What’s it like working in Reality TV?

I get asked this question a lot – many people have told me that they want to do my job, so I thought I would open a window to let those folks peek into what it’s really like to work on a reality TV show.

First thing to know is that every single reality show is different. Speak to any crew member and there will be three classifications to which a show can fall: Good, It’s ok and it’s a NIGHTMARE.  And the worst part is that much like life and a box of chocolates, you absolutely never know what you are going to get. You see, there is a myriad of elements that play out behind the scenes on a reality show that can make or break your experience. A few examples include; how diva or professional the cast can be – do they show up on time or 90 minutes late everyday, how dickish or cool are your coworkers – are they your drinking buddies at the hotel bar after work or do they hold a grudge against you b/c on shoot day 5 someone forgot to order a side of ranch with their lunch – Also, how many days straight have you been working (10, 20, 30 – yes, an American human can be required to work 30 days straight and in reality world if you are “salaried,” or exempt from overtime pay, you most certainly will) and finally, have you had the opportunity to sleep more than 5 hours a night because budget constraints have created a grueling schedule? You see, this is why it’s difficult to tell you what it’s like, I would do between 3-6 shows per year and each had their pros and cons. More often than not, I’d tell someone who asks – It’s fun, but exhausting. And that’s true.

I can’t stress enough how much the exhaustion part takes a toll on reality staff members. A long work week for most people is having to stay late a night or two during the week, or heaven forbid – coming into an office on a Saturday.  40-hour workweek for us is considered a part time job. I figured out there are exactly three kinds of days I’ve had during my 10 year career working on reality shows:

THE EASY DAY – 4% occurrence 

Typically, this type of day only applies to the first and last few days on a show. You wake up at 7:30am, in the office by 9:00am. Check three things off your to-do list, attend a few meetings and be physically present just in case anyone needs anything. You actually get to take a lunch. Leave office at 6:30pm. Take calls until 9pm.  Total work hours: 9

THE TYPICAL DAY – 63% occurrence 

Wake up at 5:30am, buy coffee and bagels on the way into the office and wait for the rest of the crew to arrive for their 7am call. Run around town all day supporting your crew through 12 hours of filming, return to the office for wrap out and prepare for the next day. 50% of the time you have time to eat your lunch while working. Leave the office at 9:00pm. Total work hours: 15

THE WORST DAY(S) OF YOUR LIFE – 33% occurrence

Wake up at 5am – not that you actually slept thanks to crippling anxiety. There is a major event coming up in the next 48 hours and everything has to be booked by the end of business that day.  You’ve sent a dozen emails and texts to department heads hoping people will make decisions – WHY O WHY in the world is everyone ignoring you like you’re patient zero?!? It’s 6am, you are in the office alone, might as well use this time to restock the copier and crafty tables. 7am, you get the crew out the door, you will be chained to your desk, so they nominate the assistant coordinator to go in your place on set for the day. You wait at your desk – wonder when the decision makers will arrive while acid in your stomach tears a slow hole. 9am, still not here, but it’s a perfectly fine hour to take all those above-mentioned emails and replay all with one word, “bump” and a smiley face. 8 minutes later, the power-people walk through the door. You try to act casual with a bunch of “good mornings and coffee is extra delicious today,” and then you immediately drop your real agenda, “did you see my email yet? Oh, no? Well just a reminder we only have until x o’clock and it’s just me to do it all, so the sooner the better.” They assure you will be the first to know. And then you wait. You skip lunch, convinced the moment you step out of the office they will pull the trigger. It’s 2pm, you start calling vendors put on your sexiest damsel in distress voice and plead – please.. please, if we place the order at closing time can you have someone stay late to work on it? This works somehow. It’s 4 o’clock, boss man emerges from the office – “Do it!” he tells you and you hit the phones like a 1940’s switchboard operator. You lock vendors until 8pm when the crew returns, then you wrap them out and do timecards. It’s 9:00pm, the creative teams email you something they need 1000 color copies of, also, they want to know  if you can have a banner made and ready for on-screen at 9am. You spend the next 45 minutes making calls – the person at the nearest 24 hour Kinkos laughs at you, however, you find another Kinkos 39 miles away that can do it, and your Line Producer approves the cost of a banner twice the size requested because “it should pop” but won’t let you order the copies from Kinkos because there is a “perfectly good one-sheet color printer at the the office that the show already sunk $58 dollars into.” So, you send the one person who was helping you make the 1000 copies off to middle-earth to await the banner. After beating up the printer a dozen times for jamming, you run out of color ink and make a trip at midnight to Walgreens – you will do a dance like you’ve just won the Superbowl when you find out they do have the correct ink in stock. It’s 1:30am, the PA finally returns with the banner, you close down the office and count on one hand the hours until you have to be awake again. You go to your hotel, pat yourself on the back for saving the entire show and do a fully-clothed belly flop onto your bed.  Total work hours: 19.5

As you can see, being this kind of productive is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences. I’d say that if you can hang in those types of situations, you will be able to work with some of the most ambitious people on the planet. I never understood why it takes three years to build an overpass, if I put my art guys on it, we’d have it up in three weeks.  Bottom line, in reality tv, you are making magic happen every day.

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One thought on “What’s it like working in Reality TV?

  1. Pingback: Putting my wand away | Tales From My 30's

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