Negotiation is a major part in any business and in entertainment, the tight deadlines and shoot schedules makes it that much more of a necessity and valuable skill to take on. I spoke with field producer, John O’Connell* who is currently working one of the biggest fishing shows out on TV right now.
Here’s what he had to say about reality TV and the negotiating that takes place behind the scenes:
What are some of your main responsibilities as a field producer?
My job is a Field Producer- Basically I prepare the shoot as it goes out the door, having everything in place so that the production can be completed as efficient as possible. I do a lot of talking with talent and make sure all crew members know what's going on at all times. I work on all of the logistics for the entire production so that the Director can focus on the creative.
Is negotiation part of your job? What do you negotiate typically?
Yes, leading up to the shoot I negotiate rates for all expenses. The cost of Fishing vessels for example, the fishing gear including wet suits and anything that may need to be included on the shoot. I also negotiate the talent’s appearances. With these types of reality TV shows, we try to get the most out of people without having to pay so negotiating is constantly required.
If they bring up money, we try to reel it back in. Normally I explain that we are a small production and we don't have a lot of money to play with and we try to make a lot happen given a small budget and if they do this show they can have the possibility to participate in a national show on a major cable network. I also tell them it's a great opportunity for their business, we can put you in the credits. I work on their emotions and try to get them really excited about it, and at the same time I’m managing expectations.
What type of negotiator do you consider yourself? A soft or hard negotiator? Has your style changed since you started your job?
I would say it depends on the negotiation but generally I'm a soft negotiator. I think that sometimes when you're dealing with people who don't respond to that you have to respond with a harder approach. No, I wouldn't say my style changed, but I've gotten more confident over time and I've gotten more clear in how I express myelf.
Do you seek the outcome of mutual benefits for both parties?
Yes, we definitely want it to be mutually beneficial. It’s not always clear with reality TV. We know it'll be beneficial to us and we can try to provide mutual benefits but in the industry its not always promised.
If a negotiation isn't going in your favor, how do you handle it? Can you give an example?
I usually try to buy myself time if a negotiation isn’t going in my favor or if I know they are asking for something we can’t give by saying I'm not in a position to make that call so I'll have to get back to you. Most of my conversations are over the phone and I reassess the situation and get back to them that way.
Can you give an example of when a negotiation went sour and now looking back what you think the cause was?
There was a time I ended up paying someone way too much, and I think the cause of that happening was that I was afraid he'd pull out and if he did, it would have put the whole shooting schedule in jeopardy.
What do you consider to be your most successful negotiation, what did it entail and what tactics did you use to come out of it successfully?
I would say my most successful was getting loads of extremely expensive fishing equipment and gear for the entire crew for free. I accomplished this by telling half truths. I told them it would be a chance for their brand to appear in the show… we gave them the credit but it didn't appear on the show. We can only give possibilities not promises unfortunately. We got it all free though and both parties were happy about it.
**John’s name has been changed for anonymity