Interviews

Interview with Elise Doganieri

Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri<br />
(Photo courtesy of Elise Doganieri)
Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri
(Photo courtesy of Elise Doganieri)
Ms. Donganieri’s other TV credits include serving as producer and story editor for the Wild Things pilot. Before her adventures in TV, she worked as an advertising executive both in New York and Los Angeles for a wide range of top agencies, including Ogilvy & Mather, DDB Needham and Chiat Day. She was a partner in New York-based Open-i - Media, a cutting-edge Internet consulting firm that developed strategies, design and interactive solutions for several Fortune 500 companies. She began her ad career as a graphic artist in New York, working with, among others, the Kirshenbaum & Bond agency.

Elise attended the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City where she received a Bachelor of Fine Art degree, graduating with honors.


First off, congratulations on winning the Emmy. It must feel wonderful to get that recognition.

It’s an incredible honor. To be honest, we were completely shocked, stunned and then thrilled with excitement. It’s a great achievement and a great honor to be recognized. It’s not an easy show to make and we’re glad the Academy recognized that.

Obviously, it has a lot of critical acclaim and there have been a lot of people who have been recognizing it for a long time.

The media has been wonderful. The media and all the critic’s have said wonderful things about the show, and have always said it’s the best reality show. That’s been reassuring the whole time.

Tvguide.com reported that the show has been picked up for another season, but we have yet to hear any official news from CBS. What exactly is the status for a fifth season?
To be honest, we were completely shocked, stunned and then thrilled with excitement. It’s a great achievement and a great honor to be recognized. It’s not an easy show to make and we’re glad the Academy recognized that.
It’s not a hundred percent official yet, but the status is we are doing casting. We’re well into the casting. We’ve got incredible tapes from people, they’re just flooding in. We’re also approved for pre-production, which means that I’ll be on the road scouting pretty soon. Without them saying it’s been picked up, that’s how far we’ve gotten.

Speaking of planning, would you walk us through planning the race? What type of stuff goes into it; how do you find good locations and tasks?

Bertram Van Muster, the other co-creator and the executive producer, and myself basically sit down with a map. We look over locations, look where we’ve been before, look at places we’d like to go and also look at the safety of the countries that we’d like to go to. Once we’ve laid out a rough idea of the countries we’d like to check out, we hop on a plane with some research we’ve done with the help of researchers and meet with some people over in the countries and start going through the locations. Sometimes we have an idea of what we want to do as far as the challenges. Usually, once we get there we see things that aren’t written up in a book or on the internet somewhere. We really try to find things that are unique to the culture itself and indigenous to the people. When we’re there we do things that are off the beaten path of tourist type things. We’ve really come up with some things in the past that have been unique and we think people have been pleased to see that.

One thing is that they’re almost always locally based, you can find the tasks down local streets…

We don’t create or fake things or make up challenges because we’re someplace. We try to keep it in tune with what’s going on in that area. For instance when we were in Malaysia when we had them cut palm oil nuts, that’s a huge business there. There are Palm oil trees everywhere. It gives you a flavor for what people do there, for the lives of ordinary people in a location.

A number of tasks have looked frightening from an armchair perspective. Have there been any times you have been afraid for the safety of the racers?

We don’t get worried, we just make sure everything they do is checked through our security team. We don’t usually don’t do things with companies that aren’t well know for what they do. For instance in New Zealand, we do the Nevis Bungee Jump. The people who have been doing that jump were the people who originally created the bungee jump in New Zealand. So we felt very secure with their team and their crew. And then we had our team go in and make sure everything was okay. And I’ve tested many of the things myself wherever I can - I actually did that jump…

Wow ––

If I can do it anyone can do it, because I’m a chicken…

Are you…(laughter)
If I can do it anyone can do it, because I’m a chicken…
I’ve gotten better and better. Everytime I see something like that I say that’d be great for the Race. And New Zealand is actually known as the adventure capital of the world, so that actually fits very well in with the culture. And the thing we did at the end with the sheep, being on a sheep farm…

That was also very indigenous.

I don’t know what other scary things. Bungee Jumping is probably the scariest thing we do.

Well the skydiving…

Skydiving is scary too, but like I said we always we always go with very reputable people. We look into several companies, and we usually go with the one with the best track record.

Only the first season ended in the same city it started in, was there any reason for this?

Not really. I guess, thinking back now because it’s been a while, that was okay to do the first season, but if we did that again and again people would know where we were going to finish. Part of the fun of the race is you don’t know who wins. We wouldn’t want people to think, “Oh they started in Las Vegas, they’re going to end in Las Vegas” and have them keep coming back every few weeks and see if they’re coming through. It’s really just to keep everything really secret. We do always finish in the United States.

You do…

We’ve kept that consistent. We’ve kept most things consistent, but really one of the top things is we don’t want to let anyone know anything if we can keep it a secret. That just ruins the fun of the race.

Leg in and leg out racers the racers seem to always finish close together. How do you manage to keep the timing of things so competitive?

When we set out to do the race, we know how long it takes to go from place to place. So unless a team really gets lost of screws up majorly - unfortunately like David and Jeff where they took the wrong flight season four when they ended up really far behind - if the teams stick with what they supposed to do they’re probably going to be running a pretty tight race because they’re running at 110%. And then of course, as the racers always say, there’s the great airport equalizer, which is just a fact of how the world and airlines work. Fortunately for our show it just worked out beautifully how that always seems to bunch the teams up and keep the race competitive - which is the fun of the race. But it’s nothing we do on purpose. We layout the race and then set them free.

Do you do any pre-race runs to make sure the timing is down?

No. We know that if we think we can do it in an hour the contestants will do it in a half an hour. So just half everything.
Everything is set, the clues are written ahead of time. We can’t really change anything when we’re on the road.
Are the difficulties of the tasks adjusted as the race goes on or is everything set in stone the moment Phil says “Go!”?

Everything is set, the clues are written ahead of time. We can’t really change anything when we’re on the road. It’s not the typical production where you can stop and re-shoot things. Once they’re going, it wouldn’t be fair to stop them or change anything because that’s the nature of a race. Unless there’s a monsoon that wipes out a village we’re supposed to go into - then of course we’d have to put something on hold. Luckily we’ve been able to avoid any major problems.

With each episode having less than an hour to show everything that happens to all the teams there’s obviously a lot of stuff that gets left out. Do you have any favorite moments that haven’t made it to the screen?

I think all our best moments have pretty much made it to the screen. I think the editors capture the essence of what goes on, we really do show everything that happens. We would love to show more and have more time to stretch things out and have them play out a bit more; it’s the nature of the timing of television and programming that we don’t. But I think everybody sees pretty much what happens. We want to show the most incredible moments anyway. I don’t think anybody is missing anything.

What are the biggest challenges facing the editors, interviewers and those working behind the scenes?

It’s hard. Just think of 12 teams of two people in the first episode, there are hours and hours of footage that needs to be cut down into 44 minutes of airtime. The biggest challenge is to know that the editors and story producers see all the material and that they speak with the people that have been on the road and know the moments that have happened because they’ve been there. Communication is a huge factor in that when the footage comes in, we need to know who can we talk to - to tell us exactly what happened. The footage is really looked over by a huge team back home that gets the tapes and combs over them thoroughly. And we have a team who’ve worked with us the last few seasons who know what to look for. It’s about experience.

What is your role in the postproduction editing? What does your job entail?

My job is more the pre-production and creative side. I work out the route with Bertram. He and I basically divide the route in half. He does, say, the first six episodes and looks at all of those locations with some of the producers and figure out what the creative challenges are going to be and what we’re definitely keeping. And with season 4 I did the back end of the show. I get on a plane and fly to, say, Australia. I basically have a list of places we’ve researched ahead of time that I want to look at. I’ll meet with somebody there and go through those locations and figure out logistically, does this work?. If we have flights that land in major airports can we get in and out of this country? How can we work our way, as linear as possible, to get to an out point? And what are the fun things we can do along the way? I’ll come home with all that information and will download it to our producers who then start solidifying everything we’ve done. And after it gets approved, I’ll take a second flight out with executive producers to nail it down…
I get a huge thrill when the contestants show up someplace and they’re blown away by what they’re doing or what they’re seeing. I love it when they stop for a minute and say, “Oh my gosh, would you look… we’re at the Ta
To go through everything one more time…

To do everything one more time. Make sure we’ve got communication, we’ve got cars, we’ve got hotels, that there are airlines that fly, buses… We check everything. Security has to be checked. And then we come home. We put it all together and that’s the route.

I go on the road with them. Sometimes I go to some of the countries, sometimes I hop to other countries just to make sure everything is happening that is supposed to be happening.

What aspects of the show do you take the most pride in?

I get a huge thrill when the contestants show up someplace and they’re blown away by what they’re doing or what they’re seeing. I love it when they stop for a minute and say, “Oh my gosh, would you look… we’re at the Taj Mahal! Let’s just stop for a moment. I know we’re racing, but let’s just stop and see how incredible this place is.” I get a lot of pride out of exposing people to things like that. Although they’re running, they want to stop and just take it in.

Just breath for one second…

(Laughing) Yeah, I love it when they see places and they think it’s great what they’re doing there. At the end of race they say, we’ve ran through so many places, but we’ve already made a list of places we want to go back to because it was such an incredible journey. So that makes me really happy when they’ve really enjoyed it. Or when I get notes from fans that say, “I’ve always wanted to go to Australia but have never been able to go, and through your show I’ve been able to see it. Someday I’m going to get there and do exactly that.”

You’re able to reinforce what they want to do…

Yeah, I love hearing the positive feedback.
I think if the networks can be selective with putting quality Reality on, then the reality genre can last for a really long time.
Where do you see Reality TV going? What changes do you see in the future? You have arguably the banner franchise, where do you see the rest of it going?

I hope it goes a little more towards the quality end, which is what we try to accomplish with The Amazing Race. There are a lot of reality shows out there right now and I think everyone just said, “Hey Reality is huge, let’s come up with an idea.” There’s a lot of things out there that I don’t know if people can be proud of doing them, but I know that we can be proud of The Amazing Race. And then there’s the top, top shows like Survivor or American Idol, which I think are really stand out shows. I hope it goes more towards that type of quality and that we can keep this genre moving onward and upward. I think if the networks can be selective with putting quality Reality on, then the reality genre can last for a really long time.

Almost need to let the cream rise to the top…

It’s not easy to do a quality show. A lot of people think, “Where are the directors, where are the writers, where are the creative people?” We have writers, I’m one of the creative people. Just as someone thinks up a storyline for a scripted show, we come up with a storyline for each episode. Where are they going to start, where are they going to finish, what do we think the high’s and lows are going to be? There are many similarities to a scripted show. Ours is not directed, but we do have director type cameramen who are incredible in how they capture a story. When they see something developing they actually know how to follow a story. There isn’t always someone there to tell them to go over there and get this or that. They’ve got to be smart enough to know it.

You really have been blessed with some really wonderful cameramen. Some of the shots that they get are just…

We’re amazed. We get back to the office, we’re looking at the tapes and wonder, “How did they get that? Where were they standing?” We’re also very fortunate with the camera crews from around the world that are zone cameras in the local countries that we hire. We’re fortunate enough to know that they’ve seen the show or we’ll send them tapes of the show and then they get it. Then, of course, we have incredible editors and story producers who take pride in what they do. We have a strong team.

Have you considered any options of franchising the show? I know it’s very popular in portions of Asia. Are there any possibilities?

Yeah, we would like to sell the format; we’re very open to that. We go to MIPcom every year. People always have questions about the show. We would love to sell this anywhere around the world.

What are you’re thoughts on an All-Star race of former racers?

You know, we’ve been thinking about that. We thought of every scenario – get the top two teams from every season, top three teams… and do a big race. Right now, CBS is really pleased with being able to cast people and giving everybody a chance to be in The Amazing Race. But if they ever wanted to do one, I’d be happy to do one. I always think it’s fun to find new people and cast for a new season. But All-Stars are great too, I mean Drew and Kevin… (laughing)

(laughing) Right…

Everybody would love to see them again. We’d love to see them again. Flo and Zach, I’m sure that even with…

Flo…

People still want to see her. She’s actually a really nice person…
We’ve had some really great teams and contestants who would be fun to have back. But we’ve been getting some great tapes from people we’ve never seen before and we want to give them a shot too.
When she’s not tired and dehydrated…

Yeah. We’ve had some really great teams and contestants who would be fun to have back. But we’ve been getting some great tapes from people we’ve never seen before and we want to give them a shot too.

So what have you been looking for in the casting? Can you tip your hand at all in that?

Well it’s pretty much the same thing we’ve always looked for. We always look for contestants who are energetic that have a good sense of competitive nature. We both like them to speak. Sometimes we find one person who’s really wonderful and then the other person is really quiet. To have good characters and good interactions both of them have to be really strong and outgoing to a certain point. Quirky characters are always good. I love that we can variety in ages and groups and that we’re not always casting one type of person. I wish we would have more people apply that are a little bit older, like older couples. I think that everybody should apply. If you don’t think you should apply for some reason, just apply send a tape in. We’re always looking for people who are diverse. We always seem to have really smart people appling for the show. They’re always above average and outgoing.

It’s a very intelligent show.

Yeah, we have really smart contestants. That doesn’t mean don’t apply if you don’t think you’re smart, you probably are. You’re too modest. You’d probably be the best team. I think everybody should apply. It’s the chance of a lifetime. I mean, who gets to travel around the world for a month and meet incredible people in different cultures? It’s really an experience. Even the contestants from the seasons past have all bonded and know each other. It’s a life changing experience, for the better.

It really is special. You’ve got the bonding that people have done. You’ve got the reaction from the general populous. It really is a special show.

Thank you.

One final question. What are the chances for a show DVD?

I would love to do that. It’s up to the CBS marketing department. I’d say, let’s do it. I know people are asking for it. It’s something I can bring up to CBS and I can talk to the executive producer about that.

A chance to expand on the show. You said you’ve sometimes you felt limited on storytelling.

It’d be fun to show some outtakes. Or just silly things that happened to us behind the scenes like missing a plane. There are so many things that go on in the month that we’re racing around the world. The people being so exhausted, being cranky and not eating. There’s some really funny stuff. That would be great. I wouldn’t mind showing it.

Take pride in your work…

There’s a whole other race behind the scenes, trust me.

That’s about it. Thank you for your time.

Of course…

Congratulations once again, and good luck with pre-production and going through all the applications and everything else that comes along with it…

Thank you. I’ll be flying soon.
It is a dream job –– it’s also a very difficult job. It’s one of those jobs where everyone says, “I’d love to be able to do what you do.”
It’s got to be a dream job for you.

It is a dream job –– it’s also a very difficult job. It’s one of those jobs where everyone says, “I’d love to be able to do what you do.” Then you say, “Well, I’m on the road 5-8 weeks scouting. Then you’re on the road 6-8 weeks with the Race.” There’s a lot you give up to do that.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to everybody?

I’d just wanted to thank the fans for being so supportive. All those letters and phone calls do make a difference, and have made a difference. We just appreciate that they are watching the show. Please bring us some more fans and more people to watch the show, because with season five it’s going to get better and better.

You know there are people out there that work at that actively…

I know they do. We were at TARCon in New York and I couldn’t believe the turnout. There must have been 400 people there. There was a line out the door.

You had people flying in from London…

I know! I spoke to a bunch of people, some were from Texas, one was from Utah. I don’t know, it really is incredible when you see there are people out there that watch the show that are pushing for it and want to see more. I love the opportunity to do more and show them more. I really do listen to what they say regarding suggestion. I hope that they know we really do listen. I hope we can do something great for them with season five.

Once again, congratulations. Best of luck with season five and safe travels.

Thank you.