I recently picked up a job as an editor in a world completely new to me, the land of unscripted television, otherwise known as, “reality TV.” Every entertainment medium comes with its own pitfalls and challenges, but reality is a game all its own. Tensions run high with tight deadlines, unpredictable shoot days and a complicated editing process. However, it’s a great opportunity to grow in your field while working on recognizable shows with big networks. The reward can be worth the work.
In order to get all the material you need to tell a cohesive story there’s a little behind the scenes maneuvering that needs to take place. Believe me, not everything is unveiling right before the camera lens.
Here are a few tips to make your carefully-planned TV show feel like reality:
Pre-production is still king
Whether your reality show is a DIY tiny house theme or a dramatic ladies-throwing-wine-on-other-ladies brand of TV, you still need to bury yourself in pre-pro. You still need permits to shoot at a restaurant or on public property. You still need a storyline created by skilled writers and a shot list to ensure your camera team gets every angle of that inevitable fight, arrest, or beauty shot. You need to know in advance where and when the main action is going to take place and have your team ready to go when everything erupts. Plan, plan, plan. That way, you earn the opportunity to be spontaneous.
Be ready for everything
As much as you can (and absolutely should) plan, the universe has a way of being unpredictable. Often, that’s when the best moments happen. Whether you’re a camera operator suddenly needing to chase a bad guy down over a fence, a writer switching storylines when a construction worker falls off the roof of a house, or a showrunner nurturing a scene that could take a different emotional direction, you always want to be ready to shift gears. Be flexible. Allow the story to unfold before you. Let it breathe and become what it’s meant to be. Don’t force it to be something you’ve designed. After all, the reality aspect is what is most intriguing to the viewer, isn’t it?
The edit is harder than you think
If you’re looking to sharpen your editing skills on a reality show, be prepared for long days (and nights) more footage than you know what to do with and tight, tight, tight turnarounds.
The process of logging, ingesting, and organizing footage from countless cameras is a days’-long process in itself. Then the process of grouping footage, reviewing with writers, making changes, and incorporating producers’ notes all takes place before the rough cut process even begins. If you’re working with a professional company that has streamlined the process, numerous technical issues and mishaps will be sure to arise and wreak havoc on your perfectly-streamlined system.
Making a schedule with hard deadlines, keeping to it, and holding your team accountable is key. Even in the post-stage of a small show, it takes a large team of people working together in a timely manner.
If you want to make your editor happy: SLATE EVERY SCENE!
If you want to make your producer happy: Take initiative and finish projects before they even ask.
And if you want to make your writers happy: Well… you let me know when you figure that one out.