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An interview with the casting V.P. for MTV's 'True Life'

Your rating: None Average: 3 (6 votes)

There's been much discussion and speculation about a casting call for Furries to appear on MTV's reality show, True Life. Erika Dobrin, casting VP at the show's producer Asylum Entertainment, was nice enough to give me 30 minutes to answer questions about it.

The phone app I used didn't record (I blame an app update), so this is paraphrased from notes and approved by Erika. I would say that the answers were very, very on-message. I did ask personal stuff to make it relatable - perhaps some responses would boil down to "just doing a job", or it might have caused shyness about getting personal. (Understandable, considering that the casting call has gotten hate mail.)

I aimed to ask tough questions, balancing sympathy towards the challenge of putting out professional media with being a Furry fan who's shamelessly obsessed with fursuiting.

_________________________________________

Erika DobrinPatch Packrat: Thanks for offering a few minutes out of your day, Erika. I work with a lot of young people interested in getting media jobs, so I want to ask you questions that might inform them.
Erika Dobrin: I hope we can keep this very positive!

PP: Can you tell me about your job? What's your work like?
ED: I love working here and meeting all kinds of people. We want to show that subcultures are made of regular people who aren't that different from everyone else. I have a lot of free reign at my department. Asylum trusts us implicitly to find the right people.

PP: Tell me about the show you're casting. What do you personally think the goal should be?
ED: We want people to be very comfortable. We bring no judgements. It's about the story that YOU want to tell.

PP: Do you have a favorite model of the show you'd want to make?
ED: I spent a lot of time working on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and absolutely loved it. The experience was very positive and I think we changed a lot of people's lives. It was fun to meet a lot of characters. If I could work on that forever, I would.

PP: What power does your job give you to help tell people's stories? Is it personal, or is it more about doing a job?
ED: The relationships with people are very, very personal. People tell me things they have never told their closest relatives.

PP: Can you tell me a little about the relationship between Asylum Entertainment and MTV?
ED: Production companies are contracted to deliver shows... that's how they're made these days. Asylum has done commercials, shows for National Geographic, WE, The History Channel, A&E Bio, and many feature and documentary films. We aren't restricted by one kind of content.

PP: How did you first learn about Furry fans, and what was your reaction then?
ED: Oh, I've always known about them. It seems like it's full of creative people. I've talked to artists, people working for the Department of Defense... I'm very impressed. But it's been very hard to get people to work with us! I really want to keep things positive.

PP: Does Furry fandom give you any thoughts about why people express themselves the way they do? Does it make you think about identity?
ED: I see self-expression, creativity, imagination. I think it has saved people's lives and made them feel accepted. It seems almost like a family.

PP: You mentioned you've "always" known about Furries- does that go back to the 90's? Was there any particular first introduction? Was it just through your job?
ED: Well, I guess you just hear things... it was probably through the media. I know that the media has done people wrong and there are untrue rumors... it isn't even about dressing in fur suits, not everyone does that. It's SO MUCH MORE. We have learned a lot about the fandom and want to show people that Furries are no different than you and I.

PP: Do you have any opinions about exploitation shows (like an icon I saw all the time in the 90's, Jerry Springer)?
ED: That stuff is just entertainment. It isn't real. I guess some people like it, but I don't watch it.

PP: How do you respond to criticisms that compare you to that kind of show?
ED: We want to make pure documentary... not staged, paid, or made up. We'll spend six months of shooting with someone to show what their life is really like.

PP: Six months! That's a lot of time to edit down into one half hour show. It sounds like you really give a lot of effort. Can you tell me what power MTV has to direct what kind of show you deliver? Are they part of the editing process?
ED: It takes months to film and follow real life events, and it will go into three segments per show. I tell people that if they don't want to be an idiot, then don't be an idiot... I can't edit someone to be that way if they aren't that way.

PP: Does the editing happen in a different department?
ED: I'm here to cast someone who wants to tell their story.

PP: Do you have opinions about editorial viewpoints in documentaries? I've heard Michael Moore's compared to the editorial section of the newspaper.
ED: Well, there's always two sides to a story. We want our show to be accepting.

PP: Do you have any message for young people aspiring to a professional media job? I'm curious if I can learn anything to pass on to students.
ED: Take anything and everything you can get. If it's an unpaid PA job, take it. Talk to people, meet people.

PP: So you want to work with someone who's aiming high and wants to be a pro?
ED: No, we're not looking for an actor. We want to show your life. But definitely, we don't want to work with someone who doesn't want to be on TV.

PP: I think that since you're looking for a furry, it's about the love of it first of all- it's a fan interest.
ED: Exactly. We do want someone with a compelling story though. Maybe it's someone who's young and hasn't told their parents, and we can show how their parents love them.

PP: When you said that an aspiring pro should take "anything and everything", it reminded me of an article I read in VICE magazine. Well, they have a reputation- some of their stuff is respected as journalism not from a conventional source, and some is less respected as "hipster" stuff... anyways, the article was by a guy wondering about what would have happened if he had taken a role making out with a 500-lb woman on a trashy talk show... and was it a turning point in his life? I guess... there is a line, and people wonder if they should cross it. I think some of the reaction is treating your show that way. What do you think about that?
ED: Oh, there is definitely a line. I know, people will say "our fandom isn't about sex," But if you look online... there is some aspect. We don't want you to show us bad things... we want you to show us what YOU love about furry fandom. But, we have to deal with the people who come to us... it might be up to you!

PP: I think there is some aspect that people want to keep to themselves... after all it's a very personal interest, not something that comes from leaders, it's all about individuals socializing on their own level. So, I'm curious... can you tell me is there any aspect of furriness in you? Do you have a favorite cartoon? Kids, nieces, nephews who do? Do you have pets?
ED: Well... no kids... I do have pets! A chihuahua, and a lab. I love them. I can totally relate.

PP: Is there anything else you'd like to say in conclusion?
ED: I hope this helps... please, can you help us find a wonderful furry?

_________________________________________

Erika told me they have been trying to cast the show for around two years. It makes me ask: would the process be so difficult, if they were just trying to pay a puppet to do what they wanted?

Documentaries can show a side of people they value, but may not even tell their own closest relatives about. I don't know if anyone will ever agree if furries belong in a documentary or who's best to make it, but whenever there is one, it gives the public a look past that boundary I have to be careful about whenever something sets off my "furdar".

Do you have "furdar"? One of my professional roles involves young adult art students, who occasionally, reveal a clandestine Furry interest. They don't know I know, but I do. You can tell by their drawing style, or terms they let slip (like calling cartoons "anthro"), or clues like fashion. To keep things professional, I respect their privacy and don't pursue it or reveal my familiarity. They'd have to bring it up themselves. But that boundary gets fuzzy if we collide at a Furry event outside of work, especially if they've finished school.

Imagine such an awkward, funny meeting at a Furry convention or party. It's happened to me more than once. At its most absurd, I was in a fursuit, and I knew their face, but they couldn't guess who I was. It causes bafflement, curiosity, teasing, and fun.

Furries aren't that common among art students. It's a small fandom. But many lurk below the tip of the iceberg of people with active profiles, and I suspect that a lot of creative young furries go to school with professional aspirations. If a student is into it, there's a good chance it can set off my "furdar". It's a moment when the door cracks open between public and private, fan and professional.

A student's talent brings optimism that's often coldly interrupted by the gap between pre-school hopes and jobs after graduation, when many are challenged by a tough and competitive market. I've heard a decent comparison - Pixar-type jobs, "sexy" jobs that tempt kids to follow their dreams... that's like aiming for major league sports. Not many make it, nor should they. There's only so many studios, and not every artist should sell their lives to be creative on bosses' hours. There's also bread-and-butter type jobs cranking out more modest stuff; those take talent, too.

Importantly, when jobs are increasingly outsourced while schools create more and more grads, most will end up outside the professional world, unless they're persistent enough to come in through the side door of freelancing and independent work. Such work seems to stay small and tough to sustain for a long-term living. This creates a lot of artists hungry for work.

In young and student-heavy furry fandom, a class of artists take commissions, build fursuits, and do whatever keeps them going as part time income and part time hobby. Many started art school with optimism at heart. Do some aspire to "be the media?" In light of the hopes of this young, creative population, it's curious to see negative opinions ("Media vs. Furries"), often without direction conversation with said media. That's why I reached out for a phone interview with a pro: to add a personal perspective from inside the media world, looking out at Furry fans.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 3 (2 votes)

Erika was very nice- keep in mind it is paraphrased from notes.

If the second half is too rambling... it was the preface, but got bumped down to favor the "hard news". I should probably focus on doing that more, next time I send in stories. :) Thanks for editing by Greenreaper!

Speaking of hard news, I have a very special opportunity to interview an up and coming journalist who just had a first book out, that seems pretty relevant to here. (I just have to make the time to finish the book, and time to do the piece...)

Your rating: None Average: 3.4 (5 votes)

I don't understand at all why the prospect of being on TV makes people so crazy. Why would any self-respecting fur so much as _speak_ to anyone related to MTV at any time before hell freezes over, after what they've done to us? What can they offer that's of potential benefit to the fandom? Nothing-- It's all downside on our end of the deal. What's their record in dealing with us? About as awful as awful gets. So let's slither back on our bellies and give these same folks another chance to defecate all over us, eh? After all, we can _be on TV!!_

Your rating: None

Well, that was some rude trash talking without contributing anything but spite. But why expect better from you?

Why do people act "crazy"? Some people have talents or stories that other people like to see. Some people who make tv and movies are professional colleagues with furry fans, who have self respect to treat their talents as a profession as well as a fan activity, and something worth taking seriously.

There's no need to act paranoid and insecure about everything you have to hide. You could just enjoy your interests in whatever way you choose to share. But, i guess it's easy to be all bitter instead, if you don't have anything worth sharing. It's a stretch to say "our" and "us" from a position like that. - Especially when you're defecating all over a piece i worked hard to submit. Why don't you try submitting something newsworthy?

Your rating: None

The "Plushies and Furries" schlockumentary from MTV's "Sex 2K" happened over a decade ago. There are *a lot* of fandom affiliates who probably never heard of it, never saw it, and have *no* idea what MTV did to our fandom.

Still, it's MTV, and people should at least take a good hard look at the stuff they do before deciding on talking to any representative from that outfit.

I'm with you on this: stay well away.

Your rating: None Average: 2 (2 votes)

Yes, I'm notorious for trolling all over the Internet, especially bullying helpless furs because I like to see them cry. At cons I spit in other people's plates, and when I can't find furries to harass I steal candy from little children and poison pigeons in the park. I must say that I'm truly amazed at how much you were able to infer about my character from reading just a handful of brief posts! I'm so bitterly ashamed of who and what I am that I've sold roughly 30,000 furry-themed books in the open marketplace over the past year under my own true legal name. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to name anyone else in the fandom who is so obviously hiding from the general public. Clearly, I have no stories to tell, either.

MTV hurt this fandom and hurt it badly via unethical and unprofessional journalism. This was wrong, and it was evil. Real, individual flesh and blood people were hurt as well; indeed I remain both pleased and surprised that no suicides took place. MTV has not yet even so much as apologized for their gross misbehavior, and until they do at least that I'm forced to assume that their ethics remain unchanged. To make things perfectly clear, I believe that cavorting with the media in general is a bad idea. However, I'm only actively hostile towards MTV, for what I believe a blind man could see are excellent reasons.

To date the only TV coverage of the fandom I've ever personally seen that didn't damage the fandom was about a two minute clip on the BBC aired sometime around 2000. This showing did nothing good for us, either. While I'll acknowledge that beneficial footage might indeed at least in theory have been broadcast at some place and time unknown to me, I have a hard time imagining what it might consist of.

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. For my part I'll continue to resist further MTV involvement in this fandom until either they publicly acknowledge their error and grow beyond it or I fall over dead.

Your rating: None Average: 2 (3 votes)

Funny that you should bring this up. I also sell furry-themed books in the open marketplace, and I've sold more than you in the past year. Knowing costs for that, I've probably also invested much more in helping others produce books and movies, because I like supporting. And it's not even my main gig. At the same time I have a decent list of IMDB credits including story development on MTV shows. The -gasp- eeeevil company gave me nothing but a positive experience, (far from creating suicides, drama much?) because I don't approach such things with the attitude of a frightened child. Maybe you'd be more successful if you worked on your attitude. With the scary evil media knowing me, and all that stuff keeping me busy, I also somehow find time to contribute stories here just for the fun of it.

So, put your cock away, because that's gross, and let's get to the heart of the matter: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

I'm not perfect and I write crappy stories from time to time- but you're the one who can claim credit for what may be the most consecutively negatively rated story on this site. Your contribution right here is actively negative. Why don't you try contributing something good, instead?

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

Thanks for keeping it humorous anyway.. :) In the radio scene drama can go on and on among program producers that same way, and I read that and think about the great works the talent has done, woof, that have touched the listening audience in a memorable way. I think about how they spend their time on politics within the scene when they could be doing more of their beautiful shows that make a larger number of people feel good.

People do have different sides, but we all are trying to make things better I guess. I think it's important to think of your personal legacy and what you want to be remembered for, positive, or something less than positive.

Boomer

Your rating: None

I have to admit, Rabbit, the negativity you saw with regards to MTV and the press MIGHT have more to do with a certain egotistical Tiger wanting their fame than reality. There can be good people out there.

Your rating: None

My take on the fandom end of the affair has long been and shall remain "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me". The event took place very early in our history and certain felines and others didn't have the benefit of the experience we now have. Though at the time I'd have put the kibosh to it if I could've, well... Everyone was a little naive back then and the only grudge I bear is against the professionals involved who should have known better and followed ethical standards and just plain had a heart. Canids, mustelids and felines alike; I've not only forgiven my fellow furs, I really never held them to blame in the first place.

I keep ranting about this because we as a fandom can't let it be forgotten, is all. I mean what I say about unremembered history repeating itself.

Your rating: None

Certain felines did have the knowledge, and were told exactly what it'd be , and didn't care because certain felines have their ideas about what they want the fandom to be sexually.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

In these cases, I think that when someone writes while they're angry and upset, more intense thoughts could flow and maybe the writer didn't intend to say them, but I also think it's true that the words being used do say something about the character of the writer, after all, how could they not?

I don't think that media coverage of Furry really means a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, especially now. Furry is a much bigger and growing scene compared to ten years ago, and I think the scene can absorb the effects of any media coverage that it might get.

CSI caused a stir when it did Furries, but off the net, Furries I knew were just embarrassed by it at most, 'Gee we look like that on TV?' or thought how silly of a story it was. MTV Sex 2K Furries caused a buzz, but even less so among friends. I found that the hysteria and tailhurt was mostly confined to a few Furry forums on the net.

I'm pro-media coverage, and I don't think it's a big deal to be in a story if you go in with the proper expectations, and are a good fit for what they're casting. I just wouldn't want to put out a blanket statement that no Furries should ever go on TV, that's a little harsh isn't it, and something that doesn't take Furries as individuals.

Boomer

http://boomerthedog.net

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Thanks, Boomer! Loved seeing you on Nat Geo!

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

I'm glad that you got to see it, it was a great production to be involved in and I had a blast!

I like the interview with Erika, and I think that media tides are changing, going past 'Furries are so weird!' to people wanting to know more about them personally. The local school documentary Fursonas takes it like that, you've seen these characters walking around town and you wonder what they are about, behind the masks.

Boomer

http://boomerthedog.net

Your rating: None Average: 1 (1 vote)

I assume you persist in attacking me because its easier than defending an obviously guilty MTV?

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

It's not my job to defend them. The interview is right up there. If you read it, you might have noticed that MTV wasn't involved, but you didn't come here to learn anything, did you?

Your rating: None Average: 1 (1 vote)

She didn't say a thing that I could find about MTV's past abuse of the fandom. Nor did she apologize, though I'll grant that she's not in the proper position to do so.

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When I read through the interview for the first time I was hoping one of the things addressed would be the past Sex2K episode, and was disappointed to see that it was not covered. Patch, maybe if you get a chance for a follow-up interview you could bring that up. I was also going to bring up the fact that MTV airs a lot of different shows by different production companies, but discovered on further investigation that both the infamous Sex2K episode was also True Life. As such, I would suggest to you, Rabbit, that your hatred might be more appropriately directed toward the producers of True Life rather than to MTV as a whole.

I've seen local news coverage of furry conventions that was generally positive. In particular, the coverage of Anthrocon by the local Pittsburgh stations comes to mind. Other conventions still refuse all media coverage. Last I heard, Midwest Furfest refuses almost all media coverage, possibly because in its early years it was visited by the journalist who wrote the Vanity Fair article. He talked to a lot of people and got more than enough material to write a fair and balanced article, then chose to cherry-pick a few bits that could spun into something salacious while throwing away the rest.

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"As such, I would suggest to you, Rabbit, that your hatred might be more appropriately directed toward the producers of True Life rather than to MTV as a whole."

I respectfully disagree, friend lion. While certainly True Life shares the blame, it was MTV and their ilk who created the market that causes such films to be produced, MTV who ultimately paid the bills, MTV who determined that it was airworthy, MTV who in deciding that it was airworthy thereby endorsed the methods and people who created it, and of course MTV who ultimately aired and re-aired it multiple times. Though it's far from a perfect analogy True Life built the weapon-system, then MTV tested it, decided it was good and ethical, paid for it, and blasted merrily away. One expects more of a major-league company than a hole-in-the-wall.

Your rating: None

Mwalimu: thanks for bringing that up reasonably. But I think your concern still seems a little misplaced and dated, and needs more accurate details. Does anyone who made the Sex2K show still work at MTV, and who are they?

Erika Dobrin doesn't work for MTV, and has no affiliation with past shows, especially from so long ago. It's a separate topic.

I'm told the Sex2K show was not a "True Life" episode. Where did you get that info? I only saw vague info that may or may not be reliable, that lead me to guess it aired as part of the same lineup but wasn't produced by the same people.

If anyone still needs to answer for anything, so long afterward, start with the show's director:
http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Plushies_and_Furries
http://rickcastro.com/plushies.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Castro

After that, you can ask, why did MTV hand that show to a hardcore fetish photographer, who handed back something fictionalized to reflect his own sensationalist impulses? Did they pick him, or did he pitch them? But that was 12 years ago, when furries were newer, and didn't have much history (it's still a tiny fan niche.) I might guess that at the time, making stuff up was both easy to get away with, and kind of hard to avoid if it would hold entertainment. Remember in the 90's when "cyber-" and "virtual reality" future was the cheesy view of internet culture... same time, similar silliness.

The show is 12 years old, and who in the general public still remembers it?

As far as I can tell, this topic is muddy because of a few diva-like furry fans who won't get over themselves, at least as much as from tabloid-trash style coverage in the past.

And bottom line... it's not TV's fault what comes up in a simple Google search for the word "furry". Furry fans produce mountains of porn out of personal enjoyment. Oh well... at worst, I think it's disposable but harmless, and prudish people should lighten up about it.

The biggest thing I missed in this interview, was not asking about who's directing this show and what their background is.

Your rating: None Average: 2 (2 votes)

I can't recall anyone in the KKK lynching anyone in the last twelve years either. Nor do I have reason to suspect that any living KKK member actively participated in or made decisions about past lynchings. But I'm still having nothing to do with the KKK due to their demonstrated history of unethical (to put it mildly) behavior and lack of evidence of change in basic core values. While what MTV did was of course far less evil than a lynching the same logic applies and I find it impossible to understand why others who I believe would embrace exactly the same line of reasoning regarding, say, cooperating with Wall Street firms that have an unethical trading record or perhaps companies working at the edge of the law who exploit the elderly seem to be having so much difficulty in understanding and accepting it in the case of MTV, who has exploited US. Again, MTV has never even so much as apologized. What evidence is there that anything has changed there? None. So why should my opinion of them change, when the facts and circumstances haven't? Why should _anyone's_ opinion change on this issue? Most of all, when the facts are indisputable why is any furry so much as giving them the time of day? Again, if we forget the past we're condemned to repeat it. And that's history I have no desire whatsoever to repeat.

I wonder if the KKK has ever tried to apologize. I suspect not, as it'd make for quite a spectacle.

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JUST LIKE HITLER!!!1!one!!

Wouldn't it be nice if you had something to say that isn't beyond absurdly glib.

Your rating: None Average: 3.7 (3 votes)

AVOID Asylum Entertainment like the plague! They have been harassing furs in the LA area for two years trying to force their way into the community. It got so bad a few months ago that they began to troll our message boards and even our twitters. I even got e-mail from them begging us to let us be filmed.

MTV is a bad media outlet for the fandom, and I really hope we don't end up on their programing again. As someone that works in the entertainment industry and has to deal with them all the time...... their intentions are not good.

Your rating: None Average: 2.3 (4 votes)

So good to see that Patch Packrat and, by extension, Flayra itself, is willing to stand up and place their reputation on the line by encouraging a vulnerable young person to place themselves in the hands of the media based on the testimony of a person who freely admits that, despite past media performance, that she has no control over the interview process or subsequent editing process.

Surely this company, hired by MTV, will produce something utterly unlike the sensationalist attention grabbing crap spewed by them over the last several,decades and actually go about presenting us in a positive, uplifting, and realistic manner.

Not buying this for an instant,

Red

Your rating: None Average: 3 (2 votes)

I encourage people to think for themselves, rather than making up opinions out of rumors and drama, and respect adults to make their own decisions, instead of patronizing them as vulnerable victims without any agency of their own.

If you think an interview = advocacy, please abate the ignorance and educate yourself about how journalism works.

Flayrah had nothing to do with initiating this piece, that was all me. You too can contribute any story you want here, if you have any initiative to add instead of attack understanding.

Your rating: None Average: 3.7 (3 votes)

So, known historical facts are "rumor and drama"?

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Thanks for posting that, I was thinking how this is a site for news, and also that it's coming up on Independence Day, July 4, when freedom is celebrated!

'Being yourself', that's one of the reasons I'd want to be with Furries as a group. Furry is something different and special, I see it as an art and social movement, among other things, so there's no need to hold anyone back or try to drag the scene down by being negative.

Boomer

Your rating: None Average: 1 (1 vote)

Looks like there are some facists in the fandom who want autonomy and self-identity to still be repressed in the fandom...

Your rating: None Average: 1 (1 vote)

I know, can you believe that? That's why those who believe not in the identity of the herd have to keep up the fight.

Boomer

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About the author

Patch Packratread storiescontact (login required)

On-the-scene reporter
Animator, teacher and business owner
Road biker and fursuiter
Unconditional hugger

I support creators, dreamers, individualists, and anything fabulous and furry. Expect assertive stories with bold claims and jaunty opinions. I call fursuiting "the theatrical soul of furriness" and it's most original product, that liberates expression by playing with identity and absurdity. Street fursuiting is where the magic is.

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."
- Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist (1904)

“The child intuitively comprehends that although these stories are unreal, they are not untrue ...”
- Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1976)

"All the World's a stage" comes from the melancholy Jacques in Shakespeare's play As You Like It. It is a sigh of lament at life's meaninglessness. Can the experience of children suggest, on the contrary, that the play of existence is precisely what makes life meaningful?"
- John Wall, theoretical ethicist (2011)

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