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The fix-it lady of reality TV

TRACKING down China's first sexologist or working out what psychological buttons to press to get obese people to cry on reality TV are just some of the challenges Australian TV and film producer Sarah Stallard faces on a typical day at work.

The freelance producer is an expert fixer for visiting foreign film and documentary makers and has also worked as a story producer, someone who maps out the likely plot of a reality TV show.

An expert at tracking down whatever weird and wonderful topic an overseas production company can think up, Stallard organizes almost every aspect of a shoot, including interviews, local crew and logistics.

"We have done all kinds of random stuff and this has included a "China for beginners" documentary shot by a Belgian company," Stallard says.

"We went through many provinces in China where we traveled around in a van for six months and everywhere we went we needed a local crew."

Having recently launched her own company, Far Away Tree Productions, Stallard specializes in this small, niche production support, with a focus on helping overseas productions reach some of China's more challenging outer reaches.

Stallard, who is from the West Australia capital city of Perth, initially studied Chinese in Taipei, before coming to Shanghai in 2004 to work in the local TV and film industry.

During her work in the film industry, Stallard has developed an extensive list of contacts throughout much of China, focusing on the provinces of Sichuan, Hubei, Guangdong, Yunnan and Shanxi.

"This is the really wild, wild west of the film industry and here in China you get the opportunity to work on great projects that you simply wouldn't get the chance to work on in Australia," she says.

While working as a freelancer she found one of China's first sexologists for a documentary maker looking at gender issues in China. Another company wanted to get a Shaolin monk to train a Belgium silver medalist mountain biker in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics.

"The monk was training him in kung fu. He was a mountain biker and it was a really funny show, with his training meant to toughen him up in preparation for the Olympics," she says.

Alongside helping documentary film makers Stallard is also a story producer for reality television, which involves mapping out the basic plot direction, including designing any games or challenges. Then during the show she ensures that the scenario that each contestant faces is specifically tailored to extract as much drama as possible for the waiting cameras.

Stallard has worked on a range of shows, including most recently the "Amazing Race Asia," where contestants race through a number of countries for a grand prize.

In Australia she has worked on that country's version of "The Biggest Loser," in which obese people are put through a grueling work out schedule in a competition to see who can lose the most weight.

In the pressure-cooker environment of "The Biggest Loser," in which contestants often deal with life-long battles with food and weight. It can be an emotional roller coaster not only for the contestants but also for those behind the cameras

While there are psychologists on the show to help contestants, the story producers still have to maximize the drama.

"There are times when all you want to do is give someone a hug when they are really breaking down" she says.

"But there are other times, because you are frustrated that you can't get the reaction you want and you feel they are holding out on you."

During her last six years in Shanghai Stallard has worked on a number of reality TV shows and a range of television commercials.

Saying she enjoys the creative aspect of story producing, Stallard has worked on a Chinese local model search competition called "Fashion Star" and on "Kobe Mentu," in which 24 Chinese basketball hopefuls were sent to the United States to train.

The show culminated in a championship game in Beijing and was screened on CCTV 5 in 2008.

"I love making content for the Asian market - I think it's more fun," she says.

"When I work on reality shows in Australia it is almost like the contestants will play to the cameras much more and they know what is required of them. But I feel like in Asia it is still quite raw and the responses you are getting and the drama is quite genuine."

Anyone wanting more information can visit or e-mail

Name Sarah Stallard

Nationality: Australian

Age: 28

Profession: Producer


Self-description:Adventurous, adaptable, tenacious.

Favourite place: The street noodle vendor in a secret location near Xintiandi.

Strangest sight: The former French Concession in the morning after the typhoon in August 2005. It was so surreal, the streets were completely flooded, water-logged taxis being pushed, people were cycling and walking through water up to their knees, and homes/business were trying to combat water with bowls.

Worst experience:Appendix bursting and getting rushed to hospital, spending a week in hospital in intensive care.

Motto for life:The only true failure is not trying.

How to improve Shanghai:

Less cars in the city. Traffic is always pretty bad.

Advice to newcomers:Find something/somewhere to call your own in Shanghai, and when things get overwhelming, which they will, go there and remember the reason why you came here in the first place. Stay positive.

For ladies with well-endowed feet, bring plenty of shoes with you, and don't torture yourself by trying on all the cute shoes in Shanghai. Size 39 in China is a European 37!


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