If you’ve ever turned on Duck Dynasty, The Jersey Shore, Dance Moms, 16 & Pregnant, or [Insert Name of Your Fav Guilty Pleasure Reality Show Here], and wondered “Who comes up with these things, and where do they find these people,” then this is going to be a fun read.
Because Karsyn Jarrett is going to fill us in on exactly that: her un-boring job as a development associate at Jupiter Entertainment, a production company in New York, where she’s tasked with coming up with new concepts for reality TV, casting them, and pitching them to television networks like A&E, Oxygen, Animal Planet, HGTV, and more.
Here, Karsyn tells us about what goes on behind the scenes of reality TV….
YOU WORK FOR A PRODUCTION COMPANY. DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO WORK IN TV?
Yes and no. I went to school for magazine journalism and had a minor in film studies. I also spent a summer in New York City taking film classes at NYU. So I’ve always had a keen interest in the TV/film world, but was really focused on magazine journalism in college and absolutely loved my classes and thought that was the direction I wanted to go. I also did an internship in London before my senior year of college at a publishing company and was convinced I would be somewhere in that vein of work. When I moved to New York City I was in the state of mind that I’d take any job I could get, but I applied for jobs in both the print media (mainly magazines) and TV worlds. Once the job search started I found myself looking at the TV job sites more than magazine/print media. So I guess subconsciously I always saw myself in TV but it wasn’t a clear “I’m going to work in TV” until I got to New York and started looking then landed my job at Jupiter.
HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT JOB?
As I mentioned before, when I started applying for jobs I was looking in the TV industry. A lot of the jobs were looking for people with a lot more experience than I had but it was still a passion so I continued to search. I found a listing for a Development Intern at Jupiter and the description was something that sounded right up my alley: essentially to help research and come up with show ideas. So I thought, “sign me up!” I ended up landing the intern job and then after a few months they decided to keep me on full time. The New York office for the company was fairly new at the time and most development was being run out of the LA office. But within a couple months of being with Jupiter they moved the development operations to New York, which opened a great position for me to join the development team as a development associate.
AS A DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE, WHAT DOES YOUR JOB CONSIST OF?
I do a lot of research for the projects we’re working on. Projects generally can either be something that we come up with internally, an outside producer brings to us, or a network has an idea that they’d like us to develop. All of these are equally as exciting because you’re either starting from scratch or helping develop something that’s a couple steps down the line. Either way, each project has its own unique elements in what you research and how you develop it.
Majoring in journalism, I’ve always loved writing, so I do a lot of writing for our treatments that we send to networks. From one sheets that give an overview of the whole show to cast bios, show formats and episode breakdowns, I’m typically in charge of doing the first pass of the documents then we’ll bounce them around between the development team for tweaks and final touches before presenting to the network. I love the writing portion because it gives me a chance to really get creative in trying to bring the show to life and sell it.
We also do a lot of Skyping when trying to meet people to potentially cast in projects. I either conduct or sit-in on the Skypes so I have an idea of who the person is when writing their bios. I help with paper-cuts as well when we’re trying to cut down the Skype for a small casting tape. I’m not an editor but know about five keys to use in Avid [media editing software] so I can help out a bit with cuts when needed. Once cuts are done by editors I help give notes back on them for what we need to keep, lose, add, change, etc. When we’re going to shoot a sizzle reel or pilot, I help coordinate the details of the shoot- book talent, book locations, manage schedule, etc. I’ve been on a couple shoots for development projects as an Associate Producer, which has been a lot of fun as well. And lastly, I help keep all our development projects in line and up-to-date on our slate so everyone knows where each project stands in the pipeline. Since we have a Knoxville office that is our headquarters and several projects come from there as well, I work as a liaison between the two offices to make sure everyone’s on the same as far as who’s doing what and what needs to be done when.
YOU’VE WORKED ON SOME REALLY INTERESTING SHOWS … WHAT’S THE COOLEST EXPERIENCE YOUR JOB HAS AFFORDED YOU SO FAR?
This is a hard one! I’m not sure that I could pick just one single experience. When I first started I was researching murder cases for one of our True Crime shows and several of the cases I found and did write-ups for made it to air, and then the series got picked up for a second season which was awesome! I worked as an Associate Producer on the second season of one of our shows, Wild West Alaska on Animal Planet, and that was such a cool experience to work on the postproduction side of things. I learned a lot during those several months of how production works and the ins and outs of production/post production. I think one of the coolest things is just the rewarding feeling you have when you get the call that a show you’ve poured your heart and soul into has been picked up and that the network loves what you’ve done. There’s also the letdown when they don’t pick something up but that’s the nature of the business and it’s all worth it when a network buys a show.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SEE A SHOW YOU’VE WORKED ON ACTUALLY AIR?
Extremely cool. I remember when a producer for the crime show I was working on told me that the cases I found, researched and wrote up were going to actually be aired. It was one of the coolest feelings. I felt like I’d really contributed and like all the long days of researching had paid off. When I was working on Wild West Alaska, I designed the graphics for a certain part of the show that was in each episode and seeing that come to life and the execution of my idea was beyond neat. Then of course seeing my name credited at the end of the show on the screen was just surreal and almost unbelievable, ha! But really awesome! It gives you a sense of “Okay, I’m doing something right. I’m in the right place.”
WHAT IS ONE THING MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE REALITY TV PRODUCTION PROCESS?
It takes a long time. A lot of people think that if you have a great idea it should be on the air within a month or two. It takes so much time and work to even get one show in front of a network. Not to mention all the ancillary shooting, conversations and the back and forth between Production Company, talent and network. It just takes a lot longer than I think most people realize.
YOUR JOB INVOLVES CASTING FOR REALITY TV. WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR? HOW DO YOU FIND PEOPLE?
Finding people varies from show to show. It also depends on how the project got started; is it something we came up with internally, did the network give us a mandate they wanted us to fill and so we are finding people that fit what they’re looking for, etc. That will determine how we research and start our outreach. No matter what the project is, though, we are always looking for interesting worlds and interesting people. Again, specific casting typically depends on the project, but overall we are looking for compelling people that are doing something unique, have good personalities, are going to draw an audience with their stories and lifestyle and are good characters.
YOU’RE FROM THE SOUTH. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO MOVE TO NEW YORK?
I used to visit New York with my family growing up and fell in love with it as a little girl. Growing up my sister, who is two years older than me, and I always said we were going to live in New York City together. Each trip coming up here was different from the last, which made me realize that life in New York could be beautifully unpredictable. That dream never changed as I got older and so after I graduated college there was one place I saw myself moving and I moved in with my sister. I love everything about the south, but I grew up there and went to school there so I wanted to get out and experience a different world. New York has endless opportunities. There’s always something to do. There are so many unique, interesting, fun people to engage with. I do get homesick for some southern cookin’, the southern lifestyle and a slower pace every now and then. But it’s true when people say there’s no other place in the world like New York because there isn’t. It’s full of life and adventure. That’s what I was seeking when I moved up here and it hasn’t disappointed.
WHAT’S THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Probably to follow my passion and what makes me happy. I know it seems cliché and general, but it’s so applicable and true. I’ve always loved TV and movies and the entertainment industry and when it came down to applying for jobs, that’s where I found myself looking the most and what I was most excited about exploring and being apart of. Not to say I wouldn’t be happy in another industry but my passion is in the entertainment world so following my gut was definitely the right move.