How ‘Top Model’ Producer Drew Upon His Unscripted Past for New Rom-Com ‘The Right One’ (Guest Blog)

After years at the helm of reality TV megahits, Ken Mok makes his directorial debut with the Lionsgate romantic comedy

Last Updated: February 2, 2021 @ 2:34 PM

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You might think there’s a world of difference between producing and directing a series in the unscripted world and writing and directing a feature film, but you’d be wrong. There’s a pretty significant overlap in both genres, and the skills I learned in the former actually gave me an advantage in the latter.

I began my career in entertainment in the early 1990s as a creative exec working on television comedies and dramas, but eventually got sidetracked into the genre of unscripted entertainment. Reality TV was just beginning to surface and so I created a number of shows, including “Making the Band” and “America’s Next Top Model.” Producing these shows in that era of television was an amazing learning experience, especially in the early years.

Back then, you had to be a jack of all trades. You not only had to produce the show — you also had to write it, oversee production, work with the DP, direct, and then edit, all while under extreme time pressure. You quickly learned to be nimble on your feet, especially when the unexpected would happen. And that would happen all the time. Talent would drop out at the last second, your location would suddenly get shut down, your cast would be struck down with the flu on the day of their stage performance, the list goes on and on. When it came to my debut film, “The Right One,” the biggest fire occurred when my two lead actors dropped out in the middle of prep. Luckily, I was a big fan of Nick Thune and Cleopatra Coleman and managed to get them into the film just two weeks before principal photography began. In my eyes, it was just another run of the mill crisis to deal with.

Ken Mok directs Kevin Thune in “The Right One” (Photo: Lionsgate)

Another key lesson I gained from working in the unscripted genre was how to engage the audience. Viewers weren’t that interested in the mechanics of a competition — they wanted to know about the people competing. And so I developed a mantra, which I’ve used to this day: “Process is boring; people are interesting.”

From that, I discovered that an unscripted series is no different than a television drama. In both, you need to get the audience emotionally engaged, and to do so, you need characters they care about. When it eventually came time to review and edit the hundreds of hours of footage from shooting, I’d ask myself the same questions as you would for a narrative drama: What is the inciting incident for the character, what is the rising action, what is the climax to the story and what is the resolution? Sometimes the pieces fell into place easily; others I’d have to find creative, out-of-the-box ways to make the story work. But every week, I had to craft storylines for multiple characters, and I had to do it quickly to meet our deadlines.

Because I had been trained to approach story in the unscripted world from so many different angles, often starting from scratch over and over in editing, the skills I gained over the years helped me in reformulating story and ultimately gave me the confidence when making changes to the script throughout the filmmaking process. With “The Right One,” I ended up writing and re-writing the script countless times, either to better fit my actors or to highlight their unique talents which were not discovered until we were on set. The result was nuanced performances and more comedic dialogue among the actors.

When it came to directing, my unscripted experience also helped tremendously. Directing is a daunting task. You’re not only in charge of directing the film and working with the actors, but you also have to oversee the entire production, from soup to nuts. You are being asked for an opinion and a decision on EVERYTHING. I can only imagine what it’s like when a young, first-time director gets thrown in such deep waters and is told to swim. But, because I had the benefit of running shows for so many years, the process was familiar. Overseeing a production and the workload associated with it was something I was used to. Many of the processes that you go through in film are the same as when you’re producing an unscripted series — from location and technical scouting, working with department heads, budgeting, laying out your plans in production meetings, to making decisions on virtually every aspect of production.

While these lessons were crucial in my transition from the unscripted world to now writing and directing my first feature film, the most important lesson I, or anyone, can take from my years of producing is this: surround yourself with talented people. Television and film are a collaborative effort. A project flourishes when all elements of it come together — from the performances, to the production design, to the costumes, the music, etc… All of that comes from the incredibly gifted people who work in this industry and the passion they have for their jobs.

I was very fortunate with “The Right One.” I had a passionate crew, an incredible editor, and a great cast who delivered wonderful performances. I loved every minute of making this film and am looking forward to taking the learning lessons from this film into my next feature.

“The Right One” premieres on-demand and in select theaters on Feb. 5, 2021, and worldwide and on Blu-Ray and DVD on Feb. 9, 2021.

BIO Ken Mok
Ken Mok is an Emmy-nominated producer and creator of series like "Making the Band," "WWE Tough Enough" and "America's Next Top Model". His feature film directorial debut, "The Right One," premieres on-demand and in select theaters on February 5.