“I hate Greek drama… the way everything happens offstage.” – Lady Grantham, Downton Abbey
Reality shows often isolate participants from each other in the eves and hours between shoots for one very specific reason: If a story event happens off-camera, it’s very difficult to incorporate the fallout into your storyline in an authentic way.
Let’s say you’re doing a show with a bickering recently-introduced pair, Max and June. Without notifying anyone on the production team, they suddenly decide to talk things out over a late dinner once the cameras have stopped rolling for the day.
Story alert! This means that no one’s going to be there when June and Max have that passionate conversation in which they realize that maybe they should hook up after all and shouldn’t spend all of their time fighting. By the time the cameras are up and rolling again the next morning when you find out they spent the night together, you’re screwed.
They’re not acting the same way toward each other. The dynamic has shifted. AND YOU EFFING MISSED IT.
If only the field team could have kept these two isolated, the big apology and conversation could have happened on camera the next morning!
Oh, you’ll try to make the best of it by shooting a pickup scene that explains it all — except it won’t. In the pickup scene you hope will fix everything, they’ll have a conversation summarizing what they covered spontaneously and in private the night before. They’ll share canned, halfhearted conversation that you’ll later punctuate with a carefully crafted mouthful of information in interview, like this: “Last night after we went to bed at the hotel, Max came down to my room and explained to me how sorry he was about being rude all week. He was so sweet and apologetic that I ended up inviting him in, and we talked and laughed all night. I don’t think he’s such a big jerk anymore.”
Aaaaugh! That bite just blew its back out trying to do all that heavy lifting.
The network, I assure you, will see the cut and send you a note asking if any of the Max and June stuff went down on camera. You’ll have to say “no,” and maybe be forced into the worst situation of all, asking two non-actors to sit down and recreate the actual conversation.
Remember — all of this happened because the cast had easy access to each other in the off-hours.
When it’s possible, lodge your cast members on different floors of hotels or even on other neighboring properties away from each other. Ask them not to speak with each other when cameras aren’t rolling. You can’t always manage it, but keeping your cast away from each other when cameras are down goes a long way toward ensuring that you don’t miss a single, authentic beat.
Of course, if you have a huge cast of famous people who are seldom made to do anything, this won’t be easy. Just book ’em in different hotels and ask nicely that they not hang out in the off-hours, hoping for the best.