Right under our noses a local production company is busy making a lot of noise. Based in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, Screaming Flea Productions is one of the Northwest’s largest producers of nonfiction programming for cable networks. The production company officially became an entity in 1999, but the core team had been creating content for national and international broadcast prior to that.
Screaming Flea has worked with almost every cable network and has developed a diverse slate of programs, from lifestyle to reality, comedy to gritty docs, instructional videos to fundraising pieces – you name it, they’ve produced it. “This is not typical in the industry,” says Liza Keckler, Vice President of Development at Screaming Flea. “Most production companies are very specialized, but we pride ourselves in our ability to tell great stories in a wide range of genres.”
This wide variety of work is key to Screaming Flea’s success. To get an idea of the assortment of programming happening there, simply take a look at their website. You are bound to have seen something Screaming Flea has made. Their most recognizable show is the cultural phenomenon Hoarders on A&E, and you can currently catch The Legend of Mick Dodge on the National Geographic Channel.
The company films all over the United States, taking viewers to where the stories are. As production travels, a solid group of Washington-resident crew travels with them. When necessary, Screaming Flea also utilizes a network of professionals around the world. However, their home base of operations remains in Washington.
At any given time up to ten projects are happening simultaneously, requiring anywhere from 20 to 60 crew and staff. Work is not just for production crews either. The programming Screaming Flea creates employs a variety of specialists including on-camera talent, actors for re-creations, and editors to fill their 12 edits suites, which are often brimming with young up-and-comers getting valuable workforce training opportunities. A gig on one of their series often leads to further prospects, such as more regional and national jobs. “The crews we work with from the Seattle area, our editors and shooters, are wonderful,” said Dave Severson, Screaming Flea Co-President and General Manager. “When producers come up from Los Angeles they are wildly impressed.”
Perhaps the most difficult part of a successful run with so many networks is the challenge to continually develop that next great content idea. “We might brainstorm a thousand stories a year, and from there, maybe two to five new series are created. 95% of the stories we generate simply don’t manifest for various reasons,” says Keckler.
Screaming Flea doesn’t just develop shows internally, they have a portal on their website where people can pitch their ideas. These are actively considered and reviewed in earnest on a monthly basis. Beyond the portal, the production company is also looking to connect with local Washington producers and filmmakers to find intriguing characters and locations. “There has always been a divide between film and television, but something is shifting as TV is entering into what many call its golden age,” says Keckler. “Screaming Flea is working to break that barrier down, and we’re putting filmmakers to work in nonfiction television.”
As an example, The Legend of Mick Dodge was introduced to Screaming Flea via InterChange Media Art Productions in Seattle. Often times a producer has a lead on a story, or has developed a story as far as they can, but they still want to see the project it come to life. This is the juncture where producers often approach Screaming Flea, as was the case with the Mick Dodge story. Content producers generally hand off the baton, but those who pitch an idea have an inside track if there is a role they want to fill on production.
Screaming Flea Productions is able to accomplish all that they do because of the talented writers, producers, editors and photographers that capture and retell amazing stories. Maybe you have a lead, or a concept in the works. Screaming Flea is working to tell the story of their organization and consciously cultivate more great content here in Washington State. So what makes a great pitch? “Unique worlds with big characters,” says Severson.