Reality TV – Creating the Storyline by NMD
Reality TV is soft scripted. Even though the cast doesn’t follow a written script, when the show is edited, it is cut into story arcs. People just aren’t that interesting 24/7. With the editing comes a lot of creative license. They editors and producers are telling a story from hours and hours of footage. It’s really no different than a scripted show, except the actors are doing improv rather than reading lines. They play off each other – with some reactions real, and others manufactured.
David Ropel is one of the people responsible for the Real Housewives franchise. He was an original producer for Orange County, and produced a few episodes for the first season of Beverly Hills. His experience on reality TV is deep, ranging from Temptation Island to Housewives. Below is an excerpt from an interview he gave to the writers’s guild talking about how he puts together a show.
|People tune into a reality show and expect a beginning, middle, and end, just as if they were watching an episode of ER. When I worked on scripted shows, there was no problem. You simply write all the relevant beats to that week’s tale.With reality, things are different. Real people don’t live their lives in carefully packaged scenes. Nobody wakes up, announces a topic for the day, has meaningful discussions throughout the day about that topic, and then has a tidy wrap-up talk before they go to bed.That means story producers must find creative ways to fill in the missing gaps of stories. This could mean:• Searching for footage that may have happened days or weeks apart that are about the same topic. (That’s why drastic haircuts were so problematic on The Real World.)
• Make sure you interview the participants thoroughly, so that you can “create” a missing scene with interview bites and appropriate b-roll footage. When I worked on Bug Juice(a show for Disney Channel about kids at summer camp), we faced a major problem with our big boy-girl love story. After weaving this storyline through nine episodes, we were caught flat-footed when our boy Connor had the nerve to dump his girl, Stephanie, off-camera! We had enough interview bites to explain what happened, but we needed a good visual to make it work… If you catch a rerun of the show, you will see a happy Stephanie obliviously bounce up to Connor, who solemnly takes her hand and leads her off, as his interview bite explains he needs to end things. With the help of a tender music cue, it turned out to be a touching and bittersweet end to our summer romance. The reality: Steph walked up to Connor, gushed about his Adidas t-shirt and they headed off to have lunch. We used the interview bites and music cue to shape the otherwise innocuous scene to approximate the reality that we failed to shoot.
• Find a scene that has many of the same emotional beats as the missing one, and use interview bites to shape it to be about the other topic. Example: an argument about an ex-boyfriend and an argument about paying the check have many similarities–looks of frustration, angry body language and similar verbal sentiments (“Why are you being so stubborn?”). If you remove all references to paying the check and add interview bites about the “ex-boyfriend,” you’ll be able to approximate the missing scene.
Ethics Note: We don’t “create” scenes to trick people. With the exception of Big Brother, there is no show that I am aware of that shoots 24/7, which means we are going to miss certain moments. Those gaps in the plot have to be filled to make the story complete.
Jeff Bartsch edits reality shows, below he talks about cutting a scene for a show he was working on.
|A few months ago, I was editing for a current popular reality TV show. Sitting in my dimly lit edit bay, I flipped through my story notes and started watching the raw footage of the scene I was about to cut. At that moment, the husband and wife in the scene were in the midst of an argument mediated by the show’s main protagonist. Watching the footage, I was presented with multiple ways to end the scene, with options ranging from the husband completely stonewalling the discussion to the couple literally kissing and making up.I reached for my phone and dialed up my story producer. She told me that the husband’s character arc was an important thread throughout the episode; he shouldn’t give in immediately, but he has to be likeable. In light of that, I cut the scene so that the couple came to an uncertain middle ground and agreed to keep moving forward on the task at hand. Ah yes, a potential story snag averted. Good times.
Taking a sip from my Diet Coke, I reflected on what had just happened. With one conversation, my story producer and I had just shaped issues of audience empathy, prolonged the release of tension, and ultimately provided a turning point in the arc of the show’s characters. Now if that’s not writing, I don’t know what is.
In David Gopel’s interview, he added an ethics note about scene manipulation and not trying to ‘trick’ people. His interview was written quite a few years ago. I suspect the line on that issue has shifted as the production companies from the various franchises compete for the most popular city in the series.
This is not to excuse any on-screen behavior, but to simply point out that what we’re seeing and reacting to, is heavily influenced by how it is edited.
Phil Suspended from Duck Dynasty after Homophobic Comments by NMD
From A&E network Wednesday:
“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty”
“His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
Phil’s comments in a January issue of GQ where he compares homosexuality to bestiality and promiscuity:
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he tells reporter Drew Magary. “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
GLAAD rep Wilson Cruz responded to Robertson’s remarks with a statement:
“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.
“Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.
In another quote – Phil made comments about pre-civil rights days that are sure to raise eyebrows.
“Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”