Network executives and prodco heads convened at the Realscreen West sizzle reel-focused “Tape Talk” panel on Wednesday (June 4) to advise producers to make shorter reels, cater content to at least three nets, and put their best footage first.
The “Tape Talk: Finding the ‘A-Ha!’ Moment” session – moderated by Mary Lisio, EVP of non-fiction and branded entertainment for Scott Free Productions – featured Scott Gurney, co-founder of Gurney Productions (pictured, right); Russ McCarroll, VP of programming and development for History; Marc Pierce, owner and executive producer for Warm Springs Productions; and Josh Pyatt, an agent with WME (pictured, left).
Following a sizzle reel clip for History’s survival series Mountain Men, which kicked off the panel, McCarroll told the audience that while he normally changes at least five things in any sizzle reel, he didn’t have to touch the reel from Mountain Men prodco Warm Springs before approaching A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc with the idea.
What really stood out, he said, was the lack of narration that allowed for characters to be fully on display.
Pyatt, who agreed that character-driven sizzle reels are more successful, said producers need to “show that the characters are there, and show that it’s a world that’s never been done, and that there are enough storylines to sustain a show.”
Referencing the panel’s title, the agent added: “That’s why they call it the ‘A-ha!’ moment, because you see it and you go, ‘Wow!’”
Gurney, head of the Duck Dynasty firm, said he stumbled upon the duck hunters through their hunting series on the Outdoor Channel. Believing there was “something more there,” the producer built an entirely different, family-centered show to pitch to a variety of networks.
“If we can’t sell to four networks, we don’t make it,” said Gurney. “It’s a business, and if you’re going to spend money, you need to ask yourself, ‘Can I sell this show to three places and a back-up?’”
The producer also encouraged the audience to keep their sizzle reels short even when dealing with a large cast, explaining that good judgement needs to be used, and cuts should be made whenever possible. Before locking the sizzle reel and showing it to a network, Gurney also said producers should show the tape to at least 20 people.
When asked what not to do in a sizzle reel, he said the biggest mistake is burying the best footage.
“We put our best 10 to 20 seconds at the front, and it doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not,” Gurney explained. “If someone says, ‘Oh I’m so glad I stuck around to the fourth minute,’ that’s something you never want to hear.”
Pierce shared that producers should always research a network before pitching. “It feels disrespectful to give them something that’s not at all in keeping with their mandate of what goes on air,” the producer said.
Similarly, Gurney reasoned that it’s also important not to chase a series that’s already been done. “Don’t go and say, ‘This is our version of Auction Hunters,’” he advised.
Meanwhile, McCarroll said he doesn’t want to see anything resembling what’s already on other networks.
“When someone walks in and says, ‘I’ve got the next Pawn Stars,’ I don’t want it,” he said.