A dose of reality

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

As a kid, Autumn deVitry, AS’01, dreamed of becoming a legendary news reporter like Edward R. Murrow, who became known as the “voice of America” for his radio broadcasts during World War II.

But instead of forging a career in hard news, the 34-year-old developed a knack for producing reality TV programs, such as NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and FOX’s “MasterChef” and “The X-Factor,” whose season-one finale in December drew some 12.4 million viewers.

She classified reality TV as “guerilla filmmaking,” owing to its routinely small budgets and short staffs. “It’s stressful, but it’s also incredibly fun and creative,” deVitry told more than 75 students, faculty and staff in the McLeod Suites on Tuesday in a lecture describing her climb to the top of the reality TV ladder. “I love it.”

The former journalism student credited professors Alan Schroeder and Nick Daniloff for shaping her career path. At Northeastern, Daniloff helped deVitry find a co-op with a small production company in Montreal. Schroeder oversaw deVitry’s documentary film project on three former Northeastern students living in Italy.

She encouraged students to take advantage of Northeastern’s international experiential-learning opportunities. As deVitry put it, “I learn the most when I’m traveling. Just go.”

Her short-lived stint as an associate producer for NBC-affiliate KOB-TV in Albuquerque, N.M., underscored her desire to break out of the local news industry, which, she said, focuses its coverage on “death, destruction and despair on a daily basis.”

In fact, the reality TV producer would rather not turn on the tube at all. “I watch movies,” she quipped.

Small wonder, then, that deVitry recently finished writing the screenplay for her first feature film entitled “Altered Reality,” a 90-minute cross-genre dramedy portraying the “reality behind reality TV.” Shooting begins in February.

The auteur-in-training closed her 45-minute lecture by giving honest advice to aspiring producers and filmmakers. “If you’re scared to death to take a job, then you have to take it,” she said. “If you’re afraid of it, then you will challenge yourself and grow and learn.”