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What are 'field notes' on a reality show?

Reality TV Editing

Richard Hall (Reality TV Producer) gives expert video advice on: How are 'reaction shots' used in reality TV editing?; What is a 'story arc'? and more...

What are 'field notes' on a reality show?

We shoot a lot of tape and all these tapes come back in boxes. With the boxes there is usually a sheet of paper or sheets of paper that come back with the tape boxes, and they have brief notes that were made at the time to shortcut the post-production process a little bit. These papers are called field notes on reality shows.

How long does it take to edit a reality show?

It depends on the format of the reality show, but some reality shows are edited in five days, if it's that close from production to air. Others can take five weeks. It just depends on the calendar, it depends on the format, and it depends on how complicated the show is. If the show is all shot in one place, and it's very built around certain needs, and there is a line cut coming in from a field, from the director in a truck, that certainly makes editing faster. A lot of reality shows are turned around very quickly.

What is a reality show 'line cut'?

A line cut is a director taking all of his multi-cameras, whether it's 3, 4, 5, or 6 cameras, and calling a master shot that goes into the line. As opposed to seeing all 6 cameras in real time, there's a 7th feed, which is the cameras that he thought had the best shots at that time. That's called a line cut.

What is a reality show 'radio cut'?

It depends on the calendar, it depends on the format, and it depends on how complicated the show is. If the show is all shot in one place and it's very built around certain beats and there's a line cut coming in from the director in the truck, that certainly makes it faster. And a lot of shows are turned around very quickly.

What is a reality show 'rough cut'?

A rough cut is your first pass on a finished product of a reality show. Rough cuts generally are pretty good. The thing about rough cuts is: let's say a shows running time is 43:30 so a classic hour run for cable, your first rough cut might come in at 47:30. It might be 4 minutes heavy and that means that you and the client are deciding the network; you're deciding we have this and we have this: what do want to lose what do you want to keep? The next cut gets a lot closer to time.

What is 'b-roll' in reality TV editing?

B-roll is an old expression that comes from film. It used to be shot on A-roll and B-roll. A-roll is audio and B-roll is film, the picture, and somehow that expression has stuck around. There's B-roll that you shoot that are scene-setters. If you're establishing the town where the house is where the family lives, you've got to go out and shoot B-roll of the town. If it's a quaint little town, you've got to shoot quaint. And then you've got to shoot the street where the house is, and if it's a quaint little street you've got to shoot the street. If you've got to shoot the house, you want to shoot the house and have a time lapse camera to see the sunrise and sunset over it and things like that. That's classic B-roll: scene-setting stuff or if you need to establish other things, but they usually have to do with location.

What is a 'jump cut' in reality TV editing?

A jump cut is usually in an interview, when you are just putting together the sentence and you're pulling up some of the "uuh"s and "and"s or a clause in the middle. You just slap it together without editing anything so the face will jump, because it was in a different position from the end point to the start point of where you came in. Generally speaking, you cover the jump cuts with B-roll.

What is 'lip-flap' in reality TV editing?

Lip-flap means you've taken away the audio because you've got the audio that you wanted. Then there was something that they were saying that you didn't necessarily want to hear or that was going to confuse you, but the picture's still moving. So you still see the lip move without any audio, and you want to avoid that.

How are 'reaction shots' used in reality TV editing?

Reaction shots can be very influential in coloring the way a particular moment plays. I've heard this said many times, even by people on reality shows. They say, "I actually came in there, and I made a joke, but the producers cut to a bunch of stone-faces, so I looked like a jerk. When I said that joke, people were laughing out loud, and if they had cut to that, I would have looked like a funny, popular, happy guy." I'm sure reality show producers do that, but generally, you don't have to. Reactions are reactions; you just want to get the coverage. I could play that game with you. I could film you telling a joke, and I could cut to people, stone-faced, show that to a test group of audience, and say, "Did she tell a good joke?" Most people would say, "No, it was a bomb."

How much footage do reality shows shoot?

Reality shows shoot ridiculous amounts of footage. There was a time in documentary non-fiction where, if you were shooting ten hours to one hour on the air, that was very efficient. Fifteen to twenty was what the norm was. I think with reality shows, it's probably a hundred and fifty hours to one. It's sort of gone with inflation, like with everything else. Because digitally you can store more video than ever before - unlimited amounts, really - you shoot more. You fill up the space that you're given. So they shoot a lot of tape on reality shows.

What is a 'story arc'?

A story arc is basically the beginning, the middle, and the end of any particular storyline. If you have different contestants on a reality show, each of them would probably have their own story arc; or a team would have their story arc. An example of a story arc is: they started out as the naive couple from the farm who didn't know anything about the big city. They had their comeuppance when they realized people in the big city couldn't be trusted and then they got smart and figured out how to outsmart the city people themselves. End of story.