Roniel Tessler is a casting professional with years of experience in casting and production. Roniel has casted original series for notable networks, including HGTV, The History Channel, Lifetime, and TLC. Drawing on his extensive industry experience, Roniel shares the reality behind reality casting in this hilarious interview with himself.
Never in a million years did I think I would be so involved in the behind-the-scenes production of reality television. But the truth is reality TV is hot and, more often than not, if you’re looking for a job in television, you’ll find three reality or “unscripted” jobs to every scripted one (that figure is completely made up, but some undergraduate doing a double in film and sociology should conduct a study and prove me right because I am). I happened upon my current job as I was transitioning from an unpaid internship to something better (anything was better at that point) and met someone on my last day who headed up an independent casting company. That person is now my boss of three plus years and the rest is history.
Besides being a good profession to have in those introductory conversations with strangers at your boyfriend’s friend’s housewarming party, working in reality television lets you in on a secret world of housewives and dancing toddlers. So what’s it really like working in unscripted program? What is the reality behind the reality? Good questions. In fact, I’ll answer a few right now.
Q. Do you know Honey Boo Boo?!
A: No. I do not.
Q: Okay, but do you know Andy Cohen?!
A: No. I don’t do housewives. The closest I’ve come to Andy Cohen was a brief encounter on the street when I called out his name like I’d known him for years and explained to the confused mazal mouth that we were Facebook friends. He looked at me funny and walked away.
Q: That’s pretty awkward. Why would you do that?
A: I don’t know. I’m a weird kid. Let’s move on.
Q: Okay so what reality shows DO you work on?
A: Mainly wedding shows, though I’ve worked on a bunch of pilots from house hunting to finding love, and I’m currently involved with an educational reality TV series for National Geographic.
Q: Are the brides really that bitchy?
A: Not at all! When you talk to a bride about their wedding they could not be in a happier place. But I’d like to use this question to address a very important topic to all of the future brides reading this. Mason jars do not make your wedding different. The only way your “DIY,” “mason jar” wedding will be different is if you decide to get married inside of an actual mason jar. That’s all. Thank you for letting me vent.
Q: Is reality TV scripted?
A: That depends. Some shows are and some are not. For instance, I’m pretty positive Aviva Drescher threw her fake leg across that table 15 times to get the perfect shot, but none of the shows I’ve ever worked on were scripted. Instead, I like to say that many reality shows are “guided.” That means we let things happen organically, but we might ask someone to rephrase or restate what they said in a way that gives us a perfect sound bite. If the casting is good then the people usually do the work for us, but occasionally someone will need a good push from production to make the magic happen.
Q: What’s the best part about working in reality television?
A: The people! Throughout the past three years I’ve interviewed fashion models, lesbian pornographers, drag queens, psychics, real estate agents, first-class chefs, and regular 20-somethings searching for love. If you’re a people person, reality TV is a great fit. This genre would be nothing without the everyday, real-life characters we pass by on the street and every reality TV fan owes their respect to the “stars.”
Q: What’s the worst part about working in reality television?
A: I’m going to go with “what’s the most difficult part,” and that is finding the right people. There’s a time in every casting director’s life when he will be asked to find a mermaid with blonde hair who loves to write (believe me, it happens). Networks often forget that we’re not creating fake characters here. These are real people with real talents and real limitations. And even if you think you’ve found “the one,” there will always be the exec who says “…well, do you think you can find a mermaid with a blue fin instead of a green one?” (like I said, it happens).
Q: I want to be on reality TV! How do I make this happen?
A: Be yourself! Most reality TV casting directors don’t look for actors. They look for real people. If it’s a cooking show, we want chefs! If it’s a house hunting show we want house hunters! Still, there are places to look for the right casting notices. Actors Access, Reality Wanted, Craigslist, and the casting info on your favorite shows’ websites are good places to start hunting for the posting that describes you to a T.
Q: I want to work in scripted television. Is reality TV a good place to start?
A: Unfortunately, no. I view reality and scripted careers running parallel to each other without ever intersecting. The skill you need in scripted is, you guessed it, in the writing. The skill in reality is in finding the talent and coaching them through production. If you want a job in scripted television go the scripted route. Still, a position in reality TV is a great way to learn more about television and get paid working in a field you love.
Q: Actor postcards. Do reality TV casting directors even look at those things?
A: Yes! I’m working on a show right now that requires lots and lots of bodies and postcards are a great way for you to get called in for some fast and easy work. Don’t expect to get famous though. If you want to showcase your talents as an actor, reality television is the wrong place.
Q: You’ve sold me! How do I get a job casting reality TV?
A: The best thing to do is to read the credits of your favorite shows and see which company casted it. Otherwise, sites like Mandy, Temp Diaries, Hidden Hollywood Jobs, and even Craigslist are great places to start looking. Remember: you’re looking for “unscripted” or “alternative programming” as buzz words here.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to answer all of my burning questions! Can we get lunch and hang out in real life?
A: There is no such thing as a lunch break when you work in TV, but if you’re in NYC and want to get coffee or go out for drinks I’d love to meet you!
I hope I’ve enlightened some of you on the mysterious world of reality TV and given you a brief, yet satisfying, taste of the reality behind reality TV.