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Project Runway' Execs: 8 Simple Rules of Reality TV Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz of the production company Magical Elves share what ten years in the biz has taught them
PROJECT RUNWAY ''Just when we think the designers are just going to sit around and sew,'' exec producers Cutforth and Lipsitz write, ''something will happen'' All About Reality TV Get the latest photos, news, and more 1. Making reality TV is like fishing.
We started saying this on Project Greenlight, when we shot 3,000 hours of footage to make 12 half-hour episodes. There is always a lot of waiting around with lines in the water, hoping for a bite, and just when it seems like nothing is happening...something always does. And that continues to this day. Just when we think the designers on Project Runway are just going to sit around and sew, something will happen — like Laura will accuse Jeffrey of cheating, and we're off to the races (if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor).
2. Not being in control is part of the fun.
That's the point of reality TV — you don't get to write scripts in advance, and you don't know what people are going to do. You just have to trust fate and casting. And you know as a producer that when you can't wait to see what happens next, the audience will probably feel the same way.
This complete lack of control was something we learned to embrace while working on Project Greenlight. Everyone always assumes that we as TV producers chose the director and writer who would make the best show. This was not the case. They were picked by Ben [Affleck], Matt [Damon], [movie producer] Chris [Moore], and whomever else you saw on the panel, and they really tried to select the team that would make the best film. We had no say in the matter, and were just sitting there watching, hoping that whoever they picked would be a compelling subject for the next nine months of shooting, with thousands of hours of footage devoted to everything they did from commanding a set on their first day to rinsing their armpits in the sink before a big meeting. That being said...
3. Sometimes you just get lucky.
On season 2 of Top Chef, one of our favorite candidates was not able to be on the show due to some issues with his background check. We wailed and raged and put in calls to the highest level of NBC Universal begging for the ban to be overturned. No luck. Instead we had to cast another chef. We were not sure he was compelling enough, but he got his shot. That chef's name? Marcel Vigneron.
4. If something big goes down, make sure the camera is on.
There is a little red light on the front of a camera, which is lit when the camera is on. It's worth checking on it if something big happens, because once in a while, in a moment of excitement, camera operators will hit their button twice and turn the camera off rather than on. This is how we missed most of a massive fistfight that had been building up for eight weeks on Bands on the Run, and how we missed the one time Efram and Kyle, the passive-aggressive directors on season 2 of Project Greenlight, got in a real confrontation with [Battle of Shaker Heights producer] Jeff Balis.
5. The call that comes at 4 a.m. is never a good one.
One of the great challenges of being a producer is figuring out how to respond decisively when woken from a deep sleep with a disturbing call. Our crews are never allowed to interfere with the cast or stop them doing something stupid or mean as long as it's legal. Hence the call at 4 a.m. in Cleveland while shooting Bands on the Run to find out if it's ethical to allow one of the bands to go home and leave the rhythm guitarist passed out in a pool of vomit on the sidewalk in sub-zero temperatures.
6. Reality TV was a lot of fun until the lawyers got involved.
Reality competitions are governed by the same very strict rules as all game shows. This is all the fault of Dan Enright (watch Quiz Show if you don't know what we're talking about). There are laws that say all challenges have to be scrupulously fair. In the old days this was not taken all that seriously, and we never ran challenges or scripts by the networks' legal departments — which was helpful as we were often still figuring out what we were going to do 10 minutes before the challenge was supposed to begin. We realized things had changed when we produced a pilot for a show called The Runner for ABC. We had four lawyers in a minivan following us around the country discussing the fine points of game-show law while leaving a trail of Doritos across the Southern states. Now every challenge is exhaustively scrutinized by lawyers, and a long list of rules has to be drawn up and read out to the cast. The days when you could make the cast do a relay race drinking pints of beer as a challenge are well and truly over.
7. Never read the message boards, and NEVER write a blog.
The message boards are so cruel. On Bands on the Run, they were so vicious to Beastie, the singer with Soulcracker, that we actually tried re-cutting the shows to see if we could make him more sympathetic, and to show more of his sense of humor. They just hated him more.
None of this prepared us for what happened when we accepted the offer to write a blog for the Last Comic Standing website. Our first posting was a chatty and informative behind-the-scenes view of what goes into the production of the show. The blog was set up so that whoever read it could post their own response to what we'd written. The wave of bile that crashed over us was so unexpectedly unpleasant that it actually became funny. People were brutal about everything from our casting choices to the photographs of us that were at the top of the column. ''I hope you get canceled...and CANCER!'' was a typical posting. We were called ''demonic greedy souls who engage in manipulation and deception''... ''guilty of crimes against humanity.'' Okay, we're not perfect, but it's not like we're George Bush either.
8. Seeing someone live their dream is not so bad.
There are moments that make everything worthwhile. The Bands on the Run bands rocking a packed House of Blues, the Greenlight team being greeted by crazed crowds at their movie premieres, the Last Comic finalists getting a standing ovation from several thousand fans at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, the U.S. Air Guitar Champion competing for the world title, the Top Chef finalists being complimented by some of the world's finest chefs on an amazing meal, or the Runway finalists showing their collections to a packed tent at Fashion Week. It's inspiring and exhilarating, and those are the moments that make it all worthwhile. That and the money and the trips to the Emmys to watch The Amazing Race win every year.
Kelly Sallaway,Producer for Kellan Media is tasked with the care and feeding of the Kellan Blog.