Reality Pro Tip: Hot Sheets

And no, I don’t mean jersey ones. I mean, how do you not sweat to death in those?

I’m referring to Hot Sheets, the daily one or two page prose summaries of what happened in the field while you were shooting that accompany the more detailed field notes (which break events down by time of day). These are composed and sent home at the end of each day of shooting, helping folks who weren’t present understand what happened and develop a sense of what’s shaping up story-wise.

I’ve never been a huge fan of being on location, at least interacting with cast. The less talent knows about me and the process that I employ in whittling real time interactions down into an engaging show, the better, as I can make my story decisions based on content returning from the field rather than my individual impressions of each person gained through interaction. But in relegating myself to post in the name of better story, those hot sheets (coupled with phone convos with field producers every few days) are my only reliable lifeline to the action.

Here’s what hot sheets do:

1. The obvious: Describe the action that went down on a given day
2. In conjunction with field notes, help the story department to target materials for review
3. Raise flags about developing story in a manner timely enough that producers and execs not in the field can weigh in on upcoming shoot days, suggesting activities or interactions that may be beneficial to the overall arcs of each episode and season

If I’m reading day after day about a developing feud or discussions of an upcoming event, I can really get an idea of how action is shaping up. That’s why #3 up there is so important. By reading a well-constructed hot sheet, I can then suggest things to the field that can turn slower shoot days down the line into useful material by asking if Beth and Laura could have a conversation about firing their party planner, Laura’s impending divorce, or Beth’s recent problems with her home renovation… in other words, content that furthers the stories we’re already getting.

What hot sheets shouldn’t do:

1. Contain a lot of conjecture. “Beth and Patty gave each other a few sideways looks today, look forward to them having some kind of big blowup in the next couple of days.” If you include this in your hot sheet, the execs and story people you’ve cc’d on this are expecting to see a blowup with Beth and Patty that might never come. Leave it at “Beth and Patty gave each other a few sideways looks today.”

2. Use a lot of hyperbole. “Janet and David had a huge argument today about Beth. Best of the season so far.” Well, guess what… if what looked like a huge fight to you plays out as a 30 seconds minor blowup about something completely unrelated to any story that we’re tracking or ever hear about again, it’s not the best fight of the season. It’s just noise. But because you sold it so hard in your hot sheet, some exec is probably going to ask down the line why we didn’t use that “huge argument” that Janet and David had. Record this as “Worth reviewing – Janet and David have an argument about salad dressing.”

Carefully consider how you summarize action in the field, and you’ll be the toast of your story department back home.

4 thoughts on “Reality Pro Tip: Hot Sheets

Add yours

  1. Hypothetically, let us say you have a reality show that visits a different city each act for a day and does three important things in each act. Would it be a good idea to hire a production assistant to just take field notes and do the hot sheet? These two pieces of information sent back to the office with each video dump back to it. The PA given a notebook laptop to do so. Or isn’t there usually that much work to warrant such an assignment?

  2. Good field notes save so much time in post that it’s usually worth it to have a PA or story assist who handles them on-set. Electronic versions of the notes are always preferable, as it makes them easier to search later.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: