Jim Kiriakakis | Executive Producer, Buck Productions
The Television Writers Vault congratulates Executive Producer, Jim Kiriakakis of Buck Productions on his recent successes with two shows airing as a result of his scouting and collaboration with Writers on projects he discovered at the TV Writers Vault. “Deals From The Dark Side”, a Docu-Style Reality Series explores escape artist Steve Santini’s unusual and bizarre world of macabre historical artifact collection. Buck Productions has produced 13 episodes (as of this interview date), currently airing on A&E Australia, with U.S. broadcast premiere on SYFY Nov. 7 10/9c.
Kiriakakis and company also bring us the world premiere of “Saw Dogs”, with back-to-back episodes on Discovery Channel. The series takes viewers on a wild ride with world-class chainsaw sculptors as they battle deadlines and conflicting creative views to deliver mind-blowing works of art commissioned by high-end clients. 10 episodes have been produced in its first season currently airing. Buck Productions is a producer of cutting-edge reality-based programming, with offices in New York and Toronto. Jim Kiriakakis joins Scott Manville at the TV Writers Vault for a brief chat about his current productions:
Scott Manville: Jim, it’s great to finally have a chat with you and catch up, with all the great projects you have going now. But first, congratulations on “Deals From The Dark Side”, and “Saw Dogs”. How many episodes are in the can? Any announcements coming up?
Jim Kiriakakis: Thanks Scott. Saw Dogs will have it’s World Premiere Jan 7th at 9pm ET on Velocity Discovery and on OLN January 24th at 9pm ET which we are really stoked about. “Deals From The Darkside” has its U.S. series premiere on SYFY this fall.
SM: As we understand, you discovered the Creators and their concepts from scouting the TV Writers Vault, and through development they morphed into the shows we now see. How was that process?
JK: I am sometimes amazed and how quickly people feel TV deals are made. The creators that I had the opportunity to work with were up for the task of hurry up and wait, and ultimately their patience and hard work paid off with legitimate shows that have really good broadcasting partners behind them.
SM: Was it challenging to cover content for a narrative for each episode, or did you have enough to work with knowing post-editing would pull together a focus for the story. Or is this really a learn-as-you-go process?
JK: I think with the doc-reality type series, that I believe both Deals From The Dark Side and SAW DOGS would be categorized as, you plan as best you can with storylines A, B and C but a number of times you end up combining good planning with learn-as-you-go, as the reality of the world throws things at you that shift those storylines and character arcs.
SM: Can you tell me a bit about the process for Mike Harris and Steve Santini, on each show, respectively?
JK: First off working with both creators was great. They really worked hard at getting all the elements that I needed to pitch these out. With Mike Harris and SAW DOGS it was an interesting scenario. He had a world (wood chainsaw carving) that had not been explored yet as a series, and we went back and forth with what the best format to bring it to market would be. Ultimately, we decided that using Steve Blanchard (co-creator and master carver) as the lead vehicle, and creating a doc reality series that would focus on commissions and characters would be the best way to go. As opposed to a competition type series which is where the initial concept was heading.
From there we came up with the title, shot a character demo with Steve, and teamed up with our Distribution partner Cableready to pitch the show. Velocity wanted the show and had us shoot a proof of concept demo, which we did, and in short they were good to go. We still needed to get another broadcaster on board to complete the financial scenario so we pitched OLN in Canada and the rest is history. Two networks, one show. that’s the great thing about TV math there are a number of ways to make it all work.
With Steve Santini and Deals From The Dark Side, we had a concept that was a twist on the treasure hunting genre of reality. The initial concept was a Pawn Stars / American Pickers like show with a paranormal twist. We needed more, with questions like – what elements would make this show different? And what aspects of, and how much of Steve’s life would be a part of it? We decided that the Escape Artist side was definitely something that should be in, and made his character different than what was out there already. We also knew that the dark nature of the objects was going to be a sell. But, we had to get the tone right, so we strayed away from too much paranormal, and focused on the macabre world and quirky characters that the objects would lead us to. We put together a great treatment package outlining some Dark Deal scenarios and a character demo. Pitched that to OLN and they loved the character and the world but really wanted us to push the escapes, and more shopping scenarios so that the show would not just depend on one object’s journey.
SM: Looking at Steve Santini’s “Deals From The Dark Side”, that must’ve been a wild ride. How was it working with an Escape Artist who has such a peculiar profession hunting those relics?
JK: Steve was, as you can imagine, full of surprises. The Escape Artist side was pretty intense. Especially when trying to decide what escape to film and which would be less likely to kill him if it went wrong. I think what we all got a kick out of was how amazing the characters we met along each journey were.
SM: I love the style of shooting and editing done on both shows – a very specific style. How involved are you from start to finish? Can you give us a general birds-eye-view of that process?
JK: For both series I had the privilege of developing concepts with the creators and getting the shows commissioned. From there, my job as the Exec Producer was to bring the right team together that would help achieve the wants and needs of the series, including content and style; from working with the DP on Deals From The Dark Side, to decide on using the Sony F3 to shoot reality, to working with the director and story team on Saw Dogs to make sure we had the right recipe of process and character story points. I’ve had a part in all aspects of what makes it to air, but the collaboration process on both series was, and I believe always is a big part of any successful finished product. And I truly give the kudos to the production teams of both series.
SM: You produce shows for distribution in both Canada and the U.S. How do the Networks differ between the two markets? Are the mandates and tastes for programming similar?
JK: It seems like at this point the mandates of networks both in the US and in CAN fall in the same zone as far as what type of content they want, e.g. big characters, new worlds etc. I think where the tastes differ is shooting style, graphics and storytelling structure…I find that the way Canadians view TV is different then the way US audiences view TV.
SM: Can you share with us any details of new programs coming down the pike from Buck Productions, or are they under the golden cone of confidentiality until Network announcements?
JK: We have an exciting year ahead and Buck is going to picture Jan 15th on a new series as well as in development with a couple networks on new projects.
SM: Your company is really hot right now with expansion into the U.S. broadcasting market. Share with us the current Mandate and Agenda for Buck Productions. Where do you see the company heading?
JK: Buck will continue to create great programming for our Canadian broadcast partners while we expand and use the momentum of series like SAW DOGS and Deals From The Dark Side to build more properties commissioned from the US. 2012 will be a big year for Buck as we move towards world dominance.
SM: When you’re scouting projects for reality TV, what are you hoping to find?
JK: I am looking for something that makes me say “I would watch that.” I feel if I would want to watch it then it would be good TV. I know that might sound cocky but you don’t get anywhere in this business by doubting your sensibilities. Now that sounded cocky. Ha!
SM: Can you share any perspective on our service, and how the TV Writers Vault serves the Industry?
JK: What I like about your service Scott, is that it’s always being updated and I can come in one week and not see something that I like, and that will change a week later when I come back. You offer what I would say is a one of the only places that creators out there can put up their concept and reach a producer in a user friendly manner. That’s how it serves the industry. As a producer, I do a lot of researching and I’m always looking for the next great concept. The TV Writer’s Vault makes that process a little bit easier. It gives me a solid go-to resource that is now a part of my research routine.
SM: Again, congratulations on your current shows. We’ll be tuning in!
JK: Thanks for the support Scott.