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It's difficult to imagine a vision of modern love more expansive or absurd than that afforded filmaker Archie Gips during his seven years as a writer and producer for reality dating shows, including Fifth Wheel, Extreme Dating, Chains of Love and the legendary Blind Date.
Recently, Gips put his hard-earned industry knowledge and finely honed sense of the ridiculous into a film entitled Loveless in Los Angeles. The romantic comedy follows a jaded reality dating show producer, who enlists the only woman he's ever loved to reform his loutish, womanizing ways.
Born and raised in New York, Gips earned a graduate degree at New York University's prestigious film school, and Loveless has the edge and insight you'd expect from a writer and director with his background. It's a substantive take on contemporary courtship that winks at the classics of the genre, from His Girl Friday to Annie Hall to When Harry Met Sally, though there's also a swaggering masculinity to it that recalls such bring-the-boyfriend films as High Fidelity, Wedding Crashers and About A Boy.
Gips dishes the dirt with Nerve about the reality of reality dating shows, what working on them taught him about dating — and how he's applied the lessons to his own life. — Darcy Cosper
So how'd a Second City-trained playwright with an MFA from one of the country's best film schools end up working on reality dating shows?
Obviously, I didn't aspire to be working for reality TV. That's what Loveless in Los Angeles is really about — a guy who comes to Los Angeles to be a writer/director, and falls into a job that pays well and gives him a fun lifestyle, but takes him away from his true aspirations. One of the themes of the film, which I guess kind of gets hammered home, is "Don't be seduced by the golden handcuffs."
How'd you get seduced?
I came out here after grad school, got an agent at William Morris, worked on a couple of shows. I was at a party one night, I met this guy who was also a New Yorker, we started talking and hit it off right away. He told me, "Hey, I'm working on this show. It's pretty funny, I think you'd be good for it." At this point Blind Date hadn't even come out yet. They were probably two months into production, but nothing had aired. I was hired as a writer a couple of weeks later.
What did you do on the show? Did the writers script the episodes?
No, there were field producers who would go out with a small crew and film these dates that lasted six or seven hours. There'd be four activities: for example, they'd go rollerblading, then they'd go fly kites, then they'd go out for dinner and have drinks afterwards. Then if things went really well, they'd go to the hot tubs afterwards — "Splash" was the name of the place, and it was the skeeviest — oh my God. We used to say the hot tubs were filled with man-stew.
A segment producer would watch the tape, edit the raw footage down to about an hour, hour and a half. Then it would come to me or one of the other writers, and I'd whittle it down to six and a half minutes, come up with a theme, a through-line, turn it into a story featuring basic archetypes people can relate to, then fill it with graphics — pop-ups, thought bubbles that were supposed to represent what they were really thinking, whatever — basically the subtext of the date. For the first year of the show we had a psychiatrist on staff who we met with.
Like in the special ops divisions of the military, where you need to get mental health checks? To make sure you won't go insane?
Actually, you know what's hilarious? The writers each had a thirty-minute session with the guy, per segment, to analyze the date, what was going on in the minds of the participants. But I already knew what jokes I was going to use, so I used my sessions to talk with him about this girl I was seeing, and what the hell was going on in my relationship.
So the subtext you made up, but the stuff on tape was all bona fide? It wasn't rigged?
I went along on the dates a couple of times just to get a sense of how it worked. On the shows, the field producers would purposely get the people shit-faced, and provoke them — I show a lot of this in Loveless in Los Angeles. They'd instigate as much as possible, they'd walk up to one of the daters and say, "What do you think of this guy?" "I don't know, he's not really my type." "Really? Because he thinks you're fuckin' hot." You know, pumping up their egos. Or the other way around, "He seems nice. . ." "Really, you think so? Because he said you were a total cunt." "What? That motherfucker…" Whatever the producers could do to rile the participants up, they'd do — "fighting or fucking by midnight" was basically our credo.
And it worked, obviously. On a lot of the dates, I saw some of the dirtiest shit. It was like watching pornos half the time. Because, the thing is, some of these people turned out to be porn stars who were getting tape for their quote-unquote acting careers. They needed clips where they weren't naked.
What was the most horrifying thing you ever saw caught on tape?
There's a segment in Loveless in Los Angeles where a girl sticks a bottle up her vagina. Did you catch that?
Um, no. Missed that.
It's implied — we don't actually show it, obviously. Well, the same thing actually did happen on Blind Date, but the girl stuck the bottle up her ass.
Was her date impressed?
Extremely. Well, impressed and terrified. Now you're like, "Oh my God, I hate this movie!" But this stuff was really happening. Loveless is a real look at what happens behind the scenes at these reality shows.
In the film, the lead's love interest is convinced to appear on his dating show — with disastrous results. In your experience, did participants on these shows ever take exception to what went down or how they were portrayed?
I truly don't believe that the people who ended up going on the show, at least later on, felt like they were stigmatized by it. People actually got a kick out of it. People wanted to be on the show knowing they'd be ripped into — it was like a badge of honor.
But once, I met this girl at a bar, and I was talking to her for a long time and couldn't remember where I knew her from. Then it dawned on me, and she must have seen the realization in my eyes because she was like, "What?" And I was like "Oh, I just remembered how I know you — I wrote the jokes on your episode of The Fifth Wheel." Did you ever see Mean Girls? She was like one of those girls, a prom-queen type. On the show she was really manipulative, she put guys down, she took great pleasure in emasculating them. And she was like, "Oh my God, you made me look like such a bitch," and cursed me out, until finally I said, "I didn't do anything you didn't deserve. You were a bitch on that date, and you know it." And all of a sudden she was like, "Yeah, I kind of was, wasn't I?" She owned up to it. And she wound up coming home with me.
So what did you learn about dating by working on these shows?
I started taking note of things, people's body language. One thing we noticed was that if the daters hugged at the beginning of the date, the date was infinitely better. Not like a groping hug, a friendly hug. I guess what happens is when you're on a date there's the nervous energy between you, and when you hug you break that tension and bond with the person a little bit.
So you do that? You hug at the beginning of dates?
I do. Every single date. Unless she's really ugly. [beat] I'm joking, come on! No, I try to. Another thing — field producers would get the participants to ask each other questions, like "What's the craziest position you've ever done it in?" "Have you ever been in a threesome?" — whatever. It sounds lame, but what I learned was, if it's clear there's a sexual attraction between you and your date, you should bring up sex in conversation. It's a lot of fun going on a date with someone and having sexual tension, you know you're into someone, they're into you, and you're playing that game of cat and mouse, but no one's going to end up a loser. Bringing sex into the conversation increases your chances of at least a make-out session at the end of the evening.
What else increases your chances?
If you don't speak that much and just ask a lot of questions, you'll become the most interesting, appealing guy in the world.
That's so obvious, but few guys actually manage to do it.
True. I think I come across well on a date because I ask questions and listen to the answers — and more importantly I call back, which women find very appealing.
For example, you're telling me that you're from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and your brother Bob still lives there. And then forty-five minutes later, I say, "So do you ever get back to Cherry Hill to visit Bob?" It's really idiotic stuff, but it goes a long way.
How did being on the show affect your own dating life?
Well, one thing was that any date was a write-off, because it was all research for my job! So I went on a ton of dates. I don't see going on dates as being about hooking up, it's about meeting people. You may not be physically attracted to them or wind up sleeping with them or dating them, but you meet cool people. If you don't, at least you get really cool stories out of it. And as a writer, you know — some of my fondest memories are my worst dates.
But working on the shows definitely made me more cynical, it did.
So how'd you get from being a cynical reality dating show producer to making a film about a cynical reality dating show producer?
I moved on from Blind Date — I did these other dating shows, Fifth Wheel and Chains of Love and Extreme Dating — and then I got this great job as a supervising producer of Last Comic Standing. But by then I was thinking, "What the fuck am I doing? I came out here to Los Angeles to write and direct." So I quit to work on a fucking indie film and not get paid for three years.
Loveless In Los Angeles is about a writer who comes out to L.A., goes to work as a producer at a reality dating show, gets caught up in the game of making a buck and getting laid and becomes ridiculously jaded about women and dating. Then his love interest from college comes back into his life, and helps him find that person he used to be.
Saved by the love of a good woman?
In the real world, it wouldn't be so easy for him to accomplish that transformation. It's possible, I guess. But you can't do it in a montage.
Sadly, no. What are you working on now?
I spent the last year directing a documentary that I'm really excited about — distributors are looking at it right now. I'm writing a broad political comedy for a producer, and working on a script for a low-budget dark comedy called The Trailer Park King, which I plan to shoot next summer.
And — this is hilarious — after all those years of trying to get away from reality dating, I've been approached by a matchmaking company to become a dating consultant.
So what's your advice to help girls like me survive the dating scene in Los Angeles?
Think of it as your own personal Gray's Anatomy or whatever — something you do for an hour or two instead of watching your favorite show. Take the pressure off yourself, be in the moment, and whatever the other person wants to bring to the date, let them bring it.
©2007 Darcy Cosper & Nerve.com