Creating A Monster | Gina Lida Riess & CJ Welsh

While at the St Kilda Film festival I was able to have a conversation with the Director and the Producer of ‘Creating A Monster’, a short film about about the reality television industry. We talk about the ideas behind creating a monster, the manufactured nature of reality TV, the psychology of the viewers and more. enjoy :)

Link to video of interview:

Gina Lida Riess

How did the concept of creating a monster come about, what made you think of that idea?

So, truth be told, I am a very big reality TV fan, I have like an obsession with it and I feel like i constantly reflect on the fact that i’m a bad person because I like this so called trashy genre. But then so I think it started from that and I thought I want to explore why I have this interest in the genre, I think ultimately I thought it was people watching and looking into different emotional responses but I think there is something to the genre that is actually deeper than it gives itself credit for.

So what did you discover when you looked deeper?

I think that people assume because reality television is this trashy genre, that the people that make it are dumb, and they just kind of throw stuff together and they just want to make drama on screen, but I do think that there is a process behind it. Reality television has a whole bunch of different formats, and a whole bunch of different ways that it manifests. So you’ve got your love shows, and you’ve got your game shows and competitions, there is so many different types and I think there is something interesting to be said about the audience that watch it, why do we want to watch these real people fail or succeed. I think that there is something more psychological behind it than just watching trashy television.

From what you showed in the film, it really seems like producers really know this and they use that to their advantage to create the drama, what are your thoughts on that?

Definitely, I think that there has got to be a balance of drama and also friendships, you can’t just have people yelling at each other all the time you need to have a balance there. They need to have characters, and they need to have dramatic archetypes like any other genre does, you need to have someone to hate you need to have someone to love, but i don’t think that it’s overt as that. I think the deeper you go into it there definitely are dramatic archetypes and a narrative structure that they (producers) abide by.

When you started making this film and as you were researching reality TV shows, did you notice these structures more and more?

Yeah definitely. Because I am a fan and i’m not like a ‘hater’, I think that some shows that definitely do it better than others. I think that there are some shows that kind of maybe push the boundaries or …

They are better at making it seem reality?

Yeah exactly, there is more thought behind it, it’s not just ‘lets just get a whole bunch of people together that are going to fight with each other in a room and see what happens. I think that there has got to be more thought behind it. Ultimately I think that human psychology drives it and I think we as viewers want to watch people that we can relate with, I think that as well, producers that know that will use that to their advantage.

Do you think that you would ever work on reality show?

I think that I would, but i like to think that I would do it in an ethical way.

What do you think it takes for someone to be unethical? And what do you think about people creating stories for people different to what they think they are going to be perceived as and things like that?

It’s a very good question, that was actually what I came in contact with while I was making the documentary, I started of think that the people that go on reality television are kind of getting what they ask for to some extent, they are putting themselves on the line, they are putting themselves to be a character in a story, they are getting something out of it as well they are getting publicity they are getting fame. But as I was going on and speaking to the people I definitely definitely changed my mind, and I think that it is more complex, I don’t think that there is an easy answer of they do deserve it they don’t deserve it I think it is a bit mixed and I think some people can get really taken advantage of. But at the same time, I don’t think that reality television producers turn a really great person into the villain, I think they have to see something in your personality that will make you ‘unlikeable’.

It just exaggerated, would you say?

Yeah its exaggerated, and they leave stuff out conveniently, but I mean, all humans are floored, and if we are just based on just our bad qualities it like … that’s the thing, when you are being projected to a whole bunch of people and you are being shown things that you said and wish that you didn’t say. I mean, i’m sure that if I was put in front of a camera and I was in a bad mood, and I thought that an injustice had been done to me, I’m sure I would look like a real dickhead.

CJ Welsh

Do I think that it’s the same qualities that a good producer needs to do a reality/narrative style show? Yes 100%. A good producer needs to understand where story comes from and why people buy into a story. It’s similar in that when you’re creating a narrative story, you have a very clear path of ‘this is what we’re trying to say and here is how we are going to do it’, reality TV still has something to say, but they pull that story out of what they end it with. Documentaries are very similar. when you shoot a documentary and we tried to do this with Gina's film, it’s a little bit meta because you are shooting a lot of stuff and hoping that what you’re getting is telling the story that you wanted to, and if it isn’t, you kinda have to fake it a little bit. You go in the edit and you figure out in the edit, how can i use what i have now to make the story that I was setting out to make. There are very few documentaries that are completely and universally absolutely unbiased, because in order for it to be created someone has to think there’s a story in that subject matter somewhere. In the film you will notice that there are shots of us actually shooting it, and that was us taking a step back and going yes we are exposing to you the manufactured nature of reality TV, but you need to be aware that we manufactured this for you to see that.

Do you think when people are watching this (reality TV), do you think they are aware of that?

At a minimum on a subconscious level, people see and go ‘oh that’s right, there are 15 to 20 people standing in that room, it’s not this one person talking to me, this is a team of people coming together to tell a story, and I’m watching that story’.

So you obviously have that, you think of that when your watching stuff, does that effect you watching any entertainment, not just what you’ve made?

Oh that’s a tricky one. When I choose to sit down and watch something, there are two different reasons for doing it. If I’m sitting down to watching something because everyone has told me ‘CJ you have to go and see this, it’s going to be amazing you’ll love it because of XYZ, for industry reasons’, then I go into that process, watching it to look for things that I will enjoy. That is a different kind of process to for example, if I’m watching something for the sake of I want to see it. So I’m a big fan of a show The Leftovers, I specifically avoid industry talk about that show because to do that would ruin part of the joy of experiencing that narrative freely and of my own volition. But it is a tricky thing because you do have to separate it a little bit, if I get to caught up in looking at the narrative of how something is built or put together or produced, I will not necessarily get as much of the story as i should.

Do you think that is a sign of a good show, when it can pull you in and not make you think about all of the producer side of it?

Absolutely, the hallmark of a great piece of entertainment, is that I forget that I know how it was done. In the same way that a really good magician will enjoy the show of another magician if it was good enough, because they start to go ‘oh how I don’t know how that was done that was amazing’. There is an element of things where I can watch something and enjoy how it was made and go ‘god I know how they did that, that’s pretty genius’, but at the same time, that usually happens after the fact. That’s usually the show is done and I have really enjoyed it, and then I go ‘I wonder how i did that’ and i’ll sit and have a think about it, but the actual viewing of it, if it was good enough I forgot that i was a producer when i was watching it, absolutely.

If anyone reading is interested, these interviews will be included in a podcast that i am making about my experiences at the St Kilda Film Festival, you can find that here.