The Naked Truth: Production Scheduling for Reality TV

Someone should really do a reality series about putting together a reality series. Seriously. If you want drama, cliffhangers, tension, and a constant sense of “Oh my God, what happens next?!?” just try putting together your own reality show.

Coming up with a basic concept is the first hurdle. What can you do that hasn’t already been done? Or, how can you take a popular trend and put a new spin on it so you can cash in? Cash, by the way, is the next hurdle. Where is the money going to come from? We can save you a little worry and suggest that rather than putting together a full pilot, which can really cost a bundle, you put together a sizzle reel highlighting your talent for pitching purposes, so you can give potential backers a taste of what your show is about.

But that’s only the beginning. When your project gets the green light, the real fun begins. So let’s say your hypothetical show has gotten backing and been picked up by a network. Now you’re ready to begin filming Naked and Nonplussed. Of course most of the audience has no idea what “nonplussed” means, but they all know what “naked” means. You’ve already got a ratings winner. That is, if you can actually get the episodes completed.

Production scheduling can be one of the most under-appreciated aspects of creating reality TV shows

Production scheduling can be one of the most under-appreciated aspects of creating reality TV shows

Production scheduling and coordination vary in complexity depending on the length of your product. If you’re shooing a three-minute corporate video highlighting a revolutionary new way to produce ball bearings, you likely only have to worry about getting all of your resources together for one day, two at most, to complete the shoot. If you’re producing a ninety-minute documentary, that ups the ante and the scheduling and coordination get more tricky. And if you’re doing an entire season of a reality series (let’s call it seven episodes plus the pilot) you’re looking at significantly more time for the production process as well as post-production.

So what are the special concerns you face when you’re doing reality television? Ultimately you’ll have to find your own solutions, as every show is different. But we want to get you thinking well ahead of time, so that these little considerations don’t creep up and catch you unaware at the last minute.

The right time

Let’s start with scheduling. You’ve got to make sure all of your on-air principles can be there for every shoot. “There” is a special problem in and of itself if you’re taking your cast to various locations for Naked and Nonplussed, so we’ll get to that in a minute. But first, you have to make sure that everyone who’s going to be on camera has the time to actually be there.

Getting there is half the fun, and a lot of the burden, when you're scheduling reality TV shoots

Getting there is half the fun, and a lot of the burden, when you’re scheduling reality TV shoots

For your show Naked and Nonplussed, your shooting schedule runs from September through November. You’ve got six cast members, and they all have different scheduling needs. Bob and Carol are parents, and while their spouses are going to take care of the kids during your shoots, Bob and Carol absolutely must be home for the holidays. For Bob, that means being with his family from just before Rosh Hashanah to just after Yom Kippur. Carol, who’s Wiccan, needs to be home for Samhain (Halloween to you and me). Meanwhile Ted and Alice have their own concerns. They’re both business owners, and while they can be away for a week, two at most, they can’t stay away for extended stretches. That means trips back home every nine days or so. Finally Betty and Bernard have some personal things going on. Betty has to be free for her mother’s 70th birthday weekend, which happens in early October. Bernard flies out to Fresno every November 17th to hook up with a with a group of friends who all swear that was the date the Grays took them up into a spaceship in 1985.

So, to make sure that everyone is on location when you need them, you have to rule out the nine or ten days Bob needs in September, the three days Carol needs in October, the three days Betty needs in October (which are a different three days than Carol’s) and the three days or so Bernard needs in the middle of November. You also have to see if you can coordinate some of that down time with the needs of Ted and Alice, so they can attend to their business affairs while other cast members are pursuing their plans. If they need different days off, that means more days are dropped as potential travel and shoot days.

This is no joke, because you must, absolutely must have things ready for editing and the other post-production procedures by the end of November. While it’s possible for the process to begin while you’re still wrapping up your shoots, that only delays the inevitable. Eventually the editors and other post-production team will need to have all of the material for the shows. Be flexible, but know when to be firm, in order to meet your deadlines.

Happy scheduling.

The right place

It would be hard enough to wrangle this herd of cats if your cast was going to be running around a single location in their birthday suits. But your show is based on the premise of taking them to some of the most exotic places in the world to flaunt themselves. That means everyone’s got to be available to travel to Iceland, Borneo, a haunted forest in Japan, and Easter Island among other locales. Since everyone in the cast lives in a different city, how do you pull this off? Do you have everyone meet in a central location, or is it more expedient to have them fly to the destination separately and then meet up for the shoot?

It’s not just about the cast. You’ve got to get the crew to each location as well. And their equipment has to be there too. Paul the camera operator may be a real cut-up behind the scenes, but if his camera has been sent on to Madagascar while you’re all in Fiji, there’t not going to be much to laugh about.

Also, be aware that your own personal schedules (which hopefully you’ve ironed out and woven into a workable plan) are only part of the equation when it comes to shooting in multiple locations. You may find that travel is slowed or absolutely impossible if you hit certain areas at the wrong time, such a national holidays or festivals when everyone is traveling. Do your research ahead of time to avoid these potential roadblocks. Remember to check things like weather patterns too. Don’t head somewhere during monsoon season unless you want to see your cast regularly getting soaked to the skin. Which won’t take much, considering that they’ll be naked, but you still shouldn’t be seeing how uncomfortable you can make this for them.

You really need to have a game plan to make the travel logistics as painless as possible. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to fly to one destination, then fly back home, only to fly on to a new destination two days later, for each and every locale you’re shooting. Group the travel into logical steps by region so that you cut both the distance and the expenditures.

Even with the most organized itinerary, the time needed for travel to each destination also has to be factored in. You could easily spend up to 48 hours getting to some of the more distant locations, and that’s assuming everything will go smoothly.

Which it won’t. We can almost guarantee that at least one leg of your production odyssey will be fraught with delays. Blame it on underdeveloped infrastructure in certain countries, blame it on Mercury retrograde, blame it on sheer bad luck. Or blame it on the Grays and ask Bernard to make an emergency call to the mother ship for help. Just be prepared to spend extra time and extra money when you hit delays.

The right price

While developing a budget is a separate process from production scheduling and coordination, you should have the production schedule worked out ahead of time so you can factor all the related costs of getting everyone, and everything, where you need it when you need it first. Don’t rule out getting some outside help, such as a travel agent, to help you get the best deals for transportation and lodging. Make sure you factor in overages, as you could easily find yourself short of funds if you have unexpected expenses from delays or mishaps.

Hencar’s services include full production scheduling and coordination for every project, along with helping you develop of budget, to ensure your dream of a reality show actually becomes reality without costing you an arm, a leg, or you sanity.