RTS Futures organised a panel session earlier this month, hearing from a cracking clutch of reality TV insiders who spilled the beans on what it’s like to be working behind the scenes of a reality TV show and the preoccupations of the crew.
Here’s an A-Z of production realities in reality TV.
Coco Jackson researcher (Love Island, Naked Attraction)
Philip McCreery, series producer (The Island with Bear Grylls, First Dates)
Craig Orr, director, commissioning & development, MTV International (Ex on the Beach)
Becky Crosthwaite, games producer (Love Island, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here)
Apptastic – It’s absolutely vital that a reality TV show hits social media buttons. “If we don’t think that people are going to share the content, we’re not going to commission it,” says Craig.
Big Brother – John de Mol’s brainchild is the big daddy of reality TV shows. Asked to name their favourite, all the speakers had respect.
Care – the phrase ‘duty of care’ came up a lot during the discussion. Looking after the interests of the cast was always on the agenda.
Death – With survival shows there are massive health and safety protocols. For the production to survive, real harm is to be avoided at all costs.
Emotions – Great reality TV is “all about emotions – lovely or scary, ”says Craig.
Friendships – Without the trust between cast and production team, there’s no gossip coming back to base camp and the spark goes out of the show.
Games – Challenges are carefully orchestrated to build the atmosphere or to trigger a response from the cast. Becky, working on ITV’s Love Island this year, deployed Dare challenges to great effect.
How to deal with fragile cast members. Big characters with extreme personalities can sometimes be needy – the duty of care gets bigger and they need extra tlc from the production team.
Injuries – Safety nets have to be in place. One of the cameramen severed a tendon on The Island and had to be helicoptered off ; TOWIE star Lydia Bright got a fishing hook injury on Celebrity Island.
Judgement – Weeding out applicants to find the right characters to cast is a skill. Coco recruited for Channel 4 dating show Naked Attraction. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted. “They had to feel really sure about their body,” she says.
Keeping the cast on side. Sometimes this might extend to cutting scenes where one of the cast has pleaded for the producer to ditch some embarrassing footage.
Love what you do. All the panel agreed that they would recruit people who are passionate about reality TV.
Music is really important. A bit of bump and grind or the Jaws theme tune can work wonders.
Needs… to be pre-recorded. It’s not many reality shows that would work live, without being boring.
Organisation – In reality TV, with lots of people on three-month contracts and handing-over, it’s especially important to tie up loose ends.
Phone savviness is vital when you’re recruiting cast. The first hurdle is to check out applicants on the phone.
Quick decision making – When things go wrong it’s critical to move with speed. Breaking up a fight, sending in a helicopter or knowing when to cut a scene.
Robust casting – it’s really important to make sure you recruit people who are going to stay the course.
Suggestion – With so much reality TV based on couples and relationships, shagging must be there, but not on camera. “The power of suggestion is huge “ says Becky.
Technology – Developments in tech drive a lot of new reality shows. Crews can now be small and embedded, you can have a discreet rig or just let the cast film it themselves.
Under pressure to come up with the next big reality show? The panel’s advice is to find a cast, write a great pitch, find an idea that resonates and work with a production company that know what it’s doing.
V – when one cast member disagrees another cast member, the edit must show both sides.
Watershed – need to keep some of the action for after 9pm.
Xtra large characters are in demand. Big characters drive reality shows.
Yes – Some cast members want to show everything. They need to be reined in.
Zen – As long as the cast isn’t allowed into the production office, then all will be well with the world.