Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Reality Jane gives you a back stage pass to all the down and dirty gossip and work into creating a reality show.
Jane Kaufman went from being a journalist in Canada to being a producer for the hit reality show, The Purrfect Life with Lucy Lane. Don’t mistaken the title of this show to be about cats or kittens, unless you are interested in the sex kitten variety. Yep, Jane’s first role as a Hollywood producer is for a show about superficial, rich people and stuck up models. Jane’s first episode that features DJ, MC Toke (yeah I know but this is really the name he goes by). Even after this disastrous event, Jane still is willing to stick out all the catiness and give Hollywood another chance. Besides, how many people can say that they were a producer for a reality show?
I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I liked the humorous banter but on the other hand I could not stand the fake characters and stereo typicalness. There was no one that I could really cheer for. At times it was Jane but not in the beginning. She was so naïve to the game that I wanted to shake her and tell her that she was so much smarter and better than the rest, so why did she care so much what the others thought and want to be their friends.
I have to give it up to Jane and Shannon as I don’t know if I could put up with being in this world for very long. Shannon has done it for years with shows like Peak Season for MTV (Supervising) and the CBC ratings winner The Week the Women Went, Bachelorettes in Alaska, Blow Out, and The Dr. Phil Show.
This book did make me glad that I am on the other side of the fence as a viewer and not staring in or producing a reality show. Reality Jane gives you a back stage pass to all the down and dirty gossip and work into creating a reality show.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
If reality television hadn’t been invented, Shannon Nering wouldn’t know what to do for a living! Shannon’s a much-in-demand docu-reality producer and director, whose savant-like understanding of the genre, combined with her ability to create intimate bonds with her subjects, pays off in riveting television . . . and now riveting novels like Reality Jane.
Recent producer and director credits include Peak Season for MTV (Supervising) and the CBC ratings winner The Week the Women Went. She cut her reality chops in Los Angeles, producing on numerous shows from Bachelorettes in Alaska, to Blow Out, to The Dr. Phil Show. Shannon began her broadcast career as an on-air host and reporter for the CBC.
She currently lives in Vancouver, BC with her cameraman husband and two young sons.
Q&A WITH SHANNON NERING, REALITY JANE AUTHOR
Why did you decide to write a novel set in reality television rather than a book of non-fiction about reality TV?
I wanted the experience of getting to make stuff up. In my line of work, I’m limited to the non-fiction world―it’s REALITY TV, after all. My job, by its very definition, is about real life. And though the old adage “life is stranger than fiction” often rings true for me, it’s really liberating to be able to create a story that doesn’t have to live within true-life boundaries. For me, it almost felt like cheating. And then to write in a style―chick-lit―where there is license to be girly/silly/humorous/playful really was a joy.
One other reason: Some people may not take reality TV seriously, but when it’s your bottom-line and it pays your mortgage, you have to be serious about it. Writing Reality Jane helped bring the fun back for me and reminded me what I love (and hate) about this biz.
In writing for TV, what have you learned that you took over to novel writing? And what have you learned NOT to take over?
In TV land, we know that people can change the channel in a flash, so we write to create maximum impact. The style is bold, sensational, quippy, and fast. We also let the talent/subjects/cast tell the story, instead of narrating it. I definitely used this style in writing the book. It’s driven by dialogue, as are all the shows I’ve worked on. That said, writing Reality Jane allowed me to explore my voice and create a world that is familiar and yet chaotic and zany enough to provide real entertainment for the reader.
You work regularly in reality TV, both as a director and a producer. To what extent do you see this book as biting the hand that feeds you?
I don’t think I’m the first person to have a love-hate relationship with my job and career. And to this day, there are elements I really dislike about my work. But there is much to love―we meet amazing people; we’re often in a new location, sometimes daily; every day is truly different; and we constantly learn about life and people. It’s a creative job and it’s exciting. We’re so fortunate to work in “entertainment,” but it has a downside as well, and you can never take anything too personally. I don’t think I’m insulting anyone in this book or biting any hands; insiders know it’s a work of fiction. The book simply reveals that reality TV is a business like anything else, and it’s naïve to think or expect otherwise. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I’ve heard of “publish or perish.” But, until reading Reality Jane, I’d never heard of “pitch or perish.” Same idea? Explain.
Very few people in our business have a “full-time” gig. We’re mostly freelancers, and we’re only as good as our last gig. Sometimes jobs last a week, sometimes six months, but rarely longer. A show can get pulled, cancelled, given to other prodcos [production companies], whatever. There is no security in our biz. So you’ve got to keep chucking spaghetti against the wall and hope something sticks. You’ve got to keep trying to sell shows to the networks.
It seems as if, until now, you’ve spent most of your working life in television. What draws you to it? What repels you?
I love the adventure and I love the people in the business. Producers, directors, TV-types are a very interesting bunch. They’re mostly A-types who have strong opinions and aren’t afraid to voice them, so there’s a lot of clashing behind the scenes. I like that. I don’t go for the corporate world; by comparison, it seems slow and boring, and there’s a lot of make-nice fakeness that you don’t get in the “no-shit” world of TV. It’s a fast world and my sneakers move faster than those of most others, so it suits me. Plus, my experience working with the cast of any given show is usually a kick! They’re really fascinating. They can also be petty, strange, difficult, lewd and boring, and that keeps it interesting too.
Could you work more if you didn’t have small children?
YES! Of course, that applies anywhere, but especially to TV. When you commit to being in the field, you are there for a 10-12 hour day and you have to shut your phone off (or at least to vibrate). No sneaking out to take a kid to the dentist for an hour—just not possible or acceptable.
Is there a “Canadian sensibility” to reality TV that is different from an American sensibility, or a European sensibility, or an Asian sensibility, and, if so, what is it?
Bottom line, American reality shows are more salacious. But Canadian reality shows are slowly but surely adopting this style. It’s what the people want. I remember trying to pitch a reality show about divorcees to a Canadian cable network and they didn’t believe that Canadian women could be as revealing, crazy, or wild as their American counterparts. I disagreed but couldn’t convince them. So it’s a top-down phenomenon as far as I can tell.
When I ask my Canadian friends what they like, they LOVE the American reality shows, and there’s nothing in Canada that compares. So we need to feed that if we want to keep it local, and I think that’s finally starting to happen.
As for off-continent: we’re always borrowing from other countries as they borrow from the U.S. Asians seem to love their off-the-wall goofball shows where things (or people) go kersplat. We’ve adopted that with Wipe Out, which is now a huge hit. And Europe has led the way from the get-go with clever, true-blue reality shows like Survivor and Big Brother and Missing Link, so we still look to them to be on top of the trends, while they scoop up American favorites like the Real Housewives franchise and talk shows.
To what extent is your novel’s main character, Jane Kaufman, really you?
Jane and I share a fierce ambitious streak and obviously the same career. But Jane is way more naïve than I ever was and she’s also more tolerant―she puts up with a lot of crap. I would have lost it a lot sooner than she does. Also, when it comes to men and dating, I was much more sure-footed.
Over the past decade, how has reality TV changed, for good or ill, and how are those changes reflected in your novel?
It’s grown tremendously and proven that it is here to stay. It’s expanded into soap-style TV with shows like The Hills and Real Housewives, while the anchors of the genre, like Survivor and Amazing Race and Bachelor, are still strong. It’s also provided ample fodder for a number of cable networks: HGTV, Food, etc. It’s constantly growing and morphing and we’re seeing more and more accomplished actors getting into the game―people are using it (or trying to use it) as a launching point for their careers. In Reality Jane, there’s the strange hybrid show Marry an Heiress and the opportunistic producers who create a wedding show spin-off from it. This happens and will continue to happen as long as producers create or find bankable characters. It’s all about the money and advertisers.
What do you hope readers get out of Reality Jane?
Entertainment, first. A reality check, second. I want people to recognize that their TV-movie icons―the people they so worship―are flawed just like the rest of us. I also want them to see that reality TV is a business―in fact, a big business―and in business, people sometimes do get crushed. The book shows us that first-hand. Watch your favorite reality show and enjoy it for what it is, but if you’re thinking about giving your “story” up for a reality show, I caution you: sometimes you benefit, sometimes you don’t. There are no guarantees, so be smart about it.
Also, we as producers get a lot of flack for working in what some people call a shmucky business. I want folks to see that there are many of us who have a strong moral compass and we operate within those boundaries. I think people should operate from their value systems. If someone asks you to compromise—whether you’re in TV, sales, law, medicine, home construction—stick to your guns. If not, you won’t be able to live with yourself. If Reality Jane can inspire people to stand up for what they believe in (as Jane did), then wow! Now it’s not just entertainment for you. You have a real and useful take-away.
Are you thinking about a sequel to Reality Jane?
Never say never. The content is certainly there.
If someone were to play Jane Kaufman in a movie, who would it be and why?
Kate Hudson because she’s not afraid to make an ass of herself, yet she can be taken seriously as an intelligent and capable woman with a goal to make a positive difference in the world―and that is Jane.
Do you see Reality Jane as a movie and, if so, why?
It’s got all the elements of a superb romantic comedy―great locations, beautiful people, a multi-layered protagonist with lofty aims, a complicated love triangle, heartbreak, evil bosses and colleagues, friendship dramas, universal life challenges and, of course, a happy ending.
As a first-time novelist, what did you learn about writing a novel?
It’s frickin’ hard and it takes a long time. It’s also hugely fulfilling, especially given the fact I never thought myself even remotely qualified.
You’ve written a novel that might well be categorized as chick-lit, a genre that some say is dead or dying. Is this chick-lit? Is the genre dead or dying? Who exactly is your audience?
Chick-lit is dying? Back the bus up! I find that hard to believe. In my world, that’s like saying rom-com has gone the way of the dodo bird. Not possible. I think anyone, man or woman, who is curious about TV and its inner-workings will like this book. That said, chicks will dig it, especially if they’re ambitious. It’s a smart chick-lit read with less fluff and silliness than the average chick-lit novel, but all the edge and salaciousness that contemporary audiences crave. It’s also got a strong and rather serious message, which gives it some real depth. To me, as a reader, I would find all that quite satisfying and enjoyable.
What books and authors do you read? Which do you admire? Which have had a noticeable influence on you?
I’m eclectic in my tastes in literature and just about everything else, and with two young kids and all my projects (and TV shows), my time is limited. That said, some of my favorite fictional reads include War and Peace, The Fountainhead, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (perhaps it’s clichéd but damn good just the same). My favorite chick-lit writer is Jennifer Weiner, who is a real inspiration. I also read a fair bit of non-fiction.
Among reality TV people, what’s been the reaction to this novel?
First, they all wonder where I found the time to write it. Second, they love it. It’s a bit of a mirror for an industry insider, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously, so most of my peers find it fun and humorous, and truly a nice break from reality.
Among smart people, is watching reality TV considered to be a guilty pleasure and, if so, why?
Yes, but this is changing too. People used to be embarrassed to admit it, and men still blame it on their wives, which is cute. But these days I don’t believe people when they say they don’t watch reality TV. I say, “Then you must not have access to cable!”
In Reality Jane, Jane Kaufman espouses a philosophy she attributes to her mother: “In life, shoot for the stars, but you, like most everyone else, may get only halfway there, and learn to live with that fact.” Is that your philosophy of life? And did it come from your mother?
My mom has given me a lot of guidance through my years and continues to―I will forever be grateful to her for that. I don’t remember where I first heard it, probably her, or maybe I made it up. But yes, I agree with that philosophy. It’s about NOT settling, it’s about trying, and it’s obviously about the journey. The destination is such a small part of it all, and it changes too. I love not knowing where I’m going to end up. I just know it’s going to be good! It’s how I’ve lived my life―try, reach, see where I end up, and enjoy the ride. It’s all good.
In Reality Jane, you suggest that crew for some reality TV shows, shooting on location for an extended period of time, tend to be on the randy side. True in real life?
I don’t think we are any more randy than a gang of executives in Vegas for a convention. But yes, any time you get a group of mostly single 20- and 30-somethings stuck in a hotel for a month, working their asses off, then blowing off steam with alcohol, stuff’s going to happen.
In the novel, Jane Kaufman yearns to live away from LA. True in your life, too, and, if so, why?
It’s a popular notion for those who live in LA to complain about living there. But truly, LA is a great place to live. It’s just so damn cool. It’s also got the worst traffic I’ve ever seen in my life. Complete grid-lock. I left LA to partially remove myself (and my family) from the uber rat-race, but I discovered the rat-race had followed me, so escape was a futile effort. And now I miss LA’s cool factor. Someday I may go back. I just hope they don’t run out of water!
What do reality TV participants get out of the experience? Best case? Worst case?
Best case: a $50 million boost to a fledgling business (Bethanny Frankel) or a few million dollars in cologne endorsements (The Situation)
Worst case: a severe hangover.
Seriously, like anything, it’s what you make of the experience. It can open many doors for you. Or, it can be devastating. It all depends on who you are as a person. Going on a show will show you who you really are.
In this book, do you do more dissing or dishing when it comes to reality TV?
Dishing. People love to dish and it’s why reality TV is so popular. It’s also why this book will be popular. As for dissing, nobody likes a hater. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. That’s never been my goal in anything I do.
How hard was it to get this book published?
To quote a favorite song lyric, it’s been “a long and windy road” but worth every step. I’m ever grateful to the people who have supported this process.