Fox's summer reality series "On The Lot" attempts to be a blend of "American Idol" meets "Project Greenlight" by showcasing wanna-be filmmakers as they claw their way into an ivory tower in Hollywood. Produced by "Survivor's" Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg, one would think that the idea of showing-off new directing talent would be a sure hit, but the execution of the show - like most of the short films the would-be directors produce - is somewhat lacking, which has led to abysmal ratings for the series.
Unlike Project Greenlight, which showed you all the excruciating details involved with attempting to make a successful film, "On The Lot" skips these parts and instead only shows the finished product of each filmmakers work each week. Viewers are left only to watch the two or three minute piece and vote by phone or internet if they like it enough to keep the filmmaker in the running for another week.
Part of what makes a reality show interesting is the drama that is created between the characters as they face obstacles they weren't expecting. Viewers enjoy seeing the pitfalls and speed bumps that present themselves and watching how the characters work around or through them to succeed or fail. For better or worse, taking joy in other's misfortune has become a national past time.
The process of making a movie on-time and on-budget is usually rife with drama. From script revisions and casting frustrations, to technical issues and completing the days shooting schedule on time, the daily life of a director is filled with a million little things that at first seem trivial but ultimately can make or break a production. How a director handles these aspects of the project can determine the fate of the film. For examples of just how difficult making a film can be, see the documentaries "Lost in La Mancha" about Terry Gilliam's frustration on trying to do a movie about Don Quixote, or "Hearts of Darkness," the documentary about Francis Ford Coppola's dance to the edge of insanity in shooting "Apocalypse Now."
To do a reality series about film making that doesn't show the behind-the-scenes drama completely misses the point of the program entirely, which seems evident in "On The Lot's" in-the-basement television ratings. For example, 2.5 million viewers tuned in for a recent weekly installment. Meanwhile its competition, the Gong Show-like "America's Got Talent" received ten times that amount of viewers.
Still, there is hope that once the pack of filmmakers from "Lot" has been reduced to a smaller number, we will start seeing some of that film making madness. But right now, all viewers get is the finished product, ditzy, fashion-impaired yet still pretty hot host Adrianna Costa and three judges that seem more like caricatures than real people.
A weekly guest judge is seated opposite Carrie Fisher - who usually stammers and seems more at a loss for words than anything else, and Gary Marshall who hasn't had a hit in almost a decade, yet extols fortune cookie wisdom like he's thumbing through quotations in a textbook on film making.
Still, the films the directors are producing have their moments. And when you stop to consider that these contestants have to write, shoot and edit a two minute film in a week, you start to appreciate just how big of a challenge they face. Some of the films totally miss their mark, but some have a real quality to them.
"On the Lot" has a lot of obstacles to overcome, but we're still holding on to the hope that we might be watching a diamond in the rough being formed.