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Reality Television is Very Different

D writes in:

I have a few friends in the industry who have told me to NEVER work in reality production. I recently moved back to LA from Atlanta and have a lot of experience producing independent film and TV.

I know the game is bigger in LA and am happy to start off working as a PA. I can’t seem to find a position as most of my experience is producing and I am not starting at entry level.

I know I could get hired in reality, but many of my friends have told me that if you start off in reality you will never be able to make the transition to studio or on the lot shows, which is ultimately, where I want to be.

Do you know if this is actually the case? If you work reality, do you get pigeon holed into that forever?

Not necessarily forever, but it is hard to get out. Especially because the money gets good really quickly.

Basically, reality is a ladder with two branches. Either you can climb the ladder within reality, and move up to coordinating and producing rather quickly. Or, you can step sideways from being a reality PA to a feature or narrative TV series. This is obviously an extra step, but if you have no experience, it’s a place to start. That’s what I did.

Fairly or unfairly, folks in scripted television look down on reality TV.1 Because it’s non-union, there’s very little oversight, and crew members can form bad habits that would never fly on a real show.

And since the budgets are incredibly low, so is the pay. The presumption is, if you’re really good at your job, you’d do it for more money on a union show. But you’re on a reality show, ipso facto, you’re not that good at your job.

If you work on a reality show, and you’re great at your job, I’m sorry. I’m just telling you what the common perception is.

My usual advice in D’s sort of situation, though, is to fudge your resume in the opposite direction people usually do– put yourself down as a PA or production secretary for those films. If you say you’re a producer, people will assume you either don’t know what you’re talking about, or the show wasn’t serious. After all, why would a producer apply for a production assistant job?

Don’t worry about whether or not this matches your IMDb page. First of all, they rarely check your IMDb page, anyway. But if they do, just tell them your show was overly generous with the credit, to make up for the low pay and long hours.

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  1. Totally fairly.
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8 Responses

  1. Ugh, I got sucked into the vortex of reality tv and for almost all of 2012. It was just awful. Once in a while we had a big competition show with 40+ local PAs hired, but more often than not it was a splinter crew of 5 or 6 here to get their shots and blow town and it was either just me or me and one other PA. I hated that I would almost always be hired as a PA/Driver. Not that I hate driving, but sometimes these crews just expect me to find parking or be able to pull over and idle in the middle of downtown San Francisco (Ha!), and another time I was driving down the freeway with the camera guy hanging out of the side door getting shots. I was terrified. Also some of the people who work in reality are just dicks. I got fired once because the coordinator decided I just didn’t “gel” with the rest of the team, I got let go another time because I took too long getting a producer her quadruple soy mocha-latte-low-fat-no-whip-whatever – I can only go as fast as the traffic lights allow!

    Gaaahhhh!

    ….Anyways, glad to be out of it.

  2. Cheap shot, dude. Cheap shot.

    Scripted/Non-scripted are just two totally different beasts which is why not many people make the transition.

    They’re just different. That’s it. No one side of the business is any more or less talented than the other. There are plenty of people in reality who love their jobs and are amazing at it!

    Reality isn’t better than digital work, or better than film or better than scripted TV. They’re just different mediums with different expectations and different skill sets required.

    Not ALL reality is non-union. A lot of the network shows (ABC/CBS/NBC/FOX) are Union. Producers (which are essentially writing) and production are not union always.

  3. Really great post here. Thanks for the advice on this. I, unfortunately, fell into reality very quickly after college and started up the ladder really rapidly. Now I’ve been producing it for years. While it has afforded me great opportunities to travel the US and work on some pretty interesting shows, it’s not what I want to do. I recently worked as an office PA on an untitled feature, but it was only for a week. And I had to take a reality job again to pay the bills. I interviewed at a studio for a permanent PA gig but was not hired because I have way too much experience in the field and they felt it would be bored there (which would not be the case since I am just trying to get my foot in the door, go figure). Thanks for that little bit about fudging the resume. I’m going to have to do the same when this gig wraps up. I’m committed to restarting my career as a PA or Assistant level!

    1. Thank you for this reply! I am in exactly the same boat…. Just reinforces my decision to take an office PA position on a major network scripted show. It will last until my current reality show starts again and I can make money and build up my savings so that I hopefully someday I can skip reality all together.

  4. My bosses (the Producers + UPMs) make me Google every person we MIGHT bring in for an interview, and the first thing they always ask me to pull up is IMDB. So in my opinion, it behooves you to have your IMDB page in step with your resume, cause on our show, they kinda judge you on both.

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