UnREAL: Episode 9

I’ve been growing tired of only hearing my voice here, so I’m changing things up a bit today by inviting my good friend, and former Reality cohort Paola Limon (also a big fan of UnREAL) in to discuss her experiences in the industry she fled and her feeling about UnREAL.

Ordinarily (say if this was a show I was editing) I would do a bit of setup convo, but in an effort to keep this a reasonable length, I will just dive right in.  Whenever content is in [square brackets] it means that I am inserting information.

Tracey Izatt
I met someone who worked on The Bachelor for years.

Paola Limon
Do they know that writer [referring to the show creator]?

Tracey Izatt
They didn’t overlap.  The producer was rolling their eyes at the creator’s claim about signing a 7 year exclusive contract (s/he says no such thing exists).  S/he that you have to work really hard to get onto The Bachelor.  They [The Bachelor production company Next Entertainment – run by Mike Fleiss] start them on Highschool Reunion and, if you work really hard on that, they move you up after a few years.  So basically you need to really, really want to be on The Bachelor to get there.   Also, intriguingly, the UnREAL characters are apparently based on the real-life people on the show.

Paola Limon
I can see why she’s justifying it.

Tracey Izatt
Well, let’s start with that.  why do you think someone would want to justify being on a show like The Bachelor/Everlasting?

Paola Limon
I think that if the writer wants to make a career writing for scripted TV, she may be somewhat ashamed to admit that she actually enjoyed and/or really worked hard to get to work on a show like Everlasting, or The Bachelor.  Unfortunately people working in scripted TV, writers and producers, tend to look down to reality TV people, even though it takes a lot of hard work and intellect to make it happen.  Even if the results are sometimes silly or dumb.

Tracey Izatt
Silly or dumb is our forte!

Paola Limon
Ha! Well, there are dumb scripted TV shows too.

Tracey Izatt
Right??   It seems so unfair that we are shat on but Two and a Half Men is prestige television. (Okay, maybe it isn’t prestige television – but still, there’s no question about those writers being in the Guild). [The WGA has only recently started organizing writers in Reality]

Paola Limon
Well, the writers and producers there will get more respect than we would any time.

Tracey Izatt
Why did you decide to leave Reality TV and move into narrative?

Paola Limon
Because that was always my plan and I realized that it was now or never. I’m almost 30 and I just got engaged, and if I wait longer, next thing you know I’ll have a baby and it will never happen. I also didn’t really feel proud of the work I made most of the time.  Partly because it was hard to care enough to do unpaid overtime to make sense of random footage shot with no story in mind, on a renovation show with Amish people.

Tracey Izatt
Ha-ha.  Just to clarify, you were in Post on those shows [i.e. Post operated independently from the Field]

Paola Limon
There was no planning [in the Field] and I was in charge of making sense of a show with no budget, and not even a “thank you.”  There were fun times though.

Tracey Izatt
What were the fun times?

Paola Limon
I will always remember the moment when my girl in What Not To Wear saw herself with her new haircut and cried.  I cried a little too.  And it really changed her life.  I actually just found out through Facebook that she got engaged, and actually has a career now. She looks so happy.  I was in the field there.  And maybe that was the problem.  In Post, you can make someone look like an idiot if you want to, and I always hated that.

Tracey Izatt
Talk to me about Post.  It kind of sucks IMO.  Regardless of whether the footage sucks or not (spoiler alert: it usually does), you are held accountable to make it all make sense.

Paola Limon
Yes, as a Story Producer [AKA Post Producer], you have all the responsibilities of your episode, and what works and what doesn’t work is always your fault.  No one asks the Field for answers and the schedules just keep shrinking.

Tracey Izatt
Yeah.  The solution would be to have people take an episode through Post – like directors did on What Not To Wear.  But the schedules make that impossible most of the time – so there’s no ownership in the Field (even when I’m there, sad to say).

Paola Limon
I once worked on a show where we had to deliver 24 episodes (12 in English and 12 copies in Spanish), and I was the only Story Producer / VO writer for 3 editors.  Also, the only person (aside from the editors) who spoke Spanish, so I even supervised sound mixes.  All while making 300 dollars less than my normal rate.  And of course, if something went wrong, the fingers would quickly point at me.

And yes to your idea of ownership, that would help [and is the model for excellent shows like Parts Unknown on which directors shoot the show and they move into Post].  And one producer per episode per editor would help too.

Tracey Izatt
How would you say your experiences in reality compare to that on UnREAL?  Is it realistic to you?

Paola Limon
Hmm, well they’re a little different because Field is different than Post.  I only did a few jobs in the Field, and I didn’t have that much interaction with the cast – which in a way I’m happy for.  I didn’t have to do that much manipulating people in person.  What I did do though, was manipulate the footage to make someone say whatever I want for the story, which is easier to do when you don’t know them personally, because they’re just characters.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s part of the job, to tell the best story even when the cast won’t give it to you.

Many times I’ve worked on shows where the cast was not giving us what we needed, and so we used an old scene from a previous season and recut it to fit our current story.  I also have suggested ideas or thoughts to people, and then made them say it to camera as if it was their own idea – which they actually believed.  [It is stunning how often cast members believe the version of Reality that Post serves up.]

So there is a lot of manipulation in both the Field and post.  Although I do think they are exaggerating a bit much.  It’s very very melodramatic!  I know it’s Lifetime, but seriously, it reminds me of the Mexican telenovelas I grew up watching – which would make me roll my eyes even at the age of 12. That said, I’m still a bit hooked on the show haha.

Tracey Izatt
What are you enjoying about it?

Paola Limon
Well, the drama is addictive. Its different than the shows I’ve worked on so it’s interesting to see – even the unrealistic version of it.  And of course, the underdog story is always appealing, especially with someone who does a similar job than the one I did.  For example (spoiler alert), in a recent episode, the “Bachelor” tells the diamond in the rough Field Producer that he quite fancies her, that she deserves the whole world and he wants to give it to her.  This made me do the biggest eye roll I have ever done! I almost threw up, and yet, the little girl in me who grew up watching Disney movies loved it!  And that’s what telenovelas do, they are modern fairytales of rags to riches stories, where prince charming rescues the poor cleaner girl.

It also pissed me off.  I have heard of stories of Producers hooking up with their cast.  But this was just ridiculous.

Tracey Izatt
You mentioned earlier that you thought it was like a telenovela – how so?

Paola Limon
OK, I put a list together. First, what I mentioned already, this story of the rich man who “falls in love” with the poor girl and wants to offer her the world (I know this is not just in telenovelas, but it’s just one example).

The insane amount of drama and darkness contained in one episode only in very telenovela-esque. There is no way that many shitty life-changing things happen in 4 days time, every time.

Love triangles everywhere!

Stylistically, I have always found funny when telenovelas use these intense close ups on the characters in very melodramatic moments, especially with women, and they slowly push in.  This show uses them all the time.

Another thing is, women in the show are extremely shady and manipulative.  I understand that it’s part of what you would find at a show like “The Bachelor” but this deceiving and scheming goes beyond the show, it happens on every story with every character.  Like Quinn and the therapist, and Chet.  It’s sickening actually.

Finally, there are some similarities in the treatment of women.  Not only the contestants on the show (which have the lowest status), but also Quinn and Rachel.  Even though they have a bit more power than some of their peers, they are still pretty low personally (and professionally too in the case of Quinn), and sex and using men is a way of getting what they want.

Tracey Izatt
In some ways though I find that the way women are depicted in the show is actually somewhat realistic.  Quinn and Rachel are the people who’re making things happen, but they are not really getting the credit that is a common situation in Reality.  That’s why there are so many women in Post. Women are very good at doing cleanup.  Or, rather, cleaning up other people (AKA Chet)’s messes.

Paola Limon
Yeah, I agree with that.

Paola Limon
Yes, its not easy to climb that world.

Tracey Izatt
Who do you relate to more: Quinn or Rachel?

Paola Limon
Well, if I have to pick one I would say Rachel.  Especially with the dreaming of getting out of the job.  I could see myself enjoying having all the power Quinn has, but I would like to think I would never do the shit she does.  But it’s a slippery slope.  I don’t want to go back and be an EP and have to make those decisions about real people’s lives.
(Sorry, I don’t mean to shit on what you do btw, because I have done it too – its just not my passion)

Tracey Izatt
Yes, please leave the shitting on what I do to the expert: me! I took that dumb Buzzfeed quizz and unsurprisingly I was Quinn.

However, I feel as though Quinn, in a way, represents the voice of Post.  Like her calling the cast meatpuppets, that seems like a Posty kind of sentiment.  The way she talks back to her footage, also seems like post.

Tracey Izatt
We can wrap this up in a second – but let’s talk a bit about rigging competition shows
according to unREAL, Everlasting is rigged.  This is something non-reality people seem to believe too, that competition shows are all rigged, but in my experience, and from what i’ve heard, rigging isn’t as common as people like to think.

Some shows are rigged, but a good deal aren’t.  From what I’ve heard The Bachelor is not rigged – at least not in the fashion that Everlasting would seem to be.

Paola Limon
I know that a competition show I did was not rigged for most of it, but at the end I heard the Network and production company weighed in who should win.  I didn’t hear what happened, but I wasn’t in the “in” circles to know really.

Tracey Izatt
I’m a purist.  I think they shouldn’t be rigged and we should simply make what we have work.

Paola Limon
Yeah, just hope that you have a great casting team! I would believe the network and producers have input on who stays longer in a show like that – after all you need good characters (like Quinn makes a point to say all the time).

Tracey Izatt
From what I understand The Bachelor is not rigged precisely because, after all, you kind of want a wedding at the end, and that’s a tough thing to achieve if you’re rigging shit.

I feel as though competition production is structured in such a way that – as you say – if the casting was good, you shouldn’t need to rig it to keep the viewers interest
besides, as we both know, Post often sees something in characters that we don’t in the Field.

Paola Limon
True.

Tracey Izatt
I usually despise – in person – the very people who make great TV.  So why make that call in the Field?

Paola Limon
I feel like again, with the right casting,you could find people who would get married just to be on TV and magazines.

Tracey Izatt
Yeah, there’s that!  So any other thoughts you’d care to share about unREAL?

Paola Limon
Well, that I don’t want to sound like I’m totally shitting on it. Or on Reality TV.  Despite me wanting to never go back, it has a very special place in my heart.  I learned everything I know about story there (and a lot from you Tracey), I got to be creative very quickly and I had a lot of fun.  Plus, there are a lot of brilliant people working in it, so I don’t want to sound like a snob

I also think the show is very interesting, despite its melodramatic nature and I’m hooked.  Its a guilty pleasure

Tracey Izatt
Great.  Thanks.  I know I said this would be a half hour thing and I went way over.

Paola Limon
No worries.  Thanks!

One thought on “UnREAL: Episode 9

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