A couple of years ago, eating bugs or surviving on a tropical island would’ve seemed easier than getting reality directors acknowledged with their own category at the DGA Awards.
But as the popularity of reality programming has grown over the past few years, so has the need for the Directors Guild to acknowledge reality helmers.
“What it means is that there is finally recognition being given to a director on a reality show,” says J. Rupert Thompson, a co-chair of DGA’s reality committee and a nominee for his work on “Fear Factor.” “For the DGA to do this is a blessing and a great step in the right direction.”
Other nominees are Ross Breittenbach (“Brat Camp”), Tony Croll (“Three Wishes”), Star Price (“Penn & Teller: Bullshit!”) and Bertram Van Munster (“The Amazing Race”).
Craig Borders, another co-chair of the committee, says he understands the delay in receiving the DGA’s seal of approval.
“We’re not overlooked. As with any large industry, it’s tough to move a big boat, tough to steer. It was just a matter of time for things to take place,” Borders says.
Part of the reluctance to honor reality directors is that when the phenomenon took off, a majority of reality programs were not DGA signatories. That number has increased dramatically of late, however, and 90 skeins have reached agreements with the DGA.
Two years ago, the guild began working with production companies to make sure directors were DGA-sanctioned.
“Ours has been a grassroots, show-by-show approach to the issue,” says DGA president Michael Apted. “Although organizing reality television is not easy and we have our work cut out for us, we’ve seen some real progress.”
Production companies that might not be able to afford being a DGA signatory — costs include minimum salaries, residuals, and pension and health benefits — have worked with the org, which has been flexible in its requirements.
“If you’re a company that doesn’t have a lot of money to spend, the DGA is going to negotiate with you and talk about what you can afford,” says Thompson. “You don’t have to take the company signatory.”
One major DGA concession has been in residuals. Where the DGA contract normally states that television directors are to receive residuals for the first season of the show, it’s not mandatory in the case of reality. The guild investigates the production companies’ economic models and determines how they should comply.
“By making these kinds of concessions, it takes care of your people better and makes your show better,” says Thompson. “This way you can provide (directors) with health insurance.”
As for the award, Croll says he hopes it will garner reality helmers a little industry respect.
“I believe all of reality is overlooked, as far as its talent pool,” says Croll, the third co-chair of the reality TV committee. “Most people who don’t make reality shows don’t have a sense of it. It’s like hitting a tennis ball. It looks easy when it’s Andre Agassi.”
Adds Borders: “I do think there’s a lot of directors that respect us for the breakneck speed and conditions we deal with. There is no stage management when reality unfolds. You have to tell stories on the fly.”