Making Caged for MTV: In The Beginning

Our new show Caged officially premieres tonight at 10pm, 9 central on MTV.

We’ve blogged about how the show idea was brought to us and the process of getting the greenlight, and if you haven’t already, you can read all about the Caged cast and their backstories over at MTV, but for this post I’ll try and tell the story of how these wonderful people snuck inside my heart and have made a home there.

The Job

As a tv producer, my job is to think story, character, style. How do I engage the audience and tell each story the way it is meant to be told?

I remember googling Minden and Shreveport Louisiana. We were going out there to research Caged, find real people to follow, and we knew our pick-up of a pilot shoot was dependent on whether or not there were interesting young men and women to follow.

I love research and was getting as prepared as I could in the time we had. Experience has taught us that for this kind of show, we have to immerse ourselves into this new world and get to know every inch of it. As someone who loves travel and new experiences, I was so excited to take that plunge.

Hot Stuff

We arrived in Louisiana, where we were met by a heat I haven’t felt anywhere else. It wasn’t just hot (temperatures get to 115 degrees) it was the humidity that hit me first. When you walk outside, you walk into a wall of wetness and after just a few minutes it starts to feel like there is a heavy wet blanket on top of you. It feels oppressive in a way. They say things move slow in the south, that they have their own rhythm, but with that climate, how could you not?

But, since I’m one of those people who is always cold, I was excited to experience this Louisiana weather.

We ate at some real local joints, tried the region’s specialities, and one my all-time favs was a little BBQ joint in Minden that has since closed. I’ll always remember the proprietor threatening in jest to spank Biagio on the behind with a paddle if he didn’t finish his plate of food.

Of course I was excited to see Cracker Barrel and Sonic, two staples we don’t get in the LA area. (You should have seen how excited our office got when a Chik-fil-a opened up and we discovered a Buffallo Wild Wings nearby.)

But of course, the reason we love the show and why we hope you will love it too, is the people of Northwest Louisiana. Without any cameras, we met with these young men and women at their homes, we met them out for dinner, we went with them to their parties, talked till all hours in the morning and got to know them.

The hospitality with which we were welcomed was humbling. The wide-eyed excitement was energetic. The naiveté about our process refreshing. We were guests in a different world and it was inspiring.

Connecting

With each meeting our cast opened up more. We learned about Hannah in our third meeting with Daniel (an amazing story, stay tuned.)

Matt aka “Danger” started sharing some of his insecurities after a couple of meetings.

Wes & Red were as unfiltered then as they are now.

After every meeting we would talk amongst ourselves (Biagio, myself and our team of producers) and try to connect the dots, share what we each picked up at different points in the party/dinner.

We realized there were so many layers to this story and that MMA fighting was definitely just a back drop. An important backdrop that tied everything together, but one that was overshadowed by the stories of these amazing kids we were meeting.

Some struggles were common (college is not a guarantee or even expected choice for any of the twenty-somethings we met.)

They each have their own personal obstacles as well, from dealing with ADD, the loss of a loved one, teen pregnancy, expectations from family…the list goes on.

A Woman’s Perspective

As the only girl on the team at that time, it was hard to ignore these boys were good-looking, and the 15 year old in me was very charmed. I’ll always remember the first time Dane walked into the room. We had met Daniel, Danger, Wes, John-Wesley and a slew of other good looking guys and then Dane walked in. Biagio and I looked at each other and wondered if there was something in the drinking water. And to this day I think Red is one of the most beautiful girls we’ve ever put on film.

As TV producers finding real, honest characters is priority number one. Finding young adults who could express themselves and happen to be good looking at the same time was hitting the trifecta.

MTV Comes to Minden

When MTV flew into town and we introduced them to our potential cast, it couldn’t have gone better. We asked the cast to be open and honest, and they were. We knew in our heart and gut that these were kids in a forgotten part of the country, finding their own way without much guidance, but doing it with grace and determination. They succeed and fail on a daily basis, but they continuously grow as people. And that growth is the story we can all relate to or learn from.

Saying Goodbye

When we left Minden/Shreveport that first time, after only a week, I hated saying goodbye. We didn’t yet know whether MTV would send us back for a pilot or a series, and I felt I was leaving this story unfinished. I was saying goodbye to new friends. I told my parents that week that I left a piece of my heart there and they’ve had it ever since.

I hope Caged succeeds in letting you share our experience of meeting these amazing kids and getting to know them, and that maybe…just maybe…you’ll find yourself as invested in them as we are.

They are human and they make mistakes, they’ve made choices I probably wouldn’t have made, but their hearts are in the right place and they, just like all of us, are trying to find their place in the world.

My favorite moments in the bay are where I recognize myself or Biagio in one of the characters. Where I can see our cast is a micro reflection of the macro struggles we all deal with in life and in our relationships, and I can’t wait to share them with you in the weeks to come.

Caged premieres tonight at 10pm, 9 central on MTV.

Follow Joke and Biagio’s Caged twitter feed at @JNB_MTV_Caged

Catch Caged Mondays 10pm/9 central on MTV.

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