This one’s for the industry folks out there. (Are you out there?)
As you are aware, the Writer’s Guild East has been doing an excellent job of organizing Reality producers in New York. At this point they have landed, among others, Sharp Entertainment, Original Media, and most recently Leftfield Entertainment. Unionization is long overdue in this extremely abusive industry that has been taking advantage of the lack of any recourse for workers. (Producers, e.g., are routinely expected to put in up to 18 hour days, while accruing no corresponding overtime.)
However, what is often lost in the discussion about unionization (read: screaming matches and hysterical e-mails), is that collective bargaining would probably not even be necessary (or a painful adjustment for management) if Reality companies approached the production of their shows in a thoughtful and efficient manner.
If, for example, we went into the field with a clear idea of what we wish to return with, and actually actively directed in the field, all the while remaining flexible to, you know, reality as it develops, it might not be necessary for field crews to shoot for hours upon endless hours, hoping to catch a throw-down. Similarly, post producers wouldn’t have to be up until 2 a.m. wading through largely unusable footage in an attempt to make sense of its vast meaninglessness.
Instead, no one company seems to learn from mistakes made (or even successes achieved) in their own productions, let alone those of neighboring companies, choosing instead to approach each new show as if it were OMG.FIRST.TIME EVAH!! We don’t even have fixed job descriptions so, say, a Supervising Story Producer will have completely different job duties from one company to another. (Not that we’re ever given job descriptions which, I dunno, might help everyone understand what is expected of themselves and others – something pretty useful in the insane whirligig of fun that is Production.)
There is also no active effort to engage in thoughtful discussion about this almost 30-year-old industry amongst the people who actually produce it. As a result, there is a lot of fuck-uppery that could be easily avoided if we just sought to educate ourselves about what has worked before on similar programming, and what boondoggles might be avoided.
It is in response to this severe lack of self-reflection and developmental education within our industry (or even dialog outside of it, including in the mainstream media) that I started this blog, have a Reality production program in the works with a local college, and wrote a textbook about Reality production and its various genres this past summer. #needaliteraryagent
An industry-wide commitment to education would improve the way we function in our jobs now (which could only help to improve working conditions) and also train the next generation of producers. What a great thing, then, that the WGA seems to be committing to a program of education.
This Thursday, October 29, the Guild is hosting an event billed “Genre in Non-Fiction TV: Building a Career from Food to Murder,” with a view to educating producers about the ways they might advance their careers. (You’ve already read me carrying on about Reality genre in this blog, including here, here and here
.) The panel is impressive and includes my homegirl: Emmy Award winning Executive Producer, Sandy Zweig. I strongly recommend that we support this event, not only for the information we can derive from it, but also because we need to encourage as much discussion within the industry as possible.
Genre in Non-Fiction TV: Building a Career from Food to Murder
Thursday, October 29, 7:30pm
Writers Guild of America, East
250 Hudson Street, Suite 700, NYC