What To Do When Hollywood Calls

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Our experience has been - if you ditch the suburbs and keep a blog with a contact page you be approached by a Production Company wanting to put you on TV. What do you do when that happens?

We left our typical suburban life in September 2010. Since then we have been contacted by 10-12 different production companies working on some sort of show.

We’ve considered the idea carefully. We’ve probably over-thought it. And we’ll tell you our decision.

First we wanted to capture our thought process behind evaluating these offers in hopes it might help you on your own post-suburban journey.

The Pitches

Here’s a sampling of the pitch emails we have gotten:

Pitch 1

World-Traveling Families Needed!
My name is ________ and I work in the Casting & Talent Development Department at _______________ in Burbank, CA. We are a television production company that produces many hours of on-air programming. I have included a link to our company website that you can take a look at.

Part of my job is to cast current projects that our company is producing, and the other part is Talent Development, which means I am always in search of unique, compelling, entertaining and authentic talent that our company can build a television series around. Currently, we are developing a TV project about families that are traveling around the world with their children. From what I can see on your website, it seems you and your family are doing just that.

I was wondering if you would be interested in speaking with us about this project.

Pitch 2

New TV show looking for awesome families living in awesome places!
Hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you. I came across your cool blog and thought you might have an interest in a TV show I’m working on.

My name is _______ and I’m a casting associate producer with ____. We’re a full scale television production company that creates a number of programs for various cable networks, such as (name dropping removed).

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I’m reaching out to you because we’re currently casting for a major cable network TV show and searching across the country for people who are living in a unique home.

We’re looking for vibrant and outgoing folks who are ready to show off their unique homes and designs.

Whether you live on the road, on the water, underground, or in a one-of-a-kind home, we want to hear from you and what makes your life special!

Pitch 3

Original Programming Concept
My name is ______, I am with ______. We are an award-winning TV production company specializing in documentary work. Our newest project celebrates nomadic living, specifically families on the road and how they are making it work. The project dives into why people are choosing to raise their kids on the road, the benefits and the challenges.

Our goal is to find 3-4 diverse and unique families who are living nomadically to feature on the show. We are looking for families who are passionate about nature and have a clear philosophy for choosing a life on the road AND want to share their passion for their lifestyle with others through the show.

We’d love to set up some time to talk with you about the project.

Pitch 4

Hello from _____ Productions!
Hi, Boyink Family!
My name is -____ and I work for _____ Productions in Los Angeles. We produce the television series ____ on CNBC and ___ on E!

I’m casting a pilot for The Travel Channel about families who live in RV’s full time, and I’m interested to find out more to see if your family might be a good fit for us. We’re shooting in the beginning part of December in the Los Angeles area. I’d love to chat with you ASAP if TV is something that interests you!

Thank you very much!

The Players

When you get one of these emails the first thing to understand is the different players involved.

Starting at the top there is the Network who would air a final show.

Under the network is the Production Company, an independent entity who actually scripts, records, edits and produces the show.

The production company is also behind casting the Talent for the shows - namely, you.

The Process

Production companies develop TV show ideas on their own. Once the idea is in place they look for talent and produce a sample episode or “pitch reel”.

The pitch reel is shown to Network executives as part of a sales process. If the Network likes it they will buy a certain number of episodes of the show and full-on production will begin.

If the network doesn’t like it the production company will shop it around to different networks.

If they can’t find a network to buy the show the production company will drop the idea and move on to the next one.

The Puzzle

I admit - initially it was fun to be contacted. It told us that our blog was being read and found. It also told us that our decision to ditch the suburbs was interesting enough to possibly be put on TV.

Once that initial reaction had passed, however, we started to think through what being on a show would involve and a number of factors came to mind:

  • Schedule

    If you decide to be part of the show you will need to have at least a few weeks where your life can accommodate a production crew. If you are a traveling family this will impact your ability to travel as you like. Can your schedule flex to meet the demand?
  • Logistics

    TV production requires a crew of at least 3-4 people. Can your RV, boat, or tiny house fit that many more bodies? Can you tolerate having that many more people invading your personal space?
  • Attention

    The show will want to feature you in places other than your dwelling. Will you enjoy being out in public spaces, with a film crew around you, attracting the attention of anyone else around you?
  • Safety

    Do you have young children? If so, what would it mean for perfect strangers to “know” them and be able to call them by name?
  • Judgment

    The TV show will show up online in places where comments are open to the general public. Are you sensitive to being judged about how you live and raise your kids?
  • Exposure

    Would your family benefit from the added exposure? Or would it be a distraction with little positive benefits?
  • Personality

    Look at the language the pitch emails use in describing the talent they seek - vibrant, outgoing, entertaining, passionate. Is that you?

The Power

The main thing to think about when Hollywood calls is: Who has the power?

The power to:

  • Tell your story.
  • Choose between it being a “reality” or “documentary” show.
  • Portray you as good adventurous parents or reckless fools.
  • Portray your family as close Christians or as dysfunctional people of no faith.
  • Name, brand and market the show.

Tip: It isn’t you.

You will have no control over the final presentation.

What if your kids actually do say the darnedest things (while they are being interviewed without you present)? What if that small disagreement with your spouse ends up being 1/2 of an episode?

Don’t forget:

  • The purpose of a TV network is to sell advertising.
  • Selling ads requires eyeballs to view those ads.
  • Getting eyeballs requires drama.
  • If your family isn’t inherently dramatic, drama will be created for you.

The Profit

None of the 8-10 production companies that contact us ever mentioned compensation. I assume that we would be paid but am unclear if that would only happen if the show was picked up.

If you pursue one of these leads make sure to find out if being part of the Pitch Reel is a paid gig or not.

Don’t get dollar signs in your eyes by watching radically successful shows like Duck Dynasty. While they are certainly making money the Roberston family doesn’t own that brand. It’s owned by A&E who produces the show.

The Past

The crazy thing is that out of all these inquiries over the last 5 years - to our knowledge - no show has ever gotten picked up.

Here’s a post from our friends the Ticknors who put a pitch reel together that they never got to see.

Our friends the Schaefers put together a pitch reel and it never went anywhere. The Schaefers were upset that some of their core purposes for traveling were cut from the pitch reel.

The Prognosis

In our initial years of travel we decided to pass on a TV show appearance because we didn’t see any greater purpose for it. We weren’t traveling to promote a cause or greater good.

With the last inquiry we thought about it more seriously. We thought it might be a way of promoting the Ditching Suburbia book and related products.  After getting some consulting on how the TV networks manage intellectual property (if they commission it they own it) we decided to pass.

You are writing a new story for your family. The world may strip away your belongings, your wealth, and your fame.

Your story is all you truly own. Don’t sell it cheaply.

TV’s reach is shrinking. It’s easier then ever before to produce your own videos and find your own audience online. It might be a smaller audience, but it will be your audience.

Do you really want all of the efforts you’ve taken to ditch the suburban life to line the pockets of some TV network executive?

The Plan

Our plan is to begin doing video posts here on Ditching Suburbia. We’re still figuring out what that looks like - so if you have ideas or comments let us know!

The Plea

Have you been contacted by a production company wanting to put your family on TV? What was your response?

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14 Comments What To Do When Hollywood Calls

  1. Picture of theFunnyratstheFunnyrats May 05, 2015

    this was an interesting read. Thanks for posting. I make YouTube videos and my wife and I want to live on the road, but we are trying to build our audience on YouTube as our income for our adventure. I always wondered about if it would be a good idea to venture into TV, but after reading about how they keep all branding, I think I’ll stick with YouTube!

  2. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 05, 2015

    You guys have the momentum going there already - no reason to hand that over to a TV show now!

  3. Picture of TheFunnyratsTheFunnyrats May 05, 2015

    My thoughts exactly. Just need to grow a little more! Then we hope to save up for an Airstream and hit the road.

    We recently finished paying off all of our debts. That was step 1. Step 2 is saving some money and 3 is buying the RV!

  4. Picture of Kristin SnowKristin Snow May 06, 2015

    Great post! We’ve been contacted a few times too and while we denied most of them in the grounds of it sounding sketchy and exploitative of our little family, we just shot a show recently that a network had already ordered (the RV version of House Hunters) and it was a lot of fun, and we were paid. We got to be totally ourselves with no script, which felt like a good fit.

    Sometimes it can be a good experience, but I agree with not diluting your story or hurting your family’s lifestyle to do it. Hope to see you guys out on the road!
    The Snowmads

  5. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 06, 2015

    Thanks for chiming in Kristin - good to hear there are positive experiences to be had!

    We’re stopped down in MI for the summer - so if you are coming through let us know.  We’re in Fremont (home of Gerber baby food) - a nice little out of the way lakefront farming town with a city-owned campground on the lake.

  6. Picture of Kristin SnowKristin Snow May 06, 2015

    We’d love to stop by if we end up heading your direction! The plan (for now - ours change like the wind) is to head up to Alaska all summer, then probably across the northern US, maybe down through Michigan in the early fall. We’ll certainly let you know. :-)

  7. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 06, 2015

    Cool - we’re here until early September.

    The CG may or may not come up on any apps - it’s mostly seasonals with a smattering of transient sites.

    They only take reservations for the holiday weekends, and rates are <$30/night for full hookups IIRC:

    http://www.cityoffremont.net/web/community_camp.htm

  8. Picture of CherieCherie May 06, 2015

    Fantastic post.. and pretty much the same analysis we have come to. Over the years, we’ve been pitched for more spots than we can count. Most of them requiring a LOT of our time, invasion of privacy and them wanting us to re-create exciting adventures.  One even wanted to follow our bumper for 1-2 weeks at a time over the course of a year.  Another wanted *US* to do a bunch of self filming, upload it all to them and then, may, they would use some of it.  And they all pitch.. ‘Think of the exposure you’ll get!’

    Umm.. no.  We have absolutely no incentive to be involved. And really, we don’t want more exposure.

    Truth of the matter is, our life really isn’t TV material. Filming our day would involve watching us sit at our keyboards typing things (like this response) and feeding the cat. Don’t think most folks want to tune in for that.

    We did accept one pitch… the filming was one day for a small distribution in another country. It was fun, and it was well done. But in that case, it didn’t feel like the other pitches and didn’t require a lot of our time.

    Anytime we’re contacted to be profiled in the media we always ask ourselves how much of our time would be involved, what impact will it have on the stuff that matters to us (our schedule, time with loved ones and work stuff), how much of our privacy would be invaded, what is the incentive of the person/company contacting us, do we have to clean the house (and keep it clean) and will the piece better the world?

  9. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 06, 2015

    Hey Cherie -

    Thanks for chiming in. I figured you guys had to have been hit up like this.

    I think you nailed the reason no show has yet come out - once you get over the fact that our lives are portable they aren’t all that different.

    We told the past producer as much - most of the time it’s us looking at screens doing work or schoolwork. 

    Do we get out and “adventure” more than when we lived in the suburbs? On average, sure, but they’d still have to watch us over a long period of time to see the difference.

    Overall we’re pretty quiet people who don’t do drama much.

    We’d be open to something along the lines of a Charles Kuralt “On the Road” piece where our story gets 90 seconds of screen time.

    Much past that and sorry..there’s things to do and places to go…get out of my way..;)

  10. Picture of LaurenLauren May 06, 2015

    Wonderful post! Many people would jump at the chance to be on a tv show, but those people often don’t consider all the things you mentioned. I think it is a great decision that you and your family made. What it comes down to is making the best decision for your unique family situation. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 08, 2015

    ..and 3 days after posting this I get another TV show inquiry…;)

    I sent the link to this blog post and his response was

    I must tell you that is a relatively pessimistic view of how television production works. You are right in many instances that that DOES happen, though, it’s never not worth it to put your name in the hat.

  12. Picture of JenniJenni May 13, 2015

    When we got the pitch email our decision to turn it down came down to one thing:  whatever they put out there (which of course “they” control) is out there forever.  Even if we had not minded that as adults, we did not want to make that decision for our kids.  Besides, I am pretty sure they would have spent 20 minutes with us before deciding we were completely boring. 

  13. Picture of Jessica CurrenJessica Curren May 15, 2015

    Interesting read! We have put our names in the hat for that last one. After talking extensively and doing a Skype interview, we felt they had a good handle on what life was like and were interey in their project. We’ll see ifnitt gets picked up. They said it’ll be 4-5 days of filming and then a 4-6 week break, and there will be compensation. I thought it sounded like fun!

  14. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 15, 2015

    I think you guys will be perfect for them Jessica - hope it works out!

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