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Going Unscripted, The World of Producing Reality TV
There is a TON of MoGraph work out there.
If you’re only checking it out at places like Motionographer (who we love very dearly), you’re only seeing the tip of a massive MoGraph iceberg. Our goal here at School of Motion is to expose you to as many sides of the industry as possible, not just the work that big MoGraph studios are putting out.
In today’s podcast episode Joey talks to the very funny and extremely passionate husband and wife duo, Joke and Biagio. They run Joke Productions, a small studio that does unscripted TV programs, which is a very broad genre of film that covers everything from reality TV shows like Jersey Shore to documentaries.
Over the years these two have worked on all manner of unscripted film for networks like MTV, Oxygen, NBC, CNN, and many more. With all of that experience they give us a ton of insight into the process of producing unscripted television. They also have some very solid, actionable advice that you can use right away to break into the TV production word, from how to land a job doing MoGraph for TV shows to designing with a kit mentality.
Joey: Do you have any idea just how much motion design gets created these days? It's silly. If you're only looking at the cream of the crop, the stuff that ends up on motionographer, you're only seeing the tip of a massive iceberg. One of our goals with this podcast is to expose mographers to as many different sides of the industry as possible. That means, we're not just going to talk about the work that studios are putting out. We want to look into every little nook and cranny of this profession.
On this episode, I chat with two TV producers who happen to hire motion designers all the time for work they do. Joke and Biagio, and yes those are their real names. They run Joke Productions, a company that creates TV shows. They've worked with MTV, Oxygen, CBS, NBC, Bravo, VH1, and many, many other networks. Their specialty is a form of content that is sometimes referred to as reality TV. These two are hilarious, really, really smart and they offer up some amazing insight into the kind of mograph work that these types of shows need. We dig into the economics of reality TV, how the business model even works, and how a motion designer can get work from production companies doing this type of content and there's a lot out there. There's a ton of tactical info, especially in the second half of the interview, so take notes.
Speaking of notes, don't forget that every episode of this podcast has show notes that you can find of schoolofmotion.com. If you haven't already, sign up for a free Student account on the site to get our weekly motion Mondays newsletter. It's a very short e-mail. You can read the entire thing while you're in the bathroom. It goes over industry news, recent mograph work that's awesome, new tools, stuff like that. You'll also get exclusive discount codes that we occasionally send out to our list.
Now, enjoy this conversation with Joke Productions. Joke and Biagio, thank you both for coming on this podcast. I cannot wait to start just peppering you with questions.
Biagio: Oh my gosh, we're excited to be here. I personally am a little star struck. You'll be saying, I'm coming into your earholes, you actually, you're recently changed. You're opening tag line I think from earholes to something else, right? I heard on the last podcast.
Joey: Yeah, actually I was going to bring this up. What we now say for the intro is come for the mograph, stay for the puns. I thought that you both might actually enjoy puns because I was looking at some of the titles of your work and I saw a show called, Foodie Call and I really enjoyed it. For anyone who is listening that doesn't know about Foodie Call, I might get this wrong, you guys can correct me, but it's a show where someone is having relationship problems and you try to solve it by teaching them to cook and they solve it with food, right?
Joke : Yeah, it's at a certain point in a relationship where you're having troubles or you're about to move in or you want to ask somebody for the next step all the way to our finale was actually a proposal. We teach the man mostly to pretty much cook his way into her heart.
Joey: Who came up with that brilliant title?
Biagio: Okay, this is actually a great story. I don't know if you know who Warren Littlefield is, but he was the former president of NBC, he basically created Must See TV in name and content back during the '90s and was there for Friends and Will and Grace. Anyway, he had actually optioned a book and the book's title was a little bit racy. It was actually called, cook your way into her pants, which is kind of like, whoa. He sets it up at the time at the Style Network, which is a network for 35+ educated women. We're like, you can't go with that title and the recipes, some of them were X rated, I can't even repeat them on your show because iTunes would kick you off. Me and Joke were like, okay. We're romantics at heart, we're a couple. We need to figure out how to dial this back and sort of make it work for Style Network. I think Joke really took the lead on this one.
Joke : If you think that title is punny, within the show, we would present the guy with three menu boxes that all had puns. Whether it was like Tap That Bass, Thai Me Up. We had puns galore.
Joey: I'm dying. Oh my gosh, that is excellent. I like you both a lot already. Let me ask you this, most of the guests that we've had on the podcast are animators, designers. We have had a producer on but she works at the Mill so she's sort of a traditional studio producer. I think that a lot of our audience may not be really familiar with what you two do and frankly your title may change from show to show. Could you kind of explain what it is that you two do?
Biagio: I think it will be easiest if I explain how we ended up into it because it was sort of a crazy route. We sort of started out in scripted. Like a lot of people, we met at UCLA, we thought we wanted to be screenwriters and this was right in the Kevin Smith heyday. Every body was writing Clerks ripoffs, that also ages us, but basically all of friends, oh it's set in a coffee shop. Another show in a coffee shop, another script in a coffee shop. We were like, maybe we should try documentary, get out in the world and meet some real people to inspire our screenplays. That actually made us realize how much we loved real people in unscripted. What had happened was, we were doing a documentary right around the time Survivor took off. We were like, what is this new reality TV? What is this unscripted world? What's happening? It seemed really cool and we had all the gear. This is when DV had just hit, DV stood for digital video for those too young to remember when Canon XL1 made a big splash and changed all our lives.
Joey: Oh, yeah.
Biagio: We were like, we should try this. What we started doing back then is almost exactly what we're doing now, 15 years later, which is we come up with ideas for television shows based on real people, places, or things that are just unscripted. It could be a reality style game show like Beauty and the Geek or Scream Queens. It could be a documentary or a documentary series like the MTV True Life special that we did or Cage, which we did for MTV or our theatrically-released documentary, Dying To Do Letterman or it could be a true crime documentary series like our current show, Three Days To Live.
Basically, anything that falls into that unscripted bucket. We sort of find a way in, we create an initial pitch tape, a sizzle reel to present to networks and say, this is our concept for the show. This is kind of what it would like, this is what it would feel like, we think it would be so many episodes. Hopefully, a network likes it and then they fund the show. It's very similar sort of to like getting funded for an independent film.
They basically fund it, we make it. We're paid to make the show but it's not like they hand us the money and we make it and whatever money is left we keep. It's all very budgeted out. We hire professionals to shoot, to edit. Crews can go from as small as 20 people to as big as two or three hundred depending on the size of the show. At the end of the day, we deliver that show to the network. We're in charge basically of coming up with the idea, shooting it, editing it, color correcting it, sound mixing it, and delivering that final project to a television network or a studio ready for air. Did I miss anything, Joke?
Joke : There's a lot that goes into it but that sums it up pretty well.
Biagio: That's the simplified version.
Joke : Our titles are executive producers on these projects and there's lots of companies like us out there because there's a lot of unscripted. Again, a lot of times reality gets either a bad name or people think of it as a very limited kind of thing but anything that is not people sitting in a writer's room beating out scripts, making up stories falls under unscripted. Game shows are unscripted, variety shows, there's so much, docuseries, docudramas, docucomedies, documentaries.
Biagio: It's a good point, I often talk about movies, right? Movies, we've had 100 years plus to sort of be educated in the different genres of movie. Even your average movie goer knows there a difference between Plan 9 From Outer Space and Citizen Kane. They're two very different types of films. But yet a lot of people will look at unscripted and sort of think of a Housewives show as a reality show but also think of the First 48 as a reality show and they really couldn't be more different. We're lucky enough that we've been able to work across all those genres.
In the way that some film producers are able to action and comedy and romcom. We've been able to do doc and reality and big game show reality and half-hour comedy. We've been lucky to do that but they are very different from each other. A lot of people also forget, unscripted literally built cable television. Back in the day shows like, Modern Marvels, anything that was on History Channel before Survivor was even close to hitting was all considered unscripted. There hadn't been this huge wave of reality TV yet, which is really just a genre underneath the big unscripted bucket.
Joey: Makes sense. This is one of the things I wanted to ask you about. What you just described, which sounds like a lot, it's a lot of responsibility by the way, to do all those things. Yeah, it's a lot. What you're describing if it was a film or a commercial, I might use the term director to describe the person in charge of doing all that but that's not the term you used, you used producer. In TV land, does producer have a different definition?
Joke : The simplest thing to think of is in film the director is considered "the final say."
Biagio: The chief creative visionary.
Joke : The director is the chief creative visionary. In television, whether it's scripted or unscripted, the producer is. Shonda Rhymes clearly is the chief creative visionary on Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, and all of her shows but she's an executive producer, she's not a director. Television and film have that difference. What we do is more than just being a producer or a director, even if you think about film. We are, in essence, the mini studio. Where the network is the financier, we are the once who do the schedule, do the budget, legal, liabilities, insurance. We have to bring it in on time and on budget. We answer to our financier, which is the network. Not only are we the chief creative visionary, we also have to be the studio.
Again, this is the non-sexy, non-creative, backend of things. We also have to make sure it all works and we can deliver. To get to a point in the business where a network will trust with their money, a financier will trust you with that money, you have to kind of build a list of credits where they know that you will deliver on time and on budget.
Biagio: By the way, I'm a kid from Cleveland, Joke is from Belgium. We both had no connections to Hollywood and neither one of us comes from money. You have to understand that to get here was really exciting for us but at the end of the day we also signed a piece of paper saying that we're going to deliver or else we're responsible. We're responsible means if we blow this, my kids are aren't going to college and we're selling the house.
Joey: Right, you're living in a van.
Biagio: It is on the two of us. We're not funded by ... Our actual company, our overhead, everything is paid for by the two of us.
Joke : Yeah, we're an independent company.
Biagio: Yeah, we're an independent company and there's a few of us out there. You've probably seen in the news a lot of reality companies have "sold" or they've gotten funded. We've never done that. We had the opportunity a couple of times to consider but we like being independent because we get to do what we want but it is a big financial, I guess risk is the right word although it doesn't feel risky to us because we love it but it is. You've got to have a certain tolerance for risk. I know you know that personally because I know you ran your own shop back in the day and obviously you run School of Motion. You take a lot on your shoulders.
Joey: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. Looking through your site, by the way anyone listening, we're going to have these links in the show notes but if you go to Joke Productions, Joke spelled just like it sounds, you can see a lot of Joke and Biagio's work. You guys have many websites, which we will link to in the show notes. You guys are very, very busy.
You have this DIY ethos, this indie ethos I guess that kind of percolates through a lot of the copy on your site and a lot of the shows you've worked on and that's very different than say, Mart Burnett Productions or something like that where I'm imagining the budget for one episode of Survivor is probably what you're used to getting for some of these series, right? A, is that the case or am I misrepresenting? But also, why is that appealing to you? Why wouldn't you want to grow and become this massive production company that's doing million dollar episodes and stuff like that.
Joke : Two things. One, in our opinion, the number of the budget, how large a budget is should not reflect on the attitude, the DIY attitude. I think actually, contrary to what obviously you guys see from the outside, most people in reality I feel like come from somewhat of a DIY attitude. We're always the underdog, just look at the Emmys, we're still the underdog. We got here, created this genre, most of us who are at this level started at it when it started 15-20 years ago or when it started blowing up. We're all scraping things together.
While yes, there's certain companies that get bigger and we've worked with some of those companies coming up, the problem with that is as you know with anything in life, the bigger it gets, the bigger the bureaucracy gets, the more money gets eaten by other things and doesn't actually go to creatives or things that make that money end up on the screen as you say. For us, I think we grew up, as Biagio said, as filmmakers in the '90s and so it was rebel without a crew.
Biagio: [inaudible 00:15:29]. DV Rebels Guide is still my bible, I love that book.
Joke : That was our film school. I mean, we went to film school but that was real. We were like, wow, this is the revolution. We were working with Canon with the XL1s and GL1s and that's how we learned hands on. For us, yes you could get to a level where we're like, we're not going to bother with that anymore, we're just going to hire people who will figure it out. Biagio is a geek.
Biagio: Big geek.
Joke : I call him adorkable. Part of it is, is that he wants to know what's the latest, what's the greatest, what are the new tricks that we can use. Frankly, as people who have to present our ideas to networks to try and get things funded so we're pitching constantly. It's like, what will give our pitches a leg up? When we started, we were doing video pitch reels and people were like wow, what is this because they didn't even know how to do them. Now everybody does them. We were doing ripomatics before everybody else was doing them. Now it's like wow, where did this come from? Biagio started adding broadcast quality graphics to our pitch reels and people were like wow, this is amazing. Or new cameras or ways to visually add another layer to the storytelling that gives us an edge up when we present our pitches.
Biagio: I think we were lucky. We broke in an interesting time when we were able to leverage new technology in an industry, unscripted that was emerging and so you had like the old guard there and we sort of came in and we were like the new guard. I think the reason why I'm so hesitant to just blow up and be a big company and the reason I like sort of thinking of ourselves as a boutique is because I don't want to lose that hands on connection. We've been lucky enough to work with Mark Burnett Productions. We worked with Three Ball who did Biggest Loser and we ran Beauty and the Geek for them. We've worked with some really big companies and it's nice. They have really good craft service at the office.
Joey: There you go.
Biagio: Comfortable furniture and it was fine for them but the owners of those companies weren't making TV anymore, they were running companies. I just took a G-RAID home with me last night because I'm polishing up the first episode of a brand new TV series that we have coming out later this year. I think it's awesome that I took a G-RAID home and I'm sitting in our spare bedroom after we put the kids to bed and I'm like, all right, I'm going to mess around with this edit and it's going to be on TV in 5-6 months. The owners of the other companies aren't really doing that. Now to their credit, they also have tons of money and drive Aston Martins and I don't but I've got an iMac in my bedroom that I can make TV on.
For example, this is what's really weird about me. Me and Joke, if you look at our equivalents in other companies, yeah they're busy running the company but I'm watching Film Riot. I love Ryan Connolly and he did a whole series on DJI Osmo and camera stabilizers. I was like, this is awesome for our upcoming show. This would really work so we went and bought the exact Ronan he was using on Film Riot and yeah, it's a comedy YouTube channel and we're doing this big serious series for a major cable network but the techniques transfer and I like that level of getting my hands dirty. I think when the day comes that our kids are older and getting ready to go to school and I'm heading towards a wheelchair or whatever, maybe then we'll sell the company and blow it up and take more of a figurehead seat.
But for now, I just like to make stuff and the truth is, and you know this, I'm sure. You can only make so much stuff at a time. I can't be hands on for 20 shows. We can do one, two, or three series a year. We're probably going to grow beyond that just because we have the ability to do so but the more you take on, the less you can be hands on. Yes, you trade money. You trade big, big, huge numbers maybe but you get the fulfillment of still getting to make stuff and I think we got into this because we like to make stuff.
Joke : Yeah, very early on, in one of our very first meetings, we met with a production company head and we were pitching shows and we were all wide-eyed excitement creatives, don't even know yet what goes into actually making a show. We're just like, of course we can make a TV show. I remember very clearly to this day, he was just like, it's been a rough day. We're like, oh no, what's going on? He was like, you know just trying to figure out how to move money around and meet payroll and keep the lights on. We were like, that sounds awful.
Joey: You haven't picked up a camera recently? You're dealing with rent? Eww. You have to grow up. I don't want to be a grownup and deal with that stuff.
Joke : You nailed it, we just don't want to grow up. If it means we're not Mark Burnett yet, but we still get to make stuff then so be it. Listen, in Mark Burnett's defense, he's now at a level where he also still gets to make stuff. Because he's now so big, he has other people running everything for him. It's that middle portion from you're small like us to where he is now, where you end up having just to be a businessman.
Joey: That's so funny, there's a lot of things like that where there's this no-man's land in the middle. At either extremes, it's great. You're a small company doing smaller budgets, you're a huge company with infinite budgets, in the middle it's tough. Let me ask you about this, now I'm really curious and I apologize in advance but can you give me some insight into how much money are we talking here? If you pitch a show and I know that there's a huge budget range but let's say you're pitching a show to a cable network, an MTV or an Oxygen or something like that and it's one of these unscripted shows, how much money do they give you in order to produce it and what kind of profit margins are you able to keep? Are you incentivized to make it cheaper so that you guys can keep the lights on? Can you talk about that a little bit?
Joke : Sure, I can tell you this much, the profit margin, the company production fee ends up being 10% of the budget. That is standard and that doesn't really move. If you do lots of episodes or bigger budget shows, then there's more money there. If you do one episode of a $50,000 show, that's not a lot of money. That 10% production company fee has to cover the production company's cost, that's not just profit. If in the company you have a vice president of development and you have accountants that do company accounting or you have the office assistant or whatever, that all has to come out of that 10% of the budget. The other 90% of the budget goes to the actual making of the show. People who are freelance or get specifically hired or fill specific line items of that budget for that specific show.
As we talked about before, the wide range of unscripted TV shows, there is absolutely a wide range of budget. Where you might have an HGTV house show where they will order 100 of them like a Flip This House, I mean I'm not naming any names because I actually don't which titles and I don't know their budgets but you know the kind of show I'm talking about.
Joey: Right, right.
Joke : They will literally order 100 or 200 episodes. By that point, this is called amortization. The per episode budget sometimes ends up sometimes five figures. It could be a $50,000 show but again, you're doing 100 of them. That's where you know hire a producer and they're working on multiple episodes at the same time so you can save money by producing more episodes. A lot of times if a network orders four episodes, the per episode cost of that is going to be more expensive than if they ordered 10 episodes of that same show. A lot of times that's where there's discrepancies even within one show from a season one, to a season two, to a season three or beyond is in the order that comes with it.
Most docuseries that are either an hour or a half hour, you know half hours tend to range from five figures to $200,000 depending on how big it is or how much travel there is involved, how much the talent costs. If you're doing a Housewives of New York and Bethany Frankel is coming back and it's an hour long show and it's season whatever six or eight, those are going to be several hundred thousands an episode because you're traveling, you're dealing with expensive talent, etc., etc. If you do like The Wall, a show which is a big shiny game show on I think it's NBC with Chris Hardwick. Obviously, the cost of building that whole thing and setting that whole thing up is really expensive. But then, if you can shoot five episodes over two days because you're just running couples through, you can see how the budget becomes per episode much smaller because the thing is built and now you can just kind of gang shoot episodes through it.
It's all a big puzzle and it all depends on the cost that it really takes to make it, the talent, and what they're asking. I'm not going to tell you there's a ton of money, there isn't. Networks, whether it's scripted or unscripted, are always trying to get more for less and that's just part of the negotiations and as producers we have to find ways of where can we save money, where can we better spend the money so we get more bang for our buck. Sometimes it's pushing back to the network saying, if you really want this, that is gong to cost you more. When you're talking about hey, I'm sending a whole crew up to Alaska for three months, those are hard costs the network can't get around.
Biagio: I think the other trick to the puzzle and it's something we've always prided ourselves is you need to find a way to stretch the budget by innovating, not by screwing people over. We work really hard to pay people fair rates and standard rates and not to ask people to do crazy hours. Instead, we find other ways to innovate so maybe instead of using the world's most expensive camera, we can get away with a DSLR for our B camera. Now you're saving money on rental or gear or whatever. It's about also having the philosophy of how to spend that money.
Again, like Joke said, if you think of most cable shows on TV and you were going to just guess blindly, probably high five to low to mid six figures is where almost 80% of those shows fall per episode. You're only going to be able to so much and I think the companies that succeed are the ones that get creative with the budgets in a way that is innovative and not exploitive. That's so important to us, it's always been. Some companies follow that philosophy and some don't. We saw both when we were coming up and it's a hard business when the margins are that small. That's another reason it helps to be hands on.
Joke : The DIY approach really helps there because you know, even from our independent scripted filmmaking days, if you don't have money to solve a problem, you've got to get creative. You try and throw creativity at it rather than money.
Biagio: By the way, one thing that we're able to offer is because me and Joke edit and shoot and do stuff is like if something goes wrong or if we need more extra hours, it's not like I'm being paid as an editor. When I take the drive home at night and I throw in an extra 20 hours of work on an episode, I don't get paid any more for that. But it's added value I'm bringing as the executive producer of the show. Those are hours I'm able to add to, not replacing somebody else, I'm able to do on top of the people we have hired so it's a little extra polish for our show and we like to think it's things like that, that help us to succeed on really tiny budgets.
Joey: Do you guys have any opportunity ever to get residuals if a show you've produced does really, really well and goes into syndication.
Joke : There's not a whole lot of syndication for reality. Syndication is again a scripted model because in scripted TV what happens is the studio owns it and the studio deficit finances. The network is only paying a license fee and then the studio adds to that budget with the rest of what it takes to get that show made. For the studio to recoup their costs, they sell that show into syndication or they sell it overseas, etc. Because reality budgets are much smaller and more affordable, the networks pretty much fund 100% of it. Therefore, there's not really a syndication model because they own it, they can re-air it and they do.
Depending on the network and again, there's several conglomerates, there's Viacom, which owns a ton of networks. There's NBC Universal, which owns a ton of networks. There's A&E Networks, which owns a ton of networks. Depending on the conglomerate you're in, the deals get structured different. Yes, there's usually some backend given to you in the deal. Most of that, even from the movies, they're called monkey points. You don't necessarily always see something to that.
That being said, in success, that absolutely gets shared. There's stuff there in success. But again, success is like you all of a sudden have a Jersey Shore on your hands, there's a lot to success and there's lots to go around, if you have a Duck Dynasty on your hands but for a network, they still funded it but for them first make all their money back. It has to be a huge success. But yes, once everything is paid off and the network has their money back and now they start selling it overseas or even on iTunes or whatever, there's percentages that come your way.
Biagio: A funny story, we got a check the other day, a residual check, a backend check for eight dollars.
Joey: Mazel tov.
Biagio: Four of those dollars are going to go to two other producers so me and Joke will keep the other four and pay for maybe a quarter of parking somewhere in LA. Back in the today, I was an actor forever ago, I make more money in residuals from something I did 20 years then I'll ever producing a TV show probably as far as residuals go.
Joey: I hear you, not in it for the money. You brought up Joke, you brought up two of reality TV shining stars, the Jersey Shore and Duck Dynasty. If anyone is unfamiliar with Jersey Shore, it's legendary. It brings an interesting point I want to ask you about. I don't know for certain that the Jersey Shore wasn't really a documentary fly on the wall account of what happened on the Jersey Shore. There was some controversy around Duck Dynasty where it came out that one of the guys on the show, he didn't really act that way in real life and he didn't really have this big scruffy beard, he was clean shaven and stuff like that. I've also noticed that reality TV, that term is going away a little bit and I'm hearing unscripted drama come up more. How much of this "reality TV" is actually the camera person being totally silent standing in the corner of the room documenting and how much is a producer maybe nudging people or just straight feeding people lines?
Joke : Again, we're talking about a wide range of programming, right? But even if you go to the most dry, straight up, feature length documentary, as real as it gets, by the sheer fact that the camera is pointing one direction and not another, the filmmaker is influencing that story and is telling you something and maybe not showing you everything therefore not being 100% real. By the sheer fact that there is a filmmaker or a producer or a director, the fact that there is a storyteller telling someone else's story, there's going to be edits and creative license, that's just known, you can't get around it. Yes, there are some shows Duck Dynasty, for example, from the very beginning was a docu-comedy, it was a sitcom. It was designed that way, it was found that way.
They found these real people who were making duck calls in the middle of Louisiana, West Monroe, and were making lots of money off of it and yet still really they enjoyed fishing and camping and living off the land, definitely the older generation more than the newer generation but that was all real. They took what was real, those producers took what was real and it was like, how best can we tell the story and they told a family sitcom story set in this world of this real family who still gathered for meals on Sundays. Did they take license there with certain stories and this and that and there, of course probably. But I don't think the audience was watching that, going I wonder who came up with that line? They just enjoyed it. Real people going through real things. Is it edited for jokes? Are people going, you know what, it would be fun if you tried this today? Absolutely.
When you deal with something like a Jersey Shore, you look at a first season where you get these big crazy characters and you put them in a house, that first season is obviously far more real than anything after because this is them meeting, building these relationships, they don't know anything. Once the Jersey Shore cast becomes so popular and so well known and pretty much pop culture where they can't not see themselves on their regular news feeds or whatever, the shows becomes somewhat meta. Now people start having issues with each other based on maybe what is out there in the press. Are those issues real? Yes. Would that have happened without the show? Well no, but those are the boundaries.
Even a Survivor, you look at it and you're like, that's real. These people are really fighting, they're really playing the game, they're really doing all of this. Yes, but they're 16 strangers you've put on an island and made them jump through hoops. Is that real? No, those 16 strangers wouldn't have found themselves on island jumping through hoops but we create a world as the filmmakers or the storytellers and then what happens within that world on those shoes is real.
A Beverly Hills Housewives for example, that first season felt stilted and felt not as real because you're like, okay these women were cast. Some of them know each other, most of them just know of each other. They don't really hang out, they're only hanging out for the shoe and you're kind of going through it and there's a party and they get upset or whatever. You look at Housewives now, these women have now for years known each other, they've literally become friends or enemies, and now the drama they have is real and they can't wait to get filming started again because they've got to get something off their chest that happened.
Every show is kind of different and finds its own unique thing. I think ultimately it's about what does the audience respond to and I think the audience has been very vocal when something doesn't feel real, doesn't have an authenticity to it, and has rejected it. As producers in this genre, we know that credibility and authenticity is extremely important and that when you take five random people and you make them do they wouldn't normally do and pretend that's their real life, it's not going to work. The audience has made that clear. Just so you know from within the industry, there's absolutely an interest and a goal to keep things a real and authentic as possible.
Biagio: You know, I think Joey, one thing that's really interesting and the way I always try to think about is as a TV producer, as a filmmaker, whatever, you have a contract with your audience. I think the audience needs to believe that whatever they're seeing abides by a certain set of rules. For instance, if you sit down to watch the First 48 where they're literally following the first 48 hours of a homicide investigation, there's no room for any producer to be doing anything. The cameras are a fly on the wall, they're in there. That is hard core as real as it gets.
If you're watching, like we did a show with two YouTube stars, Rhett and Link called Commercial Kings on IFC. In that show, they were basically going to small businesses and they were helping them make ridiculous commercials that would go viral. Obviously, that's a very different kind of show. Rhett and Link are who they are. They really did make funny viral YouTube videos and these companies are real companies but obviously Rhett and Link are thinking a little bit ahead of time abut what might be a good commercial for this company or some funny things that can happen when they go visit this company. Our contract with the audience isn't like hey look at this incredible verite of how these two people make a commercial. It's like, you're watching to see this crazy commercial at the end.
You need to make sure that your audience sort of understands where you're coming from. I think where shows go wrong, is ooh, I'm going to present this as a hardcore documentary series but it's really clear things are happening behind the scenes. You might have heard there was a big controversy recently with a major network that was doing a show set around race hate that was with a racially motivated group and it turned out that on this particular show producers behind the scenes were making things happen and that is absolutely ludicrous and ridiculous given the subject matter of that show.
I think there's a spectrum from being totally fly on the wall to being Duck Dynasty where it is a family sitcom and they're probably having more fun putting the stories together than they are worrying about capturing real events but the audience usually picks up on that, at least in our opinion. I think for us, we tend to lean more towards authentic. Our MTV show Caged was very fly on the wall and we had the rare opportunity to film for a year. That never happens. Most of shows, we'll shoot an episode in two days. It's obviously very different when you have a really long schedule versus a truncated schedule as well.
Joke : Right. The reason why a lot of times sometimes there's interview bites and stuff like that is because if you're doing docuseries, you might have missed something so you might need someone to explain what happened. Yes, are there times when we're like, we really need to be able to get you into this room and out of this room. Can we have you walk in again? That stuff happens but that doesn't change what is real about the people and what their interactions are with each other.
Biagio: Also, one thing we learned from a hardcore documentarian, like real hardcore verite, award-winning documentarian is he used a tool called story bonds. His tool literally was if you're filming a scene and they end up basically talking about what pajamas they're going to buy at the store and it has nothing with the movie you're making, to ask a question almost like an interviewer would ask a question, only to change the topic and then get out of the way and let that question drive wherever it goes. We've seen real documentarians, well-respected documentarians use that tool because again, you only have so much time to shoot. Are they breaking the fourth wall? Would the Maysles brothers have ever done that? Probably not. The Maysles brothers had problems with Morgan Spurlock. Morgan Spurlock is considered by most to be the documentarian of our time. Not according to the Maysles brothers. It's all a spectrum, right? I think at the end of the day, the best that you can do is try to deliver a story that moves people and hopefully do that in the most authentic way possible.
Joey: I was going to push back at first like I would say, you're kind of lying to the audience but you kind of brought it back around in a way that makes sense to me where when you watch Duck Dynasty, I think most people, I'm sure there are people who really do think it's 100% true what you're seeing. But I think for the most part, people are willing to suspend disbelief a little bit to be entertained. That's kind of the contract with the audience that you're talking about. I have a few more questions about reality TV but I want to get into how the motion designer fits into all of this.
Biagio: School of Motion Joey, you want to tell what? What are you talking about?
Joey: How do our alumni break into the lucrative ... Okay, so let me ask you this. First of all, Biagio, if you go to your Vimeo page, there are some ...
Joke : By the way, I didn't even know this Vimeo page existed.
Biagio: It's okay, it's fine. I'm not hiding it from anybody, it's fine.
Joey: I didn't mean to start anything. You go on your Vimeo page, you've got some fairly polished work on there. There are little motion tests but there's camera tracking and cinema 4D and I'm thinking, you're a TV producer, what the hell are you doing? First of all, I want to know, are you doing some of the graphics work on your shows? Are all TV producers secretly using after effects like in the closet?
Joke : Most producers are not but you know, in his own way we're like JJ Abrams will score the theme for Lost or do little things like that because he's a bit of geek, so is my husband. He has done graphics on NBC shows and all kinds of stuff because it's like, oh we really wanted to get it done or we didn't have the money anymore and yes, he absolutely does this. This is kind of part of his hobby where most human beings would have a hobby that is not related to their work. My husband's hobby is motion graphics and learning all the new tricks.
Biagio: Let me say for the record, my only goal in life is to hire people who are better than me and I love doing that. Yes, I'm a huge fan of motion graphics. Calling those things on my Vimeo page polished is kind, thank you. Again, because we've been lucky to work across all these crazy genres, we always want to try stuff. When we do reenactment shows like True Crime or Paranormal, I wanted to do photo real visual effects and there was no money so I learned cinema 4D and I learned how to shoot HDR probes and I learned how to use smart image-based lighting and yeah, I learned synthize and now I just use the camera tracker and cinema 4D for little things.
When the money is gone on a show and we need to make more graphics, I can be serviceable but I think kind of similar to your backstory Joey except that you're really good at motion graphics and I'm not. I was an editor who fell into it out of necessity. I absolutely love design, I love graphics, but I also know that I'm never going to be at the level of the kind of people we love to hire when we're lucky enough to have a budget to hire somebody.
Joke : I think also we've now come to the point where Biago and I have done pretty much done every job on every production and it allows us to speak with those people now doing those jobs and one, if they're like, it's going to take 20 hours. We're like, no it's not, it's going to take you four. Or if they're like, I think I can do it and be like, you know what, I think you're going to need to help because this is going to be much bigger. I've done this job before and I want to make sure that you're set up to succeed so that's one. It's important to be able to talk to people and to help that go, which is very important to what Biagio is doing.
Biagio: I help out when I have to.
Joke : I think the second part is also knowing how to execute things. We've always said, the tool is just a tool, it's the person using the tool that's the artist. I think what Biago is saying, we want to hire people that are better than us, is does he know how to use these tools? Yes. Does he know how to use them as good as somebody else? Maybe not. But we're also at a point where it's like motion graphic artists, we believe in the artist. We believe editors shouldn't be button pushers, they should be editors, they should be crafts people. We believe DPs shouldn't just hold a camera, they should know how to tell stories visually.
The same thing with motion graphic artists, we're not just looking for people who can create something, we're looking for people to design something. When we have the budget, we want to spend it on the design part where someone can come up with a really cool look or a really nice concept and then we can help execute that concept if the money runs out in terms of the back end of it. But that's the part where you know, when Biagio says we want to hire people who are better than us, we have so much stuff to think about that if we can bring someone in whose sole purpose is to really think of a design for something, that's a luxury that we crave for.
Joey: Biagio, I love you just kind of glossed over, yeah I learned Synthize, yeah I learned Cinema 4D as though that was like a small feat. You should take some credit. I have actually worked on reality shows in a couple of capacities. In one capacity, I would be freelancing at say a studio doing the show open and that show open might take 2-3 weeks concepting designs, animation. It's sort of a normal pace. I've also been the after effects on a show and that's a different beast. Do you guys hire sort of both situations and do you look for different people or different talents if you're hiring someone who is doing the sexy show open versus I need someone who is going to make 14 graphics per episode and every episode has to be done in two weeks.
Joke : I'll let Biagio handle that but I think this gets us to the kit mentality aspect of what we look for. There's two steps and ideally, the second step if everything is designed correctly, our assistant editors can help. If it's just about, okay once we have a lower third design, if I need 30 lower thirds, I should be able to have our assistant editor you know, make lower thirds 2 through 30 because it's literally just changing the names on top of the graphic.
Biagio: I think you know, we're presented with a lot of different situations where we're going to work with a motion graphics artist. I would say in probably half the cases, we're dealing with motion graphics artists who work at the network and so in a lot of ways while we have input, they're answering directly to their bosses who are the network that are paying them. Ultimately, the way we interact with them is limited and we hate that honestly so there's that. They will sometimes present boards and we're like, yeah, we love these boards and then the final thing looks nothing like those boards. I think what we look for is on a project-by-project basis. Joke mentioned this idea of a kit mentality and that actually sprang from working with one of the bigger motion graphics houses we'd worked with a while back and also now our next project we're actually working with the Mill, it was a great company.
Joey: Amazing, yeah.
Biagio: Yeah, you find a place like the Mill and by the way, whenever we're going to work with a company like that almost always, the budget is not big enough. Because the shows we do, they aren't big so when they take them on, it's because they feel like a real spark to the project and it's something they feel might be great for the reel but it's different and they want to do it and they have a chance to be creative. There's a variety of reasons why they come on but when they do, you have to sort of think about design in a way that's not only creative but that can be repurposed in a lot of ways. While I can't say a lot about the show that's coming up, it hasn't aired yet, it's later this year, what we did is we wanted to have a really awesome show open but we knew we needed a ton of elements for the rest of the show. Had we given the entire budget that we had to the Mill to make everything, the design would have suffered.
Instead, what we did, we said let's figure out a way to design the opening titles so that within that sequence, the elements that we need for the rest of the show whether it's lower thirds or maps or info graphics are there. Let's be creative that way so that you could spend all your time on the design and really think about the aesthetic. Then we on our end, separate from this budget, they're not getting pain any less, they're getting paid the same. They're just focusing on design. On our end, again being innovative and trying to maximize what we do, we find a way to take those elements and repurpose them with guidance from the Mill. We can be like, hey we're thinking about trying A, B, and C. We might do a phone call with them and they'll be like, yeah you should try X but they're not spending resources on that other than they're have a quick call with us.
Now what we have on our end is I want to hire somebody who knows after effects in Cinema 4D inside and out who can have enough design aesthetic that they can understand why what the Mill did is good and they're not going to just be colorblind or tone deaf to why suddenly having a lower third that's got four lines instead of two is wrong or why it's a bad idea to suddenly change the font on this map that was perfectly designed by the Mill. They have enough design sense to stay within that world. I think that those are the two ways we look at it. I want our design money to go to design. I want the day-to-day work to be done by someone who can do the day-to-work quickly and is in our offices.
Joke : I think one of the things that we haven't really explained yet is that, and I don't know your audience, if you think about scripted, the only motion graphic design is the show open. But when you think about reality television and especially documentary reality television, there are a lot of graphic elements. Whether it's lower thirds or time cards or timelines or maps or infographics.
Biagio: Sure Nat Geo you could do iron man heads up display type graphics.
Joke : There are so many different types of graphics within the body of the show and so that's a lot. When we talk to the Mill, we're like listen, we need lower thirds. They're like, oh my god you need me to make 50 lower thirds. No, no, no. Just design one and we'll change the titles on all of these. Or hey, how would you design what a full screen infographic looks like? Let's say we need to have four lines of text, what would that look like? They design it and then we re-purpose it. This way what we get, and this is the great part, is design wise the look across the episode, across the series, is uniform and makes sense and is tied to that great open they designed rather than we just spend money on a great open design without talking to them or without them even involved in the in-show graphics. Then it turns to be quite not uniform and then it feels very ...
Biagio: Which I have been guilty of plenty of times. Those NBC graphics she's talking about, they didn't look at all like the show open. It was just last minute stuff we had to throw in. That was very early in my "mograph" hobby.
Joke : Nobody who was designing the open was even involved in designing the in-show graphics and then as a producer, you're just like, oh man, I need another graphic. Okay, I'll do my best to try and make something happen. Now that we're the executive producers and we're talking to people like the Mill, we're like okay, we want to start out as you develop even the show open think about elements that we can then repurpose. Instead of I'm going to do a show open that while it's absolutely gorgeous but for example, the crown on Netflix, you know I love that open of that crown but there would be nothing there for us to repurpose.
It's a beautiful thing but if you think for example, about Making a Murderer, you have this great open, which feels very True Detective. But if you think about then all the graphics that have to happen, not just within each episode but over the course of the series, timelines, family trees, maps, all that stuff. It has to feel uniform and connected so you know you're watching the same show. I think that's what great about motion graphic design within unscripted whether it's standard reality or documentary, that really allows a designer to kind of think bigger than just okay, here's a 20-second open.
Joey: Our audience, they run the gamut. You've got people working in-house at studios like the Mill and you've also got freelancers and you've got students who are trying to get their foot in the door. It sounds like even at the relatively small scale of doing an unscripted show open, which is as far as a mograph job goes, it's tiny but it's not enormous, you can do that in a variety of different ways. I'm curious if you have the opportunity to have the Mill design your show open, you have the Mill design your show open, that's what you do. Then you hire a freelancer or something to come in and take that art direction and apply it to the rest of the package. But when you have no budget and it's not something a company like the Mill is interested in, are there ever situations where you just hire a freelancer? You try to find that one person that's a pretty good designer, pretty good animator, maybe they can do a little bit of compositing stuff because I know there's always cleanup. That sign needs to be blurred out, we need to blur that person's face. Do you ever try to find a Swiss Army knife and just have them do it all.
Biagio: Yes, a lot of times and I'll give you a couple of concrete examples. We did a documentary called Dying to Letterman that was like seven years ago now. It had a theatrical release and toured the circuit and that was completely 100% funded by me and Joke and by funded I mean mostly we shot and edited. We did not have a lot of money. I remember I called Momoko and I was like hey, listen. We're really excited about this documentary. I've got $5,000, what do you think? They said, I think, no.
It was a really personal project. The story is it was a friend of ours whose lifelong dream was to perform comedy on the David Letterman show and he was actively chasing that dream when he found out he might only have five years to live. He was diagnosed with incurable liver cancer and he decided he was going to dedicate what was left of his life to chasing that dream of performing on Letterman. It was this amazing story. I get choked up just talking about it and it's all these years later. It was this amazing story about what are dreams worth. Is a dream really worth your life? If you only had so much time left, would you spend it chasing your dream? It was so important to us to get everything right, not only for our friend but for this movie that we felt like was a really special opportunity to tell this story about dreams.
Once I realized Momoko didn't give a crap about that, I was like, I did it, I understand. We started looking for that person and we went to the web, we looked at reels, I visited websites and we found somebody whose style that we liked a lot and we thought fit some of the things we were thinking and we reached out. I said, this is what I need and this is what we have and I'm totally willing to work within your style to meet the budget because I know it's not a lot of money. He came over, he watched the movie, and fell in love with it. He did, I would say 80% of the hero graphics for the movie. Again, it was beyond my skill level, especially seven years ago, my skill level at the time. That was one example.
Another example, like on a show like Commercial Kings where we ran into a situation where even though we were originally told we fell under certain documentary rules, the studio got nervous about a lot of things that were in the background that legally we should have been able to show because we really did short of fall under news and docs but they wanted to blur everything and that was going to look awful. You've seen the reality shows where they blur everything and it just looks ridiculous.
Instead, I was like, we're not blurring it, we're replacing it all, which was a pain in the butt but we hired an after effects artist to come in and we're like, can we track this, can we replace it with stuff we can clear? In most of the cases, we didn't blur because it would have been a lot of blurring. To watch the show, you just assume that was the art or that was the stuff that was there. In that case, I was just looking for someone who could really track and replace and this guy had a reel of a bunch of stuff he tracked and replaced. I was like, great. Again, that's another example.
Andy Hearst who is our in-house guy now who is somebody I actually met through our blog and podcast a long time ago and he just reached out and he was like, I really like that you guys are so hands on. I also do all this stuff, if there's ever an opportunity to work together. We've now worked together for like four years. He's on two shows right now over here. We kind of set him up with an after effects Cinema 4D bay and he is our Swiss Army knife when he can handle it and when it gets out of control, we look for other Swiss Army knives. It's part of the reason actually why I love School of Motion and I love your philosophy, I've read through your site and the idea that you train generalists.
Some people think generalist is like a dirty word or some reason. I think generalists are awesome. To me, a generalist is the ultimate creative. It's somebody that has to understand the whole process and be able to come in and do anything. Even if maybe there not quite as good as the guy who has dedicated his whole life to only doing tracking, they can do a great job and it can be an enjoyable experience. That's why I love generalists because I think they're creative out of the box thinkers. I look for those people.
Joey: First of all, thank you for saying that. You're absolutely right. That is why we sort of try to create generalists. Before School of Motion in my mograph career, I was a generalist. I loved it because it opened up a ton of opportunities. I kind of want to try to give some career advice here. There's a lot of probably small companies like yours that are producing. Just the sheer amount of content that comes out every day is mind boggling. You mentioned that there was a time where you had to go out and find freelancers, which can be very tough. My philosophy is freelancers should be finding you. For your company and companies like yours, do you like it when freelancers email you and they're like, hey I'm a mograph generalist, I can do some VFX, I can design, I can animate, here's my reel and let me know if you ever need anything? Do you guys look forward to stuff like that or do you prefer to seek people out yourself?
Joke : I think always, always be putting yourself out there. We have a [email protected] email and people email us their latest real or updated credit list or resume all the time. I would say once a year people will be like, here's what I've been working on the last year or whatever. I think it's super helpful. It's where we always go when we're looking for something specific. We'll be like, okay who is available, who sent us their stuff, who are we looking for?
It's also where we met people like Andy who were like, here's who I am and we like, wow we really like this guy's stuff. Let's come in for a general meeting. Maybe we don't have anything right now but it's good to a face with the name and figure out maybe there's something down the line and then we usually we end up working on a pitch and we're like, the person we just met with, we should give them a shot at this. I think that is absolutely, I would say keep putting yourself out there. I think, Biagio, you also when we were looking for the documentary, you were looking on specific job boards.
Biagio: Yeah, I posted on a couple of job boards. We also have a blog so a lot of times I'll put up a job posting at the blog and guys like Stu Mashewitz will re-Tweet it. A lot of VFX guys follow him or whatever. You'd just be like, hey they're looking for such and such a position or someone who can do X. I'm pretty social, we're really active on Twitter, we're Joke and Biagio on Twitter and like super easy. We try to reply to every single person who Tweets to us. It's usually the two of us replying. Sometimes it'll be our assistant. If it's like a general question, we just point to a link.
A lot of people I've met on Twitter. Andy actually tweeted to me. We hired our very first assistant editor off of Twitter. One of our DPs for one of shows, I met on Twitter. I love Twitter. I think it's great. It's a real easy way to do quick little back and forth and it's easy for people to send links. Not everybody uses Twitter as much as I do, that's something for me but you can find other producers that are on Twitter. I think it's a nice non-confrontational way to reach out and it's very easy to click a link and take a quick look at something. Like Joke said, we have jobs at jokeproductions.com as an email that we post on a lot of the boards and people can send a link over to that. Obviously, we can't hire everybody. We are a small shop but a lot of times I'll refer people to other companies. Just recently, we met a great DP who we didn't have anything for but we got him a job somewhere else because we all talk to each other.
That's our way of giving back to the community. We do a blog, we try to point people to jobs if we can. I think for us, that's how we are. Not every company is like that. If I can offer a piece of advice though. If you want to break in at some of the big companies like say a Mark Burnett or a Three Ball or some of the other companies that do a lot of shows and do a lot of graphics, emailing the owners is probably not the way to go. We're kind of weird, I think we've established that. We're a little odd but what you can do, who you want to find are the post supers and the lead AEs.
I'm telling you, this is a great piece of advice I bet you not a lot of people have told your artists or maybe they have, I don't know. If you go to these reality companies, the real people that are going be looking for a last minute graphic or looking to bring in an artist, it's going to be the post production supervisor and the lead AEs. It's usually a post super making the final decision but the lead AEs, nobody ever reaches out to them. If they get an email, they're like, wow someone thought I was important. I actually saw someone become a big editor that way. He was an editor who had never worked and he was smart enough to reach out to the lead AEs at these big companies who were like, wow this guy is reaching out to me and they'd pass this stuff up the chain. He was a working editor in like a month-and-a-half.
Some good advice and you can find this on IMDB. You can find this on LinkedIn. Figure out who the post production supervisors and the lead AEs are at these companies. They also hop around to other companies. If you could you make a relationship with as many of them as you can, you're building your network in our industry. A lead AE who works here on one show might do five other companies in the next year. He now knows you, that's six companies you could potentially work at. I would say that's a real good way if you want to take an active approach to meeting people. Start with the lead AEs and the post supers at these unscripted companies.
Joey: That is brilliant advice, Biagio. Thank you for that. That's pretty close to exactly what I tell people to do. I usually tell them to find a producer, someone like that but those titles. By the way, AE I'm assuming, assistant editor?
Biagio: Sorry. Yeah, lead assistant editor. You could even reach out to assistant editors too. Basically, what you want is ... If you email Mark Burnett, he's not going to email you back.
Biagio: If you email us, we might email you back but at most of these companies you'll hear back from an AE or a lead AE or a post production supervisor.
Joke : You should reach out to anybody whose life you would make easier.
Joey: I love you guys. All right, let me ask you one more question about the mograph artists that you work with. Every mograph artist they've got a set of attributes and their different strengths and things like that. Some people are a really good fit for long, slow projects where they can really obsess over all the little details. Some people like to be on something for three days and move on. Typically, I always think that the faster you can work, the better it is in general but I some situations if you're doing a project that takes six months and is just filled with nuance and hand drawn animation, then you can't go fast. How important is the speed at which an artist can work when you hire a freelancer to come and work on one of your shows?
Biagio: Usually pretty important.
Joke : Crucial.
Biagio: Again, I think you need to know the kind of project you're signing up for.
Joke : Again, I think there's a difference between design and execution. Obviously, if we're talking about design, we know it's going to take a couple of weeks. You've got to brainstorm, you've got to find inspiration, you've got to try different things. But when you're talking about we're bringing someone in freelance to execute, it's like we've gotta go.
Biagio: I think we try to be really honest about that. For instance, on our documentary, which we were funding, we had all the time in the world. I wasn't worried about finding someone who could work fast, I was worried about finding someone who cared. I was worried about finding someone who got the story, understand the material and would with the budget we have in their spare time, create something special. On the show we're on right now that I have Andy locked away in a room for, that guy is kicking out 20 graphics a day. There is no rest for the wicked and I know he's going to do it. I know he's going to come through.
When we first tried Andy, I didn't know. You hope, you like to hear from people concrete examples of what they've done. You like to be able to call somebody and be like what was it like working with this artists so if they have a good reference, that's important. I think just as important we feel it's super important for us to be honest with them, it's really important for an artist to be honest with us. Don't take a job if you think you can't do it. I understand that it's hard to pass up work but you can do longer term damage.
It's the same for us, we've passed up shows. Maybe a network wants us to do something and we're just like, guys we really can't do that at the time, the budget, we're going to make you unhappy. As much as I need the pay for my kids to go to school, I don't want to leave a bad taste in your mouth. I know that's really hard when you're a starving artist because we were there. We were living out the one bedroom apartment in Hollywood eating way more Ramen noodles than any person should. We've been there, we know. You've got to be honest. If you don't think you could do the job ... I've had people say, I don't think I can do this one and I hired them on something else because I respect that honesty.
When it goes the other way and someone is like, I can totally do this and they deliver a look board, which is clearly from borrowed materials but they're like, it's going to look just this. Then it turns out and it looks nothing like that and it's completely out of their league and you trusted them and they just couldn't do it and they weren't honest with you or themselves. We're never working with those people again. If anyone calls us, we can't in good conscience give them a good reference. It's a conversation and it's different on every job.
Joke : Listen, there's people that come highly recommended that just aren't the right fit for whatever reason whether it's the project or again, we are more hands on in the DIY attitude here so some people don't like that. That's fine. My main thing is, because it is freelance and we've both taken jobs that we were like, I don't know if we can do this but okay, we're jumping in the deep end and we're going to do and do it. Because it's a freelance business, we've now made the commitment that we will come through no matter what. That's part of what I look for in freelancers.
If you're going to take that risk and you're going to say, I think I can do this, I really can, I'm going to jump in the deep end. Only jump in knowing that you will figure out how to swim and you will do this because if halfway through you're like, okay guys I'm drowning, I can't do this, you're messing up the whole production. It's one of those things where it's like really be careful when you make that decision and I'm not saying don't ever do it because obviously that's how we got ahead in the business by doing that.
Biagio: Oh sure, we told everybody we could anything. We made sure we did it.
Joke : We made sure we did it. That meant that there were nights that we were sleeping three hours a night because we were like, we need to get this done, we have to figure out how to do this and then we need to do that. We always came through in the end and sometimes it was really hard for us and sometimes there were learning experiences like, we'll never jump in that deep end again. It's one of things again, because it's freelance and a lot of times we're talking about it's a four-week job or a six-week job. If it takes you three weeks to figure out you can't do it, the whole production is behind schedule.
Joey: That is excellent, excellent advice. That's actually what I love about freelancer is that it's you. You're putting your reputation on the line every single time you say yes and that's kind of exhilarating for some people but you have to move heaven and earth to stay true to your word. You guys have been incredibly generous with your time. I do have one more question. I don't think it's going to be a short answer either so I apologize. I'm sure everybody listening has noticed that there has been a big change in the way we're consuming media lately. Netflix is probably the best example. Award-winning show after show after show and they are not unscripted. You've got HBO go and to a smaller extent, you've got Hulu and YouTube. There's a lot of content being created for these streaming services. I'm curious if that model is going to support unscripted TV the way the cable model has.
I used to sit around and flip through channels and MTV True Life would come on and sure, that'll keep my attention for 15 minutes but if I sit down to Netflix, I almost never watch something like that. It's always something that probably has a much bigger budget, let's put it that way. Are you worried at all about the industry you're in, this unscripted content production, do you think that that might start to diminish now that you've got so many other you know, Amazon jumping in and doing big budget scripted shows. Does that worry you at all or do you that there's still a future for this on whatever medial platform we end up using in the next 10 years.
Joke : If you look at the cable TV channels and you see what rates the best for them, a lot of times it's marathons, it's Housewives marathons, it's Snapped true crime marathons, it's House Hunter marathons. Marathoning is another way of saying binge watching. The Netflix, the Amazons, the Hulus of the world who are banking on binge watching have also noticed that. We're in the very early stages and a lot of their content hasn't made it on the streaming platforms but all of those have now unscripted departments and they have hired unscripted executives from the NBCs, from the Bravos, from those cable channels that do all the "reality shows" that you're thinking about. Those executives are now working at Netflix and Amazon and Hulu making those kind of shows.
Biagio: We were just on the phone with Netfilx last week. As a matter of fact, I'm not going to say which digital platform but our big show that's coming up later that we're doing with the Mill, we almost did with one of those digital platforms you're talking about and it was a really touch decision but when you see where the show ended up, you'll understand why we went where we did. We were talking to them both.
Joke : Obviously, some of those unscripted shows are already available on the Netflixes of the world and so clearly they must be doing good enough for Netflix to be starting their entire own unscripted department, well funded. Again, hiring top level execs from our business to go run that. They are looking for their Housewives franchise, they are looking for their Duck Dynasty.
Biagio: But they're also looking for high end documentary, which is fantastic. Think about Making a Murderer. It's all of a sudden where there used to be no money for documentary, there's money for documentary. For me, I'm like on the fence. Part of me is super excited and part of me is terrified and I'll tell you why. I'm super excited because these digital platforms have tons of money and they're spending it on programming. They're spending it on all kinds of programming, which is great. Because of their model, they're able to spend more. They can go make a Stranger Things, which was fantastic and they can do a Making of a Murderer, which is also great.
On the other hand, it's like are they going to become Walmart where they put all the cable channels out of business and once they're gone they're like okay, we're not paying anything anymore. We're just going to drop all our rates and pay everybody nothing since we put every body out of business. That's kind of what Walmart does to the small, little boutique shops in their neighborhood, right? I hope that doesn't happen. That whole end of the business model, that remains to be seen. I will say in this moment, for most unscripted producers, there's nothing more alluring and exciting than those digital platforms, especially for documentary where you suddenly can get a budget to go do something you feel is important that would never be able to rate on a cable network.
Joey: That's really interesting. I didn't see that side of that it. Thanks for pointing that out. There was a press release on your site about a show you guys are producing called Three Days to Live and it's going to be on the Oxygen network but the press release was that Oxygen is rebranding itself as a true crime network for young women I believe and before it was sort of like the women's network and they would show programming geared towards women and now they're pivoting a little bit and doing this true crime thing. The reason I asked the question was because to me, I've seen that happen before and it seems a little bit like a desperation move. Our market is leaving us, we need to find a new market or we need to find a better niche so we can really attract that niche. Whereas Netflix doesn't have to do that. Netflix gets everybody. But to your point, they're spending a lot more on their shows than $50,000 an episode.
Joke : Not to pull back the curtain too much, the Netflix originals has different buckets. Obviously, you're doing David Fincher House of Cards, you're spending a ton of money. They're looking for their Housewives, those budgets are going to be the same budgets that cable TV is paying. It's not going to all of a sudden be David Fincher money to go produce a Housewives show. Do you know what I mean?
Joke : I wouldn't worry about that. I think in terms of what Oxygen is doing and where is cable going. Who knows? I think that obviously there is a lot more happening with the apps and making it easier for people to watch the shows, not just on TV but through the network's app, etc. Again, throwing back the curtain a little bit, if you think about what was Oxygen and how were they defined and it was a women's network but there's a lot of women's networks. If you look, again step back at the conglomerate that owns Oxygen, which is NBC Universal. They also earn Bravo, they also own E. There was a lot of cannibalizing happening within that conglomerate. Between Oxygen, E, and Bravo it started feeling maybe too similar and so how can Oxygen separate itself from the other two if you have a portfolio of cable networks. Crime is doing extremely well. Their crime marathons do great. Crime repeats very well so they can air it anytime of the week, any day, and people will tune into it. One of the most successful cable networks still today, which is Discovery ID, which runs nothing but crime, Investigation Discovery. I think from a NBC Universal perspective looking a Oxygen, which was already doing crime and going hey, that works well, this is how we can differentiate it so that we're no longer cannibalizing our audience within our own portfolio of networks. It makes perfect business sense.
Joey: Thank you for going into so much detail. This stuff is absolutely fascinating to me. I don't know if it is to anybody else but hopefully it is.
Biagio: I don't know if your mographers are going to love this or not. If we've bored you to tears, I'm so sorry. I hope we get to hire you to make up for it.
Joey: I'll tell you what, despite all of the fear about media dollars leaving television, going elsewhere, what does that mean, I really think that for a motion designer, this is the best time ever to get into the game. It doesn't matter where the content ends up, there's a lot of content being done and it all needs after effects, all of it, you know.
Joke : We're in the same boat, right? We're storytellers, we're content creators. Wherever the content will end up airing whether it's on a digital platform or whether it's on traditional or cable television, it's fine by us. As long as we can find an audience through whichever platform it is, we're creating content for all platforms.
Biagio: it's funny, because we started out wanting to do scripted, we moved into unscripted, we love it. But my worst case scenario might be someday I have to go back to scripted, that's not so bad. Oh, woe is me.
Joey: That's a first world problem.
Biagio: Overall, I feel very lucky and blessed as I'm sure many of your mographers do who get to work in a job they love. My last job before really doing this industry, I was still delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut. I've washed dishes, I've bagged groceries. I've worked those jobs and I always say to myself even on the worst days, I'm like, I was happy enough delivering pizzas so I should love every day of this. I should just love it. There's no room to complain. Wherever the adventure takes me, I'm game. If I have to go back to delivering pizzas, I will.
Joey: You know what, that is a great sentiment and I want to thank both of you for coming on. This was a really interesting, fascinating conversation for me. I think the audience is going to love it too. As I said before, we will be linking to everything you guys have done because you're doing a lot of really useful interesting content on your blog and some of it could be really helpful to a freelance motion designer too. But I want to say thank you guys again for coming on, this was awesome.
Biagio: Thank you for having us. I'm still a little starstruck. It's nice to finally talk to you, Joey. I hope down the line we can find a way to be useful to you sometime.
Joey: If you ever need an actor with a really nice, round, shaved head, you just let me know.
Joke : You got it.
Biagio: Sounds good.
Joey: I'm sure you could tell that I had a lot of fun during this interview. I hope you really dug it too. There were a lot of really great tips in there about freelancing, designing with a kit mentality. Let us know if you use any of these tips. Hit us up on [email protected] or email at [email protected] Check out Biagio and Joke's work at jokeproductions.com and head to producingunscripted.com to learn more about what goes into the pitching and creation of shows like the ones they work on. Also, it would be so sweet if you took one minute if you rated and reviewed us on iTunes. I know it's a little weird but it's one of the best ways to help us spread the word and keep this party going so that we can continue to bring you amazing guests and cover interesting topics on the podcast. Thank you so much for listening. You rock. Peace.