Ever wonder what it takes to break into non-fiction/reality TV as a producer? This past week Todd Weiser from the Food Network, Dave Hamilton from Leopard and Nicole Page from Reavis, Parent, Lehrer LLP shared tips and insight at an event hosted by The New York Television and Film Festival (NYTVF).
Like any other endeavor in entertainment it is not easy to break into the industry, especially as a producer. There is no road map and no set career plan that will guarantee success down the road. During my freelancing days in film production, the two questions I asked myself the most were, what am I suppose to do exactly? And am I actually doing the right thing?
Below are three takeaways to help you on your way to producing the next Guy Fieri, Project Runway or the menace herself, Honey Boo Boo.
Align yourself with a production company
For young producers with little experience, one of the top things a network will be looking for is whether you will have the ability to produce the show that they are pitching. Chances are if you do not have a huge number of TV shows and episodes produced under your belt (don’t worry most of us don’t), a network will have no reason to believe you can deliver on your show, even if it is a totally awesome idea.
The best way to prove you can deliver the goods to a network, Dave suggests to seek out production companies that you can partner yourself with that have a proven track record of producing the type of show you are producing (i.e if you want to produce a cooking show, find a production company that has produced cooking shows successfully in the past)
Cut your teeth and be realistic
Aligning yourself at with a production company is a great way to also cut your teeth. By partnering with a production company you are mostly likely taking a lower level position with limited pay, but you get access into how a TV show is produced from pre, post to network delivery. This type of experience will help you shed that “green” label put upon you, help you understand the hundreds of industry-speak terms, and be more prepared when you are finally in a position to pitch a network.
Speaking of pitches,Todd at the Food Network says he hears roughly 70 pitches a day. Most of which are turned down, with the majority of which come from vetted and established producers. So don’t feel bad if your first, second or third ever pitch at a network doesn’t pan out, it is a numbers game to some extent, so be realistic about rejections.
Also be realistic about your expectations if a network or production company does decide to run with your idea. If you have limited experience, Nicole says be prepared for “consulting producer”-type credit with little to no access creative and production decisions, because networks pour a ton of money into producing TV shows, and again if you do not have experience producing TV shows they are not going to trust you to do so (tough-love yes, but once you have cut your will be that much better for it rule the TV world).
What is the draw? (access and talent)
For your actual pitch what networks are looking for is your access and your talent, but more importantly your talent. Your access ( subject matter you plan to put on air) must be amazing and unique from what is already on air (or else why would a network produce it?) and your talent (the people on camera) must include great characters that people will want to watch.
More often than not if a show has both (think say the Deadliest Catch, an example Dave used), then it is more likely to be a hit. However talent is more important because talent can carry a show, but access can’t (cooking shows are all pretty similar but if it wasn’t for Guy Fieri I would not watch Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives).
Nicole recommends that if you do find someone who is great talent, do what you can to sign them a talent holding deal. That way they have committed to be a part of the show (won’t back out at the last minute) and you can use them as part of your pitch to a network or production company.
The panelist covered a ton more than what I have listed, if you are interested in learning more about working TV check out NYTVF’s next TV Tuesday event for more advice and networking afterwards. Its a great environment for meeting new people and getting advice.
What has been the best advice you have gotten about working in entertainment? Share with us in the comments below.
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