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Diary of a Small-Time Reality TV Producer, Part 1
Posted May 6, 2009 - May 2009 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 1

Ron Dawson's The Longest DayThe diary entries you are about to read are fictional, but the events described in them are real. I'd like to share the knowledge I gained from my experience producing The Longest Day (http://thelongestday.tv), the first online reality TV series for and about professional photographers-a show that grew out of relationships I've developed with high-end photographers through networking and producing viral promotional films for them over the last 3 years. For The Longest Day, 24 top photographers from around the country were split into two teams and given 24 hours to write, shoot, and edit an original short film. The reality show was a behind-the-scenes look at the making of those films. From reading about the process and (I hope) checking out the series online, you'll gain insight into alternative ways for doing what you love to do while earning money doing it-not to mention that this process is a great case study on viral marketing and social networking. Enjoy.

March 21, 2008
F-Stop Beyond (my audio podcast for photographers) just aired the episode with Brook Todd, one of American Photo's top 10 wedding photographers in the world. He mentioned how much he loved the Joe Photo spoof we produced this year at WPPI, Diary of a Washed Up Rock Star Wedding Photographer. (Joe is another high-profile photographer.) He says he and his wife, Alisha, would like to be in next year's WPPI buzz builder. They may even talk to their sponsor, Kodak, about chipping in some funds. Hmm-things are getting interesting.

May 5, 2008
We're finishing up the DVD for celebrity wedding photographer Mike Colón. He's interested in being in next year's WPPI buzz-building spoof video. Mike is one of the biggest draws in the wedding photo biz. If he were attached to the project, I'm almost certain we could get some kind of sponsorship.

July 31, 2008
I sent an email to WPPI president Skip Cohen last week telling him about all the high-profile photogs interested in being in the next WPPI buzz builder. I pitched the idea of getting sponsorship money. He said that despite the high-profile names, in the current economy it might be hard to get a company to fork over any cash for a project that wasn't specifically related to its product. That's discouraging. But at least he sounds open to the idea. I've learned so much from Skip over the past year. I can say we're friends, which is huge (he used to be CEO of Hasselblad USA). But I must admit, he can still be intimidating sometimes. I always get nervous when I get an email or phone call from him. He's a straight shooter-tells you how he feels, no holds barred. He can make or break this thing.

Aug. 26, 2008
I just finished interviewing Nikon's frontman for wedding photography, Cliff Maunter. What a character! The man has no qualms about expressing how he feels about things. He said he'd be interested in being in whatever I dream up for
this year's WPPI buzz-building video. He thought the Joe Photo spoof was a crackup. He might be able to talk to his Nikon peeps about sponsorship. Hmm-things are getting more interesting. With names like the Todds and Maunter, I just may be able to raise sponsorship money.

Sept. 24, 2008
I sent an email to the bigwigs at WPPI pitching my idea for the new spoof. They love my concept of having faux political commercials for Jim Garner and Bambi Cantrell, next year's WPPI awards-night hosts (shh, it's a secret). I would then create a political thriller trailer concept video. I wonder if they'll be able to pay for this?

Oct. 7, 2008
Last night we filmed the video podcast version of F-Stop Beyond with Mike Colon live at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif. David Jay (another big name in the biz and the owner of a sweet pad in the Santa Barbara hills with a stunning pano view) was a surprise guest. He let us all crash at his place. He, Mike, and I were talking this morning about the next WPPI buzz builder. I was saying that with as many big names as want to be in it, I want to do something that can incorporate them all. Mike had the idea to do a spoof on a boy band reality show (I think Mike secretly wants to be in a boy band). Instead of a boy band spoof, I thought it might be fun to do a Survivor spoof.

Oct. 10, 2008
I sent a follow-up email to the WPPI bigwigs telling them my new Survivor spoof idea. Skip was fine with it, but he stressed three things:

  1. This had to be sold as a Cinematic Studios piece. I must make it clear this is Cinematic Studios asking for money, not WPPI.
  2. He loved the Joe Photo sequel, but he felt the finale was too long for the awards night. We can't have that again next year.
  3. Since the 2009 show is a month earlier (February), if I want WPPI to advertise the series, for it to be worthwhile to them, it must go up by the end of November. After that, people have already determined whether or not they'll attend the trade show, so a buzz-building video won't be as useful.

Okay. Let's see. I have about a month and a half to write, shoot, and edit a multipart spoof video series, raise the funds to get a dozen or so photographers flown out to-I don't even know where yet-and I have it online by Dec. 1. No pressure, right?

Oct. 13, 2008
I emailed proposals to Microsoft, Kodak, Epson, and a handful of other sponsors referred to me by photographers in the show. I decided not to approach Canon or Nikon yet because this is my first time at this. I might get only one chance to impress those guys. My strategy is to go for a mix of a few big-name sponsors sprinkled with smaller companies looking for exposure. Normally, I'd hold off on approaching a company as big as Microsoft, but they are looking to get more aggressive in the pro photo arena, so they may be more motivated to participate. As for Apple and Adobe, I approached them both last year for the Joe Photo concept video spoof and they both declined. I know the Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom senior marketing manager quite well. I've dropped enough hints. I don't think that they're interested. I feel like an indie producer in Hollywood.

Oct. 15, 2008
I can't do it. There's no way I can write a script for so many untrained actors and expect them to deliver a decent performance in the short amount of time I have to shoot this thing. For the Joe Photo spoof last year, we had only seven roles and it took a day and a half of shooting. But here's an idea: What if instead of trying to write a fake reality TV spoof, I just produce a real reality show. That way, everyone can be themselves. By George, I think I've got it!

Oct. 20, 2008
Trying to organize more than 2 dozen of the country's biggest names in pro wedding photography is crazy! Between their speaking schedules, weddings, and workshops, it's a miracle I was able to narrow down a date when most people can come: Nov. 17. Unfortunately, Mike Colon and Me Ra Koh can't make it. Luckily the other names on the cast will make up for losing them.

Oct. 22, 2008
We just got a huge break. I spoke with Jeff Greene, director of the pro photography division at Microsoft. They've agreed to be a product placement sponsor. Having a company like them attached will give the project tremendous credibility.

Oct. 29, 2008
I just sent yet another email to the bigwigs at WPPI. (I hope they're not getting sick of me!) I pitched them my full idea: We do a real reality TV show. Based on the names already attached and some other contacts I have in the industry, we're now up to 22 confirmed contestants and five to-be-decideds, including heavy hitter Kevin Kubota, creator of Kubota Image Tools' Photoshop Actions. The photographers will be split into two teams. Since Bambi Cantrell and Jim Garner will be hosting the show next year, they will be the team captains. Each team will have 24 hours to write, shoot, and edit an original short film about photography. David Jay will host the show at his house, so that saves on hotel costs, and we can shoot in Santa Barbara. The teams will be playing for two charities that have been popular in the wedding photography world: Thirst Relief International and the infant bereavement photography organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.

Thanks to Bambi Cantrell (the matriarch of wedding photography), we confirmed Microsoft as a sponsor-that's huge. Other sponsors include Triple Scoop Music, Photographer's Edit, and Loktah, the latest venture by Josh Smith of Cinematic Bride. I may actually pull this off.

Oct. 30, 2008
Just heard back from Skip. He's afraid this idea is too complicated. And some of the sponsors I have are not WPPI exhibitors. He's not ready to sign off on it yet. I have a sick feeling in my stomach. I've worked so hard on this thing. All the phone calls, the rejections (I never even heard back from Epson or Kodak), not being able to partner with WPPI on raising the money, now this. If WPPI doesn't agree to promote this thing, show's over!

I just had a call with George Varanakis, VP of sales at WPPI. He settled my nerves and said not to worry. They all had a meeting about it and decided it's okay. They'll promote the series. Thank you, God!
More good news today. Got an email from Kevin Kubota. He is very big on charities and giving back. Between the album company AsukaBook (he's their U.S. rep) and his Photoshop Actions empire, they can kick in another $4,000 as a major product-placement sponsor. That now brings our grand total to $17,500. Not bad. Of course, it's a fraction of what a "real" reality TV show would get, but it's better than nothing.

Nov. 8, 2008
The logistics of this thing are getting too much for me to do by myself. I'm going to have Hilarie, my director of weddings and personal events, help me out. I'll have her handle questions from the photographers, travel info, food coordination, etc.

Nov. 10, 2008
I just heard from one of the photographers, Robert T. Williams. He has to drop out due to an illness in the family. I wished his family well. It's too bad. He was the only African-American photographer on the cast, and he's very funny. If this thing works out and I can do it again, I'm going to have him back.

Nov. 11, 2008
I just heard from Cliff Mautner. He has to drop out too. He really wants to come, but his daughter's performance is that day. I told him I understood. He's a pretty high-profile photog too. Now we're down to 24. We still have a pretty impressive list: Dane Sanders, David Jay, Jules Bianchi, Becker, Kevin Kubota, Chris and Katie Humphreys, Brook and Alisha Todd, Kenny Kim (funny, he's not a speaker nor does he sell DVDs, but Kenny has one of the largest social networks in the photo business), Jennifer and Steve Bebb of Canada, Robert Evans (he shot Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' wedding, as well as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's), Bambi Cantrell, Jim Garner, Jasmine Star, Jessica Claire, Catherine Hall, Michele Celentano, Joe Photo, Gene Higa, Ann Hamilton, Amber Holritz, and Bronson Pate.

Nov. 13, 2008
I just got a voice mail from Dane Sanders asking me if I've seen the news. The hills of Santa Barbara are on fire. David Jay's house is smack-dab in the middle of the evacuation zone. I can't believe this is happening with only 4 days before the shoot. I feel guilty for being frustrated, considering people are losing their homes. But with so much work, and now money on the line, I need to come up with an alternative quick!
To be continued ...

Ron Dawson (ron at daredreamer.net) is an accomplished writer, director, award-winning producer, speaker, video business coach, and instructor. A 2007 and 2008 EventDV 25 honoree, he is the founder and CEO of Dare Dreamer Media (formerly Cinematic Studios), a new media marketing agency. Ron also produces and hosts the popular photography industry podcast, "F-Stop Beyond." He resides with his beautiful wife and kids in a suburb of Atlanta.

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