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Reality TV Production Questions


Scott Mohrman
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Hi all.

 

I am shooting my first reality tv show. It is a big break for me. I am really excited for this. It is happening fast and what seems last minute. If you have any experience and wisdom to share, it would be greatly appreciated. I am the main DP and local fixer for this show. Besides myself as A camera op, my team is a B camera op and an audio person.

 

How fast does reality tv shoot?

The director mentioned something about bonuses. Does that really happen?

 

Thank you in advance.

Edited by Scott Mohrman
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The bonus is you might get to eat and sleep.. :).. seriously.. never heard of bonuses in the TV game.. don't want to be a downer but in the excitement and last minute nature of things as you say.. are you sure you have your payments/insurance etc all boxed up nicely.. TBH when I heard bonuses.. some small alarm bell did ring..

 

Hopefully Im being paranoid and he will buy you all new Cadillacs .. but it would be a first..

 

Only other thing.. do you need a data wrangler.. or you might end up with a tons of cards to down load after an 18 hr day..

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Over the years I've been involved with many reality TV shows from shooting/editing a few pilots to eventually staring in one. I'll say this much, there is very little money in reality. Everyone is worked to death and paid peanuts for their efforts. All of the shows I worked on were semi-scripted, as the action was going on, the producers were building scripts and after they had enough raw, B-Roll material, they'd shoot what they scripted. Then send the material to post, who would suggest even more re-shoots to come up with a final episode.

 

Reality shoots very fast, so the shooters are generally unbelievably busy, working 16hr days is pretty normal and because they're non-union freelance, you're paid a standard hourly rate. I've worked on reality shows as a backup camera op as well and was on stand-by for 48hrs. This means, I had to literally have the camera by my side, on location waiting for notes.

 

Over the years, I've found the producers of lower-end reality will say anything to get people working. Most of it turns out to be bullshit, like the whole thing about being paid. Yea, they say you'll be paid, but until you've cashed a paycheck, make the assumption you aren't going to get paid. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that's how reality works. I never got paid for my last reality show, they had over 100 people working on it and on payday, they literally shut down the doors and closed off all communication. The show was broadcast, my name was on it, but there were no contracts. So yea… that's kind of an extreme example, but it can happen. The whole thing about bonuses, that's a HUGE red flag, something one of the reality producers would say to bring you in.

 

Today, I won't do reality anymore. I've been screwed countless times, sometimes by people I thought were my friends. I've learned that's the way the ball rolls these days, so I just gave up and wiped my hands clean on being involved.

 

Be careful, don't take anything for granted and don't give anyone footage until your paid.

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I never got paid for my last reality show, they had over 100 people working on it and on payday, they literally shut down the doors and closed off all communication. The show was broadcast, my name was on it, but there were no contracts. So yea… that's kind of an extreme example, but it can happen. The whole thing about bonuses, that's a HUGE red flag, something one of the reality producers would say to bring you in.

 

Be careful, don't take anything for granted and don't give anyone footage until your paid.

 

Weren't you paid weekly? Or didn't the shoot last more than a week? No deal memo? Nothing that could be used in court in favor of 100 people who got screwed?

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Weren't you paid weekly? Or didn't the shoot last more than a week? No deal memo? Nothing that could be used in court in favor of 100 people who got screwed?

On that particular show, it was a 2 week show. First week was prep, second week was shoot.

 

No deal memo's, just started working (it was a big company who hired us, so I felt secure)

 

Not all of us got screwed, that's the funny part. The producers, director and final editor got paid. The production crew including set designers and cast, didn't get paid. I later found out, the assistant editors and graphics people, didn't get paid either. Since the final post lasted months, they needed one or two editors, so they waved cash in front of their eyes, but the production was so quick, they just didn't bother. We didn't really know one another, it was such a quick shoot, people didn't form bonds. I didn't even get a list of everyone involved, it was quite strange. So filing a class action suit was impossible.

 

Same thing happened on a later shoot where I was a cast member. There was a clause in our contracts where if the company went out of business, they didn't have to pay us. So guess what happened?

 

This is all very typical stuff. I figure it happens every single day since it's happened to me on 5 occasions and I haven't worked on very many reality shows. So yea, I warn people all the time, if you work on reality, you'd better cash those paychecks before you commit.

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