The Reality of Reality TV
Kristina and I have just returned from 10 days in Mexico. Sounds like the good life, right? Well not quite. It was good in that we were there shooting an episode for a new show and I am grateful to have work. But boy oh boy I had to keep reminding myself to be thankful because this was, without a doubt, the most painful week of work in my life.
Now, I can’t tell you much about exactly what we were doing because that would ruin the show. But let me just say this: I only made it to day two before I cried. I think Kristina made it to day four – she’s a toughie. Almost every single member of our crew was brought to tears at some point, mostly due to sheer exhaustion.
Learned some amazing cooking techniques from this woman in Oaxaca, Mexico!
I got a sunburn, bumped my head on a tuc tuc, and dug an ominous, 8-foot by 4-foot ditch in which to cook some sheep. A lot of that you’ll see, but some of it you won’t because part of what’s unfortunate for the audience of shows like this one – any show really – is that you never see the entire story of “the making of”: the drama between crew members, getting lost, having to pay people off, dealing with accommodations, which, when you’re in the middle of nowhere, typically leave a lot to be desired.
On this particular trip, I left the crew behind at one point in search of a hotel that had heat. It was unseasonably freezing in Mexico and few things matter more to me then a warm bed.
Well that’s not quite true. Food matters just as much. And the television and film industry is unique in that we, as producers, always arrange food for crews. When shooting at home, we have it catered. But on the road, our crews are small and it’s usually restaurants. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it needs to be on the healthy side and plentiful.
One of our wonderful host families in Oaxaca, Mexico
On this trip, we often found ourselves shooting at someone’s home and they wanted us to join them for lunch. Considering we were a group of about 12 and that we were working with people who, really, have so little, it was a very generous offer and indeed rude to decline.
But looking at those chickens that had been sitting in sun for hours and were covered in flies, well, my stomach churned. But eat it we did and washed it back with no-name orange pop and mescal.
Only one of our crew members barfed.
And then there was the day I didn’t pee for 11 hours. I had the choice between a sketchy outhouse that was being shared with 200 mescal-swilling others, or a field, also shared with 200. I choose dehydration.
Audiences will also never see the constant agonizing over what we call continuity. That is, when shooting one scene that will follow another, does my make up match? Was my watch on my left wrist or right? Kristina lost her Ray Bans and now this scene won’t match the last one. So someone has to race to town to find a store that sells green Ray Bans. No luck there, so she wears a pair that aren’t her best look and we hope no one notices. On a big budget feature film there is someone who does this job exclusively.
We started at the crack of dawn every morning and went late into the night. One day I was up for 22 hours, so please forgive those bags under my eyes if you see the show.
On this trip, we put our lives at risk on Mexican highways, where speed limits, drinking and driving restrictions, lighting and basic rules of the road are only guidelines.
We had car trouble more than once that had us looking for help in a place we don’t speak the language. I tried to get by on my “Fritalian” – the combination of French and Italian I would blurt out whenever addressed, in hopes that would help me communicate. “Merci, arrivederci!” That, and my miming. My act for “Please hurry, we’re late” is hilarious if not effective.
The show will run next fall on W Network (in Canada) and we look forward to your feedback! But please be gentle; we were exhausted. And that’s the reality of reality TV!
Yay, we’re so glad to be home!