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Screen & Stage
January, 2008


On The (Back) Lot
Reality show business
By  J.R. Kambak

"Who Will Be Eliminated?" Why not "Who will win?" putting in a positive spin?
You probably haven't missed much if you haven't tuned into TV land's latest "ground breaking" reality show genre spin off, On The Lot, produced by Steve Spielberg and reality mastermind (do we really have someone who is an expert at reality?) Mark Burnett, broadcast on FOX network television. It's a realistic fictional world of judgemental celebrity ego more than the art of filmmaking, a faulty premise that is seriously off-putting for a network run.
This is a Survivor-meets-The-Apprentice-meets-The-Weakest-Link unoriginal plotline, culling 12,000 submissions down to 50, and then down to 16 amateur filmmaking contestants. Every week, short films are produced and auditioned before the television audience. Public vote chooses which ones need to be left on the cutting room floor. The 16 amateur short-film directors are voted off till one is left – winner takes all with – a drop-in-the-bucket $1 million development deal with DreamWorks Animation, L.L.C. Why can't the winner choose which studio he wants to work with? Why is Steven Spielberg hiding in the shadows? Why not $10 million dollars?
"So you think you can make a movie in a week? Prove it," reads On The Lot ( filled with commercialized blitz. Eye candy that reminds me of America's Funniest Video hook; obscure Americans vying for their 15-minutes of fame.
In pure Hollywood self-aggrandizement of star-struck novices, the cast of judges – Carrie Fisher (Postcards From The Edge) co-anchors with Hollywood Walk of Fame Star recipient Gary Marshall, and a surprise third guest filmmaker who gets to plug their latest work – do offer some distinction that getting your short film noticed isn't as easy as one thinks. Not by an impartial American audience nor a darkened star chamber of studio executives tallying each shows votes to determine what their next blockbuster plotline will be.
On The Lot is hosted by Adrianna Costa (one of my high school alums) is recognized as the "most reliable source for Hollywood News in the world." Based on what? Compared to the salaciousness of celebrity secrets gossip columnist Walter Winchell and later narrator of the Untouchables, Costa is pure Katie Couric, offering flowery milksop quips that don't come close to Winchell's staccato delivery of 197 words per minute. And then there's the predictable cliff hanger, cut-to-a-commercial break that kills the dramatic continuity. That's a "trouser-crease-eraser" in Winchellese.
The dog-eat-dog backstage reality drama of contestants jockeying for peer recognition would bode well for giving the show some real guts. However, there's a fail-safe marketing twist to keep ratings from completely failing and sponsors having bail-out jitters.
On The Lot's website has a display ad that reads, "Your logline could get you to Hollywood," and is sponsored by Ford. What's going on here? I checked with the travel agencies and none of them are offering loglines as a means of transportation to Hollywood.
"Ford wants to help you escape boredom with America's Choice Logline Challenge," reads the ad. Assuming that American life is so boring with leisure time, escaping boredom from other reality show boredom has become the purpose of these ersatz TV reality show productions; the bane of American mainstream bogus star-struck pursuit. Personally, I would prefer to win a Ford, and then sell it off to pay for an extended stay at a Third World remote seaside resort where a Karaoke bar has more amusement panache.
Moreover, here's the rub: The winning logline (considered the perfect movie script in 25 words or less) could be made into one of the weekly contestant film-making challenges and the winner could appear as a guest judge on the show. I'm wary of the "coulds" in these pitches; a noncommittal Hollywoodesque enticement that was used in a nationwide hunt to discover the starlet to play Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. It's called a "casting couch."
In the chaos of camera angles, plotlines, clever edits, and acting gimmicks all put together in a three-minute short film under a five-day, fast-food production budget deadline, I'm not impressed with the show's election-type tagline: "Who Will Be Eliminated?" Why not "Who will win?" putting it in a positive perspective?
There's nothing genuinely or ground-breakingly original with On The Lot, so Spielberg ought to be the first one to be eliminated because he's copying what's already been done. Project Greenlight (greenlight is the term used for giving the go ahead to produce a movie script) is the highly profitable business model established back in 2000 that Spielberg/Burnett imitates. Project Greenlight is a script contest and documentary series that was founded by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Chris Moore and broadcast on Bravo and HBO.
And here's an example when entertainment mirrors entertainment: The real plot to Spielberg's On The Lot emulates another short film by the same title written by Colin Patrick Lynch and directed by Vincent Duvall – tagline, "A movie about people who make movies that never get made." Go to Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival if you want to get recognition for short film making. Even Festival de Cannes for that matter.
And if you're seriously interested in watching short films (outside of YouTube), go to Atom Films; iFilms; ifc; BBC's film network; Australia's Nice Shorts; New Zealand's NZSHORTFILM, or even FolkStreams, which provides a library of information on documentary filmmaking for Internet production.
Given the predetermined genre of TV reality shows yet to come, I wouldn't be surprised if next season we see Flip This Movie and So You Think You Can Act followed up by Script Pitches, the later being (I must confess I'm guilty of playing into the reality genre) a logline I've pitched that has been turned down because everybody in Tinsel Town has already thought of it before. That's show biz.

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J.R. Kambak is a regular IN contributor and award-nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. Contact J.R. Kambak for more information and resources:

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Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

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