Reality TV Staff
Reality TV Staff
Richard Hall (Reality TV Producer) gives expert video advice on: What does a reality TV 'casting producer' do?; What does reality TV 'art department' do? and more...
What are the key staff and crew positions on a reality show?
Every reality show has a show runner. Every show has a story department. That would be the producers who would be primarily involved with the questioning and the direction of character development on the stories. Every show has a huge post-production department where a lot of assistant editors and loggers are going through mountains of videotape and making sure that no good moments go unnoticed. The key positions - everything else, of course - are segment producers and associate producers; those are all the people that physically make everything happen. Fixed cameras, robotic cameras, and locked cameras: all of that comes into play also.
What does a reality TV show runner or executive producer do?
The reality TV show runner or the Executive Producer is first and foremost accountable to the network to make sure that the network is getting the program they want. They are the ones that really have to make sure that everybody beneath them is executing the show that the network wants to have and not freelancing with what they think might be fun. We have to keep a good communication line open to the network executives, either to apprise them of a pleasant surprise about how well the story is going in a way we never imagined, or to help problem solve to keep the reality show on the track that the network wants. If the network wants a show that's going to maximize its appeal to younger women, then the male characters have to have their shirts off a lot. That's oversimplifying it, but we have to stay on the same page about what the objectives of the reality show are. The show writer primarily is there to manage up and make sure the network, who is the client, is getting the reality show they want, or better.
What does a reality TV 'casting producer' do?
I think a reality TV casting person has a bigger challenge than a regular casting agent, who's just doing a cattle call for actors and actresses. I don't mean to downgrade what those people do, but in reality TV, when you're dealing with people who you have no track record about, just based on interview and personal history, you're projecting how they're going to be on camera down the line when put into certain pressure situations. That's the beauty of it because when somebody cracks, or when somebody gets emotional, or when somebody falls for somebody else, or when somebody rises to the occasion, sometimes the casting person would have spoken for you before the reality show began and would say to you, "This is your crier, this is your hero, this is the person that's going to get lost, and this is the person that's going to get angry." That takes quite a bit of 25 cent psychology to suss somebody out, who you've never met before, and just work off of gut reaction: their physical appearance, the way they talk, their psychological profile. Casting is actually a pretty complicated scenario.
What does a reality TV 'story producer' do?
Classically, the reality show story producer is the person who is reviewing all of the video tape and letting the higher-ups know where the story is going on a particular character or in a particular sequence of beats. They're responsible for letting the people in the field know, "You know what we're really missing at this point? We saw this person go through emotion A and then emotion C, but I don't have anything to connect them. I need an emotion B moment to get you from A to C. I see them happy and then I see them sad but I missed the jealousy in the middle." That's what a story producer can let the person in the field know that they're missing.
What does a reality TV 'field producer' do?
The reality show field producer has to have that relationship with the participants in the show, where they feel that they know that they have an open line of communication and trust with them, that they know that they're the go-to person for them to open up to. The participant has to have a sense that the field producer sympathizes with them and understands where they're coming from, because if you think that somebody is sympathetic to you, you'll open up to them. If you think somebody doesn't have a clue about you, you'll blow them off. It's very important that they develop a good, personal relationship with the reality TV subjects. Those field producers actually work with camera people, and directly with the crews. Some of the crews are very good, though. There are reality show cameramen who sometimes prompt their own questions because they see the moment, and the field producer might be distracted, might be away, or it just might be a situation where they're the only ones around. What the field producer does day-to-day depends on if it's a continuous, everyday shoot. If it's a concentrated show - fourteen straight days of filming to produce six episodes, or something like that - they are literally on their feet, working with multiple camera crews on the hot set every single day. If it's a reality show that's more spread out or doesn't shoot every day, they go back, they work with the post-production department on organizing where they are, and then they go back into the field.
What does a reality TV 'editor' do?
The editors in reality TV are more important than ever. I think they are more important in reality TV than in any other format. There is so much tape shot that very few people can really spend the time to go through the tape as closely as editors do. Because of the way we organize things digitally, in non-linear systems, they have great shortcuts that they can use to put scenes together correctly.
What does reality TV 'art department' do?
There is quite a bit of art department in reality TV. People would be surprised, but there is also quite a bit of wardrobe in reality TV. All of that is a departure from the more traditional forms of non-fiction programming and documentary because, after all, it's considered a set. If you are shooting in a house, it's a hot set. So you need people to maintain that set, make that set, put the props in there, and all that sort of thing. The reality TV staffs can be large. It depends on the budget of the program.
What does a reality TV director do?
A reality TV director mimics what used to take place classically in the studios. At CBS Television City they have these big control rooms, and they have all these feeds and monitors. What reality tends to do is they tend to get these remote video trucks that are not quite filled with just as many bells and whistles, but they have feeds from the different cameras, and everybody's on a PL listening to the director. They do mimic what takes place. It's sort of a portable studio. Reality TV has to be out somewhere real and not on the stage, unless you're doing a reality show about the stage. The reality TV director is the modern day version of a studio director. A lot of them do both. The director is often calling cameras. He's often doing what we call a line-cut, which is laying down the cut cameras into a master tape, but that won't necessarily be the cut that we keep at the end. The reality TV director has a little bit less authority than the classic TV director did, because there are producers and network executives sitting behind him, forcing action by talking to the host of the show or something like that. The director then has to become aware of what's going on editorially. We'll say, "We're going to have the host go to contestant C in about five minutes and have him talk about contestant F. Be ready."