Hire an Executive Producer (EP)

2007 International Emmy Award JudgingIf you’re going to make television shows, or at this point, shows for the web… SOMEBODY on your team needs to KNOW. HOW. TO. MAKE. TELEVISION. SHOWS!!! :/

If you cut this corner, your productions will look like trash, and deservedly so. Now you can’t say no one ever told you.

I was minding my business one day and got a call from some so-called television production company to come in and interview with them to create a pilot for this show they were trying to sell. They had received my name from someone I had worked with before, so I decided (against my better judgement, haha) to go see what they wanted.

This was back in the day, so I show up to this so-called television production company with tapes. Beta tapes & 3/4″, just in case they were so primitive as to still be using 3/4″. Of course, it turns out that they had NEITHER. No Beta Decks in-house and No 3/4″ decks. So, that was that for my demo materials. Of course, at this point in time, my demo reel is right here on my site ===> (see sidebar), and companies are encouraged to check it out before wasting my time.

So then, this guy, who, by the way had ZERO air about him of knowing ANYTHING about television production… I’m guessing he was actually a secretary or assistant producer or something and that the people that actually know what they’re talking about weren’t there… This guy asks me if I’ve ever edited a reality show before.

Suppressing the instinct to ask “HAVE *YOU*???”, I eventually said “No, but I’ve seen a bunch of them and I know the formula”. I then proceeded to recite the formula to him. During the process, I happened to mention “confessionals”, made popular by MTV’s “Real World” series. When I said that word… “confessionals”… the guy choked up. Like he looked like he stopped breathing, like someone had suddenly grabbed his throat. So I go “You DID shoot confessionals… right?”… Then the guy looks all embarrassed and admits that they didn’t.

This is where I got REALLY suspicious, because television production is “garbage in, garbage out”. You can’t make up for footage people never shot, especially when you only had access to the people in your “reality” show for a small amount of time and they’re GONE NOW.

So anyway, I chatted with the guy for a while longer, then he said something to the effect of “I’ll let you know”, but he wasn’t even good at playing THAT off. Suppressing the instinct to say “Dude. Why don’t you just stop lying. You don’t want me to work on your so-called show”, I acted like I was going to expect his call, smiled, shook his hand and left.

Obviously, what was going on there was that these people had NO IDEA what they were doing and were looking to hire an editor to save the day and make something out of their NOTHING footage. That’s all well and good, and I’m sure they found someone. The problem with that secretary-dude’s line of questioning was that it’s not MY JOB to create the show. It’s MY JOB to do what the PRODUCER tells me to do. It’s the producer’s job to do what the EXECUTIVE PRODUCER tells him or her to do.

In general, the EP is the person who signs off on the final product. The EP knows what the standards are and whether what you’ve created is good enough to go on the air. The producer knows how the company likes their shows done, so it’s up to THE PRODUCER to determine how the show flows by going through the raw footage, selecting sound bites and video and putting them in an order that a) makes sense and b) is interesting to the viewer.

While it’s possible for the EP and the producer to be the same person, SOMEONE has to be in charge of both stations. Someone has to be the last word when it comes to quality control and someone has to be the person to determine the flow of the show. If it’s not the same person, the producer needs to have a very good idea of how the EP likes things or every time your video goes up for review, there are going to be changes. This is a waste of your time as well as your money if you’re hiring a freelance editor. If you’re working with a salaried staffer, feel free to waste time.

If you don’t have these bases covered, you end up with the blind leading the blind. You have people who have NO IDEA what elements create a good television show signing off on work that people who have NO IDEA how to make a good show created. This becomes obvious when it’s time for the average joe to sit down in front of the television (or at this point, their computer) and watch your product. Here are some of the problems you will experience:

Nothing of interest happening in your show

It’s the EP’s job to tell you that nothing’s happening in your show, that it’s boring and it needs to be fixed in order for it to be successful on television. The producer needs to pick up on this information and make it part of their mental database so they stop making the same mistakes in the future. The EP can’t afford to let a boring show go out the door, because if people don’t care what happened this week, they won’t be back next week. When people don’t come back, your ratings drop. When your ratings drop, you get cancelled. When you get cancelled, people get fired.

No story arc

The story arc is the reason people stay tuned (other than character development). There has to be a reason.. Something people are looking forward to seeing, or something that they are hoping the characters are going to avoid. Without a story arc, there’s no tension. Without tension, you can’t hold a viewer’s interest. It just doesn’t matter whether they see the rest of your show or the next episode because they’re not emotionally invested in the outcome of your show.

No good cliffhangers leading to the commercial breaks

The only thing that’s going to keep people from changing the channel during commercials is that you’ve set up something that they don’t want to miss. This is basically the same as story arc, but much more short-term. There might be 4 or 5 segments to a show. You don’t want to end your segments on a flat note, because that’s how many opportunities people will have to YAWN, change the channel and get involved with some other show that captures their attention.

No interesting character development

If you have someone that’s interesting, make them one of the main focal points of the show. If you have people that are NOT interesting, play them off to the side or preferably to the BACK, if not out of the show ENTIRELY! If you have interesting people doing uninteresting things, cut those parts out of your show.

If you don’t develop your characters, nobody will be emotionally invested in what happens to them, which means they won’t care about your cliffhangers, story arc or anything else. This is something that’s normally dealt with in the pilot stage, and lack of interesting characters plus potential for their development via interesting scenarios usually results in a “Pass”, meaning “Thanks, but No Thanks” and you get sent back the drawing board to dust yourself off and try again.

No passionate viewers / fanbase developed

If your show is wack, no community is going to develop around it. This means that you won’t have people DYING for next week to come around so they can see the next episode of Miami Vice (not the garbage movie… the really good television series). It’s your passionate viewers that will stop whatever they’re doing to go home and watch your show or make sure the bar turns it on. It’s your passionate viewers that make sure to DVR your show so they don’t miss out on the water-cooler talk the next day at work. It’s your passionate viewers that keep your ratings high so your advertisers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth…

No viral dissemination of information about your show

If your show is boring, there won’t be any buzz. There won’t be any Facebook groups made about it. It won’t be a trending topic on Twitter. Your website won’t have any comments on the posts. Nobody’s going to be telling anyone else about you, because everyone’s looking for something interesting. Nobody’s going to be blogging about your show on their sites. At this point in time, even a locally-based internet show can have fans all over the world. When your show is already garbage, it’s too late to convince people that it’s not. Make sure you hire someone that can tell you that this show isn’t good enough and can tell you how to make it acceptable if not EXCELLENT.

No advertiser, investor or sponsor interest

Without passionate viewers, community, viral dissemination or the appearance that you have any clue whatsoever about how to make a good televison/web show, you will either have ZERO advertiser/investor/sponsor interest from the giddyap, or if you had it when you started, you’ll lose it when it comes time for those people to renew their deals with you. This could be avoided, or at the very least, the chances of this minimized by hiring an EP with a reputation for quality programming. The EP is the General. People think that just because they have the money and paid to create the company that they should automatically have final say on what goes out the door. That’s called “hubris”. Get over yourself and do yourself the favor of hiring people that actually know what they’re doing when it comes to television. If you want to be successful, everyone needs to play their position. Your position might be getting money. Let someone else have the final say on whether your program’s “ready for prime time” or not.

Bill CammackThese issues are normally dealt with at the pilot stage. If your pilot doesn’t convince people that you know how to make an interesting and well-received show, you normally don’t get a deal and get sent back to the drawing board. It’s similar to being a rapper. If you don’t have a good demo tape, nobody’s going to take the chance on you and pay for you to record “for real” in a studio.

This is why you want to hire an EP to let you know whether what you’ve produced is worth shopping or not. Believe me, it’s worth it to spend the money up front and save yourself the anguish and embarrassment of producing a show that everybody says sucks while you spend a small fortune producing something that never should have received a greenlight in the first place and simultaneously trash your so-called television production company’s reputation for quality and excellence in programming.

~ Bill Cammack

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  1. Insightful as always Bill. And It applies to so many other diffrent industries. I actually think that it does not apply to television production. As proof I offer to you the TV Guide listings. It is one big landfill whose consumers surely are seagulls loving the garbage that is offered to them.

    1. Thanks, Nino. 🙂 You’re actually right about how much garbage there actually IS on televison. Pervasive.

      Unfortunately, televison’s actually about making money, not entertaining or educating. Anybody that claims they can point a camera at something can potentially get some kind of deal to make a video, if the price is right. It’s sort of like how government contracts tend to go to the LOWEST bidder… Capisce? :/

      I guess I was trying to make a point specifically to groups or people that actually want to make a decent name for themselves when it comes to television/web shows, not people that are just looking to make a dollar, like any regular job. The only way you move forward is by demonstrating quality, speed and excellent customer relations.

      You can stay afloat with garbage work, but you’re going to have to keep struggling for deals instead of having your name ring bells and people WANTING to work with you instead of NEEDING to work with you because you’re the cheapest or everyone good already turned their project down.

      The problem with doing just enough to get by is that you don’t get any priority treatment when it comes to better work or work you’d really LOVE to do. If you do a commercial for someone that you know is going to be shown on late, late, LATE night television, like those garbage used car salesman commercials and you TREAT IT like it’s going to be on in the middle of the night when nobody’s awake or sober, then that’s what your resume’s going to be filled with and you’re going to get work from people who are trying to make work of that caliber.

      OTOH, if you treat that commercial like it’s going to be on the Super Bowl, then someone might see the difference between what you did and what the next person did and actively seek you out for their next project, even though you don’t have direct experience with that kind of work.

      This is what was funny about walking into that place and having some guy ask me if I’ve ever cut a reality show before. There’s NOTHING INTRICATE about reality shows. It’s all formula. Reality shows are “Baby Taps” compared to the work I had already done to that point… which they could have seen if they had actually had professional decks on hand… which they would have if they had been an actual production company instead of slackers looking to get over by hiring a one-man army to make something out of their NOTHING. 😀

  2. You possess one of the sharpest minds in the industry. Impressive article. Every point valid. Vital to the success of a project. Bill, you are the ideal blend of perfectionist/visionary. Guess that’s why you won an Emmy! That, and recognizing that it’s always got to be good enough for Super Bowl Sunday.

    1. Thanks, Christine, haha You’re right.. It *ALWAYS* has to be good enough for Super Bowl Sunday! 😀

      That’s what a lot of people don’t get. They focus on getting “hits”, even if those hits are hecklers.

      In fact, it’s much better to have fewer hits, but each person that sees your video gains respect for your abilities, which translates into more opportunities in the future.

      If you do a poor job and then your video goes viral, you might be able to score a few rev-share dollars, but your name as far as being a Content Creator is going to be MUD! 😀

    1. Good article, Steve. 🙂

      I run into that, myself.

      Sometimes, you make people say things they didn’t say because it’s the same thing they actually emoted, but they said it in a blah blah um uh roundabout fashion, and you want to get to the point.

      Other times, you want to promote a certain storyline and you make people say things that help that out, though they never really said or intimated anything along those lines.

      I try to avoid the latter situation as much as possible, however, as the editor, I’m neither the producer, nor the Executive Producer, nor the network, so all I can do is say “This isn’t right” and then the people who make the actual decisions decide.

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