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Presentation about Reality Television

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Scott CarnegiePresentation about Reality Television
by on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:22:28 pm

I am trying to do more public speaking as part of my marketing, getting my name out there. Here is a presentation I did for an event called SkeptiCamp about "reality" television.


Media Production Services
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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Mark RaudonisRe: Presentation about Reality Television
by on Feb 9, 2011 at 4:45:46 am


If you think this presentation is going to help your career you've made a major miscalculation.

First, I doubt any producer would want to hire someone who makes a point of trashing the
genre as "fake" and "manipulative". Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Second, while I'm sure you'll claim "fair use" for the clips shown in the presentation, I'll bet lawyers from the studios who financed those shows have a different opinion of your use.

Third, you cite "coming up" promo editing as evidence of "viewer manipulation". Really? Please give the audience credit for knowing the difference.

Finally, while there certainly are some shows guilty employing the kinds of tricks you "reveal", please don't paint every show with the same brush. It's a cheap shot to conclude, ":When you watch TV, remember it's all fake... They're trying to manipulate you". There is a difference between real emotion captured on camera, and "acting". I'd suggest that the audience DOES know the difference.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Presentation about Reality Television
by on Feb 9, 2011 at 5:56:23 pm

You're less jaundiced-looking in person than your avatar, must be a white-balance thing.:-)

I think if I was going to make a presentation on this topic, I'd want to create my own original content, not just for the legalistic reasons Raudonis mentions, but because that would make it even easier to illustrate the various techniques. Maybe an "episode" of "Life at Scott's House" featuring a family thanksgiving. You can show it done two ways: one relatively straight-ahead, and one version showing all the creative and dramatic tricks applied for maximum "drama". This of course would take a significant amount of time and effort and expense to put together. OTOH, you'd fully own it, and thus would have better chances to eventually leverage the content into something to charge money for. The way I'd do this presentation is to make the audience part of the show, tell them they are the producers, introduce the characters and the basic plot of the show and the list of things it has to address, and they have to plan out an episode from start to finish, then walk them thru what they have to do to make this happen, with you asking them questions. This method is also more engaging than a straight lecture. I think the lessons would "stick" way better.

As far as the presentation content, you left some stuff out. I'd point out that producers have to do a lot of advance work for any locations the show goes to, nothing in reality programming is particulalrly spontaneous. When the kids from MTV Real World want to "spontaneously" go out to a bar, a producer has to call ahead and clear it with a bar owner, security has to be arranged, cops notified, staging for vehicle parking for cast and crew need to be arranged, someone has to go get releases signed, legal notice signage may have to be put up at the door to warn patrons that taping is going on, the venue often has to get pre-lit or at least augmented lighting, to support the cameras, sound may need to get there ahead and plant some mics, the camera crews have to get in ahead of the actors to catch the entrance, etc.

Producers are also de facto writers for the show. This is a huge bone of contention with the Writer's Guild, because these producers are not being credited or paid as if they are writers, but they are doing the same kind of work, on the fly. They may not have every word scripted exactly, but they DO contrive narrative arcs, general directions for actions, specific bullet point ideas for each character to put forth, even specific phrases and sentences. Or when they do interviews of characters that inter-cut with the action, what you see is seemingly the character telling the narrative all in one piece, but this is not the case. A raw tape will show you that a producer is walking the character thru a designed narrative, one question and one quote at a time, and an editor is stitching these together to make them coherent. The guys on American Chopper for example, are not actually all that articulate, I know that's a shock to say. The interviewer takes what they think and say, mirrors it back to them in better, more succinct format, as lines that they then perform for the camera. If you ever see "Cake Boss" it is painfully obvious that the guy is answering a sequence of questions and is not telling his own story. This kind of thing is as close to writing scripted dialog as you can get without getting paid to be a script writer. It's not really different from a gag writer feeding a stand-up comedian. And the entire genre boils down to that thing: That doing it this way is cheaper than using paid screenwriters' dialog, delivered by trained actors.

Your crossed-camera diagram is correct as far as it goes, Scott. But there are times in reality shooting where logistically it has to come down to just one camera double-covering, even triple-covering a scene, and this is IMO the better situation to dissect with an audience to reveal how editing technique pulls disparate elements together to make them seem like they were contiguous and linear happenings. I think the clips from actual shows, while illustrative, also slow down your presentation too much and create cognitive distractions. You're moving on after the example, while the audience is still thinking about the show. Using your own home-made examples I think would make the presentation flow better and faster.

As far as the powerpoint, frankly, I don't think you need it. I think I would do the whole presentaton as a DVD and just play chapter by chapter as needed. Leaving the bullets up for long periods is distracting and doesn't add anything, and it cramps your style by forcing you into powerpoint's format, instead of letting you talk off the top of your head more. PPT is the yoke of the oppressor, man.

Did you kill your career by telling tales out of school? I doubt it. There's no Magician's Code AFAIK regarding how these things are made. Did it insult a particular show enough that they won't hire you now? Unlikely, but then again, how likely was it you'd have tried out for a job there? My impression of the people that work behind the scenes in that genre is that they are primarily results-oriented: reliably deliver what's needed, on time, efficiently and inexpensively as possible, and relatively little else matters.

As a follow-on to this presentation, maybe you should do one on local TV newsgathering. Easy to illustrate, very telling in how poorly most of the work serves the audience and can be warped to serve a set agenda.

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Scott CarnegieRe: Presentation about Reality Television
by on Feb 9, 2011 at 6:25:06 pm

Thanks for the comments, some good ideas I could use for a future presentation. I was supposed to keep the presentation to below 20 minutes so I tried to cram in a lot to a lay audience to just give the gist of how tv works.

The use of clips fall withing fair dealing (Canadian copyright) as a means of commentary and critique.

Media Production Services
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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Scott CarnegieRe: Presentation about Reality Television
by on Feb 9, 2011 at 6:19:35 pm

"First, I doubt any producer would want to hire someone who makes a point of trashing the
genre as "fake" and "manipulative". Don't bite the hand that feeds you."

Keep in mind the audience that this was intended for. It was a presentation for a Skeptics group that I am a part of. I wasn't doing it to get hired to make videos, perhaps I wasn't clear enough in stating that and wrong to say that it was for marketing purposes.

And yes, TV is fake. :) That is not to say that some emotion is fake, but editing distorts reality, which is the point I was making.

Media Production Services
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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Mike CohenRe: Presentation about Reality Television
by on Feb 11, 2011 at 6:45:22 pm

I actually laugh at most reality shows - they have become so formulaic that they are no longer entertaining. Whether you watch a competition show or a "real world" style fake documentary style show, they all create false drama to make viewers interested in what could actually be pretty boring material if viewed in either real time or linear progression.

We are currently enjoying Faceoff - a reality competition show about makeup effects artists. Last Fall we enjoyed the Food Truck Road Race. I used to be a fan of Hell's Kitchen. They are all basically the same show. Pick a dozen contestants with conflicting personalities with at least one slacker who will cause trouble for everyone. Get an alcoholic or drug addict and at least two people with hookup potential, and you are in business.

The best example of "manipulation" on any of these shows is when they say "and the person going home this week is"...followed by 30 seconds of dramatic "who wants to be a millionaire" music and 60 minutes closeups of each contestant, then cut to commercial, then come back and rewind 40 seconds to draw it out even further. The whole 2 minutes probably took 10 seconds in reality. So in other words, the "reality" depicted in "reality shows" is the opposite of reality. It should be called "tvality."

When I record such a program to watch on my own (ie, not over dinner with my gal) I tend to watch in fast forward. A Kitchen Nightmares episode only has a handful of actual interesting things to watch in real time:

Intro - we learn about the place and the owner's delusions of grandeur and gambling debts

Gordon shows up, meets the quirky front end staff, finds mold food in the walk-in and barfs after sampling the menu

Fast forward about 15 minutes until the owner has a meltdown, the head chef quits and the sous chef takes over

Fast forward to the 40 minute mark - Gordon shows the staff how to make some simple fresh new menu items, including a signature dish. They go out on the street and hand out samples.

Then the next morning the staff is surprised to find the front of house renovated. Gone are the giant plates and the dusty knick knacks, replaced by stylish linens and lots of pleather. How could the staff be surprised? Do they not have television in this town?

Finally you forward to the last minute. We know the restaurant will be back on its feet for a while - hugs and kisses all around. But the proof in the pudding comes with the wrap-up - did the restaurant survive or did guys with baseball bats come looking for their money? That's a reality show I'd like to see, "Gordon Ramsey - Repo Man."

The tv clips you used may be fair use for a lecture in an adult ed class or college class or private club, but you have now published this on Google forever. Oh well, there is so much of this going on that it is probably not a big deal, but as others have said, best to put your best foot forward every time you take a step. Well no one said it like that.

Interesting points overall and an interesting thread. You know, I sure do say "interesting" a lot. Stay tuned for "Mike Cohen: Interesting Adventures."

Mike Cohen

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