One of the key attractions of the Realscreen Summit is being able to hear A-list non-fiction producers tell their tales of how they came up through the ranks and made their mark. And the Realscreen Summit Interview featuring Original Productions’ CEO/executive producer Thom Beers, interviewed by Michael Hoff Productions’ president/executive producer Michael Hoff was one such ‘can’t miss’ session.
Whether regaling the audience with anecdotes regarding how he developed his penchant for storytelling while sitting at the family dinner table, or revealing the worst review he ever received during his short-lived stage acting career for his turn in a production of Carousel (‘Even though Billy Bigelow dies in the second act, there was no cause for the director to cast a corpse in the role!’), Beers’ tales were both comic and candid. Discussing his move into commercial production following his acting stint, he mentioned how the three ad jobs he did in the span of a year – for a brand of prunes, a brand of toilet paper and for Preparation H, in that order – symbolized his ‘career circling the drain.’ But just as all good stories need an arc, Beers’ story changed substantially with his introduction to media magnate Ted Turner, and his eventual move to Atlanta to work as a production executive and series and specials producer for Turner Broadcasting. In recounting episodes of Turner’s uncompromising dedication to the programming, even in cases of controversy, Beers said his time with Ted made an indelible impression on him.
From TBS, a move was made to Paramount’s syndicated TV department. But eventually the time came to take his path into his own hands. Beers said that the prime motivating force behind creating Original Productions in 1999 was a simple matter of deduction. ‘I started the company because I didn’t think anyone would hire me,’ he said to a chorus of laughter from the audience. Still, if that was indeed the case, Beers is having the last laugh, what with such unscripted hits as Ice Road Truckers, Deadliest Catch, Ax Men and Monster Garage under his producer belt. And although heading up your own shop comes with its fair share of risks (among them, breaking ribs after falling out of a tree during a shoot), the rewards can be exponentially greater. While he admitted that ‘it’s a constant gamble’ and the temptation for an independent production company to sell can always be lurking around the corner, it’s one he’s too busy to entertain.
‘Never sell [just] for money,’ he advised. ‘Just try to be as relevant as you can.’