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PGA Sizzle Reels Seminar - December 1st, 2012

Posted By Rembrandt Bell, Monday, January 07, 2013

The venue at CBS Radford was packed with record-breaking attendance for the PGA's 2012 seminar about producing "Sizzle Reels" (the trailers producers use to sell their reality shows).

Producer Dan Abrams moderated the event, which was a follow-up to his previous PGA panels on the topic held over the years (all similarly well received). This most recent seminar was the biggest yet.

Attendees were pleased when it began with screenings of several successful sizzle reels. Some were produced by established production companies and led to sales at cable networks. The others were made by independent producers and led to deals at production companies.

That was followed by a series of succinct panels. The first three were brief case studies where producers were interviewed about their respective sizzle reels. Brian Adler, James Gutierrez and Adam Reed discussed where they found their show ideas, how they actually produced their sizzle reels and then what happened after that to get their deals done.

The next panel focused on representation and negotiation. Agent Stewart Cavanagh and lawyer Rob Rader provided perspectives on dealmaking.

The seminar concluded with the final panel on development. It included network executives Christy Dees (Bravo) and Justin Lacob (SpikeTV) as well as production company executive Dana Olkkonen (Authentic).

Like any seminar with multiple experts there were plenty of diverse opinions. But there was a general consensus about the following bits of advice:

1) As always, be sure to lock-in your leverage. That means you need to have a solid contract binding you to the "talent" or you must own the recognized IP (intellectual property) upon which your show is based (e.g. a format for a hit series in another country). CAUTION: Simultaneous creation happens all the time in Hollywood and is especially common in reality TV (where there are fewer "moving parts" of the machine). Ideas are cheap and common. Execution is everything. Star Search didn't sue American Idol.

2) Research what the networks are actually airing and buying. If you're daring, you can attempt to be avant-garde, but never try to sell something that is years behind their current "brand." The only theoretical exception is if there has been a recent drop in ratings for that network and consequently there has been a changing of the guard. New executive leadership regularly wants to alter course, dump the previous regime's shows (especially those that have weak ratings) and pursue whatever works (even if that might conceivably be "older" formats). In any event, you're probably better off coming up with something at least somewhat new in order to distinguish yourself as a producer.

3) Keep your sizzle reel as short as possible while still hooking the buyer. 2 to 3 minutes seems to be the sweet spot. 5 minutes is fine but any longer than that is probably a gamble not worth taking. Everyone knows of exceptions but the shorter it is the less there is for the naysayers to nitpick. If, after watching a short sizzle, buyers want to see a more fleshed-out version they can always commission a bigger sizzle (or, better yet, a pilot).

4) If you're an independent producer, focus on making a sizzle that excites a production company. A network is unlikely to buy from you directly unless you have a lot of experience as a showrunner, whereas production companies are always looking for new ideas and talent to develop. If you have a network in mind, then research which production companies produce shows for it and approach them with your finished sizzle.

5) When you're negotiating for your deal, be modest in your expectations. If you've never sold a reality show before don't expect to get rich. You'll be lucky to get 1.5% to 2.5% of the budget on your first show. That likely means $2k to $10k per episode for the life of the series (depending on the network). That might not seem like a lot of money but remember that's "passive income" meaning you just collect the checks and don't have to come in every day. If you actually provide services on the show (as Showrunner, SP, Director, etc.) then you should get compensated for that as well. And once you sell your first show, you enter a prestigious new category of producer. This means networks are much more likely to buy from you (so the odds upgrade from absurdly terrible to simply bad) and your financial upside is likely to increase significantly.

PGA Sizzle Reels Seminar - December 1st, 2012


Brian Adler: Co-Creator of "Growing Up Fast"


James Gutierrez: Executive Producer and co-creator of "Twisted Dixie"


Adam Reed: Executive Producer, ThinkFactory Media

Panel on Representation & Negotiation -

Stewart Cavanagh: Agent, Rebel Entertainment Partners

Rob Rader: Attorney, Partner at Schwarcz, Rimberg, Boyd, & Rader


Christy Dees: Director of Development at Bravo

Justin Lacob: Director of Original Series at SpikeTV

Dana Olkkonen: Director of Development at Authentic Entertainment

NOTE: If you want more information click on this link to be directed to Dan Abrams' 4-part article all about sizzle reels for the PGA.

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Tags:  seminar  sizzle reel 

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