Part 2 of the Filmmakers Notebook Q&A with Joke and Biagio
Find out more from about husband and wife producing team Joke and Biagio in Part 2 of the Filmmakers Notebook Q&A with them.
To date, which of your projects have you learned the most from?
Joke: We’re still learning and are so blessed to have worked with some industry heavyweights that taught us a lot as well. Some projects we learn new and exciting techniques, some teach us more about ourselves, some teach us about management and personnel. There isn’t one project I learned the most from, there is just the latest project that has made me a better producer, story teller and human being.
Biagio: From working with R.J. Cutler I think we really learned the true, verite doc side of the business. Being able to then work with J.D. Roth by producing two seasons of “Beauty and the Geek” really rounded us out in Reality TV. We’d seen both sides – pure doc and total format. Also, working with Warren Littlefield on our first show “Foody Call” taught us so much about the business. He had been the President of NBC, creating “Must See TV” in name and content. He greenlit Seinfeld and had the original focus testing hanging on his wall. The test went horrible! People were saying things like “That comedian guy is annoying!” The entire cast has autographed the test results and Seinfeld had written, “Gee, guess we’ll never make it.” Warren taught us that you just have to believe in yourself and your projects, and not be afraid to roll the dice. He rolled the dice on “Seinfeld”, despite the testing, and the rest was history. Good lesson for any creative.
Looking back what do you consider your greatest challenge in producing a show like “Scream Queens”?
Joke: The schedule. It’s insane. So many challenges, so little time. So many components from the house reality to the challenges to the screen test. Three judges ten contestants. It’s a very ambitious show. When you’re A.D. (Assistant Director) Team, who has done the biggest reality shows you can imagine, tells you the schedule is insane, you know you’re in for a wild ride.
Biagio: I always bite off more than I can chew. Since I’ve been an editor and after effects guy forever, I’m always telling the network, “Yeah, we can do that!” Then, I have to figure out how (the computer generated snake tongues being a perfect example – http://www.jokeandbiagio.com/horror-superstar-debbie-rochon-schools-our-scream-queens towards the end of the post). But, if you promise big and deliver, you have a better show. You just have to be willing to put in the super-long hours to make sure you get it right. Ninety nine percent of the time, it means we just have to push ourselves to learn a new skill, so that it all happens on time and on budget.
Are there any special considerations you need to take into account when producing a reality TV show with “real people”?
Joke: Yes, every show requires its own set of considerations, whether that be reality or doc. On a show like “Scream Queens” we take people away from their daily lives, put them into an “alternate universe” without contact to the outside world and have them compete every day for a life-changing prize that effects event the most stable human being, so you need to have compassion and understanding for what they’re going through, while at the same time reminding them they voluntarily signed up for the ride and there is a life-changing prize on the line. These contestants are inhabiting the world you’ve created and you need to let them be themselves in that world. You’ve cast well and you’ve created an interesting world, you’ll have a good TV show. In documentary situations, the filmmaker is the invited guest in the subject’s life, so knowing you’re not in control is step number one. You are there to document what happens and tell their stories honesty and completely. Both scenarios require a tremendous amount of trust between producer and participant. As a producer I ask every participant to be open and honest about their journey, so that in return I can tell their story honestly and completely.
Biagio: I do think that, even in format shows we’ve done like “Scream Queens” or “Beauty and the Geek”, it’s so important to treat the “reality” scenes like documentary. You can’t go in with preconceived notions about the story that will happen in the house. If you do that, you’re bound to miss out on great characters and their real stories. It’s scary, but you have to trust in the real story that’s unfolding before your eyes and make educated guesses on where to place your limited amount of cameras.
Tell me about your new project “Dying to do Letterman”.
Joke: It has been a passion project of ours for the past six years. This is the story of our friend and we wanted it told, we needed it told, for him and for all of his friends.
Biagio: Steve was a working stand-up comedian, who I met a number of years ago when we were still working out of our one bedroom apartment. I was editing actors’ demo reels for extra money and Steve needed a tape showing off his comedy. A few years later we heard the news: Steve was diagnosed with incurable liver cancer. Worst case scenario: five years to live. Rather than curl up into a ball and hide from the world, he decided to dedicate what was left of his life to living his dream: performing stand-up comedy on “The Late Show with David Letterman”. I called and asked if there was anything we could do and he said he’d love to document it. At the time we owned two cameras. We gave him one and said, “Shoot Everything”. We would then go and film every chance we had. Steve has an amazing story with a simple message: live your dream or die trying. As Steve puts it, “It’s not how much time you have, it’s what you do with it”. We just finished our first cut and have started submitting to festivals. It’s a feature and our goal is to bring Steve’s story to the big screen. We’ll soon be launching the official site and you’ll be hearing a lot more about the project over the coming months.
What kind of a role has social media played in your success?
Joke: It’s hard to define. I don’t think social media has provided us with a job and I can’t show you a check we’ve received, but it has allowed us to connect to people that inspire us, that are talented. I’ll be the first to admit that the social media thing was very much Biagio’s passion and I reluctantly stepped on board. But now that we’ve been doing it for a while, it’s nice to be part of a community of storytellers, of people who have dreams and are working hard at achieving them. We also found our Assistant Editor, Nate on Twitter and he’s saved the day more than once, so in that regard, it’s been tremendous.
Biagio: For me, all success in life comes down to the connections you make with others. Whether in person, on Twitter, via email, on Facebook or some other means we haven’t yet invented, anything that makes people more accessible is a good thing. We have several shows in the early stages of development that have come about from Twitter and have met some very cool people thanks to our blog.
Do you find it has helped you connect more with your fanbase or with other filmmakers?
Joke: Yes, we tell stories in a medium where we don’t get instant feedback. So, it’s nice to see the boards and twitter feed come alive with fans invested in the stories we’re telling. As for other filmmakers, yes, they not only inspire us, but it allows us to connect with people that we can help or can help us get our next stories off the ground.
Biagio: I will often email other people in the industry who we haven’t met, point them to our blog, Twitter and YouTube and ask if they would mind getting together to chat. In almost all cases, the answer has been yes. So, in that sense, I think social media has been a home run for us. I would also do Twitter searches for “Scream Queens” while the show was airing and reach out to answer questions or thank fans who were tweeting about the show, but who had no idea we were on Twitter. That was fun and educational. People don’t censor their opinions much in social media, so it was great to see what people responded to…and what they didn’t!.
How would you recommend other budding producers use it to their best advantage?
Joke: I’m going to leave that one to Biagio.
Biagio: I’m no expert, but I believe producers should use social media to find new stories to tell, connect with talented professionals and monitor what people think of their productions. I’m sure there are social media experts who can add a lot to that list, but for now, those three things are working really well for us.
To keep up with Joke and Biagio or check out their blog go to their webiste at www.jokeandbiagio.com or follow them on Twitter @jokeandbiagio.