Meet Keely Sonntag: co-founder of online shopping guide State of Shop, previous Sydney Editor for Stylehunter.com and TV Producer of all our guilty- reality TV- pleasures. Just to name a few, this professional multi-tasker is behind Australian favourite reality entertainment including Master Chef, Big Brother, Beauty and the Geek and Australia’s Next Top Model.
With Cycle 9 of Australia’s Next Top Model around the corner, we caught up with Keely to get the inside scoop on the new Next Top Model season, the behind the scenes of reality TV and life as a TV producer.
First things first, how did you become a TV Producer? Has it always been your dream job or did you fall into it by chance?
TV wasn’t something I had ever considered as a career path. I was actually studying journalism when I got a job writing for the Big Brother website. But after a few weeks of being around the buzz and electricity of such a huge television production I was hooked and I changed my major to Digital Video and never looked back.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
There are two things – the people and the creativity. I feel pretty lucky to work with super talented, smart, funny, like-minded people every single day, and secretly I think I love the stress and chaos of putting together a show and creating something that’s seen by so many people. It’s certainly not a dull job.
As a reality TV producer, you’ve worked on such a variety of shows. What has been your favourite show to produce to so far?
This is a tough one, every show has something to love about it. MasterChef is definitely close to my heart because I did so many series, worked with some incredible people who are now good friends and went through some phenomenal experiences – trips to Hong Kong, London, France and New York were all highlights. Big Brother was the first TV show I ever worked on, so I learnt a lot on that, not just the first year, but on every series I did. I also love live television, so Big Brother ticked that box too.
So if you had to be a contestant in any of the shows you’ve worked on, which show would you choose?
Haha, well… I don’t think I could ever be a reality show contestant. I feel much more comfortable behind the camera. And although it sounds glamorous, it’s hard work. As a contestant you often have to be away from your home, friends and family for long periods of time, you have no phone, money or independence and you have to do a lot of waiting around on set. Of course there are huge positives, like learning new skills, winning prizes and meeting fabulous people. But back to your question… I certainly can’t cook as well as any MasterChef contestant, I couldn’t be a beauty on Beauty and the Geek, nor do I have the potential or drive to be a Top Model. If I had to choose I think it would have to be Big Brother, I would be curious to see how I’d react when locked in a house for months with no access to the outside world, and only strangers to keep me company.
Well we’ve all seen what’s its like to be a reality TV contestant, but behind the scenes, what is a day in the life of a reality TV producer?
One of the reasons I love being a television producer is because every day is different. You need to have your mind in several places all at once – thinking about the current day’s shoot, planning for upcoming shoots, and overseeing a number of different departments to make sure everything comes together as you want it to. There’s also a lot of problem solving involved in being a producer, because it’s a rare day when everything works out exactly as planned.
You’re latest work at the moment has been working on Australia’s Next Top Model Cycle 9 which is airing this month. Being a TV series, I can imagine picking a cast of models for Next Top Model wouldn’t just be about a pretty face. What are you looking for when it comes to choosing contestants?
I started on ANTM after the audition tour for this series, however I know we were looking for the best of the best in terms of potential top models. We wanted girls who stood out and who could have a real future in the industry. Authenticity in terms of model potential was high on the list of prerequisites. We also wanted girls who were prepared to commit themselves fully to the process. It’s hard work being a reality contestant, but they had a lot to gain in terms of learning and setting up their future. So a positive attitude is always a plus.
The photo-shoots and challenges that the models face can be so creative, where do these ideas start?
Our Executive Producer had a very clear creative vision for this series. She came up with some new and exciting challenges and photo shoots during pre-production, and we built on those ideas to make them a reality. Inspiration for a show like Top Model can come from anywhere – magazines, advertising, models, fashion designers, celebrities, food, film and television, and even your own personal experiences. The creative process is usually a collaborative one, it’s a matter of fine-tuning an idea and making sure it can work for the show.
You’ve worked with a lot of talent throughout the TV shows you’ve produced, Jennifer Hawkins included! If you could work with anyone famous who would it be?
We had some HUGE names join us as guest judges on this series of ANTM – Jean Paul Gaultier, Kelly Osbourne and Alessandra Ambrosio were definitely highlights for me. I never really think about working with famous people, as I get to work with lots of talented people behind the cameras every day, which I’m so grateful for. But it would probably blow my mind if I got to hang out with some inspirational creatives, like The Beatles, Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, JK Rowling, or Oprah… although I know some of those meetings can never eventuate.
Would you say working on Australia’s Next Top Model has influenced your own personal style?
It certainly made me want a lot of new clothes! My style is always evolving, so yes I probably was influenced in some ways, even if I didn’t know it. I definitely became more aware of different designers and trends, not just in Australia but overseas.
Lastly, it must take some brilliant life-balancing skills to manage being a TV Producer as well as State of Shops and contributing to Stylehunter. I think many people can relate to the constant challenge of balancing personal online businesses and projects as well as their full time job. Do you have any advice on how to multi-task like a pro?
It’s hard, and I don’t think there is just one secret formula. Getting up early helps, as painful as it can be sometimes. Having a lot of supportive friends, family and colleagues is the backbone of maintaining any sort of balance. And taking time out to recharge when you can is a must. Don’t underestimate the power of going for a walk, or getting a massage! I also keep my phone or a notepad handy everywhere, including next to my bed, so I can write myself reminders whenever something pops into my head. It helps me keep a handle on everything I have to do. I’ve also made a conscious effort in the last few months to try and work smarter, rather than harder, so I have more time for the fun things in life.
Australia’s Next Top Model Cycle 9 will air on Fox 8, April 30th at 7.30pm EST.