September 20, 2023

The Art of Realness: Crafting Authentic Stories in Reality Television

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Welcome back to On Production, the podcast where production professionals share their stories. In today's episode, we're excited to have you right out the executive producer at Haymaker West joining us, we'll dive into the world of reality television production, discuss keys to creating good engaging content, and explore the challenges and opportunities in this highly competitive industry. Irad how are you? Welcome.


I'm great. Great to see you, Cameron.


Well, thanks for being here. I mean, I always like to start these out with just digging into people's early careers like what's your background? How in the world did you enter into reality television production?


Yeah, it's a weird sort of path that took me here. I always wanted to do film or television, but I actually studied engineering. And during the initial dot-com boom, like the geocities dot-com boom, in New York, I ended up working at the Oxygen network. And at the time, oxygen was trying to sort of discover the synergy between the internet and television. And I was there for almost two years before the cable network even launched, doing all sorts of web production, things like that. But they, at the same time, had this sort of really great environment that they created there. There were a lot of young people at the company that sort of felt like a tech company, because it started off with a lot of websites that they acquired. And their philosophy was like, Oh, we could teach these young people to, you know, do everything to make TV. Final Cut Pro had just come out around that time, TV cameras, sort of mini TV cameras were sort of maturing, and the quality was getting really good. And they started this thing called the Divi Boot Camp, where they basically got, you know, Apple experts and other people from the industry to sort of train a bunch of 20 year olds, how to make video and how to cut it in Final Cut Pro. And the theory was, Oh, these guys are going to be able to make TV shows, it didn't exactly work out that way. But we all got this kind of incredible training. And in that period, so you know, learning how to edit, learning how to shoot, learning how to interview people, was at the same time. And you know, I don't think it was a coincidence that, you know, these cameras were available. At the same time reality TV was just sort of starting out in a big way, you know, with Survivor and Big Brother and shows like that. And so the company was also very open to people internally pitching ideas. So I pitched a couple of ideas. I initially pitched a show about it as a puppet show about a women's prison, they had the oxygen with a strand that was called X chromosome that was sort of an anthology of different animations. And they again, were just like, open to people pitching stuff. So all of a sudden, I was a TV producer, I got to make an episode of this puppet show about a women's prison, and worked with a bunch of different Muppet performers from Sesame Street. And at the same time, they were asking for pitches for reality shows, I think Queer Eye maybe had just come out. And so they were excited about that. So I pitched a reality show that was initially called Homme Improvement, H-O-M-M-E. The idea was, if you're married or dating someone, you're a woman, and you think that your guy could improve in their style or their fashion, you're basically going to swap with your best friend, swap husbands, and do a makeover on their husband or boyfriend. And we did a pilot of that. And that was basically my start in reality TV and I stopped, you know, stopped doing web production, and became a reality TV producer.


That's incredible. So you had this interesting opportunity to both learn some of the craft of production specifically around like, you know, editing the development, the actual, like post production function. But it sounds like this opportunity let you get more into the world of ideas and pitching concepts and shows when you transitioned into the producer role, like what did that job look like? Like some of these shows inevitably took off, or like had seasons made? What was your role as the producer when that happened?


There were advantages and disadvantages to sort of jumping straight from having no experience making anything to sort of being the quote unquote, producer versus you know, a lot of people move up in the ranks, and you get to learn that way. So when I started, I basically was doing everything like I had actually partnered with a college friend on that puppet show. But we were, you know, we didn't know about pas and stuff like that. We were hauling, you know, 500 pounds of sandbags to the studio on a dolly through the streets of New York. So we were sort of figuring stuff out from a blank slate. And that was true of the reality show so no oxygen didn't completely give me the reins. This was like a big budget pilot or you know, not a big budget, but a reality budget pilot. And so they did hire an experienced reality producer who was sort of over me, and I learned a ton from the sky. But I came from that experience in the Divi boot camp of doing everything. So I was, you know, filming the beat camera. And you know, I was loading the footage into Final Cut Pro and helping to edit it. I also had experience in graphics After Effects, so I made the title. So for those initial projects, I was sort of doing everything, which was both a great experience. And I learned a ton. Did the quality of the show suffer a little bit, maybe. But we did get a lot of, you know, for our for our dollar, because it was just this environment of doing everything that you needed to do to get it done. The other thing I would say is coming from a tech perspective, and especially, I had before I was at Oxygen, I worked at a couple of startups in New York. And there was just that mentality of like, oh, sure, if it takes till 4am, that's what you have to do. And so that's what you know, I did in TV. And I do think that that's a little bit more common in New York than in LA, I don't know what it's like, no, I've been in LA for a while. But in New York, there was this mentality of just like, yeah, we can get it done doesn't matter how long it takes and how tired you are. Rather than LA it has a little bit more of a mature, you know, relationship with production.


I think, for me, my experience in getting into the production business was very similar to that. But it was also in a peripheral market from LA, I was in the Bay Area. And it was that I had an old, 92 Volvo that I would use as like my grip truck, he couldn't read c stands and had a bit. There's just kind of got started until we moved up, you know, the stack and got more matured and figured it out. That's hilarious. You know, I'm really curious about your early career, if you remember any, like key challenges and kind of moving up, and like getting more opportunities, and what was the potentially the success that kind of broke you out into really having a viable path in reality television production.


So my path was always through pitching my own projects. And like I said, I was super lucky at Oxygen that Gerry Laybourne is the CEO, she founded Nickelodeon, and then she founded Oxygen. She had this very open environment where literally I could go in, and knock on her door and pitch her a show. And so that's like a very unique sort of experience. And I haven't encountered that at any other network since then. But after that, it was just sort of this idea of, kind of boldly and confidently, and maybe a little naively going in and pitching my own shows at a bunch of different places. And I found enough people that liked the concepts and believed in them, and had the connections that I didn't have yet at the time at other networks, besides oxygen, just sort of get these projects going. So after oxygen, the second project that I had probably pitched four or five different shows to this company called True entertainment, where a friend of my girlfriend's was a development executive. And they actually sold one of these shows. Now at the time, I didn't realize how incredible and rare and special it was to sort of pitch a company a show, we do a deal. Three months later, we have a series, right? That, again, is like a challenging thing. That show was called to help wanted and it was a show where people were competing for different jobs. And the idea was that we were going to follow them through the real job process. What ended up happening, the show evolved into people competing for sort of extreme jobs, like Monster Truck driver or stunt person, it got a little bit more dramatic. But


that is a little bit more interesting than like, we're competing to be consultants at BCG.


Yeah, exactly. Although, you know, the, the, the very initial pitch was really grounded and sort of realistic, not so not as formatted or not as heavy handed from the producer side. And it was this idea of like, you're going to compete to be a short order cook, or you're going to compete to be, you know, a janitor at a big arena, something like that. And it was sort of more grounded. And in some ways, I think, if we had followed that path, the show could have had a longer life, we did 10 episodes, it was on TLC. And, and that was it. But then later on, you'd see shows like Dirty Jobs. And you think, oh, you know, maybe if we had gone for the sort of more realistic or more, you know, just less fancy jobs, it might have had a longer life. You know,


that's really interesting. And I love that that was kind of, at the start of your career, it leads into something I've been really wrestling with, for how producers become successful early on, so they can have a lot of staying power in their roles. I'm curious, like, you look back on your early career, what did adaptability and creativity do for you in the world of reality TV, I mean, like you have a show, you get 10 episodes, that must have been so exciting. And then it stops. You've got to figure something else, you know, half, how did you adapt and apply your creativity and kind of keep the show on the road?


Well, you know, now having done development for years and years, you always have to have the next project going and part of that is you know, you want to be pitching while you've got a show in production or a couple of shows. While you've got to show on the air. You want to have that next project available. And I think it all So just helps from a, you know, psycho emotional perspective of, you know, we as producers and creators, and I'm sure you've experienced this too, you fall in love with these projects, and you have to fall in love with it, or you can't sell it, you can't sort of commit to it and produce it. And then, you know, they live or die based on things that are totally out of your control. And so if you have that next project that you're already excited about, I've found that for me, that does, you know, that just gives you something to keep fighting for, when inevitably a show, you know, doesn't work out for whatever reason,


Something you were mentioning was like, you know, really early on in your career, you were literally doing multiple roles, even like, below-the-line roles, the hiker moving sandbags, you know, when you sold the show, early in your career, you had 10 episodes, as the producer of it, did your role kind of stop? And you stayed in the development roles, like thinking of the next project? Or were you actually on the project, producing the narrative, how it evolved? Like, what is? What does it look like to be a producer? When you have a show greenlit in reality, like what does that look and feel like?


So again, I was inexperienced, in that I went from doing, you know, this pilot for oxygen to doing a series for TLC, without actually, you know, I had some cool ideas, but without actually being on a bunch of sets. So I was lucky again, to have to hire and work with some people that had worked on a bunch of other shows really talented people that have gone on to, you know, a group of the three of the producers that worked on Help Wanted, actually went on to found this company McGill, which is a hugely successful reality TV company. They do Long Island Medium, and a bunch of other shows. But so I was like some really talented people. But actually, all of us were sort of feeling all kinds of different roles. Again, the budgets were pretty tight back then. And I think part of what made me successful, and what made these other people successful is we did jump in and do sort of whatever needed to be done. And I think in my experience, those are the producers that you see sort of move up in the ranks, you know, ultimately, the job of a producer is get it done, we don't care how we don't care how long it takes, we don't care, you can't spend a lot of money ever, but but get it done. And that could be finding it convincing a hospital to let you film in the middle of the night because somebody was injured, you know, a cast member was injured, and you've got to film right now. Well, if you don't, if the producer doesn't convince whoever is on duty, and in charge at that hospital to let you come in with cameras, you've just missed a very, you know, exciting scene or dramatic scene, you just have to get it done. And those are the producers that I see sort of rise up in the ranks, you can hand them an assignment. And, you know, they just figure it out. And that's a combination of, you know, experience, the ability to bullshit confidence in yourself. Interpersonal skills are necessary.


I love that you brought this up, I think it's a really good example of maybe what makes producing in this format of media different from others. Like, can you speak to some of the other unique aspects and challenges of producing reality TV compared to, say, making commercials or short films or the features?


I mean, you know, the sort of the joy and the struggle of reality TV is you don't know what you're gonna get, right? You try to organize it, you try to cast characters that are interesting people, you try to plan out what scenes are you going to shoot? I'm thinking about a documentary series right now. You try to plan it out as much as you can and talk about what the possibilities are. But once you're on set, you don't know exactly what these characters are going to do. A lot of people that, you know, relatives and things like that, that I talked to, they'll come up to me and say like, oh, well, it's all fake, right? It's all fake. And the truth is on. I've never worked on a show where it's all fake, there's some shows where you prod or push a little bit more. But it doesn't really work. When it's fake. The goal is to get real people with big personalities, put them in sort of dramatic, volatile situations, and then cross your fingers and see what happens. And because of that, you never know what you're going to get. And sometimes you are sitting there and sort of nothing's going on and behind the camera. You know, the producers are trying to figure out, okay, well, you know, what do we do to get something useful out of the scene to get something useful out of this conversation? And then maybe you'll pull one of the cast members aside and say, Hey, remember, you told me, you know, you told me that, you know, she criticized you about, you know, the bathing suit that you chose to wear to the beach party or whatever. Maybe you should bring that up now to try to create a scene. But the best, the best stuff, the best scenes are the ones that just sort of happen on their own. And I think and you know, that's the big contrast is sometimes you don't get anything sometimes you get amazing stuff and you sort of run with it. And those are the moments where, you know, the crew goes into overtime and you're working all night because this great scene is happening and you just can't let it stop. I've also worked on shows Like floors, lava, a game show, which is again, much more produced and organized. You don't know when someone's going to fall into the lava, you don't know what they're going to say. You're still trying to cast interesting characters that will say funny things, but it is a lot more structured than a docu-series.


So, I mean, that is super interesting, like the difference between a game show versus big personalities, a reality television show, there's just some flexibility in those motifs that just depend on the concept.


Yeah, and I think there always is this dial, especially in development, where you're talking about how much is this project character dependent? You know, I have to find this amazing, you know, cast at the bed and breakfast in Cabo or whatever, this family run Bed and Breakfast, right? It all depends 100% on these characters, versus how much is format dependent. And you could say, oh, a show like chopped, for example. You know, we can have, we can do that show for years and years, because we can always slug in new, new chefs and new cooks to compete, the format is what keeps it going and keeps it dramatic.


I'm really curious to hear about the history of Haymaker West, and kind of, you know, your years in the business of building out a shop, you know, what, what factors? Are you all considering when creating a new show?


Yeah, so, you know, it started off, I worked for a long time, at that company, true entertainment that sold my first show, I had worked at other companies in between, but I was there for a while, selling a bunch of shows and thinking to myself, Man, I really want a bigger piece of this, you know, you see a show, you know, for example, like real housewives or something that goes on for years and years, and you're like, Oh, I help, you know, put that cast together. I'm not getting any money for that. You know, that's what sort of motivated me, I feel like I have an entrepreneurial sense. Like, I like sort of taking risks like that. And so I was looking for the right opportunity. And talking to a bunch of different companies about, you know, could I come in as a partner or something like that, what ended up happening is, I met a guy at Realscreen who also was thinking the same thing. We both had projects that were sort of on the cusp, at different networks. And we were able to hold on to those projects and launched Haymaker with two series on Bravo, one of them was southern charm, which is still going on to this day. Another one was a show called Secrets and wives, which initially was pitched as a Real Housewives of Long Island. So both of those were cast contingent projects, we had great tape, you know, we're able to start with some shows, which is really, really helpful. It's a lot harder to start with a company and just start pitching because the timeline for a show between when you start pitching it, and when you get your first check, could be six months could be a year, you know, you're pitching, you're doing a deal with the network, you're doing all these deals with the cast before the cameras start rolling, it could be a long time. So we were able to launch with two shows. And that gave us a big advantage. And then in terms of projects, you know, I've always been drawn towards the more formatted, structured sorts of shows. I'm just like, that's the way my mind works. I really like figuring out a game. I love game shows. But having come from years and years of working at true entertainment, and being focused on Docu series, that was sort of my bread and butter, and that was what the network's knew me for. So for a long time. You know, for the first six years of Haymaker, we had a bunch of docuseries, but we're piloting and trying to break into more formatted shows. And there were a couple of us who had a hair cutting competition, and that we did a big pilot for there were a few sort of stepping stones. But it wasn't until floors lava that I really broke into the kind of shows that I had been aspiring to do for a long time. And that was really exciting.


So a show like Southern Charm, which is still on like, can you describe the lifecycle from dreaming up pitching, selling, launching a production? Like are you still involved in that in any capacity or like does it kind of take a life of its own and get passed on to other entities?


Well, I'm personally not involved in it as of the last couple of years, my partner and I split up so there's a Haymaker East and a Haymaker West, he's overseeing Haymaker East, but the way it came up in the beginning, that show was actually pitched to us. You know, pitch to my partner by Whitney, one of the cast members who brought a tape, the tape, you know, needed some work, we went down and shot more, found some more characters, and by the time Haymaker got started, Bravo was already interested in it. And so from that point on, it's about, okay, now you've got a cast, you've got a network that's going to give you a swing, you've got to get these great stories to sort of deliver on the promise of it. And again, you know, it's those moments I was actually down there when this incredible storyline of season one happened, which was one of our cast members, Katherine, you know, reveal To another cast member that, you know, her period was late, she was worried she was pregnant. And this was probably like 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock at night, on a long shoot day. And all of a sudden, we realized that we've got to follow this story. So now we're following them to go get a pregnancy test that comes back inconclusive for various reasons, the home test, they are trying to figure out where they can go to get a test at a hospital. And so you know, these producers, the field producers, were calling all these local hospitals to see where we could go in and film the next morning managed to find one, my job at that moment as a producer was to just say, like, No, we gotta do it, we are going to do this, we're gonna stay up and make sure that we can find it. And we managed to find a place and be able to film this incredible storyline that then sort of ripples throughout the season. The other great thing about Docu series is, if you can get that one big event, that one big fight or revelation, or you find out someone's cheating, that one story can carry you for a whole season, or maybe even more, because now every character comments on it, every character dissects it, it ripples through people react, and then somebody else reacts to their reaction. And, you know, you could just have a really great season based on that.


I feel like you've learned a lot about humanity producing these types of shows.


It's amazing, it's amazing. And you know, when the other thing that is so cool about these reality shows is people sign up, because they want something that you can't, you know, a lot of a lot of the people that we work with are rich, they could get a lot, but they can't get fame, you know, they can't be on TV, they can't have, you know, the million Twitter followers or whatever, without a TV show, they're excited about it, and they want to get out there. But there always comes a time during the production, where all of a sudden, they're worried, am I revealing too much am I being too honest. And the incredible thing about reality TV and in documentary is that once the cameras are on you for a while, you can't help but reveal your true self. It just happens. And everybody in you know, even in regular life, you want to control how you look, you want to control how you come off, you know, the things you say, but when you're on camera for eight weeks straight, you know, hit hours a day, whatever it is, your true self just comes out. And for better or for worse, it's sort of out of your control. And it's an amazing thing. And so yeah, as a producer, you really get to know people. And in those meetings where you're trying to map out a season, or what's what might happen, you know, nine times out of 10 producers can really understand the characters, you know, as well as or better than they understand themselves. And you can get a sense of oh, what are they? What's going to happen? Where is their life heading? It's kind of crazy.


I mean, man, I mean, has anybody pitch turning the cameras on to the producers? I mean, like, What a fascinating, like, the whole, the whole ecosystem, and the whole way that the cast feeds off the producers and the producers feed off of the cast, that for these types of shows, it's gotta be like, a really interesting dynamic to navigate in the filming of the season. Yeah.


And you have, you know, obviously, we have rules about you, and you're not supposed to consort with the cast and things like that. But that happens all the time. Because it is, you know, it's hard work, you're out, it's long hours, the cast is drinking for the crew, you know, goes off for drinks afterwards. It's like going into combat in some ways. It's just like long hours, exhausting work, a lot of drama, and you do form bonds with people. And so it's not uncommon for producers to, you know, end up in relationships with the cast.


I mean, you've kind of spoken to this a little bit. But can you discuss your approach over the years to casting and finding the right personalities for your reality shows? Like, what qualities do you look for in potential cast members,


it's something that's really evolved. I like to get along with people. And I find people interesting. And I like to talk to all different kinds of people. And what you realize over the years is, if someone is entertaining, or good enough for a conversation, that's not good enough for TV, they have to really pop. And one of the great things about how technology has evolved is, you know, we do a lot of zoom interviews for casting. And in the early days, I would think, Oh, well, but you know, zoom. It's, it's like not, it's a little bit impersonal. You know, maybe they're nervous. But what you realize is that the characters that are really great, they're good in every situation. They're funny, they've got the one liners, they'll say something outrageous and surprising. They'll come in with a cast, and you'll watch it and I can tell right away, this is not good enough for TV, right? It feels like maybe it would be fun. If you were in that nail salon and you're a customer, you're like, Wow, this is a really fun nail salon. But the bar has to be very, very high to compete against all of the biggest personalities that are giant stars on TV. So that's just something that you have to set your bar really high?


That's cool man, can you share some highlights from your portfolio of reality TV shows at Haymaker West? And what makes them stand out to you?


Sure. I mean, are you thinking about specific characters or, because the other great thing about reality TV is you do meet these sort of amazing people that you would never interact with, under normal circumstances and go and spend a bunch of time with them. And that could be you know, celebrities, or, you know, I worked on a project in the bayou in Louisiana, and just met these incredible characters. This was a project that I did for True Entertainment, actually, but you know, hanging out with these guys in the bayou, I was going to do some casting. And the character, the guys were this guy named Damon, he owned a bar that you could only get to by boat. And his best friend, Bud Light, who was the sky who he had tattooed on his arm, the logo for Bud Light, so that he could order a drink if he was too drunk to talk. And when I went with them I went out to meet these guys. You know, I grew up in LA in the valley, not my world. I got to meet them. The first thing is, you know, meeting them, getting on a boat and going to this bar, which was closed at the time that they opened it up for me, and Damon had cooked up this big pot of what is it called? It's not gumbo, it's, it's, it's jumbo Leia, something like that. I will come to me. Anyway, this giant pot is just full of shrimp and all that stuff. So we're eating. It's like the best food ever. You know, they're cracking open beers. He's just showing me around, the guy had a ton of guns. And he's like, Oh, you want to shoot this gun. And I said, Sure. And he takes me out onto the back porch. And he goes, he's like, you could shoot it just out in there. This is just a swamp , there's nothing out there. He likes it, but doesn't aim too high. Because there's a bald eagle's nest in the tree here. And you know, they're protected. And so anyway, shoot this ar 15 Just out into the bayou. Super fun later on, where, you know, he takes me to a bar. And we're drinking things called red hots, or whatever, you know, those sorts of shots. And I'm like, Damon, you know, I got it, I have to drive back into Baton Rouge or wherever I was staying. You know, I can't have any more of these. And he's like, Don't worry, See that guy over there. And this guy likes waves at him. He's like, That's the sheriff. So it was just like, you know, a small example of characters that are just so fun and crazy and weird and, and separate from my world that I would never have met. You know, I'm friends with a stuntman who let me try out a bunch of crazy stunts. I got to drive a monster truck with the others on that show, Help Wanted. Even just like on floors, lava, the crew that comes together to build the set and build all the props. These guys, there's a company called a rep here in LA, they do a bunch of different shows we've done a wipe out and things like that. And the people that they have there, first of all, show up at a location to build a woodshop and a welding shop and painting and all this kind of stuff just sort of pops up almost like a circus operation or something. But just like the coolest, most interesting, weird, weird and talented people that I never, you'd never meet if you didn't work on these kinds of shows.


That's amazing, man. That's so incredible. You know, shifting a little bit back to the production operation, the tactics behind making good reality television. I'm curious, how do you think technology and the digital age have impacted reality television? How have you adapted to these changes? What do you think that the future looks like for reality producers?


The coolest thing is that you know, we've gone from shows that you used to say oh, that looks like reality TV. Well now reality TV shows look like feature films. You know, everything is shot in 4k and these beautiful cameras we can shoot in low light lighting has evolved like crazy in this you know, the 20 years that I've been doing this you used to roll in with all you probably experienced this too used to roll in with just like tons of lights and keynotes and all this kind of stuff


lights, really hot light, hot lights.


And now you've got these cameras that are compact, can basically shoot in candlelight, and it looks perfect. And LED lighting your footprint is much smaller. You know, we used to shoot scenes in a restaurant and you'd have to roll in, you know, two hours before to pre light it. And you've got these big lights and any other guests in the restaurant are sort of disturbed by the fact that they're shooting happening. Now you can shoot a scene in a restaurant. And it's literally just like two camera guys sitting on apple boxes, filming a scene and everybody else is sort of in the back and it doesn't perturb the sort of natural environment. So from a documentary perspective, that technology has really helped and then in that production You know, production value level, you know, everyone's using drone shots, ever, the graphics have really improved, the color correction has really improved. And so you have shows that I do think, you know, can go head to head with features in terms of just the way they look and the production value.


Fascinating. You know, you've been in the business for quite a while, I think you described starting at oxygen and around the same time that social media was like a rocket ship. Like, I'm really curious what the relationship between social media and reality television is audience interaction and how that shapes the outcome or the impact of a season. Like how have you all navigated that in the shows that you've worked on?


Yeah. And when I, when I was starting at oxygen, it was like, Friendster was like, the social media. But it Yeah, that's totally changed, too. Because one of the things is that the reality casts are, you know, influencers and celebrities in their own right now. And they have this direct relation, relationship, and connection with their audience with their fans and their detractors. And the other thing is that you'll see storylines developing in social media, during production, but also outside of production. And that does make it more challenging to track a story because you might shoot for two months, the cast sort of goes out and is living their life, and something dramatic and big will happen. You know, the question is, do you go back into production and try to pick it up. But that just happened with Vanderpump Rules, you know, they had a big scandal with the cheating scandal, they started production up again, you cannot, you can't always do that. And now you've got to try to pick up these stories that maybe have already, you know, had a beginning, middle and end while you weren't shooting, you still have to address them, because everybody knows about it. The other thing is that social media really reveals the delay between filming and putting out a show, right, you'll shoot a show for a couple of months, then you might edit it for five months or something like that for months before it's going to be premiered. Well, the cast has been posting on their social media from the shoots after the shoots in between. So the fans already have an idea of, you know, what, what might have been happening, they're interacting with the cast. And so that delay becomes an issue. You're trying to tamp down on the cast sort of spoiling what's going to be in the show.


It is interesting that there's such rich storytelling in these types of shows, like Vanderpump Rules, or housewives or whatever, right? And like how a production needs to organize and operate around the lives of these live actors like these live characters. It's really fascinating. Have you ever seen the documentary We Live in Public? Yeah, I did. Yeah. Like what you're describing really reminds me of that, like, if anybody's listening and hasn't seen that documentary, it's like, I highly recommend it. It's about an internet entrepreneur, named Josh Harris, who back I think, in the early, late 1990s, built a house with like live streaming cameras, and it just followed people all of the time. And it was really like a visionary thought about the future of entertainment and of content. It's a fascinating thing.


I actually have a weird connection to that world like world and the tech world in New York was very incestuous at the time, or you know, it was small, and there were parties and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, that founder had a company called pseudo And they were going to take over all of television, their idea was like, we don't need television anymore. We are going to be a network, an internet based network, you know, real players had come out. And they're like, we're just going to create shows and stream shows, and basically take over media. And his girlfriend who appeared you know, who was in the movie, was the producer of a show at sudo called Cherry Bomb, I believe, but I had run into her at like one of parties, mine and I and she was like, you know, we're doing an episode on drag queens and drag kings. Do you guys want to go through this experience? And somehow we got looped into this thing where I went to a drag queen workshop. At first she, Tanya, took me – Tanya was the woman's name, the producer – took me to this waxing place, and I had my eyebrows waxed very thin, I shaved. And then I went to this drag queen workshop, where, you know, this trainer outfitted me in this whole thing. And my wife went through an experience where she had like, my now wife at the time girlfriend, she had stubble put on her face and like, learned to talk with a deeper voice and was doing the sort of drag king thing. And that was a you know, that was one of the pseudo shows, and that was actually filmed. The DP was this woman named Ondi Timoner who is a big shot documentary director now, but it was a very small world is what I'm trying to say.


You know, that's fascinating. Maybe to wrap this up. I mean, I can talk with you for hours. But do you watch any reality TV shows? What are your favorite reality TV shows outside of the ones you've worked on? It's sort


of hard for me because you know how the sausage is made. And you're like, Oh, I see they made that cut, or, Oh, not that Franken bite or whatever. But, you know, I do like game shows. I do like the sort of like just silly physical challenge game shows like Floor Is Lava like I'm a, I'm a fan of Holy Moley. Great show. I like the shows that sort of, I'm gonna say this sort of the boundary between reality TV and scripted kind of shows. So there have been a few of those over the years. And think, was


Nathan Fielder's newest show on HBO?


That was great. That was great. I mean, the thing about that, and, you know, maybe, you know, maybe, you know, in the comments, people will disagree with me, but that thing felt to me to be very, very scripted and produced after the first two episodes or so, which was fine, but it was hilarious. It was really great. And I really appreciated how he played with the tropes of reality TV, in cool ways. I was gonna mention a show that's, you know, like 100 years old, but did you ever watch Joe Schmo think he was called Joe Schmo


in the recesses, somewhere in the fold in my brain, I recognize the title, but I don't remember the concept,


I might be getting this totally wrong, I should probably Google it. I believe the show is called Joe Schmo. And it was this sort of breakdown of a reality TV show where one guy was a real, you know, civilian, let's put it everybody else on the show all the rest of the cast. were in on it. And we're actors. And it was sort of like a big brother, he kind of, you know, format. But the really interesting thing about it is it did what you had mentioned before, it included the producers in the control room, tried to figure out how to keep the sky from suspecting what was going on, and also making the show fun. And it really broke that wall and in a really amazing way. And I remember watching that and thinking this is sort of the Being John Malkovich of reality TV, or something, we really broke down the formula in a way that Nathan fielder is doing now.


That's fantastic. Yeah, I mean, I've always loved his work, because it really uses the camera crew, and the social pressure and the desire to be on television to get these really interesting outcomes in front of people and with people. So it makes a lot of sense. What did you think? Did


you think it was real?


You know, I think what's interesting about Nathan Fielder, as I understand it, is that he loves magic, like a magician. And I think what's interesting about magic, and for people who know what it takes to make a trick work, is you can sometimes get a big reaction by hiding a small detail, or you can literally miss the concept of misdirection, right is that humans are like really, really good at detecting a lie. But if you use like, a couple of truths, to cover up a big lie, people's brains just don't really have the capacity to track that. And I think in Nathan's shows, he does that a lot. He uses things that the audience isn't seeing or that the cast members aren't seeing to get these really interesting sort of misdirected outcomes to occur, which then in post production he can use to make really, really compelling payoffs. And then I think he really is using kind of, like, classic mechanics of comedy with setups and punchlines, but then also really, really thoughtful, deceptive practices to get really amazing television out. And it's really, really smart, and extremely compelling to watch.


Yeah, I think you're right. And I think a lot. I think I noticed moments like that, where he completely reframes in post, what he actually shot on the scene, like, who knows what he told the subject when they're running through something? Well, now later, he reframes that for the TV audience. Yeah, just remind me.


You know, the Coen Brothers movie Fargo, it's like the title shot is like, everything is based on a true story, right, which is just total nonsense. That's not true at all. But it makes the movie more compelling. And I think that Nathan's both lying to his subjects when he's filming. And he's lying to us as his audience members as well. And I think he switches that at certain times to create just really entertaining content. And it's some of the best stuff. I think, on TV. I think it's, it's what we're talking about in most of this episode, right? Like, how do you produce something good and interesting? So that's awesome, man. You know, are there any reality TV show formats or genres that you haven't worked on yet, but you really want to explore in the future.


I mean, what we've been playing with a lot recently, is bringing you know even more of the visual effects technology into reality TV. I have two projects right now in India. I'm in a different network that is using deep fakes in sort of really cool ways, real time deep fakes. So that was a technology that you couldn't do a year ago, I have a project that's using mid journey and sort of these image generation tools to create some very cool visuals. And we also recently shot last year, a pilot for a project that uses the big Mandalorian production volumes. And so I just love the idea of pushing this kind of visual effects technology to bring genre programming to reality TV, you know, the biggest movies, video games, basically every media except reality TV, the biggest ones are sci fi and fantasy. You've got Lord of the Rings, you've got Marvel, you've got the Star Wars universe. And we haven't seen those kinds of genres in reality TV, and I really want to bring that to that one of the inspirations for lava was, you know, Can we let players and contestants live in an Indiana Jones style world? And I think it worked. And I think it clicks with kids. And, you know, that's the goal for the future. Can we bring this sort of genre programming to reality TV?


I love it. I guess one last question, or to wrap us up is just like our audience, our producers across the gamut of live events, concerts, commercials, all kinds of formats. I'm curious as folks kind of want to explore, you know, dipping their toes into the water of production for reality, like, any places you want to direct people if they're interested in breaking into the format.


Yeah, I mean, I take pitches from all kinds of people, like I said, other production companies, just experienced producers, or people that just have a really great idea. I would say probably half the projects that we've worked on in the last couple of years, have come or ended up with some outside producer participation. So I'm really open to that. And I think a lot of reality TV producers are but yeah, if people want to go to the Haymaker West website, there's a contact link, feel free to send us ideas. You know, be aware that in the zeitgeist, sometimes people have similar ideas around the same time, that actually happens to me all the time. And we will let you know, immediately if that's the case. But I think a lot of production companies are open to that. And you know, the Realscreen is a conference where you can attend and meet with executives. The other thing I would say is, keep coming up with ideas. If you have one good idea. That's great. It's much better to have, you know, five ideas. Don't get sort of locked into one idea. And then find out that oh, you know, NBC is developing that right now. Already. Always good to have a lot of things brewing


here at AOL, thank you so much for being on On Production. I really appreciate it.


Thank you for having me. It's been great.

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