Keyboard in shadow "Reality Writer" – Anonymous

I was hired by a reality shop to field direct/produce a two-hour special for a certain Viacom network. On my first day of work I was quickly asked to "take a stab" at the script. I started pinning note cards to the bulletin board and wrote a corresponding 10-act format that was eventually sent to the network for approval.  As the reality genre dictates, the 10 acts comprised segments linking contrived circumstance and location to provoke action and conflict. (Yup, that's what reality is.) We were about to hit the road traveling to countless cities and embark on countless contrived circumstances. We had to plan, anticipate, produce. I had to write.

I devised segment breakdowns for each proposed field shoot. The executive producer was saying things like, "This is the bit where she wants this and he wants that… and suddenly, 'Clash of the Titans!'" So we needed to pen the executive producer's inspired, proposed story as it was expected to unfold in the field. I wrote segment breakdowns, which included a back-story, a synopsis, and proposed story beats of how we thought the "Clash of the Titans" would go down. These were distributed to the shooting crew so that everybody was poised to collect the subtleties as well as the big story. Field camera notes were added to highlight story-driving sound bites, and the document was sent on to post with the tapes. The story editors then had direct field knowledge of where to find the juiciest sound bites to enable them to again write the paper edits (i.e., a script for the editors to use).

So the principle photography was shot. It was all about cutting to air at this point. But the genius executive behind the "Clash of the Titans" concept had a dilemma. The editors were assigned individual acts. We needed to have one act speak to the next. One scene, driving you to the adjoining scene. The executive's fear was that we'd cut a show where "the Titans did this… and the Titans did that…" and who wants to watch that for two hours?

So to get the edit on the same page we had to write an emotional spine on which to hang the edit. I worked with the senior story producer to articulate the story arcing premise for our Titans. We co-wrote an emotional journey map for the characters. We wrote premise statements for each act and articulated the dynamic progression of each character's emotional journey. You didn't think reality was this deep, I know. In any event, the emotional journey map was distributed in post, enabling the editors to hang their acts on the same emotional spine.

The two-hour network special recently aired. I watched the Titans during the commercial breaks of a much better show, and I tried not to blink as my name flew by in the squeeze. Alas there were no credits given for writing. Please–everybody knows reality doesn't use writers. So… why do I feel used?


Organizing Reality TV