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tonyski

Our Experience On Abc's "the Great Christmas Light Fight"

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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 

[email protected]

@jarthurcasting 

818-748-1372

 

or apply at:

http://gameshowdepartment.tv/

 

Wishing all of you the very best in 2014,

Tony

 

post-11374-0-08388900-1393647357_thumb.j

Edited by tonyski

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very helpful... Thank you.. I already turned it down... I really hope they do make some changes to the show though for the next season.. I felt it was more about the judges than the awesome displays everyone created.. Congrats on Winning, hope at least a few dollars went to next years decorations!!!.. again congrats and thank you very much for the description. Your the first to give your true feedback about the experience I think. 

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I got the impression, correct me if I am wrong, that they filmed the " you won" segment the same night as the reveal. And you didn't know if you were the actual winner until the night of the show's airing. Is this correct!

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Dale,

While I am reluctant to give out too many details, the reveal and the part were they told us we won were filmed 8 days apart.

We weren't 100% sure that we won until Sabrina told us.

I must admit, as that day progressed, we were pretty confident but not sure.

Tony

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Thanks for the reply and congrats on the win. Here's hoping Uncle Sam didn't dissolve too much of your winnings. lol

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Wow,

Really cool to read your story. Our family too was contacted back in Dec.2012. Went through the making of the "Entry Video" Funny you mention about the long time not hearing anything. It was the same for us but about a month earlier. After reading about the filming schedule...and at that time it said no one but the immediate family could be used...and the fact of cameras anywhere in the house... we backed out. Really kind had this feeling of "wish we had not backed out"...especially when we heard about the prize money!

 

Then a funny thing happened. I took a huge chunk of my display to RGB. Being an Auburn fan, I had always wanted to do the fight song of AU. I thought about it more when throwing some sequences together, but it wasn't until the Auburn / Alabama game that I jumped on it. I threw one together in one night, videoed it a few days later and posted it to YouTube . From there someone posted it to a Facebook account and it went wild. Had a TV station in Alabama contact me, the next night a TV crew showed up on my door step, unannounced and the cars lined up. All the TV stations in ATL was showing it including ESPN, USA TODAY and many other news outlets all over the country. Right time and right place I guess. It's up to 357,000 hits and still going.

 

I say all that.... to ask these questions.  My traffic out in front of the house increased 10 fold or more. I didn't mind directing traffic, but at times it did get a little unnerving on my little street. How bad was your traffic???  I just can't imagine what that show did for you. And...how did you handle it? 

 

Also..... in the beginning we were asked about decorating a house for charity, in our area. I think it was something like, "If you were given $10,000 to decorate a house for charity, who would you pick and why?".  In the summer when I backed out, I remember some wording in that 26 page contract that mentioned something about that....or am I wrong? (Lot's of stuff in there)  If I had to decorate my house AND the other in just 21 days...I would be dead ;-)  One reason is because it said "only immediate family".  Unfortunately....no one in my house lifts a finger to help :-(  They did however when they saw hundreds of cars in front of the house. Felt sorry for dad :-)

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Hey Tony,

I remember your display now...neighbor!  Congrats. I was pulling for you big time that night.

Like your sequences too.

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RobertB,

 

As anyone with a big display will tell you, traffic can be crazy.

I went to Christmas Expo in 2013 and Brad Boyink gave a discussion about "Going Big". In it he talked about working with local authorities about a traffic plan and general ways to be proactive about managing traffic. While we will never be as big as his "Holiday Road" display, we did work with our local HOA to come up with a plan to manage traffic a little better. We have signage asking people to park nearby and walk up, cones to discourage people from parking on both sides of the street, and whenever we are contacted by the media, we ask them to share that info. Otherwise, it self-regutates. I am fortunate enough to have a good friend who is a County Police Officer. We had him directing traffic on our two busiest nights, Santa's visit, and Christmas Eve.

 

I remember the same question about "Decorating a public place" somewhere in the application process. There was nothing ever said about it again.

 

Tony

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I wonder if there will still be a 21 day limit on set up for this years show? That kind of time limit and with cameras in my face would make it impossible for me. Tony, you have a pretty big display too, how did you manage? 

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The cameras were not even there for the setup. They were there 2 days before then they were gone for 3 weeks and then they finish filming for 3 days. So we were not even bothered putting the lights up.

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I thought about sending in my application but after watching the season it seemed to me to be more about who had the most money to spend on their display instead of who had the most Holiday Spirit. I do a very large display but my display is not LOR it's strictly a static display and it seemed to me that for the most part they chose the lor shows as the winners in most of the episodes.. If they would change 2 things about the show I would try and get on. They did contact me via twitter last year but like a dummy I didn't see it lol I still have the tweet on my account.. But anyway the 2 things that I think should be looked at are they really should have each episode by area like north east south west etc because when you put up a show from Florida against a show like mine from Pa. my stuff takes 5 times the beating(Due to Weather) then a Florida show would so of course my stuff will not look as taken care of as a southern show would. I hope that makes sense? I do try and keep up with repairs and repaints etc but there is not enough time in the year to get it all done when your display gets sandblasted by sleet every year it does get worn its a fact... The 1 other thing I wish they would do is put Lor shows up against Lor shows and static shows up against Static shows because this comes right down to what the judges prefer more if they like the Lor shows more then guess what you are going to see the big Lor shows win more often and they did...I will definitely watch it this year again and Im sure it will be great but as for me I didn't think the 3 judging criteria s were judged equally.. The use of lights was definitely the deciding factor and with out Lor my display wouldn't stand a chance go look at my display 2013 post I dont think i use more then 50 sets of lights its all the other stuff that makes my display what I call Christmasie.....They just need to level the playing field a tiny bit and I would beg to be on the show.. I really think my family is funny and I like our display and would love to see it on the tube..But I cant compete with a $50000 dollar Lor show and i know it and with my luck I would have gotten paired with that house with the 2500 or whatever it was strobes lololol  but great post its cool to read what your family went through it sounded like a great experience and i have to admit I was shocked to hear you say that they allowed you to use friends and outside help it sounded to me in the initial rules that you could only use your immediate family and there was noway I could get this monstrosity up with out a few of my friends kicking in like they do every year...Anyway congrats and you had a beautiful display...   

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our experience was very similar to yours. except the part were we didn't win :) 

 

but it was amazing overall. I put together a long email to the producers and whoever else i could find that had the pros/cons debate from stuff i farmed from a few websites.  i hope they take it into consideration. i didn't think about the geographical portion, that would have been nice.

 

as for static, the first two episodes winners were static displays. so theres always a chance. 

 

i want to do it again :)

 

-chris

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Bill V,

 

Our experience was the same as goduke21. The camera crews did slow us down a bit right in the beginning, but once they left, it was business as usual. Like I mentioned, we had quite a bit of stuff ready to go behind the fences and in the garage. We also had more help from family and friends that we have ever had before. It was a true blessing for me that many of them were detail oriented Georgia Tech grads. I could show them what needed to be done and turned them loose. The fun part was when they got cocky and started critiquing each other!

We normally start putting thing us on 11/1 and go live on Thanksgiving day. It wasn't as big a crunch for us as I know it was for some of the other families.

 

Matt Satterwhite from our episode told me that he did the majority of his display by himself working 14-18 hours a day.

There were plenty of displays that were bigger than ours. I have to believe that they called in the reinforcements just like we did!

 

Tony

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John,

 

I have to agree with Chris. Kevin Lynch's magnificent display was totally static. The Tittiger twins had some LOR but was mostly static. In our episode, all three of the other families had more lights than we did. To some extent, money matters, but I feel that what you do with it matters more!

Perhaps dividing the episodes into All static or All sequenced has some merit, but that's for Fremantle/ABC to decide.

I passed the links to this post and my duplicate post in the LOR forums to my contact at Fremantle. I'm inclined to think that they'll keep an eye on this in order to see what our community thinks and make every effort to make Season 2 even better.

 

Tony

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While it may be more fair to have static vs static, LOR vs LOR, etc I don't think it would translate well to a tv show. This group may be in awe at watching four static displays but the general tv watching audience would likely see it as boring.

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While it may be more fair to have static vs static, LOR vs LOR, etc I don't think it would translate well to a tv show. This group may be in awe at watching four static displays but the general tv watching audience would likely see it as boring.

That's the thing you hit the nail on the head.. Static displays don't come across as well on TV no doubt about it. It was 3 LOR houses that won and 2 static I thought it was 4 LOR but the Tittigers display that won episode 2 I thought used LOR also but I'm wrong after watching the video again I guess they just used sequenced lighting for the house etc but anyway they seemed to lean more toward who had the most lights sequenced with the exception of episode 1...I guess what I'm saying is the houses that were Character driven ( blow molds inflatables wood etc.) were overlooked at times in most of the episodes.. Or maybe it just seemed that way.. All I know is I don't think there are 4 and 5 year old's out there saying wow that sequencing was awesome but in my case I have had a ton of children sit there and name every character in my display...I just think we all do this for the kids don't we? At least I do...I personally like a LOR show better then my own I just think they are awesome but I wouldn't do one just because I want my display to be more kid driven then adult driven...Plus if I'm being honest I cant afford a Lor show..But I personally like a sequenced show better for sure so trust me I'm  not bashing them...Maybe I'm wrong in my way of thinking about the show... My brother who does a bigger display then me thought the same thing though that they seemed to favor the lights over the whimsical character driven displays....And trust me I realize the show is called the great Christmas light fight with the word LIGHTS getting the emphasis..But the judging by region to me I believe should definitely be implemented...And my last words on this show would be great job it was a good show but maybe look at the region thing and maybe look at the static verse static and Lor vs Lor even have 2 winners in each episode 1 Lor 1 static so if your a fan of one or the other you get the best of both worlds....I just know that I personally love a great Lor show and I also love a great static show too....Static may not translate as well on TV but I definitely don't think they are boring.. If I had the money I would mix the 2 and that would make me so happy have a small Lor addition to my gaudy monstrosity and call it a day.  In closing CONGRATS TO ALL THE WINNERS I didn't see 1 house featured that I didn't like but I'm just a die hard Christmas decor fan and I think anybody who tries to put a smile on a child's face deserves applause.. You were all winners to me $50000 dollars or not...I used to live next to this family that the parents had a drinking problem and the 2 kids were these adorable little girls who always looked sad to me like they were living in a bad situation but the day I started to decorate my house that little girl who was the older of the 2 used to ask me everyday when are you going to light it up? And it was almost like she had something that made her happy and it made me feel like a million dollars to put a smile on that little girls face.. With that said every single one of you are awesome and remember I'm sure there are those children just like that little girl that wait every year for us to hit that switch and make them smile....And for me that is why I push through being disabled and all the pain I go through to get it up every year...And that is what I think should be important on that show which house put the biggest smiles on those children's faces. I'm sure that's a concept we can all agree upon....

Edited by john venturi

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John,

 

I have to agree with Chris. Kevin Lynch's magnificent display was totally static. The Tittiger twins had some LOR but was mostly static. In our episode, all three of the other families had more lights than we did. To some extent, money matters, but I feel that what you do with it matters more!

Perhaps dividing the episodes into All static or All sequenced has some merit, but that's for Fremantle/ABC to decide.

I passed the links to this post and my duplicate post in the LOR forums to my contact at Fremantle. I'm inclined to think that they'll keep an eye on this in order to see what our community thinks and make every effort to make Season 2 even better.

 

Tony

I'm just glad you put this out there about your experience because I did read a ton of bad press about them filming 2 reactions you winning and you losing in the same day etc.. but you say that didn't happen and I believe you but then again you did win lololo just kidding...

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John,

 

I couldn't agree more with your closing sentiment!

 

My life has been filled with blessings beyond measure. There has been hardship, heart ache, and hard work. But for me, the good far outweighs the bad.

My display is one of the ways I give back. I'm with you, there is little in life that is more joyful than seeing the smiles, and wonderment of the kids that come by every night. In times of today when so many have it so tough, providing a place where people can come and forget about their troubles, remember the "Reason for the Season", and raise some money for charity is why I do it. I'm sure that its true for most of us.

I'll never cure cancer, invent something amazing, end global warming or win a Nobel prize. So this is my contribution to something positive in the world.  I love it! I think about it and work on it all year, and it keeps me out of the bars (most of the time).

The bad press that you mentioned was a bit unfortunate. Fremantle/ABC asked us to keep what we were doing a secret until they started publicizing the show. Once we knew the results, they obviously wanted that kept secret too!

One of the contestants used a story about shooting two endings as his way to answer the question, "Did you win". When people asked me, I told them, "We aren't supposed to say, but you don't see any new cars in the driveway do you?"

 

Brady Connell, the Executive Producer straightened that all out in an interview.

http://www.realityblurred.com/realitytv/archives/abc/2013_Dec_19_behind-scenes-reveal

 

Hope that helps,

Tony

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John,

 

I couldn't agree more with your closing sentiment!

 

My life has been filled with blessings beyond measure. There has been hardship, heart ache, and hard work. But for me, the good far outweighs the bad.

My display is one of the ways I give back. I'm with you, there is little in life that is more joyful than seeing the smiles, and wonderment of the kids that come by every night. In times of today when so many have it so tough, providing a place where people can come and forget about their troubles, remember the "Reason for the Season", and raise some money for charity is why I do it. I'm sure that its true for most of us.

I'll never cure cancer, invent something amazing, end global warming or win a Nobel prize. So this is my contribution to something positive in the world.  I love it! I think about it and work on it all year, and it keeps me out of the bars (most of the time).

The bad press that you mentioned was a bit unfortunate. Fremantle/ABC asked us to keep what we were doing a secret until they started publicizing the show. Once we knew the results, they obviously wanted that kept secret too!

One of the contestants used a story about shooting two endings as his way to answer the question, "Did you win". When people asked me, I told them, "We aren't supposed to say, but you don't see any new cars in the driveway do you?"

 

Brady Connell, the Executive Producer straightened that all out in an interview.

http://www.realityblurred.com/realitytv/archives/abc/2013_Dec_19_behind-scenes-reveal

 

Hope that helps,

Tony

Thanks Tonyski I'm with you %100 about the reason for the season. I want to add a charitable box but I'm afraid that it may cause an accident my road is busy I have been trying to figure a way to do it but I think the city would rip me up if I did put one out due to the cars slowing down to donate but Im working on it when there is a will there is a way.. I thought about doing it for just the week of Christmas and seeing what it would cost for a cop to be there but I have a feeling the price of the cop would be more then the donations and totally defeat the purpose but I did think about contacting my local firehouse and telling them why don't you do one of your boot drives to raise money for them but my heart is with kids and kids in need etc and would love to figure out a way to help them Im working on it but I feel my road is just too busy to do it...And I'm glad they straightened out that rumor it was a weird one...

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The whole experience was great and would recommend everyone to apply for the show, you will not be sorry you did. Yes it is a lot of hard work.

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Tony-thanks so much for all this information.  It was really great of you to spend the time to educate the rest of us on this process.  Your time & effort are greatly appreciated!!!

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Great write-up on the "How do they do it!"  (great pun eh?)  Glad you all had a great time in doing the show.  we recorded it and still have it on the DVR.  Did they give you a personal copy of the show?

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