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Our Experience on ABC's "The Great Christmas Light Fight"


tonyski
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Now that everything is put away, the dust has settled, and the check is cashed, I thought I'd take a few minutes to share our experience with the ABC's The Great Christmas Light Fight, in hopes that those of you who may be sitting on the fence about applying will take the leap and participate in Season 2.

 

Our family and our display, “Christmas in the Grove” were the winners of Episode 4.

 

We were contacted in Dec 2012 by a production company that was putting the show together. I guess someone scoured the light finder sites and sent out a bunch of emails. I remember reading through this forum and others wondering if it was legit. My wife and I thought we'd apply and see where it went.

 

They asked us to make a short audition video and complete a simple questionnaire. After that, there was a long period of time where we didn't hear a thing. I thought something must have changed or the project had cancelled. As it turned out, there was a change in production companies and Fremantle had taken over the project. Once they took over, things started moving. We were finally notified of our selection in late August 2013.

 

The initial concept for the show was that there would be 16 families competing for one grand prize of $50,000.  4 episodes with 4 families each, with the winner of each of those episodes competing against each other in a “finale episode” which would be judged by a live audience. Just prior to filming, the concept changed to 5 episodes of 4 families each. Each episode having a $50,000 winner. As Executive Producer Brady Connell (from Extreme Makeover Home Edition) told me, “We thought it would be better to have more families, so we scraped up another 200K and added 4 more.”

From that point on, it was a roller coaster! Lots of paperwork to complete, including contracts and background checks. Prior to the crew’s arrival for filming, there was a conference call, with all four families in our episode, where we discussed the rules. They also asked us to have an area inside the house decorated for Christmas so they would have an area to do interviews. We were not allowed to have any outdoor decorations in place but were allowed to have things staged and ready to go in the garage and behind fences.

Since we had never been involved with any sort of TV production, the initial shooting schedule was a little alarming. There was some discussion of filming in early October, which had us a bit slack jawed. As it turned out, our producer came to the house for the first time in the evening of 10/14. It was a very low key meeting where he gave us an idea of what to expect over the next few days.

The next morning 10/15, we got started! The crew of 6 showed up with more equipment than I could have ever imagined. There was the producer, assistant producer, sound man, camera man, an assistant cameraman, and a production assistant (PA). The first 5 were from California. The PA was hired locally.
The majority of the first 2 days was for interviews and walk around shots of the house and yard.

I have to give enormous kudos to the crew. They were able to, very quickly, get us used to having a $150K camera in our faces, while surrounded by lights and sound equipment. Surprisingly, it became second nature very quickly. Mistakes were common, but we just started again and did it over, and over, and over! Even my wife Katie, who is incredibly shy, got comfortable quickly, and described the interviews as “just having a conversation with a friend.”

Toward the end of the second day, we shot a scene in our kitchen where we got a “simulated” phone call from the host of the show telling us that our 21 days started “NOW”! As you know, they ultimately decided to do the show without a host, but we sprang into action and started decorating for about 3 hours.

On day 3, we were decorating like crazy and they filmed every aspect of that that they could. They especially liked filming when things went wrong. Like when we couldn’t get the bucket lift to work or when it wouldn’t reach quite far enough. There were more interviews that night and before they left, they placed time lapse cameras in the yard to document our progress and provide footage that they used in the show. They also left a video camera with us and asked that we film progress reports and anything else that might be interesting as our build progressed.

The next three weeks were crazy to say the least. We told our neighbors that we were involved with a reality TV show until ABC started promoting The Great Christmas Light Fight. After that, we were free to tell them the details. Everyone was so supportive and excited for us!  We were allowed to use as many friends and family members as we wanted to put up the display, but no hired help! We got some great help and had great weather so things went well for us. Our display usually takes about three weeks to put up anyway, so the time limit wasn’t as big a deal for us as it was for some of the other families. We knew that the film crew would be back on day 19 so our goal was to be done by then. They tried very hard to minimize their impact on what we were doing, but some impact was unavoidable!

On Day 19, our crew arrived as planned and spent 2 days doing additional interviews and filming while we put the finishing touches on the display. Day 20 ended with a test run of the 4 songs that we were planning to use.

Day 21, Reveal Day, started much later than any other day. The crew told us that they probably wouldn’t leave until around 3 AM and they were right! We started to realize just how big an evening was in store when more and more crew members started to show up! I never got an exact count, but there were a minimum of 20 people here  and probably closer to 30! They had a director, the boom camera (Jib) operator, 2 other cameramen, 2 sound people, our producer, and a whole slew of additional technicians and production assistants. They worked with our county officials and got permission to actually close our road. They asked us to invite a limited number of family members and friends/neighbors and we ended up with a crowd of about 75.

As with every other aspect of the production, they got multiple shots of the crowd cheering and Sabrina Soto’s arrival. We talked with her for a few minutes (again, multiple takes and angles) and finally got to start the display.

Once it ran through the first time, we did it again without sound so they could record our comments during the show.

Once the show was complete, we shot the “give me a tour” segments.

After we finished the tour, there were additional interviews for Sabrina and us. While all that was going on, the Jib operator was busy filming the display from every conceivable angle which resulted in some incredible footage of the display.

The crew was true to their word and was packed up and gone by 3!

I’d rather not discuss the evening that they came back and told us that we’d won. I would hate to spoil the surprise!

Even if we had not won, my feelings about being on the show would be the same. It was an amazing experience from start to finish. We had a once in a lifetime opportunity to see how reality TV is done. It was simply phenomenal that the nearly 40 hours of video that they filmed got trimmed down to roughly 12 minutes.

The people from Fremantle and ABC were consummate professionals. They were constantly respectful of our needs, feelings and property. Their kind and friendly manner made the terror of being in front of a TV camera warm into a fun conversation with a friend. This was a first class production from beginning to end!

Sabrina Soto was absolutely delightful. She is the “real deal” and was fun to spend time with.

The only thing that we did differently because of the show was start early! The plan that we had in place for our 2013 display was decided on in February of 2013. Not a single thing changed after that. The filming added some interesting aspects and challenges, but we did what we were going to do any way, made some wonderful new friends, had a great time, and won $50,000 in the process.

I hope that this has given all of you some insight into the experience that we had and encouraged those of you with the most awesome displays in the country to compete in “The Great Christmas Light Fight” Season 2.

Please feel free to PM or email me with any questions you might have. or contact the Casting Producer for Season 2, Jean Arthur directly.

 

 

Jean Arthur
Casting Producer 

jarthurcasting@gmail.com

@jarthurcasting 

818-748-1372

 

or apply at:

http://gameshowdepartment.tv/

 

Wishing all of you the very best in 2014,

Tony

 

Edited by tonyski
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Great story.. thanks for posting.. 

 

I had to decline to enter because of the original schedule for shooting, I simply was not ready.. but after seeing what everyone did on that show, I was glad I didn't enter... I didn't have a chance!   :P   You veterans know how to do it!  

 

You guys rocked it! 

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And after all the problems, headaches, people walking through your display/lawn, etc etc etc.......you'd probably do it all over again, even if you didn't win. The only downside I found in watching the shows was, it wasn't long enough. I would have liked to have seen more of the show and more of behind the scenes.

 

Congrats to you and you family.

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Hi I'm in the uk so didn't see the show but it sounds like great concept. Do you have a video of your display as I would like to see it

Thanks and congratulation it is a great story

Tony

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Thanks everyone for all your kind words.

We have video posted at:

www.christmasinthegrove.net

I think you can still see the episodes on ABC.com.

You might need to google it to find them.

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We had an odd set of circumstances that affected the viewing of the show locally. The Atlanta Falcons were playing at home that night and our episode didn't air until 2 am the next morning. We were able to notify our family, friends, neighbors, and Facebook followers, but not the general population.
 

As a result, we didn't see a big spike but a steady increase as people watched it on their DVRs, ABC.com, Roku, and Comcast "On Demand".

Also, we have only been doing this for 4 years, so unlike some of the amazing displays out there with long traditions of excellence, we are just getting to the point where we are "well known" locally. Much to my surprise, we didn't get any local TV coverage this year. There were several print media outlets that were very kind to us as well as several local web sites and blogs.

Having said all that, it was by far, our busiest year and we raised $3150 for our Charity of choice, The ALS Assn. of GA.

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thats the same as us. we raised 1000 last year in our 2 yr and this year was 4000. traffic was crazy for a few nights, with almost an hour wait, but we went out and handed out candy canes and cookies, people were still very excited still after waiting an hour.

 

we'll see what happens next year.

 

-chris

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We had an odd set of circumstances that affected the viewing of the show locally. The Atlanta Falcons were playing at home that night and our episode didn't air until 2 am the next morning. We were able to notify our family, friends, neighbors, and Facebook followers, but not the general population.

 

As a result, we didn't see a big spike but a steady increase as people watched it on their DVRs, ABC.com, Roku, and Comcast "On Demand".

Also, we have only been doing this for 4 years, so unlike some of the amazing displays out there with long traditions of excellence, we are just getting to the point where we are "well known" locally. Much to my surprise, we didn't get any local TV coverage this year. There were several print media outlets that were very kind to us as well as several local web sites and blogs.

Having said all that, it was by far, our busiest year and we raised $3150 for our Charity of choice, The ALS Assn. of GA.

tonyski good charity, my brother has ALS.

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Thanks PaulXmas, The father of my 2 step daughters has ALS. That's why we chose it!

 

BTW, what do you do with your 1 LOR Channel. LOL

 

I looked at your website. I think you might be fibbing!

 

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My family and I were also part of Season 1 of ABC's The Great Christmas Light Fight, we were featured in Episode 2.    We had an amazing time working with the show producers and their team members.  FremantleMedia is a top-notch production company and ABC hit it out of the park with selecting such a great company to put together the show.   Those families with children that are thinking of being part of the show, your children will have an amazing experience like they will probably never experience again.    California has some very strict laws when it comes to minors working in in film/TV/entertainment.  For example, our daughter who was 15 at the time, she had her own personal "tutor" and "assistant" at our house during filming of the show.  This person made sure she was on camera for X amount of time (as allotted by California law), got her schoolwork done as a priority, and even assisted her with schoolwork (if needed).   All scheduled, provided, and paid for by ABC.  Made our daughter feel like Miley Cyrus playing Hannah Montana years ago!

 

tgclf2013_yellowteam_01_small.jpg

 

I know there's been some talk about format of the show, etc.  Everyone has to remember that the show producers do the best they can to create great TV for the masses, MILLIONS of people watching the show.  Not just the decorators.   And it's really hard to find that particular format that works for everyone.  The show's producers are great listeners and want to learn more about our awesome hobby and the Christmas lights addiction and passion that some of us have!

 

Traffic definitely increased for us, and our charity FIND Food Bank was there to help as always!  The one thing we've seen in the past, is we'll get a lot of out of towners visiting and supporting our community the following year. So this 2014 Christmas season we'll see huge increases of new faces, because we are in the Palm Springs, CA area which is a tourist destination in itself, but it gives the tourists one other reason to come visit our community to see our Christmas lights display.

 

For those contemplating attending Christmas Expo (formally PLUS) in Biloxi, MS this year.  Here's another reason to think about attending.  There's been some talk on the street that several of the participants of Light Fight will be attending and doing a session about their experiences on the show, etc.  You'll get a chance to meet some of the $50,000 prize winners, and some of the loosers!

 

If anyone wants to discuss or talk "offline" about our experience, please feel free to email me at info@mydesertlights.com.

 

----Michael & The Simmons Family

www,MyDesertLights.com

Edited by HiTechLights
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