Interview: Field Producer Sarah Moshman

I worked with Sarah Moshman at my first internship in Los Angeles. A modern day Peggy Olsen, Moshman is an intensely fierce worker who often leaves little time for sleep, food, and other creature comforts the rest of us regularly enjoy. Amidst the onslaught of work she surmounts on a daily basis, Sarah produces quality product. I have constant admiration for her gung-ho attitude, ability to manage a rigorous (often nutso) schedule, and her conviction to complete her personal pet projects – you know, those little things we’ll all get around to doing sooner or later. Most recently, Sarah has worked as a Field Producer on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and as an Associate Producer on NBC’s Minute to Win It.

Your documentary Girl’s Rock! Chicago was recently featured on Chicago Public Television. What was that experience like?

When I set out to make “Girls Rock! Chicago” I was just doing it for myself. After working in reality television for a little while I missed what it feels like to have a project that you can take complete credit for. I found out about this spectacular rock camp for girls in Chicago that takes place for a week in the summer and I was truly inspired. It was one of those excited sleepless nights where you just know you are meant to do something. I funded the whole thing myself, rented equipment hired a sound girl, collaborated with my good friend Dana Cook and before I knew it we were there for the first day of camp ready to shoot. It felt great to complete this baby of mine, I’m not a great editor by any stretch of the imagination but I did all the editing and when it was done I was beyond proud of what came of this one idea. My Dad is the one who pushed me to submit it to air on PBS in Chicago, a one time employer of his. It was almost too easy– they watched it, loved it, and a couple months later it was on the air. I wasn’t able to be present for the broadcasts but seeing it in the TV Guide, and getting feedback from people watching it on TV was definitely an amazing feeling. I’ve had my name in the credits several times now for shows and such, but this was all mine. If you didn’t like the documentary there was no one else to blame but me, which is a scary and exciting feeling.

What is the nature of your work as an associate producer on a show like Dancing With the Stars or Minute to Win It? How does that differ from the work of a field producer?

Well my job as an associate producer on DWTS and MTWI are completely different even though they share the same title. On DWTS as an AP I worked as a story assistant half the time and a field producer half the time- it’s sort of a hybrid position. When I’m an assist I take field notes during dance rehearsals and then after our daily shoots I go back to the office and log the tapes we shot. Everyday a field producer and assist are sent into the field to shoot a couple as they rehearse for the next week’s show. As a field producer you are the one operating the camera, setting up the audio, conducting interviews and helping form the package for that week. So I went from an AP to a full time field producer on the show now, so all I do is shoot and interview the couples. Each week you are assigned a different couple to follow.

On MTWI as an Associate Producer my job is to help develop the stories for the potential contestants on our show. It’s a game show, but we aim to reveal a lot about our contestants in between the games they play, especially what they will use the money they win for. I brief the contestants on what to say when they are speaking to our host Guy Fieri, I help coordinate and produce surprise guests, phone calls, and video messages that take place during the show. And during shoot days I am backstage cheering my contestants on hoping they win big money! It is a very fun job, can be rewarding in a lot of ways and something I probably wouldn’t have sought out for myself but it sort of landed in my lap at the right time and has developed into a great opportunity.

What is your family like? Why do they inspire you?

I grew up with the nuclear family Mom, Dad, brother and me. My parents are still married after 30+ years and that’s inspirational on its own for me to get married only once and that relationships take hard work, it can’t always be a fairy tale. I hope to have a healthy and happy marriage like they do, and like my grandparents do as well. My brother Nathan who is a couple years older than me is an anomaly. He is incredibly smart in math and science, he is currently getting his PhD in astronautical engineering (I hope that’s right) whilst also working with and for NASA. On top of that he is a skater/snowboarder/California dude. He is the coolest “geek” you’ll ever meet. My Mom is the kindest, most encouraging woman I have ever known. She is always positive and warm, very rarely judgmental. I never felt like any dream was too big in my house which is a great way to approach your life. My Dad is my hero. Aside from the fact that he is 25+ time Emmy winning television producer- so there are some obvious shoes to fill- he is an endless pool of knowledge on ANY subject. Although our personalities can be very different there is so much I have to learn from him, more than any professor, or director, or book for that matter. I have the utmost respect for him and I hope one day to take a photo of him and his 25 Emmys surrounding him and me holding an Emmy of my own.

That's not Sarah's dad. That's Buzz Aldrin.

My Dad went to Northwestern as a drum major originally but then left the music school and studied radio/tv/film. He worked as an editor for a while but ended up as a television producer for a magazines series called “Wild Chicago” for 12 years, and then he worked for WGN and then CBS and now he is the EP of a business themed show called “First Business” on Channel 26 the U. In his free time he makes historical documentaries. His most recent one was about a submarine that left Wisconsin during World War II and disappeared off the coast of Thailand. It was found a few years ago with all 86 soldiers still on board.

You’ve worked with some incredible talent. Has anyone in particular made a strong impression on you?

Meeting Buzz Aldrin was definitely something that sticks out, he is a historical legend and I am honored to have worked with him! Working with Usher was great just because I am such a big fan of his and he is so talented. I liked working with comedian Niecy Nash because she was such a professional when it came to being on camera. Working with professional athletes (Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Rick Fox, Kurt Warner, Evan Lysacek, Shawn Johnson) is cool because they are so specialized that they are the best at what they do. Nicole Scherzinger is great, her voice is incredible and I don’t think it is showcased as well as it should be. Other singers I met like Brandy, Jewel, Mya and Toni Braxton were a thrill to meet because they are so talented and lovely.

Can you weigh in on the Bristol Palin controversy? How did it feel to have the highest rated show in the nation?

It is an honor to be a part of such a highly rated show. I’m not sure why people love it so much, but I will say when I wasn’t working on the last few weeks of this season I did race home to watch it like any other middle aged woman who loves it. There’s something about watching someone go on a journey doing something they have no knowledge about. As for Bristol I think it’s easy to agree that all the people who love Sarah would then vote for Bristol too. I don’t think there was any conspiracy of any kind. People were drawn to her like they were to Kelly Osbourne and Ty Murray who weren’t the best dancers but they had an authentic quality to them. I worked with Bristol and she is a normal girl just enjoying this opportunity given to her. She never took it too seriously and I commend her ability to shake off the haters since she is only 20 years old! And the people that complain about the voting system probably didn’t vote anyway, so how can you complain when you aren’t taking part in swaying it another way? I guess the more publicity the better when it comes to our show, after 11 seasons it’s good that it is maintaining momentum!

What was it like filming in Costa Rica for I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here? What were the conditions like?

I spent 5 weeks in Costa Rica in the middle of NOWHERE near the jungle where the show was set up. I had to take a bus every morning 45 minutes to the location from our rinky-dink hotel and 45 minutes home, often stopping to make way for a herd of cows! We worked in 12 hour shifts so I started as 10am to 10pm and ended up with 1pm to 1am. When the bus would drop us off we had to walk over this super-rickety bridge to get to the camp where we worked. The food was decent at first and then incredibly bland, bugs everywhere, hottest weather I’ve ever experienced and I lived in Miami for 4 years! Just a very uncomfortable situation. Part of my job was to make runs into the jungle to drop things off or pick things up often times in pitch black darkness! The people I worked with were great, I knew some of them from “Dancing with the Stars,” but it was definitely a shock to the system. I only had 4 days off throughout the entire 5 weeks and I made a point to go exploring each time. I went zip lining, river rafting, I went on a chocolate tour to see how chocolate is made, I went horseback riding to a waterfall, those parts of the trip were awesome.

Girls Rock! Chicago is about girls overcoming stereotypes and becoming rock stars. What sort of challenges do you think female musicians face?

It seems like female musicians face the same challenges that women have faced in other industries– people not believing in them at first, not expecting much from them in terms of being a rock star. But in some ways that can be a good thing, if nothing is expected of you then people can be pleasantly surprised by the amount of talent you possess. The camp was really good at acknowledging those stereotypes and helping the girls bust through them.

What are you drawn to about documentary, and what are the limitations of the medium?

I’m drawn to the accessibility of documentary. I love the idea of finding an interesting event or person or issue and flushing it out to expose all the moving parts. I also like the fact that the cinematography is held at a seemingly lower standard when it comes to documentaries, not much is expected of them in that sense, so I try to make it a point to have a visually interesting as well. I love real subjects. I enjoy scripted shows and short films of course but there is something appealing about a real and true story unfolding before your eyes, and it’s your job as the filmmaker to shape it just the right way to keep the audience engaged.

As for limitations, as with any other medium there is so much saturation now it’s harder to stand out, but as whole I think people are way more accepting of documentaries as a form of entertainment, and people are paying to see them in theaters which is inspiring.

How do you like working in reality television?

I like it a lot more than I thought I would. Reality TV as a whole is garbage but there are some shows that really help people, or really take you on a journey, which is something special. In a way it feels like reality TV and documentaries go hand in hand. I’m really grateful to have had the opportunities I have had since I began. If it weren’t for reality TV there is no way I would be able to see my footage and my produced packages on a show that has an average audience of over 20 million people. I appreciate the way people are promoted and hard work is recognized in this section of the industry. I love being behind the camera and I’m very happy to have found a couple jobs that allow me to physically shoot which is something that would have taken me 3 times as long plus I would have had to join a union in the scripted world. It’s not where I intended to end up and it’s not where I will stay forever but I am very grateful for all the possibilities that available in reality TV.

You once told me you wanted to get into film eventually. What kind of movie would you like to be involved in?

I would love to get into film and scripted TV! Glee and The Office would be my dream shows to work on, and I would love to be involved in an independent film like Waitress or Little Miss Sunshine. Something with a smaller crew rather than a huge Hollywood budget, a more intimate process. The only films I would not like to be a part of are horror films! Otherwise I’m down!

What’s your beef with horror movies?

Well since I nearly passed out in 127 Hours I don’t think I could handle blood and horror. And horror movies stick with me and then I get scared to be alone at night. So… not for me.

Minute to Win It returns tomorrow at 8/7 Central on NBC with the start of its three-part Christmas special. Check it out.