Thursday, May 24, 2007

On the Lot: Brett Ratner? Seriously?

So I caught the premiere of On the Lot, Fox's new filmmaking reality show, the other night. A Mark Burnett/Stephen Spielberg venture, On the Lot features 50 aspiring filmmakers competing for a $1 million development deal with DreamWorks. Good news: It's got potential. Bad news: It wasn't engaging enough to keep my attention--I pulled out my laptop halfway through and started checking my email.

I think one of the problems is the huge number of contestants, which has resulted in lengthy "audition rounds" to cut some of the fat, which most reality shows don't bother with until future seasons when they have an established viewership. The audition rounds are fine and all--it was actually fairly interesting seeing all the contestants take prompts (or "log lines," apparently) such as "a crate from a secret military base is accidentally delivered to a suburban family" and turn them into full-fledged movie pitches. It's just that I've now spent an hour watching these amateur filmmakers compete, but because there are too many contestants for any level of focus, I have yet to see more than a split-second of their work. Is it professional-quality? Is it a dude in the backyard with a camcorder? Beats me! A few clips of the audition films they sent in would have gone a long way. Much further, in fact, than a few other things eating up time on the show, such as the Academy Awards-style montage about how awesome movies are (especially Indiana Jones), or the Universal Studios backlot tour, featuring the War of the Worlds set and a Jaws attraction. (See a pattern here? And to think I almost forgot Spielberg was producing.)

There also seems to be a substantial bias towards commercial filmmaking. Fair enough, I suppose, and unsurprising given the judges. We have Princess Leia, Gary Marshall, and Brett Ratner, the man solely responsible for ruining the X-Men franchise. Asshole. Also problematic is the amount of time they spend focusing on in-fighting amongst the contestant groups while the teams scramble to make a movie in 24 hours. In fact, at least 75% of the time they spend showing us that challenge is spent on the fighting between two members of one team (of twelve teams total). How about showing a little filmmaking, guys? At least in the first episode? Pretty please? I promise you can devolve into a show about conflict, rather than talent, in future seasons, à la Top Chef.

That said, I really like the concept, and I'm willing to hang around long enough to see the contestants' work. Assuming we ever get past these audition rounds.