Fox's On the Lot, a new reality show from Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett, searches for Hollywood's next top director. Here are the five things you need to know before the camera starts rolling tonight at 9 pm/ET.
1) On the Lot is like YouTube meets American Idol… at least that's how Mark Burnett thinks of it. YouTube and Idol are the constant reference points for Survivor and Apprentice exec producer Burnett, who brainstormed the idea for On the Lot over a meal with the show's other executive producer, Steven Spielberg. Close to 12,000 aspiring directors submitted films, and the top 50 will compete for a development deal at Spielberg's company, DreamWorks. The deal doesn't guarantee that the winner will see his or her movie in theaters next summer, but it's a lucrative foot in the door. They'll receive $500,000 up front, plus another $500,000 to option scripts and get to work. "In the YouTube universe, we're seeing more and more young filmmakers who have proven to be talented and exciting," Burnett says. "We're going to give one of them an incredible shot."
2) Filmmaking can be complicated… and so can reality shows about filmmaking. On Idol, the contestants sing and you vote. On The Apprentice, they do a task and the Donald fires somebody. But On the Lot, in its early shows, is a little trickier, with a variety of tasks designed to test the skills needed by a director. The top 50 start by pitching a film concept to a panel of judges. The top 36 contestants are divided into 12 groups of three and given 24 hours to shoot a three-page scene. Four of the groups are eliminated, and the remaining 24 each shoot a short using professional actors on one of five sets. After six more eliminations, the top 18 each make a one-minute movie, which will be aired. At that point, the public begins voting for its favorite, and the process becomes simpler. "Every weekend millions of Americans vote with their wallets by choosing what movies to see," Burnett says. "On this show they're voting with the phone."
3) Carrie Fisher is not Simon Cowell… but she kind of likes him. For the initial episodes, the judges consist of actress and writer Carrie Fisher and directors Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman), Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes). Fisher is around for the duration, but the other judges will change throughout the series. As with Idol, the judges critique but don't make the decisions once viewers begin voting. If there's a designated "Simon" on the panel, it won't be Fisher. "I don't want to be that!" she says. "I've stayed in relationships for years rather than break up with someone, because I'd like to avoid confrontation. Who wants to reject someone? But I think Simon is playing a role. It's very unpleasant for the people he's doing that to, but I hear he's a very nice man. In fact, I met him once and he seemed pleasant enough."
4) They're looking for the next Brett Ratner… not the next Robert Altman. It's all about boffo box office. "The public is choosing," Burnett says. "Let's face it, if the public has chosen this person after 13 weeks of watching their films, then they've reached a big, general audience. Somebody may be an artistic, avant-garde filmmaker, but if nobody pays to see their movies, it's not gonna work. Look at how many TV shows have failed miserably. I mean, look at 30 Rock or Studio 60 — very well made, I enjoy them, but they [didn't do well]."
5) There's no place for backstabbing and conniving in Hollywood… at least that's what Mark Burnett wants to believe. Burnett's other reality shows often showcase lying, double-crossing and other morally dubious behavior that would seem natural among ambitious youngsters looking to land an agent, a Lexus and a house in Malibu. This time, though, he's not predicting any new Omarosas. "I don't think there'll be any of that backstabbing," he insists. "You don't see that on American Idol. Hey, there are always personalities, and you like some people more than others. But in the end, this is about the films."
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