I think I’m one of the few veterans of reality TV who would say they were destined for it. Newcomers to the biz say it because they were raised with it, not so us oldies. We didn’t see it coming. Or did we?
I did a documentary in my 20s that was a reality TV precursor (though there was no such label to pull from). I filmed my girlfriends (and I) on a road-trip looking to find a soul mate (one per girl, not one for all of us :-). I thought I was clever, looking for answers to a difficult question, interviewing experts and lovers along the way: “why is it so hard to find a soul mate folks? Does he exist? And where’s mine?” But better than that, I filmed my girls: partying, talking to dudes, mixing in the singles scene, being flawed and being magnificent, getting along and breaking down. Critics (or ubiquitous creepers, as I like to call them) thought I was looking to write off a month of partying with best friends. Truthfully, it was a bit of both.
At the time, I was a journalist, but I was constantly pushed into the fluff: “come be our lifestyle reporter” … “screw city hall, you’d make a great entertainment host.” Ah, why fight it. So I indulged this and the ‘soul mate quest’ doc was the capper. Three years and many serendipitous twists and turns later, I found myself in LA courted as a producer for reality shows. Try as I did, serious journalism was not in the cards. Now I’m a veteran, in the trenches as an established director/ producer in what is embarrassingly known as “trash TV” and it all seems to make sense why I’m here.
…Because it’s fascinating. It’s human nature in the raw. And I love crazy-people-stuff. Aside from becoming a psychologist (PhD? nahhhh), what better way to make a study of human interaction at its most basic, than reality TV. Reality cast are often stripped of their comforts (home, friends, family) and placed with a group of strangers, usually opposites in tastes/passions, and larger than life, unafraid to speak their unfiltered thoughts. This tests them to the core. We all want to be loved, but how far will we go? Is one million dollars more important than your integrity? Is speaking your truth, being understood, more important than getting along and being accepted into the pack? As a peer once said: “it’s reminiscent of the courts of Europe… the plotting, the drama, the alliances, narcissism, inflated egos…” oh, so juicy, oh so real and oh so human.
It’s also highly unpredictable. I’m never bored. In 14 seasons of the same show, and with a new cast every season, there are infinite scenarios/story-lines that can play out. Truth is stranger than fiction and who the hell knows what these 6/10/15 people are going to do with each other. It’s always new.
Ultimately, I do this because it challenges me. A director makes a thousand decisions a day, and when I’m not making creative decisions, I’m quietly asking myself, “what would I do in her shoes?” I’m living the moment with these people, defining and redefining my moral code as they reveal theirs. I’m feeling their pain and sharing their triumph. I get the unique opportunity to intimately and actively watch other humans compete for whatever it might be: limelight or cash, being right or being compassionate. I see them argue, manipulate, survive, save face and just do their best (or worst) to get along and get through it. Then I get to ask them… why? Why do you behave the way you do? And they, via contract, have agreed to answer me in a fancily lit interview with many other crew listening and recording their every move.
Then, we get to shape and mold hours of raw footage into compelling story, via what strikes us as most amazing, shocking and interesting. Is it biased? Yes. Do humans generally agree on what’s compelling? Yes. This is why people like REALITY TV. It is the nectar of life, real, live, human relationships, the best of human nature and the worst of it. Once we’ve satisfied food, shelter, water, what is left?
Through our interactions with others we are defined: good, bad, villain, hero, slut, virgin, vacuous, brilliant and everything in the middle. What’s not to like? Actually, don’t answer that. It’s deserving of its own column and though I’ve just espoused the virtues of this cultural phenomenon, it has a sharp downside. And despite the great insights into humanity I’ve glimpsed, there’s also been a lot of garbage…
So fellow reality TV peeps, enjoy it without apologizing, as I will continue to work on it, no regrets. As we forge this merry path, let’s not forget that by the very shows we choose to watch and engage in, we are shaping our brains and the world around us. Choose wisely.
Check out Prime Time Ottawa – “Keeping it Real” Reality TV Conference – I am on the panel with some RTV muckity mucks, telling it like it is. This is to be streamed live (I believe), and available on their website, Thursday March 7, 2013.