Reality Pro Tip: Don’t Feed the Animals


I recently heard my umpteenth story about a Production Assistant in the field who’d been disciplined for posting pictures of herself hanging out with cast members of the in-progress reality show she was working on.

The production company demanded that she remove the photos and captions from her Facebook account and threatened termination across the board to any other employee who posted pictures from set. After all, their cast hadn’t been formally announced yet, and there for the world to see was the full cast partying down with Miss Fun PA.

This happens all the time, and the reprimands aren’t idle threats — people do lose their jobs over this kind of thing. What if those images found their way to a gossip site? The effort on the part of the network and production company to keep details of the show under wraps would be compromised… all because someone wants to show their pals that they’re hanging out with famous folks.

My secondary concern, right after leaking cast images before air, would have been: “Why are non-producer members of the production team getting so chummy in the first place?”

Unless you are a producer whose job involves conducting interviews or interacting with the cast on an active level, the cast is not your friend. Be sociable and try your best to get along with them on the rare occasions that you can’t avoid interaction, but concentrate on your job and don’t get chummy.

Why?

Because if your on-camera talent is making non-stop asides to the camera crew he’s been out on the town with every night or goofing around with the sound guy, you’re going to come home with a lot less usable source material.

A friend once complained about an on-set situation where some camera operators chummed it up with one of the male participants on a dating show. Here the guy was, on an amazing date with a beautiful young woman he should be getting to know… but instead, he’s having conversation with his new “buddies” in the room while the poor girl looks on. Try as he might to correct the situation, the producer on set felt that it completely compromised the source material.

Talent is there to interact with each other, not with you.

I’m not suggesting that you be rude to your talent on set. Being part of a reality show can be stressful and confusing for them, and completely isolating cast in the name of indifferent observation is just as big a mistake as getting too close. In the case of producing Docu-soaps over weeks or months it would be weird (not to mention, impractical) for you and your cast not to get to know each other a little. In those instances, just try your best to keep it professional and the subject of conversation away from show content. Last night’s big game? Discuss. Popular news item of the day? Chat away. Show content? Nope.

Now here’s a REAL problem… let’s say you have a cast member who’s getting a little freaked out about how they think they’ll appear on the show and you’re the Production Assistant they look to as a friend now because you’ve foolishly cozied up to them. I can almost guarantee that they will, at some point, start pumping your for information about other castmates. What’s being said about them when they aren’t in scene? Do you think they’re going to look foolish on television after behaving so badly the day before?

Welcome to the can of worms you opened yourself by not respecting the line between you and the talent, buddy.

In those scenarios, be courteous, helpful, and when asked a question like that, defer to the senior person on set (a Supervising Producer or EP) with a simple “I don’t really know how anything will come together, but if you’d like, I can ask Joe Executive Producer to talk to you about it.”

Be friendly to your talent, but don’t befriend them. And if you must take photos along the way, be sure it’s okay with the powers that be and don’t share them online until after your show airs.

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2 thoughts on “Reality Pro Tip: Don’t Feed the Animals

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  1. Hi Troy! I’m a PA working on various shows and I really appreciate this post. While I’ve only posted pictures on my blog from shows that have wrapped (and I post nothing on my Facebook), I think I’m going to stop posting pictures all together (and remove the ones I have posted). I love this line of work and would hate to jeopardize future work opportunities. Thank you from someone who benefits from your advice!

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