James Connelly is a longtime Hollywood producer whose work spans some of your favorite game shows, from The Voice to The Masked Singer to Top Chef, to some newer hits like Bill Nye Saves the World, and a vast variety of content on our tv screens. We were able to speak with the eclectic producer in a roundtable discussion at Comic-Con @ Home this past July.
The Masked Singer is a show that started abroad in South Korea and that Connelly and other producers brought to the US. For James, the prospect of making a big FOX show that involves music and costumes sounded very exciting, but making this “transferable” to the US was initially difficult. However, they took inspiration from our societal fascination with superheroes. The producers imbibed the notion that the characters on their show would be “super cool” to audiences in the same way Spider-Man or Ms. Marvel could be, which got the show to catch on with audiences in 2019. The costumes, he explained, are appreciated on the “operatic stage” of The Masked Singer. “What is my career?” he joked.
On what draws him to a particular project, James noted that “people pitch [him] projects,” and that if he feels like it’s cool and exciting and he’ll usually want to do it. For some projects, he has to “make himself want to do it”, which can also be a challenge, but overall he ikes different projects, and to have a variety of creative experiences. He very often aims to take projects in the same genre and make them unique from each other, as well as “cross-pollinate” across genres of television to achieve a more innovative production. He’s even learned so much from a miniature golf show he worked on and applied lessons learned there to other productions
James owns a design studio that works on variety shows. After the initial slowdown of the pandemic, he realized the industry needs solutions and has since been focusing on exploring new technology. He stressed that this is about designing solutions for audiences, and essentially trying to show that business could go on as usual for studios. They can’t “reveal they’re in a pandemic,” he said. Instead, the studios are focusing on redesigning sets they need for distancing to resume productions. He also noted that sets are taking an incredible set of precautions, with tests, guardrails, cleaning, and more to ensure that the working is as safe as possible for casts and crews.
On how people are going to be adapting to new COVID rules, James noted that he and other producers have been working far more with VFX artists to resume productions. “You have an entire industry not working, trying to figure out how to adjust.” he said, “I’ve had conversations with animators and VFX designers to make those stories—there’s a huge awakening to the VFX industry and everyone is self-educating on how to adjust to “virtual production.” As he described it, Hollywood is“Finding new efficiencies, but will bounce back and apply it to what we learn later.”
He noted that Hollywood was looking to any and all methods of innovating their productions in this trying time. “We have a chance to look at other industries like the video game industry and smaller footprints,” he said, “we’re getting solutions from any direction.” In terms of making virtual productions with green screens, he noted how good the effects industry is at making “real” content with green screen, and how now there’s a demand to have them more at the start of productions instead of after. “It’s really exciting,” he said. “If you can make that world believable to the actor or the contestant, so will the audience.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he expressed a high degree of optimism for what the industry could achieve now. “This is the best time to get involved in this industry.”