Damon Furberg
If the name Bunim-Murray doesn’t ring a bell, I’m sure their clients MTV Real World, Paris Hilton’s Simple Life, Puffy’s Making the Band, and many more are all regulars on your viewing rotation. Check out this article as Damon breaks down the science of the Real World Casting. This article is a MUST for anyone auditioning.
Interview by Rob Schwartz

WHO?MAG: Explain how to audition for The Real World?
Damon Furberg: It’s essentially a “cattle call.” The lines tend to be really long, so the early bird gets the worm. We bring the crowd into groups of ten and they fill out short applications. Then they sit at a table with a casting director and we give everyone some time to tell us about themselves. Every casting director seems to have their own techniques. With me, I tend to play a “get to know you” party game like “Two Truths and a Lie” and “I Never” and things like that because I find that that can get interesting and provoke people right away. That part of the process is pretty quick actually because we see a lot of people over the course of the day. If they make it past that audition, we give them an on-camera interview later on.

WHO?MAG: How do you determine your location for auditions?
Damon Furberg: Generally speaking we do it according to proximity of big schools and areas with a lot of students, since our demographics are 18-24. Obviously we are looking for college kids. You can see that from the cities we selected, like Boston for instance, obviously there are tons of schools there with lots of students. In addition to that, we are trying to get some geographic diversity. We want some people from the South, Midwest, East Coast, and West Coast, because obviously there are different kinds of people in different parts of the country. It’s a mixture of places we know we can go and get the right age and different kinds of folks.

WHO?MAG: About how many people attend these casting calls?
Damon Furberg: Anywhere on the low end maybe 500 people show up, on the high end, we had as many as 2000 in Washington, DC.

WHO?MAG: What is the number one key element you look for in your applicants?
Damon Furberg: Charisma is absolutely number one because we really have to make snap judgments about people from the very beginning. Some people just draw your attention. There’s always that person who walks in the room and every eye goes to them, and it’s not necessarily the best looking person in the room. Some people just have magnetism. That’s some thing that comes out very very quickly, even when you are just talking to a group of people for a couple of minutes. Story telling ability is also very important. They have to be able to express themselves because of the way the show works. Obviously things happen and the kids are interviewed about it later and if they can’t tell the story well then it’s pretty difficult for us to tell the story of the show. Also, an interesting background always helps. People being at a turning point in their lives is good. We are always looking for people who have big decisions to make, who can be changed by this experience, learn something, or have their beliefs tested.

WHO?MAG: What kind of inside information or helpful hints can you give our readers for their auditions?
Damon Furberg: The number one thing, I know it sounds like a cliché, is be yourself. I think a lot of people come in and feel that if they imitate a character type that they have seen on TV before and try to be the bitch or the bad boy or whatever, that that will sell them. We’ve been doing this for a long time and we can see through that kind of stuff. Another thing is people hear the word audition and they immediately think actor, singer, dancer, whatever, we’re really not looking for someone like that. We are looking for regular, non-Hollywood, non-showbiz people. A lot of the time people will come in with headshots and think that gives them a leg up, but actually it’s a strike against them.

WHO?MAG: How do you determine the final locations for the final seven candidates?
Damon Furberg: In the beginning, it was just the major cities in the U.S. and abroad. The show has been around for so long that we already used up most of those locations. Now they actually start to think of it in terms of “Okay, if we put them in this location, what can we get them as a job?” So that’s become a big part of it. For instance, San Diego popped up the season before last, partially because they thought it would be great to have them work on boats. They think of it in terms of what activities are available in the city they are living in.

WHO?MAG: MTV’s The Real World has became a household name due to its longevity and the chemistry between the cast members. What other elements are important in creating the vibe for the show?
Damon Furberg: As self-serving as this may sound, I feel that part of why this show is such a phenomenon is the casting calls. It’s the fact that the fans of the show get to feel that they are a part of it. They can show up and meet other people who are fans of the show and it creates a real community for it. In addition to that, particularly among our demographic they get to watch the show and think to themselves, “That could be me up there and maybe if that were me, I would make the decision differently or maybe I would do the same thing.” I think in the end what it is is that our viewers are really able to identify with these people or look up to them in some cases. You start to feel like they are your friends.

WHO?MAG: Besides being one of the originators of reality TV, what separates The Real World from other reality based television shows?
Damon Furberg: Although we did create the formula and a lot of other major shows have taken off with it, followed it, and created their own sort of mutated versions of it, one thing about this show is that it is a lot more real than other reality stuff that you see. There are degrees of how manipulated things are. I think that even former cast members most of the time will look at the episodes after we are done filming them and say “You know what? That’s pretty much what really happened. They may have compressed the time frame and edited it, but they definitely didn’t put words in my mouth or manipulate the situation.” From what I know of production, they are very strict with that. The crew does not talk to the kids at all. They really have this formula down and they want it to be like real life. They want it to be a documentary and for the most part it really is.

WHO?MAG: I noticed your company was also involved in The Simple Life with Paris and Nicole. How did you determine their destinations?
Damon Furberg: That was a very interesting casting situation because they picked the locations entirely based on the jobs they wanted to give the girls. As a casting department, we were kind of placed in this position where if the girls were going to go to a specific place, we had to find a family in that town. It was tough!!! We were in some really really small towns where we started feeling like we already talked to everyone who lived there. That was definitely an adventure.

WHO?MAG: Working on this type of television program may seem like a dream to some. What kind of experience do applicants need to work for your organization?
Damon Furberg: There was an article not too long ago where they listed Bunim/Murray as one of the best companies for an entry-level position. They really do believe in promoting from within. They have a great internship program so a lot of kids come here and end up working here for free to start with, as one often does in the entertainment and they end up working their way up the ranks pretty quickly and end up in a paid position. Another great thing about the internships is that they rotate you through all the different departments, so you get a chance to find out what job you’d eventually like to do. I think that the main thing that they look for more than hardcore skills or a film background is for people who are very ambitious and willing to work hard, because they do give people a lot of responsibilities right off the bat and they promote very quickly.

WHO?MAG: Your company has played a major role in the entertainment industry by creating reality TV. How do you feel about the sudden increase of this form of entertainment?
Damon Furberg: I think it’s like anything. Once something becomes popular, there is an explosion of bad shows as well as an explosion of good shows. But I think also like any other genre or medium, the cream eventually rises to the top. I think that right now it’s a really big fad and people ask me if I think its going last. Is it a boom and bust situation? I think it will last, but I think it will change and evolve. One show that we are doing right now is called “Starting Over” which is actually a daytime show that runs everyday of the week like a soap opera. I actually see that as being part of the future of reality TV. We saw the same thing happen with talk shows in the late 80’s when Morton Downey Jr. and Geraldo were really hot. It was prime time and then it subsided a little bit and went back to daytime. I think reality shows will always be around because people watch them and they are relatively cheap to produce. It’s just the question of are they going to be in primetime and are there going to be as many of them.

WHO?MAG: Where do you see the future of television?
Damon Furberg: I think it’s going in a few different directions. You do see a lot more stuff that does not involve actors or writing, but in a weird sort of way it has come full circle. It started out as you pick Joe Average off the street and put them on TV and see what happens. Now you have these reality shows with celebrities in them. Or you have shows like My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé or Joe Shmoe where it’s a very manipulative situation where most of the people there are actors and there are only a few people that are “marks” and don’t realize that everyone else is an actor. You definitely see a lot of mutation in that genre, it’s kind of cross pollinating between reality and scripted television and it will be interesting to see how that will turn out and what shape that will eventually take.