Sunday, June 03, 2007
On The LOT is a TV "reality" show descibing a competition among directors to get a $1 million development contract at Dreamworks. The Executive Producers of the show are star director Steven Spielberg and star reality producer Mark Burnett.
The concept behind On The LOT (OTL) is terrific. It is
- (1) a great contest that
- (2) provides abundant material for compelling TV, and
- (3) a valuable website: a showcase and forum for filmmakers, with contests, casting, classifieds and film news.
Unfortunately, the devil has disrupted the details. Ratings are low, and the website forums are nearly unanimous in their comments on problems with the show and the website.
Here are the biggest problems and how to fix them. It’s an OTL REMIX summary.
The structural problems:
Movies are great. People love exciting/beautiful actors/actresses. People love a feature film that takes them into some fantasy world for two hours. People like to watch how this fantasy world is made. People don’t care that much about short films; they’ve never been really big. People don’t care that much about directors unless they’re already celebrities.
The producers are being very secretive – for example, not releasing any information to the "official" website until after everyone else knows about it. There was almost no information about the show or the developing competition posted on the website from the time people entered the competition until the show went on the air. The TV show skipped some steps in the selection of the finalists, relegating a "missing episode" to "outtakes #4" in a clip a few minutes long on the website. They continue to be secretive about the process, and when they do release news, it’s not on the website. They have alienated many of the most likely fans – the filmmakers active on the website.
The contest is structured so that people (civilians, the TV audience) vote on the films. This is problematic. If they show all the films on TV, people will not remember them. Online, not many people are going to view all the films and make a wise decision like a critic might, or the way a director would critique a student director’s work. People are going to vote on personalities, on their connection to the filmmaker, and on their interest in the overall story, and the mayhem that occurs in the film. On the web it has always been funny films, erotic films, embarrassing films, and other quirky films that get watched a zillion times. Great, well-directed short films not so much. It’s really hard to vote on films on the telephone and, so far, website voting has not worked well at all.
The public is not really aware of the show. Even many filmmakers I've talked to have not heard of the show.
The website has a lot of great sections. Unfortunately it does not work. It is way too slow. And there are many crucial bugs in essential features. The casting section is a mess. The voting didn’t work the first time around, the classified ad section often doesn’t accept ads, and there is no search on blogs, boards and casting. Also, the producers seem to post news about the show everywhere else, before it shows up on the "official" site.
The show seems under-rehearsed, with poor performances by the judges and the hostess, and a terrible script and format that is too derivative of Idol.
Here’s my fix:
A- Hire a celebrity host who is a great improviser, knowledgeable about movies and their creation, and is a big draw for the show. Possibly a comedian/comedienne, or a model or actress who has hosted TV and other events; and someone who is savvy about filmmaking. That will help improve ratings AND give the show more energy.
B- Change the show format, and hire a new writer and director for the show who will give it a distinct identity. That will make the show more fun. (This may be in the works; see below.)
C- Make stars of the directors; and make events out of the short films: Give the directors some celebrity actors to work with. In the show, focus on the performers, the directors and the filmmaking process. Get the judges to disagree and debate the films. Let the directors engage the judges, rather than be just "rated" as they are on Idol. Directors should be articulate about films and filmmaking – that’s what makes directors interesting. Conclude the show with a brief segment sending someone home; followed by the presentation to the directors of the next challenge.
Promote the show more vigorously. For example, I haven't seen anyone from the show on the talk-show circuit. (Having more celebrities involved in the show would make this easier.)
D- Change the rules for the contest – despite the promotions – so that the public can rate the quality of the film, but the judges (and Spielberg) make the final decisions. The public can not reasonably select the best director, especially not with the current system for viewing the films and voting on them. It’s hard for the audience to properly study the films, and hard to vote fairly for filmmaking/directing ability on either the web or the phone.
The producers have actually subtly changed the rules already. According to an e-mail I received – which, as usual, was not posted on thelot.com – here is the plan for this week. Quoting from the e-mail:
"Tuesday's one-hour Episode of On The Lot will be premiering five of the remaining contestants’ 3-minute shorts. The judges will weigh in with their thoughts and feedback on the films that the finalists created and then you will decide! Your vote determines who will go and who will stay. The "Box Office" results will be announced in next week’s episode. Make sure you head to TheLot.com after Tuesdays Episode to watch the Contestants Films from this week and cast your vote!"
It’s not clear if this means we only vote on 5 at a time, and the contestants now have extra time for the next film, or if the show is only promoting 5 of the films – like a magician who asks you to choose a card, any card, and then "forces" the choice.
It also means that the most interesting news about the show is still not coming on the website.
E- Fix the website: (1) Put all the information about the show and the contest on the website first. Give the producers, judges and others who run the show (and even the candidates) a blog on the site to talk openly about the making of the show and the contest – the filmmaking, the judging…. (2) Put a lot of tech talent into updating the website, fixing the bugs, and fixing the speed problems.
This TV show can still be a hit! The contest can discover some new directors! And the website can be great for filmmakers, and a very valuable property!
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I'm not on the show. I am in the Headshot Gallery, but right now no-one will ever find my picture because it is buried amongst about 3,000 other pictures with no way to find any particular one. But you can find my film, OTL ...
FRAGILE (Sonnet 65) with Intro
Also, the films shown from June 5 thru 19th were made by the directors when they were home on leave from OTL, and were not funded by OTL. Therefore, some could afford to use better equipment and crew than others. Starting on June 26th there will be newly directed and produced films coming from Hollywood, finally allowing for an equal playing field.