Tag Archives: Reality Television

Tips from the experts: Supervising Producer Jonathon Ridgard

My name is Jonathon Ridgard, and for over ten years, I have been working as a successful television producer all around the world, predominantly on prime-time entertainment shows such as The X Factor, American Idol, Got Talent franchises, Undercover Boss and Dancing with the Stars. As a Supervising Producer, I am responsible for leading teams of producers, associate producers and production assistants to create great television shows. I have worked on many leading entertainment formats around the world, in the US, UK and Australia, for networks such as NBC, ABC, FOX, BBC, ITV, Network Ten, and more.

No two jobs are the same; no two days are ever the same. To thrive in this industry and have a successful career, you will need perseverance, commitment, and to be prepared to put in a lot of hard work. It certainly isn’t an industry that nurtures the bewildered – you’ll want confidence to work on your skills, experience and contacts and not be afraid to work from the bottom up – with no ego.

Here are my tips, insight, and advice on what it takes to get into television and become a successful producer:

STARTING OUT – PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

My biggest advice to those starting a career in television is to start at the bottom. Irrespective of whatever degree you got in university – leave the ego at the door and learn your craft from the ground up. As a production assistant, you will get to work in every department on a show, work with equipment, and get a real insight into what life is like as a producer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for advice. Showing a keen interest and being pro-active with your role will only make you stand out to a producer. But remember, choose the right time to ask those questions! Approach every single task, however big or small, with enthusiasm as if your life depended on it. Do the coffee run, make perfect notes, anticipate the needs of your producer and you will be off to a good start.

WATCH TV / HAVE IDEAS

One of the things that I am always surprised at when speaking to people starting out in television is the amount of time they spend watching TV – or lack of. It is so important to watch TV, films, commercials, music videos, short films – anything that might give you inspiration. Mark Twain once said, “There is no such thing as a new idea”, but what a successful producer can do is look at and take inspiration from what they see around them. I have drawn so much inspiration from the stuff that I have watched, adapted it and created something myself.

Constantly make a list of your ideas, whether it’s for a new type of show, a segment of a particular type of show, an interesting game or a particular shot that you liked. You will never know when that might work.

BE SOCIAL

I can’t stress how important it is to get to know as many people as you can, especially in the first few years of your career. Making connections is the key to success in the television industry. Jobs are rarely, if ever advertised. Most people get jobs through word of mouth, reputation and recommendation. So being a strong, creative worker with a good network is definitely an advantage. I haven’t had a ‘job interview’ in seven years and I have worked consistently. All of my work is through recommendations and network executives or executive producers reaching out and wanting me.

And finally…

ENJOY YOURSELF AND BE NICE

Working in television should be a fun, creative experience – remember that, even when things get stressful. This career has given me the opportunity to work and travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people and have the most amazing, life changing experiences – take a moment to take them in.

Remember, always be nice. It’s very easy to develop an ego in this industry, but the one thing I always remember is while it’s nice to be important, it’s important to be nice.

 

Jonathon Ridgard is currently working on the newest season of American Idol, premiering March 11th on ABC.

Brett Morris sheds insight into his journey from Young Magneto to seasoned producer

Human beings are known to set limits and work within them. With that, we understand and evaluate the world through binary opposites like black versus white, up versus down, in versus out, and so on. Then, sometimes, positive disrupters emerge and they challenge us to read between the lines; to understand the world’s wonders along spectrums rather than within extremes. They empower us to test the limits that we set for ourselves and to determine alternative understandings of our world that we might not have otherwise considered. More often than not, these disrupters are known as artists, innovators, and pioneers. In the case of Brett Morris, however, titles like “cinematographer,” “editor,” “director,” and “producer” come to mind. For the highly sought-after creative, there are no lengths that he will not go to in order to stimulate the minds of his audiences and allow them to wander into worlds that they have never explored before.

“What I love about producing, in particular, is that, when challenged to produce something, you’re only limited by your own resourcefulness. Not your resources. If there is a will, there is a way and I love being able to solve a multitude of problems. My job is to make the day go as smoothly as possible and appear as if there was never a challenge in the first place,” said Morris.

Having kick started his career as a child actor, Morris has built himself from the ground up, experimenting with just about every role involved in the creation and production of a film or television show. As such, he has earned a certain understanding and appreciation of the intricacies of his art form that other artists may never fully experience. At the age of 12, Morris landed himself the role of Young Magneto in the hit film, X-Men, and was inspired by talented actors like Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman. What he hadn’t anticipated; however, was how fascinated he became by the role of the director. He was determined to become a part of the directing community and today, he can be credited with producing and directing fan-favorites like Big Brother Canada, Hockey Wives, So You Think You Can Dance, and many more. 

In 2016, Insight Productions were looking to re-boot the widely adored series, Top Chef, for a fifth season with an added “all-star” twist. Top Chef Canada is a Canadian reality competition television series airing on Food Network Canada. Each week, chef contestants compete against each other in culinary challenges and are subsequently judged by a panel of professional food and wine gurus. At the end of each week, one or more contestants are eliminated in order to determine who Canada’s “Top Chef” will be.

For Top Chef Canada All-Star, the show’s production team was intent on finding a field producer with the skill and expertise necessary to take it to the next level without sacrificing any of the elements that made their show the success it is today. Essentially, a field producer is responsible for handling all in-field directing, as well as conducting on-camera competitor interviews. The role typically involves juggling technical in-field directing abilities with achieving optimal story beats in order to effectively craft each episode during post-production. Fortunately for Morris, the decision to select a field producer landed in the hands of a former co-worker and member of Top Chef’s production team, Eric Abboud, who knew that Morris was the ideal candidate for the job. Abboud approached Morris about the opportunity to work alongside the show’s story team, including talented writer, Jennifer Pratt, and highly skilled story-editor, Liam Colle. For Morris, joining such a high performing team acted as further motivation to show Food Network lovers everywhere just what he is capable of.

From the outside looking in, it is easy to see how intense and pressure-ridden each Top Chef competition can be for contestants, whether or not you’re watching a regular season or an all-star edition. What is more difficult to imagine, therefore, is the type of demand that places on a production crew to capture each and every moment as authentically as possible. Morris recalls episodes being shot in the span of two days, across multiple locations. When the chefs were cooking, Morris was behind the camera crew, prompting them to speak loudly about their creative process and having to break their heavy focus in order to heighten the drama-filled, entertainment factors of the show. Other times, while chefs were navigating their weekly budget to shop for groceries, Morris was directing crews of six camera operators and three audio engineers in order to effectively capture all of the suspense. Then, for each episode, he was tasked with keeping track of every action-packed second of filming in order to know which content to probe the chefs about during their interview segments afterward. Despite the demanding nature of this role, Morris loved every moment. Particularly, he enjoyed the unique chance he had to interact with all of the chefs up close and personally.

“These chefs are true all-stars, restaurant owners, and at the top of their field. Any time you get to immerse yourself into the world of an expert, it is exciting. From the way they prepared their ingredients, to the meticulousness of cleaning their work stations, everything was like a rehearsed dance to them. It was exhilarating to watch. I found that I became a “foodie” by proximity and I took that learning with me every time I order at a restaurant or prepare a dish at home. It was an unbelievable experience,” recalled Morris.

Ironically, while Morris found himself fascinated by the opportunity to witness these culinary experts in their element, his co-workers, like Colle, were experiencing similar sentiments while watching him at work. According to Colle, working with Morris was a learning experience in itself and he enjoyed the distinct pleasure he had to learn Morris’ approaches and techniques for his own use. When asked what makes him so great at what he does, Colle had the following to say:

“I’ve never come across anyone else with the skill set and talent of Brett Morris. He is whip-smart, with an uncanny ability to tell compelling stories and deliver polished and professional productions. I think a big part of what makes him so good at what he does is that he’s got the perfect mix of creativity and analytics. Whether it’s in the edit suite or on set, his instincts are always on point and the finished product is never less than impressive,” told Colle.

Despite the fact that Top Chef Canada All-Star was breaking the show’s three-year hiatus from Food Network Canada, the result was better than ever. Canadian audiences still felt a deep connection with the show and Morris’ work was extremely well received. In fact, with the help of Morris, the show earned the green light to be renewed for a sixth season which will air in 2018.

“The fact that the audience loved it and it got picked up for another season means that not only did we do our job well, we were successful. It is always satisfying to see your hard work pay off,” he concluded.

 

Top photo by David Leyes

Jing Wen talks becoming a web phenomenon

Jing Wen
Jing Wen

When Jing Wen sits to envision how to begin working on a new project, every fibre of her being comes to life. She is addicted to the power she experiences when she witnesses her audience feeling her story. From the very first take, she knows what she wants them to see and she commits herself to ensuring that every single step is taken with care to do her ideas justice. For the renowned director, her work allows her to be free to express herself and her opinions before the world in a way few other professions allow. It is a job unlike any other and her passion for her work is unprecedented.

For as long as Wen can remember, storytelling has been her calling and she has done so for the better of every project she has ever embarked on. In her work on films like Blossoming Flowers and Golden Eagle Festival, Wen has taken the inner workings of her mind and shared them with her audience in the most raw, authentic way possible. She is a natural connector, knowing all of the intricate roles involved in bringing a film to life and ensuring that each and every person she works with knows exactly what they need to do to help carry the film to greatness. When a problem arises, she knows exactly what to do and she makes sure that her co-workers are at ease and confident in their roles at all times.

Wen’s leadership skills are unparalleled and they have been instrumental to her success as a director. In 2016, she was tasked with re-vamping the Chinese reality show, Mom is Superman 1. The show’s producer, Baili Yuan, sought Wen’s help in the midst of a struggle to change the direction of the show after its first season. Yuan knew that the script needed the perspective of a director like Wen. Someone who had the creative edge to keep their audience fully engaged and eagerly anticipating each new episode. Yuan also knew that it needed a natural born leader. It required a skilled director who could talk the stars through their roles and establish attainable targets. To Yuan’s satisfaction, Wen agreed to share her talents with Yuan’s team and presented her vision for Mom is Superman 2.

The result was astounding. Wen far exceeded any expectations that Yuan had for her. The wildly successful web series received 1.4 million viewers online and became a Topic Discussion online over 3.2 billion times. Unsurprisingly, Mom is Superman 2 won Macau International Advertising Festival’s “2016-17 Best Program of China” award and Wen is without a doubt the reason why.

Wen’s satisfaction, however, came from the chance she seized to use her talents for the better of her viewers. She got to do what she loves more than anything else. She got to tell stories. “What I love about directing is story telling. It is the most essential part of any film. As a director, the way in which you choose to tell your story is crucial. I want my audience to feel amazed when they watch my films. More importantly, I want them to find meaning in the stories I tell,” said Wen.

Mom is superman 2 poster 2
Mom is Superman 2 poster

The challenge, for Wen, is that making her films often involves the assistance of a sponsor. She knows how difficult it can be when a sponsor pushes her to accept their advice and their suggestions. Her vast experience in the industry, however, allows her to overcome this obstacle each time she is presented with it. She is passionate about her work and she understands the need to stay true to her original ideas. In order to do so, she has grasped the ability to liaise effortlessly with her sponsors and ensure that any compromises she makes wont jeopardize the integrity of the film. Her professionalism is one of the many reasons that sponsors and producers are eager to work with her at any chance they get. Mom is Superman 2’s producer, Yuan is a prime example. Having worked with Wen on several occasions, Yuan continues to return to her whenever she is looking for a high quality director who can help take her projects to the next level.

“I first met Jing when she was a graduate but I haven’t forgotten her since. She is so full of curiosity and she thrives in a variety of situations. She is such a creative director and her experience makes her an asset on any project. She knows how to handle any emergency we encounter on set,” told Yuan.

After achieving such acclaim for Mom is Superman 2, Wen has already set her sights on an even bigger, brighter outcome for Mom is Superman 3. Every time she finishes a project, she is already thinking about the next best thing she can bring to the screen. This is because directing is a lifestyle for Wen and storytelling is her artistry. It isn’t something she can shut off, and why would she? She is fortunate enough to be able to do what she loves and to be great at what she does. She lives every artist’s dream on a daily basis and she does not plan on stopping any time soon.