we did that. So, this happened, I think we got that word last November and then there was some deal making with the guys and then we went and shot it in January, in February, in March, in April, I think?
And then it just aired last weekend. So now we kind of have to see how it’s going to do, how well it repeats and where the word of mouth goes from here.
But either way, the guys are super excited. They’re very proud of it. They’re very happy with the final product and the network is super proud of it.
It feels like it delivers on the promise of a true life series and so yeah, it was kind of a beautiful experiment in developing with the network which brings us back to work your — to help you develop.
Biagio: Next episode, we’re going to tell you the secret words every unscripted TV professional uses to present their pitches to Hollywood.
We’re going to be giving you the five magic words of pitching reality TV and documentary series and we’re going to teach you how to use that.
If you come in using these five magic words, you will have our undivided attention. So don’t miss our next episode.
That would really help us out a lot. And thanks for spending a little time with us today. It means a lot to us that you came out and listened.
Joke: Thank you so much and we’ll see you next time
Biagio: See you next time. Bye-bye!
Announcer:Producing Unscripted with Joke and Biagio.
Helpful and Related Links to help you Develop Reality TV and Documentary Series
Dying to do Letterman (our passion project.)
You now know how much relationships matter. Why not get to know us? Let us make your life easier before you over spend on a tape that has no chance of getting a show to air. (As a reminder, we don’t charge for this. We’re producers, not consultants.)
Read our in-depth page about how to pitch us a show. It also talks about what it’s really like to work in our business, the unscripted TV and film industry.