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.
These 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.